By Prof. Abdelghaffar Amoka
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been in a battle with the Federal Government of Nigeria over the funding of the public universities. The facilities that made our universities to still have a semblance of a university were products of ASUU strike. ASUU was so passionate over public universities funding to the point that the public began to think that such funds, when released, are paid into ASUU’s account. Even some journalists that are supposed to be properly informed shared in the ignorance or misinformation.
You read headlines like “FG releases 2 billion naira to ASUU for university funding”. ASUU pursued funding at the expense of its members’ welfare. The battle has been on funding to an extent that the younger generation of academics began to wonder why their welfare is not at the top of the union’s demands. The consoling words from our veterans have always been: You get true fulfillment when you have an ideal working environment.
The battle took a new dimension last year, during the reign of the ex-president Muhammadu Buhari, who had no agenda for education aside from establishing more universities without funding plans. Yeah! Buhari came to re-write the story of our university system. The number of the underfunded new tertiary institutions were listed as his major achievements. A strike on funding and the renegotiation of conditions of service that should not have lasted for more than four weeks, if sincerely handled, was dragged on for eight months and the lecturers starved. A few died and many survived and are still surviving but not an item on the demands on the needs of the universities was treated.
While ASUU was fighting for adequate funding, the FG had a hidden plan. It publicly declared that the universities will have to generate their money to partly fund themselves. The public couldn’t see the implication of the statement. The statement received support from some Nigerians whose education was funded from primary to PhD with public funds. However, besides this declaration, they are also seeing the universities as revenue generation institutions rather than institutions to be funded. They were wondering why they should keep funding these institutions when they are supposed to be generating revenue for the government.
Having conceived the idea to make federal universities an internally generated revenue (IGR) source for FG, their challenge was how to make these institutions generate revenue for FG without backlash. The only obstacle to the plan is ASUU that is always using strikes to force to unwillingly release some funds for the universities. ASUU was on strike again. They find their trouble annoying and something must be done. They engaged their friends that are former union leaders to develop the strategy to clip ASUU. Hunger strategy was found most effective and that was deployed and the rest was history.
From the experience of the last strike, call for a referendum on strike today and the members will tell you that if they will lose their salary for a one day strike, they won’t join. They are still paying their debt. So, they began starving the universities of funds.
Universities like Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) and Unilag, whose electricity bills are around 120 million naira per month, are given about 150 million naira per annum for operational expenses. How they pay their bills was left as their business. So, to keep up with the bills, the universities began to review the service charges. The universities estimated what can run the universities and appropriate charges were put together as fees for students. There were outcries on the fee increment. Some called it tuition and that got FG worried.
FG had to come out with a press release. They acknowledged the increment but that FG has not introduced tuition. The increase in fees as announced by various universities was to reflect the current economic reality; mission accomplished. However, the FG didn’t see these increased fees as service charges, they saw them as IGR by the universities and hence became interested.
As the universities were busy announcing the revised fees, the Minister of Finance suddenly remembered that there was a circular FMFBNP/OTHERS/IGR/CRF/12/2021 dated December 20, 2021 that said all partially funded FG Agencies should remit 40% of their IGR to FG. Universities are currently expected to remit 40% of the fees collected from the students to FG as revenue generation. These service charges in the universities are referred to as Gross Internally Generated Revenue. The deduction is effective from November 2023.
This means that if a student is charged N2,000 for an ID card, the university will give N800 out of it to the FG. It doesn’t matter to the FG if the cost of the ID card is truly N2,000. If a student is charged N10,000 as laboratory charges for chemicals and consumable, the university will give N4,000 out of it to the FG as revenue. If every student is charged N30,000 for electricity, water and sanitation bills, the FG will enjoy N12,000 out of it as revenue. It doesn’t matter if the remaining amount is not enough to pay those bills. If a student is charged N15,000 for a field trip or SIWES, the FG will take N6,000 out of it. If a student pay N5,000 as examination fee, the FG will take N2,000 from it as IGR for the FG. etc.
The insensitivity of the government to the needs of the people has gotten that bad. Public universities are the government’s new revenue generating agencies. This 40% revenue is expected to be paid by kids whose parents are earning less than N100,000 per month from the same FG. As they are milking the people dry, they have refused to cut off the cost of governance. The NASS members that were supposed to drive a car of 7 – 8 million naira by law got 160 million naira cars as against the law.
The bad thing is that the government will deduct 40% from the money as it is paid. It is auto-deduction. They will take their share before the universities even have access to the money. The announced fees were calculated to barely take care of the basic needs of the universities. So, how will the universities be run without the 40%?
Dear parents, tight your seat belt and the revised fees of your kids in any federal higher institution increased by 40%, thanks to FG quest for IGR. ASUU has done its bit for us Nigerians. It should not be a major discussion at the ongoing NEC. Nigerians should be allowed to fight their fight. The fight should now be left for the students and their parents. If they are willing to fight, ASUU members can join as parents. If they are not ready, we all MILT and move on as usual. After all, we are used to suffering and smiling.
The university managements, Senates, and Councils should find an appropriate way to introduce the 40% FG IGR from the universities into the fees. The universities that are yet to announce their revised fees should add the FG 40% university IGR to their fees. It should be separated from the university charges. It can be called “40% FG IGR charge” as a separate item. So that the students and parents will know what they are paying for. They need to know that rather than FG funding the education of their kids, something ASUU has fought for and prosecuted over, FG is now generating revenue from them as they pay their kids fees.