Lecturers of Government-owned Universities yesterday kicked against the inclusion of universities in the Treasury Singe Account (TSA) policy of the Federal Government, saying it undermines the institutions’ autonomy and makes their operations difficult.
Addressing a news conference in Abuja under the umbrella of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the lecturers urged the government to exempt the universities from TSA implementation “on account of the peculiarities of the institutions”.
The ASUU National President, Dr. Nasir Fagge Isa, who spoke on behalf of the union, also lamented that the TSA had caused delays in the payment of salaries in the universities.
Isa said: “With the operation of TSA, federal universities find it extremely difficult to discharge their core responsibilities of teaching, research and community service as well as engaging in international academic networking due to inadequate access to budgeted funds.
“In view of the dynamic nature of universities and fluidity of their programmes, this accounting system creates bottlenecks, undermines university autonomy and makes it extremely difficult for universities to fund ongoing research and sustain international networks.
“Also, the TSA makes it very difficult to buy equipment and consumables for laboratories… On account of the TSA, federal universities have experienced shortfall in their personnel cost in the month of December 2015 and January 2016 and this has caused serious delays in the payment of salaries.
“ASUU rejects, in its entirety, the practice of causing shortfalls in personnel cost and will be compelled to take appropriate steps against it if this is not checked on time. TSA is incompatible with the autonomy of universities and our union calls on the Federal Government to exempt the universities from its implementation on account of the peculiarities of the institutions”.
ASUU also kicked against the decision to borrow to fund the 2016 budget, saying the move would return the country to debt trap.
According to the union, the budget has the capacity to increase the nation’s debt profile by about 14 per cent of the nation’s GDP with the danger of beginning another debt trap.
Dr. Isa further stated that the 2016 budget did not have any new alternative strategy for developing the country, pointing out that “to fund the recurrent expenditure, the government will have to go borrowing. It is worrisome that the IMF and the World Bank are already courting, praising and toasting the new government in Nigeria”.
He added that while President Muhammadu Buhari has said the country would not borrow, the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, has been consistently affirming that “we have to borrow in order to fund the 2026 budget”.
Opposing the idea of borrowing money to fund the budget, the ASUU national president said the N2.2 trillion recovered from the TSA and other funds recovered from looters should be ploughed back to finance the budget.
He noted that economic recovery and national revival would succeed only with a socio-economic and political programme grounded in the people’s wishes and aspirations, stressing that such programmes should be explained to the citizens and will be accepted by them.
The union also justified its silence on the issue of the sack of 13 vice chancellors, saying 12 of the universities established by former President Goodluck Jonathan lacked legal backing and therefore, did not exist as universities in the eyes of the law.
It, however, faulted the process of the sack and appointment of new ones, saying it raised a lot of concern for due process, university autonomy and the growth of universities.
“Going by the provisions of the University Miscellaneous (amendment) Act 2003, only the governing councils are bestowed with power of appointment and removal of vice chancellors”, Isa said.
Explaining the position of the union on the government decision, he said: “ASUU, way back in 2011, condemned the manner in which the new universities were established through executive fiat by President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. For upward of four years, the laws establishing these universities were not gazetted. All our entreaties to make government correct this anomaly fell on deaf ears.
“The latest development in these universities has justified our consistent demand for proper governance structures and processes in the Nigerian university system. In the first place, vice chancellors were arbitrarily appointed into these institutions and governing councils instituted without making the enabling laws public.
“We are worried that the same circle of illegality is playing out again. In a university where there is the law, only the governing council is empowered to remove a vice chancellor from office ‘for a good course’ and only a council has the power to appoint a vice chancellor in accordance with the law”.
Citing the relevant provisions of the law, the ASUU president said: “We therefore call on the Federal Government to tow the path of legality and due process by gazetting the law, appointing the council and mandating the councils to immediately commence the process of appointing the vice chancellors for the affected universities”.
On the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) Vice Chancellor, he said: “Available information suggests that since the Vice Chancellor of NOUN had served a five year term guaranteed under the University Miscellaneous (amendment) Act 2003, he should not be given an extended term of even a day”.
The union also accused the government of foot-dragging in the implementation of the 2009 agreement between the it and government, pointing out that some actions of government amounted to abrogation of some sections of the agreement.
The ASUU president cited the development in the university staff schools, budgetary allocation to education, payment of outstanding earned academic allowances, establishment of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company, commencement of renegotiation of the agreement and funding of state universities as part of the breaches.