A closed-door meeting between the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU on Tuesday in Abuja ended in a deadlock.
And there are indications that union’s strike action might be prolonged as minister of finance,Ngozi – Iweala declared that federal government does not have the resources to meet ASUU’sdemands.
Following the stalemate in negotiations yesterday, the governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam, who is chairman of the Universities Needs Assessment Committee, told newsmen that both parties had rescheduled their negotiations for August 19.
Suswan, who is the negotiator for the federal government, said that tremendous progress had been made in the negotiations.
He said that this was mainly on the NEEDs Assessment and Earned Allowance issues raised by ASUUand expressed optimism that the issues would soon be resolved going by the progress made so far.
“Well the meeting continues next week Monday. We made some progress; we had very fruitful discussion with ASUU. We have agreed we are to meet again on Monday at about three o’clock. When we meet again we will be able to arrive at some decisions,” he said.
Suswam assured that the federal government was making effort to resolve the crises in the education sector as it has introduced some new faces in the negotiating team, including the minister of finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the director-general of the Budget Office, BrightOkogu.
“Now that finance minister is coming, we are getting close to resolving it because the strike is about settling some debts and also intervening in the universities and so she is here and she also contributed,” he added.
However, Suswam’s optimism is not shared by Okonjo – Iweala who at disclosed at another ceremony in Minna Tuesday that the government did not have the money to meet the lecturers demands.
The minister said this in her keynote address at the opening ceremony of this year’s National Council on Finance and Economic Development, NACOFED, in Minna, Niger State, with the theme “Restructuring Nigeria’s Finances”
She stated that federal government cannot meet the N92 billion in extra allowances demanded byASUU contending that less emphasis should be placed on recurrent expenditure, especially salaries and allowances of workers in order to adequately and urgently develop other sectors.
“At present, ASUU wants government to pay N92 billion in extra allowances over and above their salaries. Though we are in discussion with them, the problem is that the resources to take care of the demands are simply not there,” Iweala said.
She also stated that ASUU’s demand will drastically affect provision of infrastructure in the universities.
Okonjo-Iweala posited that the country was still suffering from the impact of the wage increase in 2010, adding that by the time other demands are added, the recurrent budget will be getting higher, thus leaving virtually nothing for capital projects.
“Do we want to get to a stage when virtually all the monies and resources we earn are being used to pay salaries and allowances for public servants, who make up a minute percentage of the country’s population?” she asked.
“People are supportive when there is agitation to increase salaries, pensions among others. But on the other hand, people also turn around to say the recurrent budget is too high and there is no way you can have it both ways and so we have to make specific choices in this country.” she reasoned.
ASUU began indefinite strike on July 1, 2013 over the full implementation of a 2009 agreement and a 2011 memorandum of understanding they had with the government on various issues ranging from university autonomy, to funding, and lecturers’ remuneration.