• Thursday, February 29, 2024
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We are conciliators to ASUU – Festus Keyamo

Festus Keyamo, the minister of state for labour and Elemployment, has said that his ministry is only a conciliator in the negotiation between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Ministry of Education.

He stated this on Friday during an interview on the ChannelsTV’s Politics Today programme.

Keyamo was providing an update on the state of affairs concerning the more than five-month old strike embarked upon by ASUU over issues of lecturers’ income, salaries, wages, and mode of payment of these incomes, salaries, and wages.

“The issue with ASUU can be divided into two categories: their incomes, wages, and salaries on the one hand, and the payment system by which they should be paid their salaries and allowances on the other,” he explained.

Read also: Keyamo: Atiku lacks experience to compete with Tinubu

He went on trying to excuse his ministry from any legal responsibility regarding the employment of ASUU members. “The employer of the members of ASUU is the Ministry of Education.” At some point, the ministry of education took over the negotiation; we are just conciliators; we intervene to settle both sides of the dispute. “

He explained that in an effort to resolve the impasse between the Ministry of Education and ASUU, the ministry set up a small committee called the Professor Mimi-Briggs committee aimed at taking a wider look at ASUU’s complaints and coming up with workable, implementable solutions.

Read also: ASUU: Reactions as Buhari’s ultimatum to education minister elapses

“They set up what they call the Professor Mimi-Briggs committee to receive the complaints of ASUU and then look into those complaints and see how they can be resolved within the framework of the finances of the government.”

He complained that ASUU’s insistence on the exclusion of some very critical bodies from the negotiation provided a flawed foundation for progress and fairness.

“Now when this committee began to sit with ASUU, there were other critical committees that should have been on the table: the National Income Wages and Salaries Commission; the Budget Office of the Federation; the Head of Service of the Federation; and the Ministry of Finance. ASUU at some point objected to these critical stakeholders sitting with them,” he explained further, with disbelief, about the actions of the lecturers’ union.

He couldn’t fathom how it would be possible for ASUU to want to go into a very important meeting with the Federal Government through the Ministry without giving the government the chance to have its own agencies responsible for presenting its facts and figures and see whether their demands could be met.

But how can you sit down with the Ministry of Education without those holding the purse of government? Without those who know the rules as to how public officers should be paid,” he asked, looking rather bewildered.

He went on explaining the unfair way ASUU went about hijacking the Professor Mimi-Briggs committee by fixing their own salaries and other emoluments.

“They sat down to fix their own salaries and allowances with the ministry of education without other critical stakeholders.”

At the end of the exercises,” he said, “ASUU put some percentage increase on their salaries, which is about 100 percent to some additional percentage increase, which now comes up to an additional N560 billion on top of the normal N412 billion that the federal government was already using to pay their salaries and emoluments.”

“They added another N560 billion to that bill and then that does not even include things like their harzard allowance and all those other little allowances.” All those additional allowances also came down to N170 billion. And so the entire bill came down to N1.2 trillion, “he screamed, presenting an unsustainable situation that the academic body was asking the FG to carryon, not minding the implications it could have on the country.

“Meanwhile you had before this situation, the federal government already spent 50 percent of its overheads on salaries to pay them.

“So what the FG did when they brought their proposal from the Mimi-Briggs committee was to insist that they needed to bring other critical stakeholders.”

“Which sat down to look at things again and discovered that their demands were unrealistic,” he added, insisting that the other unions within the university sector and the polytechnic had threatened to go on strike if the FG answered them. “So it is going to set off a chain reaction that we may not be able to control.”

He presented a grimy situation of how bad the government purse has gotten when he acknowledged that the FG will run on a N200 billion deficit come 2023.

“The projection for 2023 is that the total income of the government will be about N6.1 trillion. Subsidies alone are expected to swallow N6.3 trillion, which will be more than the total income of the FG in 2023. So where do we go from here?” he asked.

“And we have one component placing this kind of burden on the FG purse. It’s not just possible, “he strongly objected.

He said that the expanded committee will look at the report again and submit their recommendations to the FG.

He said that on the system of payment, ASUU came up with their payment system, insisting that the former system of payment was full of fraud even after the FG had promised to clean up the mess in the system. ASUU refused to join others in the existing system and developed their own—the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), which, according to the minister, failed the stress test of the federal government.

An outcome that motivated the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) to insist that the FG pay them through the university’s peculiar personnel and payroll system (U3PS).

Keyamo insisted that that situation couldn’t have been possible where everybody developed their own mode of payment. However, he said that the FG had promised to accept their system of payment if it passed its stress test.

He appealed to all Nigerians to appeal to ASUU to go back to classrooms while efforts are ongoing to resolve this situation. “