CHAIRMAN of the Presidential Committee on Need Assessment of Nigerian Universities and Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam, over the weekend expressed frustration that in spite of the demonstration of good faith by government over demands by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the striking lecturers have yet to call off their strike.
He told newsmen in a chat in Abuja that the N100 billion the federal government had been able to raise did not come easy and when combined with the distribution of projects in the 61 federal Universities which President Goodluck Jonathan will kick-off soon, should have been enough to get the lecturers back to work.
The Federal Government had also earmarked N30 billion for the payment of earned allowance over which ASUU is demanding about N90 billion.
However, Suswam maintained that there was no way ASUU could have a bigger stake in the Universities system than the Federal Government which owned the institutions and therefore called on them to cooperate with government towards the resolution of the contending issues.
According to him, “ASUU is not a better stakeholder than the federal government. The Universities are owned by the Federal Government. So, the Federal Government is a better stakeholder on issues of infrastructure in the Universities than ASUU. And so, it is for them to collaborate together and I urge the leadership of ASUU to collaborate with the federal government.”
Speaking on the difficulty in raising the N100 billion, he said it was not easy for government had to involve several agencies including the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the National Communication Commission (NCC) andthe Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
The governor pointed out that the problem of ASUU was no longer the issue of infrastructure in the universities but their earned allowance as his committee has successfully carried out its assignment.
He added: “If they say that the 2009 agreement was delayed, at least, they have started now with N100 billion. N100 billion is no small money by any standard to inject into the infrastructure need of universities and all the 61 (federal) Universities are going to benefit. If you see the distribution the way we have done it, all the universities are beneficiaries within the first phase. This is just a first phase.
“What we have done further, the President has allowed the committee to engage more meaningfully with these funding agencies so that by next year, the funding money that will be available to be injected into the infrastructure deficit in the Universities is going to be even higher than theN100 billion. So, I don’t think that is the problem. The basic problem of ASUU is earned allowance. It is not about Needs assessment.”
On whether the situation with ASUU was not a stalemate, he explained further: “There is no stalemate.
The committee on Needs Assessment which I chaired has done a wonderful work. All of us inclusive of the representatives of ASUU, together, we did the work, the committee accepted the work and the projects as distributed to the universities have already been distributed with the money.
“So, there is no issue as far as the need assessment is concerned at all because ASUU was deeply involved in the criteria which we adopted in the distribution of the funds, the N100 billion.
“To be able to pull N100 billion together wasn’t a small matter because Central Bank is involved, NNPC is involved, NCC is involved, all these funding agencies were all involved. I had to take time to meet with the chief executives of these agencies for us to streamline the funding and wehave been able to have N100 billion which has already been distributed.
“We are hoping that given the delays of the due process, the President should be flagging off some of these projects in the first week of September. So, there is no issue with the Need Assessment.”
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