• Senate meeting with union likely to reconvene tomorrow

Omololu Ogunmade and Paul Obi in Abuja

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) yesterday ended its week long warning strike, asking lecturers nationwide to return to their classrooms, even as negotiations continued with the federal government, especially on one of the crucial demands by the union that government must exempt universities in the country from the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy.

The policy requires all federal government institutions to domicile their funds with the TSA in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The clarification by ASUU came amid mixed messages from the union that it was set to embark on an indefinite nationwide strike.

Speaking to THISDAY in a phone interview, ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, debunked reports that the union had declared an indefinite strike.

He, however, told THISDAY that the union was making progress, especially with the intervention of the Senate.

“In the next one or two meetings, if we are able to get a clear path to the matter, we will avoid elongation of the strike.

“I have been receiving these reports that ASUU says the strike continues, no. The strike ends today (yesterday). All lecturers are to go back to work tomorrow morning (today),” Ogunyemi stated.

On the vexed issue of the TSA, one of the critical policies ASUU is vehemently opposed to, Ogunyemi said: “On TSA, we are getting positive responses, though we don’t know how far they are willing to go.”

Also, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Dr. Clement Iloh, told THISDAY that part of the strategy was to look at ASUU’s demands, particularly as it concerns Endowment Fund but not TSA as a whole.

Iloh said: “It is not just the TSA, ASUU also talked about the Endowment Fund. What ASUU presented was the Endowment Fund. The TSA is a government policy, so it has so many components.”

But even as the president of the union asked university lecturers to resume lectures today, the Chairman of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) chapter of ASUU, Dr. Ifeanyi Abada, said yesterday in Nsukka that the union would embark on an indefinite strike, reported the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

“ASUU was left with no option than to proceed on the one-week warning strike and with the failure to meet our demands, we will go on an indefinite strike,” Abada told newsmen. He said that the chapter complied fully with the warning strike directive.

“The National Executive Committee (NEC) made efforts to resolve this issue with the government but government remained unyielding.

“The strike compliance in UNN was total, no lectures, no examinations, no departmental and faculty meetings, as members did not participate.

“The UNN chapter will not renege on the directive of the national body until government addresses all the issues raised.

“Our monitoring team is moving round; any lecturer found teaching will be sanctioned accordingly,” he said.

According to Abada, among the demands of ASUU was that universities be exempted from the TSA policy.

He added that ASUU was also demanding that the federal government implements the agreement it entered into with ASUU in 2009.

Academic activities remained paralysed in UNN yesterday as a result of the warning strike.

Meanwhile, the meeting between the Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETFUND and ASUU, which was deadlocked on Monday may resume tomorrow, the committee Chairman, Senator Jibrin Barau, disclosed yesterday.

Barau, who is the Head of the Senate Intervention Sub-committee mediating between ASUU and the federal government, said the Senate had made tremendous progress in its commitment to avert an indefinite strike by the union.

Speaking at the National Assembly complex on the outcome of the sub-committee’s meeting with ASUU on Monday, Barau said: “We had about six issues and all of them were very well discussed. We deliberated and agreed on all of them except one, and that one has to do with the earned allowances.

“Now, they (ASUU) are asking for about N62 billion. Initially, N30 billion was given to the universities in 2013 and the agreement, as signed between the federal government and ASUU clearly specifies that upon receipt of any payment, before any new payment is made, the last payment has to be accounted for.

“The Implementation Monitoring Committee (IMC) clearly wrote in one of its letters to the Ministry of Education that it is not satisfied with the level of accountability on the N30 billion.

“So, a letter was sent to the Ministry of Finance since March that the forensic audit on that money has not been done. They said no further disbursement could be made except the money that was given was accounted for as clearly spelt out in the agreement.

“We then said, wait, the fact that the forensic audit was not carried out was not the fault of ASUU. So we then agreed that for the exercise to be conducted, it was estimated by experts that it would take six months to conclude the exercise.

“Then we said ‘look, it will be unfair to ask ASUU to wait without being paid while the exercise is being carried out’. We said ASUU should be paid N1 billion every month while the forensic audit exercise is being carried out.

“ASUU said they would not accept N1 billion. We now asked ASUU to accept N1.5 billion while the exercise is being concluded. ASUU said they will go back and consult with their members and that they are going to get back to us.

“Therefore, we are waiting for ASUU to get back to us, but definitely the meeting may take place on Thursday so that we can thrash out the only remaining issue, since we don’t have the luxury of time on our side.

“The Senate wants all contending issues to be resolved within the shortest time possible so as to keep the academic calendar running smoothly in all our universities,” he said.