Our public universities are still unsafe for reopening ― ASUU

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), on Monday, has said it was still unsafe at this time for the nation’s public universities to reopen for academic activities.It also said even at that, the union is still on its industrial action which it commenced since March nationwide and would only call it off when demands are addressed by the government.

The Lagos Zone coordinator of the union, who is a lecturer at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, (FUNAAB), Prof Olusiji Sowande, gave this position in a statement made available to newsmen on Monday evening.According to him, there is nothing different on the ground from what it used to be before COVID-19 in the nation’s public universities nor any noticeable concrete steps taking to address the terrible conditions that most of the universities are.

He said student’s hostels are not only still inadequate, there is just no significant facilities on ground to carry out the physical distancing guidelines in large and crowded lecture rooms.Besides that, he said, water and electricity supply, among other needs, are also still unreliable and that is why reopening of tertiary institutions for now without taking concrete steps to address these issues would be suicidal.He said it was even unheard of that government could make arrangements for special bailout funds for airline operators and other private entities without considering the same for public universities.While also decrying that some of the union members, particularly those at the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) and Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike (MOUAU) have their salaries withheld for five months and members’ check-off deductions generally had not been remitted since February 2020 to date by the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF), as well as members having one complaint or the another over salaries payment due to what he termed their forceful enrollment into Integrated and Personnel Payroll System (IPPIS), he said the government would need to address all these issues.According to him, the payment of salary is incomplete when third party deductions are not remitted to the parties concerned.Prof Sowande explained that “Check-offs and other third-party deductions by law should not be held beyond seven days before being remitted to the concerned parties.“So, deducting and failure to remit our check-off since February 2020 to date by the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF) is not only illegal but criminal,” he stressed.

He said the withholding action raises a number of questions such as who is keeping the deductions and on whose directive, as well as would the interest be paid on the funds, among others.He called on OAGF to provide answers to the inquiries, noting that the union was not only ready with the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) is developed as an alternative to IPPIS but already demonstrated the workability of the system to the minister of education with other top government officials in the ministry and its agencies in attendance.He said the government would need to call for a physical meeting with ASUU leadership so as to resume their discussion on contentious issues for possible resolutions.

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