Funding, TSA send tempers rising in varsities, staff schools
There are very strong indications that the fragile peace, which exists in federal universities across the country may soon be shattered as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is, through its zonal outlets, sending out warning signals over the refusal of the Federal Government to restore funding of university staff schools, exclusion of universities from Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the decline in subvention to tertiary institutions- three issues, which the group considers inimical to their wellbeing, write ENO-ABASI SUNDAY and OLUWASEUN AKINGBOYE.
The sight of pupils of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Staff School, their teachers and parents, some of whom are lecturers at the OAU, protesting in the early hours of Tuesday May 3, 2016, is indicative of the fact that all is not well with the school, and by extension the university community.
For any discerning mind, when pupils, who at that time were meant to be in their classrooms, elect to join their parents and teachers in wielding placards, volumes have been spoken, and this should necessarily attract much more than a dismissive look.
Since June 2015 when the Federal Government ordered the immediate stoppage of the funding of staff schools in all the ministries, departments and agencies, in its bid to reduce the cost of running government, tension has been on the rise in these schools, and staff unions including the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) have equally expressed their displeasure.
The directive was contained in a circular with the reference No. SWC/S/04/S446/12/85 released by the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission (NSIWC), and addressed to the executive, legislative and judiciary arms of government. It was titled, “Funding of Staff Schools Established by Federal Government Institutions.
The Executive Secretary of NUC, Professor Julius Okojie, while addressing the media in the wake of the directive, said the directive was received by the NUC for immediate conveyance to all federal universities.
Okojie, who was represented by the Director, Information and Public Relations, of the commission, Malam Ibrahim Usman Yakasai, further informed that SSANU simply embarked on a campaign of calumny, as it was aware that the circular came directly from the NSIWC.
He therefore, advised SSANU to direct its grievances to NSIWC as stated in the said circular, adding that only the NSIWC was in the position to help them.
Barely one year after that incident, the Federal Government has refused to shift grounds on the issue, which has given birth to diverse reactions across the different staff schools including sack of teachers, the introduction of high school fees and sundry charges to shore up funds.
During Tuesday’s protest at OAU staff school, Chairman of SSANU, OAU Chapter, Mr. Ademola Oketunde, called on the OAU management to have a rethink on the new school fee proposed for the students.
He lamented that the tuition, which was jerked up from N1, 600 to N20, 000 for staff and N2, 500 to N20, 500 for non-staff, was crippling at times like these.
They also asked the Federal Government to rescind its decision to stop funding the staff schools across the country, even though the school authorities through its public relations officer, Abiodun Olanrewaju, said that the increase in school fee was to enable the school authority meet its obligation to the teachers.
In the last three weeks, different zones of ASUU, have been warning that academic activities in public universities may again be disrupted following the decline in subvention to states and federal universities, with most universities now unable to pay salaries regularly.
For instance, the Calabar Zone of the union recently expressed fear over the looming crisis if the situation was not urgently arrested, just as it called on public-spirited individuals to intervene to ensure that peace reigns.
In the statement jointly signed by the Zonal Coordinator of the union, Dr. Nsing Ogar, as well as branch chairmen in the zone, the union noted with concern, the “cloud of uncertainty” hanging over Nigerian universities.
The union, which maintained that subventions to universities have been drastically reduced, resulting “in the incomplete payment of salaries and non-remittance of statutory deductions to unions,” added that, “This anomaly has thrown workers in the university system into serious difficulties and embarrassment as if the already existing ugly situation in the universities in terms of workers’ welfare and poor condition for research, teaching and learning were not enough.”
The ASUU accuses states and federal governments of deliberately neglecting university education in the country, stressing that efforts by the union to draw government’s attention to the plight of universities in the country has yielded no positive results.
“It has therefore become pertinent to let the public know this with a view to prevailing on government to do the needful by releasing the complete subventions to universities, including the backlog owed.”
It would be recalled that ASUU Abuja Zone, also recently expressed displeasure over cut in allocation for personnel expenditure to federal universities by the Federal Government.
The Abuja Zonal Coordinator of the union, Suleiman Muhammed, while briefing journalists in Abuja, said that the cut has adversely affected the union.
The chairman who claimed that relevant authorities like the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Budget Office seemed not to understand how the university system works, added, “With deeply worrisome concerns, ASUU-Abuja Zone wishes to bring to the notice of the general public the unilateral drastic cut by the Federal Government of Nigeria in the personnel expenditure allocations to federal universities across the country…This ugly phenomenon began in December 2015; one of the federal universities which received allocation of a little over N336 million in December 2015, has consistently received about N308 million for the months of January through March, 2016,” he said.
It also condemned the Federal Government’s decision to lay off workers of university staff schools across the country, stressing that the decision was a clear breach of the 2009 agreement between ASUU and the Federal Government.
The Akure Zone, has also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to revisit the policies on staff schools across and the Treasury Single Account (TSA) if imminent crisis must be averted in the system.
Zonal Coordinator of the union, Dr Alex Odiyi, who spoke at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), Ondo State, at the weekend, said the union has written thrice to the Federal Government requesting a reversal of the directive, which he declared was a violation of the ASUU-FG agreement and a rape on the welfare of ASUU members.
He pointed out the OAU, Ile-Ife, which the school authorities have reviewed the staff school fees by over 100 per cent; salaries are yet to be paid to the staff, saying that has become a recurring issues in most federal universities in the country.
“The government has failed to heed this request. On this, the zone wishes to put on record the unfairness of the government in unilaterally repudiating the ASUU-FGN agreement. These actions negating the purposes for which these schools were established.”
The zonal coordinator decried that the TSA has also affected local and international researches among academics, while funds from international funding agencies are also rendered unavailable due to certain bottlenecks created by the untoward operations of the policy.
“At the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, (FUNAAB), funds administered by the university for certain programmes spanning five African countries are trapped. Similar developments occur at the University of Lagos. At this time, Nigerian universities and researchers may be blacklisted and their access to international grants frustrated.”
Furthermore, the union said the policy has drastically affected the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the universities, criticising the government for mopping up the IGR of the universities and starving them of funds to implement their day-to-day activities.
“Our union considers this a direct attack on the running of the universities”.