Even the confidence of the optimist would fail him when faced with the complexity of problems, confronting the nation.
But as the president grapples with the headache of leadership, one area that has become an albatross on his neck is the education sector. As it appears, the efforts of his administration in repositioning the sector has not significantly yielded the desired result. This is even as many would argue that the problem had long been there before Jonathan came on board.
It is little wonder that Nigerians, especially parents, are worried over the protracted strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). On July 2, 2013, ASUU declared what it called, “total and indefinite strike” over issues it said had remained unresolved, pertaining to an agreement it reached with the government in 2009.
Some of the demands of ASUU include amendment of retirement age of academics on professorial cadre from 65 to 70, funding requirements for revitalisation of Nigerian universities and Federal Government assistance to state universities, payment of earned allowances, reinstatement of prematurely dissolved governing councils, transfer of Federal Government landed properties to universities, among others.
ASUU went on strike in 2006 based on request for a review of personnel matters. On account of this, government initiated a Needs Assessment of the University System, comprising federal and state universities. And determined to permanently address the issue of incessant strikes by ASUU, the negotiations led to the 2009 agreement.
The high points of the agreement and status of implementation are: Consolidated Salary Structure for Academics in Nigerian Universities CONUASS II made up of the following components; Consolidated Peculiar Allowances (CONPUAA), exclusively for university teaching staff and derived from allowances not adequately reflected or not consolidated in CONUASS; Rent as approved by the Federal Government effective, January 1, 2007 (FGN Circular SWC/S/04/S.309/1 of January 18, 2007. It should be noted that a Consolidated Salary Structure was also done for non-teaching staff too.
According to available records, this has been fully implemented; all teaching and non-teaching staff have been on the Consolidated Salary Structure since 2009.
There is also the issue of amendment of pensionable retirement age of academics in the professorial cadre. It is interesting to note that government has fully implemented this and professors now retire at 70 years while others retire at 65 instead of 60 years.
Part of the 2009 agreement is also the registration of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO). On this, government has contributed its own counterpart funding of N250 million in addition to other administrative support to help the unions meet up with the mandatory deposit required for registration of PFAs. Also, there is the Federal Government assistance to state universities.
Records show that although education is on the concurrent legislative list, government has always assisted state universities through intervention agencies. Accordingly, the present special revitalisation programme covers both state and federal universities.
The agreement also includes the transfer of FGN landed property to universities. On this score, government has been clear that it cannot transfer government landed property to ASUU because it has no structure to manage or maintain such property.
However, government expressed its willingness to support any university that sets up a property company with management structure to compete with others in the industry.
With regards to setting up of research and development units by companies operating in Nigeria, government also expressed willingness to encourage companies to support research. The National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), is leading this initiative.
Another highpoint of the agreement is Revitalisation of Nigerian Tertiary Institutions. On the status of implementation, there was consensus that revitalising the tertiary institutions is of critical importance to the nation.
It was also noted that when put together, the amount of funds from the budgetary and non-budgetary sources that goes into the sector is quite huge but without corresponding impact.
To arrest this trend, ASUU agreed with government to jointly undertake a needs assessment of the universities with a view to harnessing all the funds that hitherto go into the system in a haphazard manner and properly apply them to prioritised needs for maximum impact.
It was further agreed that these projects would also aim at expanding the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) base of the universities so that they will be financially capable of funding their recurrent expenditure, particularly the earned allowance.
Records from the office of the Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF), show that the committee has completed its work and the report has been approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the National Economic Council (NEC).
Already, the President has set up the Governor Gabriel Suswam Committee for its implementation and N100 billion has been harnessed for the committee’s disbursement and 61 universities are benefitting from this take-off programme. The expectation is that the programme will continue until the nation’s tertiary institutions wear a better look.
On the issue of earned academic allowances, it is worthy of note that traditionally, universities pay that to deserving staff but because of the amount ASUU now claims as arrears, government decided to assist the university councils to pay.
It should also be noted that government did not receive any computation of amount involved until February 2013. By this computation, ASUU is claiming N92 billion as arrears for three years’ payment based on percentage range of between 15 and 20 per cent of personnel cost.
After series of discussions involving the National Assembly, SGF, the Chairman of the Needs Assessment Report Implementation Committee, Governor Suswam, Ministers of Education, Labour and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and other stakeholders, government provided N30 billion to support the university councils in settling the earned allowances.
The amount will be disbursed to the various university councils which are in the position to know who is entitled to how much after verification.
Based on all of these, many believe that government has demonstrated sufficient commitment to the implementation of the 2009 FG/ASUU Agreement, contrary to claims by ASUU.
A statement of update on the agreement signed by Special Assistant (Media) to the SGF, Sam Nwaobasi, said government acknowledges the contributions of the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and other stakeholders in finding a lasting solution to the current ASUU strike.
He said Mr. President is fully committed to bringing the students back to school and appreciates the patience of parents and students as government is making every effort to revitalise the university system.