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One month after FG told lecturers to resign and go into farming, ASUU advises members to seek alternative livelihood

ABOUT a month after the Federal Government told university lecturers to resign their jobs and go into farming, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has advised its members to seek alternative means of livelihood.

The advice followed the inability of the Federal Government and ASUU to resolve outstanding issues over which the lecturers embarked on the industrial action which had grounded Nigeria’s public universities‎ for several months.

Coordinator of ASUU, Abuja Zone, Professor Theophilus Lagi, ‎at a press conference at the University of Abuja on November 17, revealed that the union has advised lecturers ‎to find alternative means of livelihood.‎

L‎agi suggested that the Federal Government, represented by Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, had not been sincere in negotiations with ASUU.

‎“Our members have been advised to seek other legitimate means of survival as the government has not released salaries withheld since February 2020. ‎One need not be a psychologist to understand the behaviour and recent utterances of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige.

“The minister has clearly shown his disdain for Nigerian academics and has failed to play the role of an unbiased umpire in moderating the imbroglio. ‎In the past few weeks, for instance, Ngige has said one thing when he met with the union and a different thing on the same subject in interviews with the media,” Lagi said.

But he also gave indications that the union was not going to back down from its position in the protracted, unending negotiations with the Federal Government.

“Our members are relentlessly determined to continue with the ongoing strike until our demands are met,” the ASUU official said. ‎

The Federal Government had on October 5 told members of the union to consider resigning their lecturing jobs and take up farming‎ and other professions.

Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, who made the suggestion when he appeared as a guest on ARISE NEWS Channel, a television station, ‎had insisted that ‎ASUU members cannot dictate how they should be paid by the Federal Government, their employer.

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‎The minister observed that Nigeria was in need of more farmers.‎

‎The minister had said, “ASUU is within its rights as a union of lecturers. We didn’t start a strike with ASUU on the basis of COVID-19. ‎ASUU was already on strike way before COVID-19. Just before COVID-19 we shut down schools, they gave notice of an indefinite strike. ‎We are not in any contention with them.

“Government is actually not holding anyone to ransom. It says this is how I want to pay and it has to be through IPPIS. ‎You can leave the employment. You can opt out of it and say ‘I no longer want to teach’. You can find other professions. What we need now are probably more farmers. ‎You cannot keep forcing your employer and tell him, ‘I will like you to pay me my money through my pillow. Or, I will like you to pay it through this mailbox’.

“ASUU has a lot of complaints and dissipation around it. That is legitimate but doesn’t mean you should force yourself on the man who has the money.”

ASUU did not take kindly to the minister’s suggestion. ‎

In its response, the union also advised Nwajiuba to resign his appointment as minister and go into farming.

‎Reacting to Nwajiuba’s comments, chairman of the University of Ibadan Chapter of ASUU, Professor Ayo Akinwole, in a statement, said the minister’s comments showed that he was naïve on education matters.‎

‎“If the Minister of State for Education is interested in farming, he should resign his appointment and stop displaying his cluelessness of the problems in the education sector. ‎We are on a just fight to ensure that those in public offices become responsive and responsible to the masses they swore to serve.

“They must fund public education. We have been on the same salary since 2009. That is no longer sustainable. ‎The universities are being run with personal sweat of lecturers while politicians siphon money for personal aggrandizement. We cannot accept the IPPIS that is against the laws of the land and which fails to recognise the uniqueness of academic profession and culture.‎

“We have brought an alternative using our members’ money. People like this minister of state mirror the disdain of the ruling class for the workers and people of the country,” ‎the UI ASUU chairman said in the statement.

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‎ASUU commenced ‎its ongoing indefinite strike on March 23, largely to protest a Federal Government directive that academic staff in all Nigerian public universities must enrol on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).

President Muhammadu Buhari had directed that all ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government drawing their salary from the Consolidated Revenue Funds should enrol on the IPPIS platform by the end of October 2019.‎

Despite the complaints by the university workers concerning the IPPIS, the Federal Government says the scheme has helped to reduce corruption in the public sector. ‎

In May 2020, the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation said the IPPIS had saved over N361 billion for the Federal Government “despite opposition and sabotage” from some quarters.

The Federal Government had also described ASUU’s opposition to enrolment of its members on the IPPIS as an “open endorsement of corruption”.

Created in 2007, the IPPIS secretariat is a department under the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation responsible for payment of salaries and wages directly to government employees’ bank accounts with appropriate deductions and remittances of third-party payments such as taxes and health insurance. ‎

In place of the IPPIS, ASUU has developed the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as an alternative payment platform for university lecturers. UTAS is currently being scrutinised by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), preparatory to its possible acceptance by the Federal Government.

Interestingly, the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) have also proposed an alternative payment platform – the University General Peculiar Payroll Payment System (UGPPPS) – in place of the IPPIS.

The university non-academic staff unions have been complaining of irregularities in payment of salary, including delays and deductions since they migrated to the IPPIS platform.

ASUU is insisting on the adoption of UTAS as the payment platform for its members.

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The Federal Government has said it has agreed to pay N30 billion Earned Academic Allowance to the lecturers, as well as arrears of salaries. According to the Federal Government, the only outstanding issue was the disagreement over the payment platform.

However, ASUU is insisting on continuing the industrial action, which has lasted about eight months, until the Federal Government meets all its demands.

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