The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has offered clarification on the N1.1 trillion fund for the revitalisation of public universities in Nigeria, saying it remained an unfulfilled commitment made by the Federal Government and not the union’s idea.
Kingdom Tonbara, the chairman of ASUU, Niger Delta University (NDU) chapter, gave the clarification when he and his secretary, Ebi Baraka, appeared as guests in a phone-in programme on Rhythm 94.7FM, Yenagoa, on Saturday, which was monitored by our correspondent.
This was just as they vowed that ASUU-NDU would not pull out of the ongoing national strike, adding that the chapter’s active involvement in the union’s previous struggles had led to the transformation of the Bayelsa State-owned university hitherto described in some quarters as a glorified secondary school’.
It would be recalled that the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, had in August declared that the Federal Government would not borrow N1.1trn to end the nationwide industrial action embarked upon by the national body of ASUU since February 2022 over the government’s failures to implement the 2009 agreement, among other issues.
Keyamo, who spoke on national television, claimed that the union was trying to blackmail the government into borrowing the money to fund only the university system to the detriment of other sectors that also require attention.
Tonbara, however, said that the N1.1trn revitalisation fund for public universities was proposed by the Federal Government in 2013 when the university teachers downed tools for six months to drive home the need for the government to save the institutions from infrastructural decay.
He recalled that the government came up with the figure following a report submitted to the Federal Executive Council by a committee inaugurated by President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to visit all public universities to ascertain the level of infrastructural deficit, as a response to an earlier complaint by the union in 2012.
Tonbara said, “That report was presented to the Federal Executive Council where they looked at it and they shouted, from what we are told; that, that means Nigerian universities have completely decayed and that they needed to pump in massive funds into public universities to revitalize our universities.
“And they (Federal Government), not ASUU, came up with N1.1trn to be pumped into public universities; not ASUU. And they said they don’t have the money even though they have realised that from the assessment, they needed N1.1trn.
“It was ASUU that recommended to them that you can spread this (money) into six years and the payment is not going to be made to ASUU but it will be given to the administrators of the universities to develop the universities, both state and federal state universities.”
The ASUU-NDU leader continued: “So the then President, after agreeing, was unable to release this money. That’s why we went on strike in 2013 for six months. At the end of that six months strike, the President graciously released N200bn instead of the normal N220bn that we had agreed. He released N200bn.
“And you won’t believe it, for the first time, Niger Delta University got N3bn (from the money). Before 2013, Niger Delta University had not seen N1bn, and that was the era people were describing NDU as a glorified secondary school.”
Tonbara explained that the N3bn was very useful to the management of NDU as it was able to build brand new faculties of agriculture and arts, an auditorium and two hostels while a library that was abandoned since 2004 was also completed and equipped.
He added: “From that N3bn, we were able to equip most of our laboratories. From that N3bn, we were able to send some of our colleagues abroad to do masters and Ph.Ds. We agreed in that 2009 agreement (with Federal Government) that in three years we will renegotiate the agreement. From 2009 till date, various governments have been deceiving us.”