The Federal Government on Tuesday, July 27, denied allegations that it had breached agreements it reached with the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
The Spokesman for the Ministry of Education, Ben Gong, who stated this in an interview with The PUNCH in Abuja, also explained why the Federal Government could not adopt the University Transparency and Accountability Solution, a payment platform developed by ASUU.
According to him, UTAS does not make provision for tax deduction from salaries. He added that ASUU members cannot collect salaries without paying taxes.
Recall that the President of ASUU, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, in an interview with The PUNCH on Monday, accused the Federal Government of violating agreements it reached with the lecturers before they called off their strike on December 24, 2020.
He specifically accused government of not paying the earned academic allowances as contained in the agreements.
He also faulted what he called the selective payment of salaries to ASUU members, saying professors in some institutions received N80,000 in June and senior lecturers got N25,000.
Osodeke said the union had been proved right in its opposition to the IPPIS. He said in June, a number of lecturers in Nigerian universities received different salaries.
But Gong, in the interview with The PUNCH, challenged the union to be more specific in its allegations that government had violated agreements.
He said the ministry was preparing an official letter to seek clarifications from ASUU over its recent pronouncements.
Gong stated, “Let them (ASUU) be specific on their accusations. Let them state the parts of the agreements which have not been met.
“Let them also mention the ministries responsible for not meeting the agreements.
“For example, if we say we want to pay them this amount of money, is it not the ministry of finance who will do the payment?
“For the UTAS platform, there is no provision on that platform for tax deduction. How do you pay someone’s salary without tax deductions? Let them list their issues.
“When we saw the publications (by ASUU). We wrote to the permanent secretary to notify him of the allegations by ASUU and we pleaded with him to tell the Chairman (Executive Secretary) of the National Universities Commission to launch an inquiry.”
Besides the issue of payment, ASUU also accused the Federal Government of appointing non-graduates into the governing boards of universities.
Responding to this, Gong stated, “The permanent secretary has directed that a letter be written to ASUU. This was what the permanent secretary said, ‘Write to the ASUU president to indicate those he claimed are not graduates among the members of governing council for further investigations.’ I am already writing the publication.”
ASUU, a few day ago, issued a fresh strike notice to push for the payment of outstanding allowances and adoption of UTAS for the payment of lecturers’ salaries, instead of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System.
Recall that in March 2020, ASUU embarked on a strike following its disagreement with the Federal Government over the funding of the universities and implementation of the IPPIS.
ASUU, however, developed UTAS and had several meetings with the ministries of Finance, Education, Labour and Employment, and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation.
Government agreed to pay outstanding salaries to the university lecturers and resolve all other issues which ASUU raised.
Before calling off its strike last year, ASUU insisted that its members would not register the IPPIS.
In response, the Minister of Labour and Employment , Dr Chris Ngige, said the UTAS platform would first be subjected to an integrity test.
The National Information Technology Development Agency is saddled with the responsibility of subjecting the UTAS platform to an integrity test.
When contacted on Tuesday, Spokesperson for the NITDA, Hadiza Umar, said, “I do not have any update on it at the moment, I will contact the team tomorrow.”
When contacted, Spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, Budget and Planning, Yunusa Abdullahi, said, “I guess you should direct your inquiry to the Ministry of Education. Thank you.”
Responding to Gong’s statement, ASUU insisted that none of the agreement it reached with the Federal Government had have been implemented.
Speaking in an interview with The PUNCH on Tuesday, the President of ASUU, Osodeke, maintained that the Memorandum of Understanding which was signed with the Federal Government in December 2020, had not been implemented.
Osodeke denied the allegations which Gong made against UTAS and the other issues he raised.
He said, “He talks without consulting his principals. If you call the Minister for Education he will not say all these. Was he there when UTAS was tested for him to say it doesn’t deduct tax? UTAS has passed through many stages. All the ministries where we presented UTAS, applauded it. UTAS deducts tax. The National Assembly applauded it. It was also presented at the office of the AGF. UTAS encompasses everything you can talk about in a university, not just about salaries alone, even human resources. He doesn’t know what he is talking about. If you want to know the real details of what is happening contact the Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission, ministers of Education and Labour. They all have a copy of the MoU we signed in December.
“They know that UTAS, which is the major one has not been implemented. The revitalisation fund has not been released. They agreed that they would mainstream our earned academic allowances into the salary system in 2021. We are in August already and preparing 2022 budget, yet nothing has been done. They said by December they would pay the backlog they are owing our members and till now they have not paid a number of them.
“They agreed that they would review the NUC law to ensure that no government would wake up one day and be proliferating universities, they haven’t gone to the National Assembly”.