TEXT OF A PRESS CONFERENCE HELD BY THE LAGOS ZONE OF ACADEMIC STAFF UNION OF UNIVERSITIES (ASUU) AT OLABISI ONABANJO UNIVERSITY, AGO-IWOYE, ON MONDAY NOVEMBER 2, 2020

Protocol Gentlemen of the Press.

We are compelled to address the Nigerian public and especially parents and our dear students with a view to give information on the status of discussion with government on the seven month old strike embarked upon by our Union. It is now apparent that the Federal government, instead of making sincere effort at resolving the lingering crisis, has shamefully resulted to blackmail, intimidation and propagation of falsehood to the public. Let me state very clearly that the reason for our ongoing strike is mainly on issues bothering on the survival of public Universities in Nigeria and the sustenance of University Autonomy. Essentially, the issues involved include:

government’s reluctance to fulfill the 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement bothering on provision of funds for revitalization of dilapidating infrastructure (hostel accommodation, befitting lecture theatres, state-of-the-art laboratories, good working environment for lecturers, etc),

payment of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA),

setting up of Visitation Panels for the purpose of accountability and good governance of our public Universities,

arresting the trend of proliferation of Universities at both Federal and State levels while neglecting the funding of existing ones and the renegotiation of 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement.

The issue of enrolment into the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) was deliberately introduced by government to draw away the attention of the public from the insincerity, lack of interest and disregard for the Education of the teeming Nigerian youth especially University students. In addition, it is in the course of the strike and the lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic that the salaries of our members in Federal Universities were withheld by government under the guise that members did not enrol on IPPIS. It is disheartening that a government that should uphold the truth, fairness and justice has become repressive, oppressive and blackmailer of its own citizens.

A statement recently credited to the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, that 57,000 out of 71,700 lecturers are already on IPPIS was the highest level of falsehood from an offce that should be respected for propagation of truth. In our various discussions on resolving the crisis, government has been appealing to our members to enrol on IPPIS while awaiting the conclusion of integrity test on University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) software. Does the government need to appeal and beg that we enrol on IPPIS if such quantum of members had enrolled? Our position is that ASUU members and public Federal Universities should be exempted from IPPIS in the interim while conducting integrity test on UTAS. It is evident that government is using withholding of salaries of our members and check-off dues of our Union as a war strategy to weaken our resolve. Our members are resolved that even if the strike lingers beyond one year, we shall not succumb to the wickedness of the highest order by the government.

It is important to inform that Government is owing our members the arrears of unpaid full salaries in all Federal Universities from July 2020 to October 2020 (4 months); arrears of unpaid salaries to some members in University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), Michael Okpara University of Agriculture (MOUAU) and some Federal Universities from February 2020 to June 2020 (5 months). There is apparent high level of fraud being perpetrated by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF); a self-acclaimed apostle of anti-corruption, and the Ministry of Finance. It would interest the Nigerian public that, while Government claimed to have fully paid “amputated” salaries of February to June 2020 to Academic Staff in Federal Universities, the OAGF deducted check-offs amounting to millions of Naira from our members’ salaries and refused to remit the deducted check-offs to the Union up till now. We are aware this is deliberate. The insinuation that the Accountant General of the Federation and his cronies are fraudulently trading with these funds with commercial banks, and the interest accruable being diverted to their personal accounts would be diffcult to defend. This is indeed, a paradoxical way of fighting corruption in the country. Our Union wants to state that, deducting check-offs and other third-party funds on behalf of Unions without remittance are illegal, unlawful and criminal. It is our Union’s belief that, the illegally withheld check-off would be collected by Union with interests without further delay.

Dear Comrades, compatriots and gentlemen of the Press, we are also compelled to inform the general public that the most important reason why this strike will linger is government’s adoption of blackmail, falsehood and intimidation as well as its lack of willingness to commit fund for the revitalization of dilapidated infrastructure in our public universities. Government does not see Education of its citizens as public good but rather unfortunately, as a business. While government is committed to using public funds to bail out banks, electricity distribution companies, and airline operators, which are their private investments, the excuse of unavailability of fund for revitalization of our public universities is not acceptable to our Union. Parents and students should not be persuaded that ASUU is asking for too much money for the survival of public universities. Parents should please note that, if our struggle fails, they will pay through their nose to send their children to university, that is, if many students will not drop out of school. Government is in arears of more than N200 billion of revitalization fund and our Union is not insisting that this should be paid at once rather, quarterly or bi-annually but faithfully. Regrettably, there is no sincere commitment on the part of government on this all important issue.

Our EAA has been calculated and verified to be N40 billion up to 2013. Several millions is still being owed from 2014 to 2020. While we are still considering government’s proposal to release N30 billion, government demonstrated its insincerity by insisting that it has to be disbursed through IPPIS instead of releasing the fund to the Universities. Government was also quick to announce the proposal to pay N30 billion as part of our outstanding EAA to the public with a view to blackmailing members of our Union. Despite the fact that this is a budget season, the over two years promise to mainstream our EAA into the annual budget in order to end the EAA payment problem is not being actualized. Our understanding and inference on the state of discussion on the ongoing strike is that government is very comfortable with our students being at home and will do everything possible to keep them at home till next year while pushing the blame on ASUU.

Conclusion

The ongoing strike is about the only obvious way to rescue and preserve the soul of public university education from the stranglehold of Nigeria’s kleptocrats. To this end, the government will need more than the worn-out tactics of “keep them talking” and time-wasting to distract, blackmail, or wear us out from our resolve to getting funds for revitalization of public universities, renegotiation of 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement, payment of illegally withheld salaries and check-off, payment of EAA, constitution of Visitation Panels and stoppage of proliferation of Universities. The general public and well meaning Nigerians should prevail on government to do the needful in ending the seven months old strike action. Solidarity forever!!!

Prof.Olusiji Sowande Zonal Coordinator
November 2, 2020

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