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The Federal Government has commenced part payment of the salary arrears of members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
The payment is part of the carrots being offered by the government to make university teachers return to the classrooms after almost 10 months on strike.
It was learnt last night that ASUU leaders will today address a news conference, where, according to a source, the lecturers may suspend their strike.
A professor in one of the federal universities in the North confirmed the development on Tuesday. He said most of them received salaries for only two months out of the over six to eight months they are being owed.
The source, who pleaded anonymity, said the government began the payment after last Thursday’s meeting with the leadership of ASUU.
ASUU had in March directed its members to embark on the strike over government’s insistence on their inclusion in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) and non-implementation of previous agreements But, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the payment of their withheld February to June salaries on compassionate grounds to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Source, however, hinted that ASUU might not direct its members to resume work until all the arrears were paid.
He said: “We are praying they agree at the meeting (between government and ASUU yesterday) since they paid us only two months. Today (yesterday), they met and I prayed they agree. Because most of our members said they (government) need to pay everything before resumption. That is where we are now.
“We are saying that they should pay four (months) they are owing us. If they pay four, it will remain only one, and then, may be, December; we will minus December which is the sixth one.
“But now, they have paid only two months and promised that in January 2021, the payment of the remaining arrears will be made. The issue is that we don’t trust this government to keep to its promise.
“The government didn’t even allow us to agree to collect the two months. They just decided to pay into our accounts.”
A Federal Government team, led by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen Chris Ngige, met again with the leadership of ASUU yesterday to persuade the lecturers to call of the strike.
Details of the meeting were not yet known as of press time.
An ASUU leader at the meeting lambasted Ngige for rushing to the press to announce that the government had met 98 percent of ASUU’s demands.
Ngige had told reporters at his Alor country home in Anambra State that universities will reopen next month.
But the ASUU leader who described the minister as crafty, also insisted that the lecturers would not suspend the strike until their arrears were paid in full.
The source said: “You can see the trick. Now he (Ngige) has gone to the press to say they (government) has met 98 percent of our demands so we have no reason not to resume. That’s the news today (yesterday).
“Ngige is a very crafty person but he doesn’t know that he is joking with ASUU. I doubt it we will we resume if they (government) fails to pay all the arrears of salaries, I doubt it.
“He has gone to the press to say they (government) has met 98 percent of our demands except ASUU doesn’t want to resume.”
Ngige, at yesterday’s meeting with the ASUU leaders, assured that the prolonged strike would soon end.
Before the meeting went into a closed door, the minister told reporters that those who are wishing for an #EndASUU protest, will be disappointed.
He spoke against the backdrop of the ultimatum purportedly issued by Nigerian students to embark on protest if the ASUU strike was not resolved by January 15.
Ngige said though he had not received such a letter from the students, even if there was one, the government would disappoint all those wishing for the protest as all the matters in dispute must have been resolved by January 15.
His words: “Those who want to use the EndASUU protest to destroy public and private property or lecturers homes will be disappointed.
“I am optimistic that the meeting will produce the final result that will make everybody happy.
“This meeting is fruitful, just like the past ones. This is a journey and the facts are that we have achieved a lot, on both sides, the government and ASUU.
“This journey has been tortuous, but I see light at the end of the tunnel,”
Ngige informed ASUU leaders that he communicated with the government, side before the meeting and got assurance from them that most of the grey areas have been dealt with.
“We are hopeful that ASUU will then take the report of what we achieved today to their members. We allow social dialogue in line with ILO conventions for all employers and employees, to guide this meeting,” he added.
President of ASUU, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, said they came for the meeting with all sense of responsibility to resolve the crisis in the interest of the students.
He, however, reiterated that only the National Executive Council of ASUU could announce the suspension of the strike.