The National Assembly is reaching out to three key agencies of the Federal Government in efforts to end the strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
The agencies are the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund.
Findings by The PUNCH on Sunday showed that the Senate and House Committees on Education initiated the joint move “as an urgent intervention strategy to save university education from crumbling.”
The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had stated last Wednesday that meeting ASUU’s demands would cost the government N92bn.
She claimed that the government could not afford the money due to an already bloated recurrent bill. However, ASUU, replied her, saying that its demands would cost government N87bn and not the N92bn.
Our correspondent gathered that the National Assembly mediated in the more than two-month old strike by setting up a contact committee, which met with ASUU leaders and government officials.
The committee reportedly reviewed ASUU’s demands and “assessed the financial implications before looking into possible funding options outside the regular budget provided by the Federal Government.”
A source privy to the details of the committee’s work, informed The PUNCH that it “penciled down the NNPC, CBN and TETFUND, among other agencies of government that can assist in providing support funds to resolve the problem.”
It was gathered that the agencies had indicated interest in contributing funds to rescue university education, though it was unclear as of Sunday how much each of the agencies was ready to contribute.
The Chairman, House Committee on Education, Mr. Aminu Suleiman, confirmed the intervention efforts of the legislature to The PUNCH on Sunday.
Suleiman said it was the contact committee that would prepare a report on what each agency would contribute.
He clarified that TETFUND already had a constitutional duty to fund tertiary education, while the other agencies had legal backing in their enabling laws to support education one way or another.
The committee chairman said, “The way we are looking at this intervention is that these agencies will tell the committee what they will be able to contribute.
“Whatever is left as the balance will have to be shouldered by the Federal Government. No two ways about this.”
The lawmaker also revealed that the contact committee would meet on Tuesday (tomorrow) and take a final decision on the amount the agencies could contribute.
Asked whether the ongoing efforts could make ASUU to suspend the strike, Suleiman said the union’s leadership had proposed a meeting for Monday (today).
He added, “We have been in touch with ASUU and they have assured us that they would meet on Monday (today) to see whether they can convince their members to suspend the strike.
“ASUU is a democratic body; it has to consult before taking any decision. But, the union officials have assured us that they would meet ahead of our (committee) talks on Tuesday (tomorrow).”
While commenting on the strike during a meeting with commissioners of finance and accountant-generals of the states, Okonjo-Iweala had said that the university lecturers were asking for N92bn of extra salaries and allowances.
She claimed that the government was still grappling with the effect of the 2010 salary increase and could not afford to carry the additional demands by the lecturers.
But, in faulting the minister’s figure, the union said it only asked for N87bn as part of the yet to be implemented agreement it signed with the government in 2009.
The University of Ibadan branch Chairman of the union, Dr. Olusegun Ajiboye, who reacted to Okonjo-Iweala’s figure, argued that the N87bn was a compromise by ASUU, which had initially asked for N127bn.
Ajiboye explained that the N87bn was for computed allowances of lecturers for three and a half years.
He had stated, “I want Nigerians to ask the minister where she got her figure of N92bn from. There was never a time that ASUU made a demand that is up to N92bn. I think the N92bn is just the imagination of the minister.
“But, that is not to say that this government did not enter into an agreement with us.
“This is a government that signed an agreement with us on January 24, 2012 to the effect that they would inject N100bn as funding into the universities in the first one month and that before the end of 2012, they would inject another N300bn.’’