Femi Falana, a leading Nigerian campaigner for human rights, has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to submit an additional budget that includes the N200 billion needed to renovate federal universities nationwide.
Falana noted that this would go a long way toward ending the Academic Staff Union of Colleges strike, which has paralysed public universities since February.
He said President Buhari’s recent lament over the prolonged strike was unnecessary.
He also criticised the Federal Government’s assertion that it lacks the resources to comply with ASUU’s demands, pointing out that it has allotted trillions to deal with matters like fuel subsidies and agricultural policies.
The union had, on February 14, begun a warning strike which had metamorphosed into months and vowed not to call off till its needs are met.
ASUU is seeking improved welfare, revitalisation of public universities and academic autonomy, among other demands. It also looks into the non-payment of university revitalisation funds, which amounts to about N1.1 trillion.
However, the Federal Government has asserted that it lacks the resources to make such a payment, citing the low oil prices experienced during President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch. The agreement was reportedly struck in 2009.
The union had proposed an alternative payroll system, the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).
Read Falana’s complete statement below:
TIME TO END ASUU STRIKE BY PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI
Four months ago, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) commenced the current strike to compel the Federal Government to comply with the FG/ASSU Agreement on funding federal universities in Nigeria. According to the binding Agreement, the total fund the Federal Government should have provided to revamp the universities is N200 billion, in line with its obligation under the Agreement. Before then, the warning strikes embarked upon by ASUU was ignored by the Federal Government. Thus, the ongoing industrial action which has paralysed the federal universities has lingered on due to the refusal of the Federal Government to meet its commitment under the FG/ASUU Agreement. However, in justifying the unwarranted breach of the Agreement, the Federal Government has complained of a lack of funds.
Instead of addressing the outstanding grey areas in the prolonged negotiations, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the Visitor to all federal universities in the country, has urged the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to consider the long-term effect of the strike on students and the generational consequences on families, the educational system and the future development of the country. While lamenting that the strike was already taking a toll on the psychology of parents, students and other stakeholders, throwing up many moral issues that already beg for attention, the President said that “We hope that ASUU will sympathise with the people on the prolonged strike. Truly, enough is enough for keeping students at home. Don’t hurt the next generation, for goodness sake.”
The claim of the Federal Government that it lacks the financial resources to fund university education has been taken with a pinch of salt by the Nigerian people. Having regard to the way and manner the huge public fund has been expended on other projects, it does appear that the Federal Government has not prioritised higher education. For instance, the electricity sector and the counter-insurgency operations in two regions in the country have consumed not less than N6 trillion without any tangible result. The Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) claims that N5.4 trillion is owed by a section of the comparador bourgeoisie whose toxic debts were bought with public funds. Even though N443 billion was spent on fuel importation from January to June 2022, the National Assembly has approved N4 trillion for the same product from July to December 2022 due to the comatose status of the nation’s refineries. The Federal Government has also made available N100 billion for revamping the textile industry, N850 billion for rice production, N250 billion for autogas vehicle conversion, and N228 for the school feeding programme. Apart from its annual budget of N40 billion, the Independent National Electoral Commission has received N100 billion as the first tranche of the 2022 budget to conduct the 2023 general elections.
A government that can afford to spend trillions of Naira on the projects mentioned above cannot afford to ignore higher education funding. Therefore, the federal government should adopt concrete measures to end the ASUU strike without any further delay. Instead of lamenting over the strike, President Buhari should urgently submit a Supplementary budget to the National Assembly for the appropriation of the sum of N200 billion required to revamp the federal universities. This demand is in accordance with the FG/ASUU Agreement, whose terms are binding on the Federal Government. The National Assembly, concerned parents, progressive civil society bodies and other relevant stakeholders should prevail on President Buhari to do the needful to end the strike without any further delay.