The hope of many university students across the country to resume academic activities soon may have been dashed.
The striking Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has rejected the offers made to it early this week by the Nigerian government.
At the seventh meeting with the leadership of ASUU on Tuesday, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said the labour dispute with the university teachers was on the verge of being resolved. He listed the fresh concessions made by the administration to ASUU.
According to Mr Ngige, the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Ministry of Finance presented evidence that N15.4 billion had been released to public universities.
On earned academic allowances, he said President Muhammadu Buhari approved N20 billion to offset arrears of the 2009 to 2012 verified earnings by university teachers.
But in an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES early Saturday morning, the President of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi, said upon reviewing the offers made by the government, members of the union across various campuses and zones rejected it.
Mr. Ogunyemi, who described government’s offer on the outstanding revitalization fund of N1.1 trillion as tokenism, said members are insisting that government should release at least a tranche of N220 billion spread over four quarters of 2019.
He added that on earned allowances, government’s proposal should not be lesser than the total amount released “the last time” out of the verified balance.
Recall that as part of the agreement reached between the union and the government before ASUU ended its industrial action in September 2017, the Federal Government released a total N22.9 billion for earned allowances of both academic and non-academic staff across 22 Federal universities.
Of the amount, academics under ASUU got N18.3billion, while non-teaching staff belonging to the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian University (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) got N4.6 billion.
The sharing formula, which was condemned by the three non-academic staff unions, had led to pockets of protests across various campuses at the time, and eventually compelled the unions to embark on prolonged strike.
Apparently to avoid the controversy that greeted the sharing of the allowance in 2017, ASUU is insisting that the Federal Government should categorically state the amount earmarked for its members, which it said must not be lesser than N18.3 billion it received then.
Mr Ogunyemi said; “Our members have rejected tokenism with respect to outstanding revitalization fund of N1.1 trillion. They are insisting that government should release at least one tranche of N220 billion spread over four quarters of 2019.
“On earned academic allowances, our members said government’s proposed amount out of the verified balance should not be less than the total amount released last time, while evidence of mainstreaming the allowances into the 2019 budget should be shown. Also, timeline should be attached to payment of the balance of the arrears.
“The revitalization fund and earned academic allowances are the two critical areas on which our members feel strongly about. They expect necessary adjustments on the part of government before they can reconsider their decision on the ongoing strike action.”
ASUU had embarked on what it termed total and indefinite strike on November 4, 2018, to demand improved funding of universities and implementation of previous agreements entered with the government.
Some of the demands as contained in the ASUU’s list of grievances, include the implementation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreements, Memorandum of Understanding (MoU; 2012 and 2013) and Memorandum of Action (MoA, 2017) and the truncation of the renegotiation of the union’s agreements.
The union said its ongoing strike is aimed at compelling the government to make funds available for the revitalisation of public universities based on the FGN-ASUU MoU of 2012, 2013 and the MoA of 2017, and that the operational license of the Nigerian University Employees Pension Company (NUPEMCO) should be released.
The unions also asked for the release of the forensic audit report on Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), payments of all outstanding earned academic allowances and the mainstreaming of same into the 2019 budget.
The lecturers also demanded the payment of all arrears of shortfall in salaries to all universities that have met the verification requirements of the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA).
Meanwhile, one of the major issues that has been dragging the negotiations forth and back is the revitalisation of the universities.
As at Saturday morning, the government was yet to release the N1.1 trillion of the N1.3 trillion it agreed to provide for the exercise.
The 2013 MoU stipulated that public universities needed N1.3 trillion for a modest revitalisation. The fund was to be paid in tranches of N200billion in 2013, N220billion in 2014, N220billion in 2015, 220billion in 2016, N220billion in 2017 and N220billion in 2018.
The Goodluck Jonathan-led administration released N200 billion in 2013 but since then nothing more has been paid.
Earlier, after its meeting with the Federal Government and shortly after the Labour and Employment Minister went to town with the message of a possible return of the lecturers to their classrooms, ASUU had indicated the possibility of its members not accepting the concessions.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday afternoon, Mr Ogunyemi had said the union was yet to reach an agreement with the government on any issue.
He said what the union took from the government were proposals because “We told them where there were low and what our members will not take but they said that was the best they could give.”
According to him, the difference between the last meeting and earlier ones was that it was the first time the union was given figures “that we could take back to our members.”
He said the union leaders warned government representatives that ASUU members were not likely to accept those figures “but they insisted that we should go and inform them first.”
“We agreed to go back to our members in order to show to them that we are not difficult people. We have been having consultations and telling the government the initial reactions we are getting. So, if they want this problem resolved, they should consider the low things.”
Speaking on the revitalisation of universities, Mr. Ogunyemi said if government does not release another tranche of the agreed sum, his members would think the government is not ready to solve the problem.
“Revitalisation is key to this issue. That was the point I was making when we had the exit engagement and Senator Ngige was saying we agreed on many issues. There are issues that did not require agreement. If you say you will set up a committee and you do, it is implementation not agreement. So, our intention is not to attack any government but to get our demands,” he said.
“They didn’t release any money. If we are talking about the N1.1 trillion that they should release in tranches and government has not said they will work towards releasing one tranche, then how do you think our members will take that from us? They are mixing up issues. They did not tell us if the N20 billion is a deposit.”
He said no Nigerian would believe the country does not have money to resolve some of the contentious issues.
“I don’t believe any Nigeria will believe government does not have money for what they see as a priority. We keep telling them that overnight they brought out N800 billion to bail out what they now call Polaris Bank. When they had a problem with subsidy, they knew where they went to; so they cannot keep telling us there is no money,” he said.
On when the union would meet the government to reopen negotiation, Mr Ogunyemi said the union was still consulting.
“I am not going to determine whether we are resuming or not. Our members will determine that and we will go back to them,” he said.
When asked what ASUU would be doing next, Mr Ogunyemi said the union was preparing its response to government.
Kogi Judiciary Director dies following 9 Months Unpaid Salaries
Tension has risen in Kogi State as a result of the death of one of the directors working in the judiciary of Kogi state.
Mr. Zekery Aguye, a Magistrate and Deputy Chief Registrar (Litigation), died last week Tuesday after losing a protracted battle with prostrate cancer.
He died at the National Hospital, Abuja, where he was initially being treated before he was forced to discontinue the treatment due to his inability to offset his medical bills.
Asked to confirm the news of the death, the Chief Registrar of the High Court, Mr. Yahaya Adamu, who was practically crestfallen, narrated the pathetic and unfortunate circumstances that led to the death of the director whom he described as one of the best hands in the state judiciary.
“I am very sorry to say that even as we subscribe to the will of Almighty Allah, who gives and takes life, you and I know certainly that sometimes there are deaths that are evitable. In this particular one, we feel it may have been further delayed if we had continued to manage his ailment as we were doing in the past before the judiciary was financially grounded.”
He said the battle over Mr. Aguye’s life started since two years ago when he was diagnosed of the disease.
He said with quick appropriate response and the concerted attention of the family and the judiciary, the deceased received the right and necessary medical treatment.
“He was taken to the National Hospital where he was treated to the extent that he even started driving his car by himself having survived the critical period of the illness that also affected his spine.
“You see, when it all started, we thought it was one of those usual ailments. But when it became obvious that he needed to be handled by specialists we headed for the National Hospital.
“You will agree with me that treatment there’s highly capital intensive. So, in conjunction with the family and other well-wishers he was revived to Allah’s glory.
“He was subsequently placed on drugs and periodic examinations by the hospital which we consistently complied with. This processes costs between 400 and 500,000 thousand naira monthly, depending on the result of the tests. By the grace of God and with the cooperation of the family and others we were coping with the management of the illness.
“However, we started having problems with his treatment as from the middle of last year when Kogi State Judiciary started facing funding crises. At this point, his salary, allowances and even the little assistance the judiciary was giving him ceased to come anymore. His care suddenly became the exclusive responsibility of the wife and the family alone.
“You’ll surely agree with me that couple with the children’s demands it will be difficult for the wife to bear this enormous burden. As a matter of fact, before he finally gave up the ghost, he was withdrawn from the National Hospital for lack of fund! It’s at the critical point of his death that he was rushed back to the hospital by which time it was already too late.
“So I will like to use this medium to ask well-meaning Nigerians to plead with His Excellency, Governor Yahaya Bello, to save Kogi judiciary and the state similar calamities by releasing the judiciary funds so we can pay the nine months we are owing our workers.
“As I speak with you, many others are hospitalized, their children withdrawn from schools and some even homeless resulting from tenancy problems with their respective landlords” the Chief Registrar added.
The Kogi State Chairman Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Comrade Emmanuel Waniko, who also felt that Mr. Aguye’s death cannot be entirely divorced from the non-payment of judiciary workers’ salaries since July 2018 which now amounts to nine months.
He said the union was still shocked and mourning the unexpected demise of the director. He said nobody in the judiciary would have contemplated losing him now when he was believed to have survived the critical period of the illness and was recuperating.
Linking the death to the ongoing strike resulting from unpaid salaries, he recalled the content of the affidavit he deposed to in the case instituted aginst Governor Bello and the state’s Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Nasiru Ajanah, at the National Industrial Court by the union before this tragic incident. He noted that he had stated there that “the staff of Kogi State Judiciary are hungry, sick and disillusioned without any hope as to know when the subventions will be released to pay thier salaries and emoluments.”
“To buttress that, he asked: “So, is this kind of condition not traumatic enough for even the healthy not to talk of somebody just recovering from such a sickness as cancer? Mark you, we have also lost, similar circumstances, Mr. Benjamin Ameloko, an Area Court Judge and Mr. Isah Salifu, a member of the Upper Area Court.”
The Chairman said it has come to the right time that the state government realise that no amount of deliberate and systematic depletion of the Magistrates, Judges and workers of the judiciary would make the union succumb to subverting the judiciary, as an institution, to the whims and caprices of a single individual at the expense of the Nigerian constitution, the laws of Kogi State and the responsibilities given to the judiciary as the last hope of the common man.
Recalling the genesis of the three-months-old strike commenced since December last year and the state governor’s responses so far, he said the union had no other option than than to embark on the strike when after non-release of subventions for payment of salaries and overhead costs for six months, workers could no longer go to work and offices were no longer conducive for working due to lack of basic working materials like stationery.
He said the union was surprised to hear the governor mention, during his budget presentation in January 2019, after being owed six months salaries resulting in the declaration of the strike in December, that the issue of table-payment or staff data capturing became conditions upon which staff would be paid their legitimately earned salaries.
He said the state government has refused to pay judiciary its subventions and have demonstrated that neither the plight of judiciary workers nor the citizens suffering from the closure of the courts mattered by blatantly refusing to constitute any negotiation team with JUSUN as obtained in sane climes.
“Instead, the governor chose to further abuse our sensibilities on 8th March 2019, the second time he Will speak on the strike, in the text of his address to the people of Kogi State on the eve of the State’s House of Assembly election.
“To us, it is the peak of insensitivity and man’s psychological oppression and inhumanity to man when you owe somebody his legitimate due and you keep asking the person to tow a particular path before you will pay him! This, to us, is unacceptable especially when you know fully well that the path you have asked for is illegal and unknown to law. When you are the one that constituted the Judicial Service Commission that is saddled with the responsibility of constantly verifying the composition of the judiciary workers which it is doing periodically, how do you turn around to usurp that power from them?
“If I may ask, if it is not a deliberate and calculated design to punish the judiciary and it’s workers without provocation, when has it become the responsibility of the state’s House of Assembly to intervene in industrial matters? When we were agitating for N30,000 minimum wage or when ASUU declared strike did the Federal Government resort to the National Assembly or it constituted negotiation teams on the two occasions? That’s sincerity of purpose if I may say. But in our own case, and after owing us for eight months and aware that our members are dying of hunger and sickness and cannot pay school fees and house rents, the governor said, just to further torture us mentally, that our salaries are in the bank and if we want it, we must first obey his command. You know what it means if you put some maize in a cocked but transparent bottle and you ask the chicken to feed from it? That’s exactly what he means.
“We are yet to know how our request for unpaid salaries amounts to politicization nor how our insistence on respect for the rule of law and separation of powers translates to “politicization of institution” except there’s something else we don’t know that we’re suffering from” he said.
He also quoted the Kogi State governor saying: His Excellency also said “The refusal of the leadership of the Kogi State Judiciary to forward their staff payroll for the Pay Parade with the collusion of JUSUN leaders is well documented.”
On our part, we’re in no collusion with anbody but we’re always prepared to abide by any rules or working conditions recommended or stipulated by the Judicial Service Commission of Kogi State which members were appointed by the governor. This is in line with the principles guiding the operations of the Federal Judicial Service Commission and the Legislative Service Commission. Asking for the take-over of our salary payment by agents of the executive connotes a dangerous motive that targets the emasculation of the judiciary which is detrimental to the fearless administration of justice in Kogi State” he said.
Comrade Waniko also maintained that rather than petitioning the National Judicial Council against the Hon. Chief Judge as disclosed by the governor, he would have been better off complying with the provisions of the constitution by releasing the funds of the judiciary to the heads of courts and allowing the Auditor-General of the state to audit the accounts of the judiciary when it is due.
“No law of this country lays any condition precedent to such release. It is therefore an illegality for the government to act contrary to the rule of law by keeping the funds accruing to the judiciary in the bank.
“So, as we have buried the deceased and are still mourning, we plead that if truly, “monies amounting to several months salaries due to Kogi State Civil Servants working in the Judiciary are sitting in the banks” as said by His Excellency, he should kindly order the payment of judiciary subventions to avoid further agonies” the JUSUN Chairman pleaded.
Kenyan Court proposes lowering of sex ‘consent age’ to 16
Three senior judges in Kenya have proposed lowering the age of sexual consent to 16 years from the current 18 years, The Standard reports.
The paper says the three Court of Appeal judges are opposing lengthy jail terms imposed on young men for “sleeping with teens who were willing to be and appeared to be adults”.
The judges cited a case where they reversed a jail term of 15 years imposed on a man for making a 17-year-old girl pregnant, says the newspaper.
The judges also said underage girls and boys often engage in sexual relations “with their eyes fully open”, reports the paper.
“Our prisons are teeming with young men serving lengthy sentences for having had sexual intercourse with adolescent girls whose consent has been held to be immaterial because they were under 18 years”, the judges are quoted as saying.
Whats your opinion ?
— The Standard Digital (@StandardKenya) March 26, 2019
#PrayForMozambique: Over 1.8m People affected by Cyclone Idai – UN
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Aid agencies are warning that thousands of survivors have yet to receive any help, 12 days after it made landfall in the country.
Mozambique’s Minister of Land and Environment, Celso Correia says efforts are being made to get food, shelter, water and medicine to people sheltering on higher ground.
He said the rescue need was coming down as the water receded but warned the area would take years to recover.
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