Sunday 13 July 2014     16 Ramadhan 1435
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‘None of our members will be sacked’

Comrade Samson Ugwoke, President of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and member of the Presidential Implementation Committee on Needs Assessment for Nigerian Universities spoke to reporters on the ongoing Federal Government’s negotiations with the four university unions. Excerpts:

What is the Needs Assessment for universities all about?
 The present administration set up a Presidential Implementation Committee on NEEDS Assessment for Universities. In that committee are the presidents of SSANU, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), National Association of Academic Technicians (NAAT) and Non Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) as members.
That document called Needs Assessment Report; many people have ascribed it to a particular union in the university, this is not true. The report is a brainchild of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation Senator Anyim Pius Anyim. When it became difficult for government to implement wholly the 2009 Agreement and with the persistent problems in the university, he decided to call on the government with the labour unions in the Ministry of Education to move round the universities and assess the problems of universities and what should be done to tackle the immediate problems in the universities.
That led to what we call the NEEDS Assessment Committee. But I must say that there was a problem in the initial committee that drafted the report. I have always said it even in the Implementation Monitoring Committee meetings that when we have so much of ASUU members in charge of most establishments of the Federal Government, it becomes a problem to tackle the problems in the university sector. As long as that continue, there will continue to be problems in the university sector. The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) as a funding agency was headed then by an ASUU member, the Minister of Education is an ASUU member. The two of them set up the committee on Needs Assessment. Who could believe that you are asking for or want to know the problems of universities and you set up a committee but you excluded SSANU, NAAT and NASU. You only included ASUU in the committee, with the same ASUU member, the Executive Secretary of TETFund as the chairman. All other members are ASUU associates and ASUU related officers, therefore, they wrote ASUU report.
What did you do about this lopsidedness in the membership of the committee?
Our protest to the Minister of Education was noted, but by then we were told that they have gone far. People who went to universities to assess the condition of infrastructure and the decay and rot in the university system were all ASUU members. At that level, we met and looked at what they were doing and we wrote a counter report. That report was titled reaction to Needs Assessment report, that document was with the government, it was submitted to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), who accepted to place the Needs Assessment report and our own report side by side during the implementation.
Apart from that, has the government tried to carry you along?
Government openly apologized for the non-inclusion of SSANU, NAAT and NASU members in the committee and the SGF said he did not know that we were not members before the ministers. In other words, certain things happen that does not get to the top, they know how they block it.
However, the promise that we should be included at the implementation stage was fulfilled by the SGF even when they tried to play their game at the initial stage. You remember that the publication listed only NASU president as a member; that was also to tear us apart and cause confusion within the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of SSANU, NAAT and NASU. But the SGF called me personally and said we have a meeting the following day, and we should nominate our representatives in the committee. He told us not to mind what the people were saying.
How far have you gone with the negotiations and meetings with Federal Government led by Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State?
At the meetings with the Federal Government, we are all members; we have our representatives as members of the Implementation Committee. We have sat two times. We have the Governor of Benue State Gabriel Suswam as the chairman of that committee, a committed man. I don’t know how they sourced him, because this time around, I must say that President Goodluck Jonathan seems to have known the games these people are playing in the university sector and decided to look for a neutral man who will deliver as the chairman of the Needs Assessment Implementation Committee.
I can tell you that for the past two weeks, Suswan has not been in Markurdi. He has been here contacting donor agencies, Central Bank, NNPC, TETFund,  NCC and others. Right now, I am telling you he has raised N100 billion to tackle the problems of Nigerian Universities in the year 2013.
I know our members will be saying that what the committee says about our members. I can assure you that our members will never be relegated; they will never be sacked or retrenched, there is nothing like that in the terms of reference of the Presidential Committee on the Implementation of Needs Assessment. We have three presidents against one in that committee and we are doing our networking. Unless they want to close the universities, they dare not try to retrench or touch our members, because when we go on strike, it will be mother of all strikes, they know that. Not even vice chancellors will cross the gate of the universities.
Now that President Jonathan has approved N400 billion , can we  anticipate   much improved universities of international standard?
Let me give you a tip on what the Needs Assessment Committee is doing. The president has approved that within the next four years, N400 billion would be expended in infrastructural development on Nigerian universities to transform the universities to international standard. N100 billion has been raised by the Suswam Committee, 61 universities have been pencilled down as contained in the Needs Assessment report.
These 61 universities will share the N100 billion in various categories which include re-furbishing and renovation of lecture theatres and lecture halls, re-furbishing and renovation of laboratory/library and the renovation of hostels. The second category is building of new hostels of international standard, self-contained  rooms, the latest model in the world. That is the standard to be built in every university, and also the state of the art laboratories as well as classrooms, lecture theatres and the halls.
This money has been shared and out of the N100 billion, N96 billion has been sent to universities. This time around, it is not only by giving university money, but it will be monitored to ensure that the money is used to transform the universities, to bail universities out of the present situation and develop an international recognized university standard.