Okonjo-Iweala: Govt can’t meet ASUU Demands, 61 Varsities Gets N100m

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is pushing for, among others, better pay, but Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela said yesterday that the Federal Government has no resources to meet the union’s demands.

The strike is five weeks old. Mrs Okonjo-Iwela said the lecturers were asking for N92 billion in extra allowances, but maintained that the government has no such cash.

Speaking in Minna at the yearly National Council on Finance and Economic Development (NACOFED) with the theme: “Restructuring Nigeria’s Finances”, the minister said the ASUU demand was coming when government was making efforts at reducing the structure of public expenditures.

Her words: “At present, ASUU wants the government to pay N92bn in extra allowances when resources are not there and when we are working to integrate past increases in pensions. We need to make choices in this

country as we are getting to the stage where recurrent expenditures take the bulk of our resources and people get paid but can do no work.”

If the demands of the university lecturers are met and “we continue to pay them salaries and allowances, we will not be able to provide infrastructure in the universities”, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala said.
The minister argued that when she assumed office, “the share of recurrent expenditure in our total budgets had increased astronomically”.

“In fact, recurrent expenditures accounted for about 77.2 per cent of the federal budget and we are now working to re-balance this ratio,” She said.

Maintaining that Nigeria is still suffering from the effect of the 2010 increase in salaries, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala asked “if we want to get to a stage in this country that all the money we earn is used to pay salaries and allowances?”

She lamented also that Nigeria’s over dependence on oil has resulted in deterioration of non-oil tax, noting that in 1970 non-oil taxes accounted for 74 per cent of the country’s revenues, but by 2012 it had declined to only 30% of Federal Government revenues.

“Many states and local governments are also dependent on monthly revenue allocation from the central government. On average, only 11 per cent of sub-national revenue was obtained from internally generated sources.”

She said the volume of external and internal debts of the country had been increasing. “In fact in August 2006 when I left office, we had a total of $17.3bn, comprised $3.5bn in foreign debt and $13.8bn in domestic debt.

The minister went on: “By 2011 when I returned to office, the total debt stood at $47.9bn and the domestic debt had grown to about $42.3bn’.

The minister, however, said the Federal Government had taken measures to revamp the economy, adding that these measures had started yielding fruitful dividends in direct capital investment in the country and in establishment of industries and agro-based firms.

Niger State Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu, represented by his deputy, Ahmed Ibeto, asked the Federal Government to plug all the areas of wastages in the oil sector of the economy and check pipeline vandalisation across the country.

Aliyu suggested that Nigeria should put more emphasis on the non-oil sector, particular agriculture, now that many countries have discovered and are now refining oil.

The Federal Government Committee on the needs assessment report in Nigerian Universities yesterday reached an agreement with representatives of ASUU on the decaying infrastructure in universities. This follows the adoption the Technical Committee’s report.

The Committee chaired by Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam which rose from a long meeting at the Benue Governor’s lodge Asokoro, Abuja, last night said it had reached an agreement with ASUU to deploy N100 billion for provision of infrastructure on the campuses of 61 universities covered in the needs assessment report earlier carried out by a committee of the Federal Government.

Based on the agreement therefore, the only matter in contention is the issue of the earned allowances which Governor Suswam assured would be dealt with on Monday. since the Federal Government has made
substantial offer to the striking lecturers.

The Technical Committee chaired by Dr Banfa, a nominee of ASUU had proposed in it’s report that the N100billion be shared to all the 61Federal and state universities for intervention in the areas of rehabilitation and construction of lecture theatres and lecture halls; renovation and construction of libraries and laboratories and rehabilitation and construction of hostels.

According to Dr Banfa, the 61 universities were categorised into four based on the size of students enrollment.

Suswam said President Goodluck Jonathan had agreed to flag off the construction of projects under the N100billion stimulus package in a University to be selected to symbolise the commencement of construction work in all the universities. He said the new projects to be undertaken would be standardised such that
all the Universities will enjoy similar facilities in terms of the new projects.

“I am confident that very soon the students will resume. As a leader in this country, I am worried about the strike, Mr President is absolutely worried and everybody is concerned that the students should not stay at home more than necessary” he stressed.

The Implementation Committee meeting was attended by the Ministers of Education, Labour and Productivity, and other education funding agencies of the Federal Government including the Central Bank of Nigeria, NNPC, PTDF, NITDA, NCC, TetFund among others as well as the President of ASUU.

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