‘Over N560 billion needed to pay striking varsity teachers’

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An extra N560 billion may be needed by the Federal Government to meet university teachers’ demand for increased annual pay, a top government source has said.

As reported by The Nation, the source, who is privy to the renewed negotiations between the government and university-based unions, however, said it might be “fiscally tight” for the plum sum to be made available, in view of declining revenue.

The government, according to the source, spends “N372 billion annually on university education alone, including lecturers’ salaries.”

Based on talks with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, a professor could earn, at least, N2 million monthly.

The government has offered about N1 million monthly salary for a professor, which is a 100 per cent rise.

President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday moved to break the ice by personally meeting with the leadership of ASUU, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian University (SSANU), the National Association of Applied Academic Technologists, NAAT and the National Association of Non-Academics of Educational Institutions Staff Union (NASU).

At the end of the meeting, which was attended by representatives of relevant government ministries and agencies, Buhari directed Education Minister Adamu Adamu to end the strike within two weeks.

Based on Buhari’s directive, the Finance and National Planning Minister, Zainab Ahmed, Adamu, the Budget Office and National Wages and Salaries Commission and other agencies have been working on the modalities to meet the unions’ demands without much shock on the economy.

A source said while the government acceded to agitations for a pay rise and release of revitalisation funds to universities, it was also weighing other options.

One of the options, according to him, is to lay the cards on the table for the unions to appreciate and bear with the government.

The source said, “Presently, the government is spending N372 billion annually on university education alone, including lecturers’ salaries. The government also spends billions on polytechnics and colleges of education.

“If ASUU insists on N2 million per month for a professor, the Federal Government will have to cough out an additional N560 billion to be able to meet the expectations of ASUU.

“There is no way the economy can accommodate such an increase. The government and the lecturers have to sit down to face the reality and design a middle course approach to end the strike.”

On revitalisation funds, a source said the Buhari administration has been paying them “in a gradual manner.”

His words, “The agreement ASUU reached with the government of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan was in respect of N1.3trillion Revitalisation Funds. But in line with the economic situation, the Buhari administration reached understanding to release the first tranche of N220 billion. We have paid up to 70 per cent since 2016.

“From March to August last year, we paid about N92.7billion to varsities apart from a consequential adjustment of minimum wage in universities which resulted in 10 per cent pay rise from 2019.

“The differential from the adjustment was paid to university teachers in May this year despite the fact that they are on strike. The universities got an additional N27 billion.

“The polytechnics and Colleges of Education got N4.5 billion and N5.5billion respectively. The Buhari administration has done a lot for the university system but ASUU does not reckon with the best offered its members.

The source also dismissed the comparison of Nigeria’s university pay structure with Rwanda, Ghana, South Africa and Uganda.

He said, “Even at the renegotiation table on Federal /ASUU 2009 Agreement, the National Universities Commission’s recommendation was rejected.

“How many universities are in these African countries? What is the population of their lecturers? We have a peculiar situation with peculiar problems.

“The renegotiation talks were stalled because ASUU does not want to be guided by the technical advisers from the Federal Ministry of Finance and National Planning and Budget Office.

“They drove away experienced directors from the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and the National Salaries and Wages Commission.

“Instead, they are hanging on to the report of Prof. Nimi Briggs Renegotiation Committee on the 2009 Agreement. The committee even offered professors additional steps from Step 10 to 13.”

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