There are strong indications that the Federal Executive Council will, at its meeting on Wednesday (today) decide on the demands of the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, who gave this indication in an interview with journalists on Tuesday, said the university lecturers had deliberated on the offers made to them by the government at a meeting on August 17.
Also, the union, in a statement on Tuesday, said it would call off its strike after receiving a positive response to its demands from the Federal Government.
The lecturers boycotted a meeting which was scheduled to hold between the government and the union on Tuesday.
ASUU, on August 13, began a nationwide strike over the failure of the Federal Government to implement an agreement it reached with the union in 2009.
The union also alleged that the Federal Government did not implement the Memorandum of Understanding the two sides signed in 2013.
Based on the 2009 agreement, the demands of ASUU include funding for the revitalisation of public universities; payment of earned academic allowances; and the registration of the Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company and pension matters.
At the meeting on August 17, it was learnt the Federal Government offered to pay the union N23bn and carry out an audit of N30bn earlier given to the university lecturers.
It was also gathered that government rejected a request by ASUU that universities should be exempted from the Treasury Single Account, but agreed to set up an interest-bearing account for university endowments.
Ngige, in the interview with journalists explained why ASUU did not attend a meeting it was scheduled to hold with the government on Tuesday.
He said the union, in a letter dated August 28, stated that it had considered offers made by the government and made its counter-offer.
The minister said the Federal Government would deliberate on the union’s counter-offer.
“Tomorrow (today, Wednesday) is Federal Executive Council meeting and there are aspects that we will need FEC approval to go on with. Thereafter, we will meet with the ASUU team either tomorrow evening or Thursday morning, whichever will be more convenient,” Ngige added.
The labour minister explained that the government side was expected to discuss the ASUU’s counter-offer in order to hold a meeting with the lecturers’ body to resolve the areas of disagreement.
He stated, “The government, as you know, has made an offer to ASUU through the ministry of education and late yesterday (Monday) ASUU got back to us with their counter-offer.
“By then, this meeting had been scheduled and the government side needed to deliberate on their counter-offer before we can have a reconciliation meeting to further discuss areas of disagreement. That is the position right now.
“We are holding a government side meeting, while the Minister of Education is also holding meeting and we will meet later today (Tuesday) and formalise our position.”
We’re awaiting FG’s response, says ASUU
But in the statement on Tuesday, the union explained why it boycotted the Tuesday’s meeting with the Federal Government.
It stated that government’s positive response to its demand would bring the strike to an end.
The union, in a statement by its President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, referred the government to its letter dated August 28, 2017, where it expressed its demands.
The government had, in a statement on Monday night, announced that Ngige would meet with the president and executive members of ASUU in Abuja.
In its statement on Tuesday, ASUU said it was awaiting a positive response to its demands, thanking Nigerians for their understanding.
It read, “Following due consultation, we have collated the views of our members on the offers from government in dispute in the letter dated August 16. These views were submitted to FG vide our letter dated August 28.
“As we await the Federal Government’s action on our letter, we hope that it would not be long before we receive a positive response which will bring an end to the dispute.”
When asked why his team failed to show up for the meeting with the government, Ogunyemi declined comment, referring one of our correspondents to his statement.
Ogunyemi also refused to disclose the contents of ASUU’s counter-offer to the government in a telephone interview with The PUNCH on Tuesday.
He stated, “We submitted our report to the FG yesterday (Monday) but we can’t discuss that with the press now. What they have promised us is that they were going to get back to us as soon as possible.’’
However, a source told one of our correspondents that what the union presented to the FG on Monday was not new.
“Our demands are not new and they include the revitalisation fund that we have been asking for, the retirement of academics with the full complement of their salaries and others. Nothing is new,’’ said the source.
Senate calls for patience, continuous dialogue
Meanwhile, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Sabi Abdullahi, has called for patience as the Federal Government and ASUU seek an amicable solution to the strike embarked upon by the lecturers.
Sabi said this in a telephone interview with The PUNCH in Abuja on Tuesday.
He said the Senate, being a responsible institution, was concerned about the crisis and was intervening in the dispute to assist in bringing about a lasting solution to the crisis in the education sector.
He stated, “If you remember, Senator Barau Jibrin has been on this matter despite the fact that we are on recess. This issue is about continuous engagement but as you know, the bulk of the issue is not with us (The Senate).
“I will just call on Nigerians to be patient with us because of this holiday. I am sure after Sallah, when we are all on the ground, things will begin to take shape.”
NANS summons emergency meeting
Also, the National Association of Nigerian Students has summoned an emergency meeting to deliberate on its next line of action on the ongoing strike by ASUU.
The meeting, it was learnt, would deliberate on the strike and other issues of critical national importance and take a position on the way forward.
The students also called on the Federal Government and ASUU to engage in constructive discussion to resolve the lingering issues that led to the declaration of the strike.
It called on the parties to “save the education sector and the future of Nigerian students in the interest of the nation.”
The President of NANS, Chinonso Obasi, said this in an interview with The PUNCH on Tuesday.
Obasi stated that NANS would await the outcome of the meeting between government and ASUU to determine its next line of action.
He said, “We have fixed an emergency meeting of NANS, which will give approval to the action of NANS upon the expiration of the 21 days ultimatum given for the ASUU strike to be called off.
“The meeting is scheduled to hold on September 7 in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.”
NANS decried the incessant and prolonged strikes as one of the factors responsible for the falling standard of education in Nigeria apart from the attendant untold hardship on the students, parents and guardians.
Obasi said, “Incessant strikes and stoppage of academic activities as a result of lack of agreements or lack of adherence and implementation of duly-executed memorandum of agreement between the Federal Government and ASUU do not reflect and demonstrate commitment to the sustainable development of the nation’s education sector and the development of the nation’s human capital.
“We are calling on the government and ASUU to demonstrate sensitivity and a great sense of patriotism in resolving the issues at the earliest convenience to save education in the nation and avert unfortunate developments associated with the idleness of young people.”