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ASUU Strike Threatens Varsities’ Capital Vote

Source: burningpot.com

The ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) may soon take a heavy toll on capital projects in the 27 federal universities, THISDAY has gathered.

The newspaper learnt that only 30 per cent of the over N9 billion allocated for capital projects in the universities in the current financial year has been spent.

By the end of September 2009, all unspent funds will be returned to the federal treasury, in accordance with the public financial rules introduced by the President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua administration.

Contracts for projects are awarded by the University Senate, comprising mainly of all professors and heads of departments (HoDs) – who are currently on strike.

With another strike by the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), the proposed projects may effectively be unrealisable before the fiscal year for capital projects closes next month.

Concerns are now mounting over how the outstanding 70 per cent will be implemented in the next five weeks before the closure of capital accounts for the fiscal year.

Some of the projects, THISDAY learnt, are infrastructural in nature and are meant to improve the overall conditions of the universities.

“The university system, grossly under-funded over the decades, is in desperate need of cash, and severe consequences await the nation if most of the funds provided for capital development in the 2009 budget are not utilised,” a government official lamented to THISDAY last night.

The strike by university teachers for better conditions of service and improved funding of the education sector is now over two months old, although most of the contentious issues have been resolved.

The Federal Government recently pulled out of negotiation with ASUU, asking the teachers to suspend the strike before it would return to the table.

Efforts to reach the Minister of Education, Dr. Sam Egwu, were unsuccessful but his Technical Assistant, Prof. Stephen Okecha, confirmed that the retirement age for professors had been increased from 65 to 70 years, “as is the case with Supreme Court justices. Only professors can retire at this age so as to encourage other academics to work hard to reach their professional zenith”.

Also, universities are now more autonomous. Okecha said that their councils now recruit both the academic and non-academic staff, in line with the recently amended act of the National Assembly.

“The vice-chancellors of the University of Maiduguri, University of Nigeria, Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University and Nnamdi Azikiwe University have been appointed solely by the respective councils, with the Federal Ministry of Education merely informed for record purposes,” he stated.

The Vice-Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, in Anambra State, Prof. Boniface Egboka, said: “The Federal Government made no input whatsoever in my recent appointment.”

The new arrangement makes for greater accountability and transparency, according to a lecturer, Alphonsus Shireku.

“When a vice-chancellor knows he is answerable to the university council, rather than some unseen forces in far-away Abuja, he works hard for the university,” he said, acknowledging ongoing progress at the University of Ibadan.

The 40 per cent increase in the salaries of federal university teachers which will see a professor earn N450,000 per month and a graduate assistant almost N100,000 monthly will take effect from July.

Their salaries had also been increased by 15 per cent in 2007.

The Ministries of Education, Finance and Justice as well as the office of the Accountant General of the Federation have worked out the details of the new salary structure captured in the supplementary budget now before the National Assembly.

"I should think the fact that the president and the vice-president as well as both Education Ministers are academics made them escalate this year's Education vote from N210.5 billion to NN224.7 billion, in spite of the global economic meltdown and the profound problems with meeting oil production targets in Nigeria," observed Dr. Ifediora Amobi, Senior Special Assistant to Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan on economic matters.

The only outstanding issue is the alleged refusal by the Ministry of Education to endorse an ASUU proposal that it signs an agreement compelling state governments to pay the same enhanced salary to ASUU members in state-owned universities.

ASUU accused the Federal Government of “stifling collective bargaining” for this stance.

But such an agreement will be unconstitutional and a violation of the federalist principle, the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and visitor to Lagos State University (LASU), said.

The Education Minister is believed to be working towards charging the ASUU leadership with contempt of court if it fails to call off the strike by August 24 as directed by the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP).

“The charge is part of the strategy to ensure that the over N6 billion yet to be spent on university capital projects is not lost,” a director in the Ministry of Education said.

It is understood that Egwu will in the next few days apply the “no-work, no-pay” policy if the strike continues.

The university authorities will be directed to open attendance registers for lecturers who return to work and provide enough protection for them against ASUU activists who may want to molest them.

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