By Kuni Tyessi
Abuja — The federal government has stated that talks with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have so far been fruitful, expressing optimism that the ongoing strike by the university teachers, which has paralysed academic activities in the universities nationwide will soon be called off.
The government’s optimism, according to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, is predicated on the federal government’s consideration of some of ASUU’s demands, including the submission of the union’s list of outstanding payments, and the identification of some areas in the universities in need of revitalisation as contained in the signed 2009 agreement.
The minister said talks with the union have so far been productive and fruitful, adding that the federal government was optimistic that the strike would soon be called off to pave way for students to resume academic activities.
He said: “There are areas that are still outstanding which we are going to address on the 17th. We have the issue of shortfall of salaries, that of some federal university workers. ASUU has given a list to the office of the Accountant General.
“We agreed that by Wednesday that the list will be checked to find out really whether those universities were actually paid and they have to be visited and paid the outstanding lecturers there. So, the Accountant General’s office is to come back to us.
We have also the issue of Earned Academic Allowance and the issue of revitalisation. These are issues of 2009 agreement. We will look into the consideration and we have identified one area of the fund for revitalisation.
“The federal government organs will be contacted and we do expect that we will have some words for ASUU. Same goes for the earned allowances. We will make sure that the issue of the outstanding amounts is handled in a way that all parties will be properly accommodated,” he said.
Ngige revealed that during the talks, the quality of graduates from state-owned universities was brought to focus with a view to upgrading the standard of education in order to meet with global standards.
He said state owned universities are not producing graduates that can be employed as several are lacking in competitive skills. He said the federal government through the ministry of education will engage with the Nigeria Governors Forum and will chart a way forward.
“We also discussed the issue of state universities and since education is on concurrent list, the universities should be properly funded and staffed, so that we do not produce half baked graduates from those universities. And towards realising that, the ministry of education will engage the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. The minister of education is taking steps towards that direction and will organise that interaction.
“Engaging them directly and giving professional advice is what the ministry will do. These are some of the issues we discussed and to me; the discussions were fruitful. We want the children to go back to school,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), has vowed to vehemently resist any attempt by the federal government to privatise public hospitals in the country. The union warned that privatisation of public hospitals is a threat to the survival of Nigerians in terms of health.
The MHWUN President, Biobelemoye Josiah, handed down the warning while donating items worth about N2 million to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Durumi, a community in Abuja Municipal Area Council.
Insisting that it was the responsibility of the government to provide affordable healthcare services to the people, the MHWUN president said: “What we are saying is that public health institutions are institutions of public good. These are institutions that are meant to provide healthcare for the downtrodden, the poor and the vulnerable.
“But there is a conspiracy by capitalists to ensure that they take these health facilities from the reach of the common man in the guise of privatisation. We are not against a private man using his own money to build a health facility, equip it and keep it for the affluent, especially those who have looted our country and have made it big.
“They can establish these hospitals for them, but they should leave the public hospitals for the common man.Public Private Partnership (PPP) has failed in the health sector worldwide. There is no PPP that can make malaria treatment cheaper.
“Go to all the hospitals that PPP has been introduced in Nigeria; it has taken healthcare away from the reach of the poor and the vulnerable,” he said.