***Unable to pay for diesel
The 8-month industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) may have come and gone as many universities and students have resumed academic activities but not for the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria as another brouhaha has just began
The foremost university in Northern Nigeria had wanted the ASUU strike to continue, adinfinitum over a judgement debt of N22.5b that has crippled it financially
The Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Abubakar Rasheed had let the cat out of the bag during 2023 budget defence of NUC and all universities before the Joint Senate and House Committee on Tertiary Education and TETFUND.
To simplify the budget defence process for federal universities, the Joint Committee allowed the regulator, NUC to present the budget on behalf of the universities while the vice chancellors observe.
Prof. Rasheed expressed gratitude to the legislators on overhead provisions, but said the university vice chancellors wanted him to remind the Distinguished senators and Honourable members of the serious problem they are facing, especially this year because of the strike for 8 months academic calendar.
According to him “eight months is equivalent to an academic calendar in every country. So, one session is virtually lost, but the implication is that one session will now run far beyond one calendar year. It will run between 16 to 18 calendar months depending on the situation.
However, in ABU Zaria, he said, it may run for two sessions, because they have reopened, but they cannot do anything because everything ABU had was taken away under garnishee order and given to former staff.
“The sole administrator, in 1996 sacked some staff and they went to court. Nearly 30 years later the court said ABU should pay N22.5 billion, and the Central Bank removed that money. That was the money ABU needed to function.
“I know ABU was not happy when the strike was called off because it will be exposed. It was hoping that it will continue to take cover under the strike. But once the strike was off, it has to reopen. It only reopened in name, saying they can start in January.
“The truth is that they have only N5 million in the main account and they need a minimum of N70 million to N80 million for electricity alone.
“That is one peculiar case we know, but in general, the rising cost of diesel and electricity is placing serious burden on universities. Our overhead for universities, none is given up to N12 million to N14 million per month. They are given average of N10 million and no university, big or small, spend less than N30 – N40 million in a month. Lagos spends an average of N80 million in a month
The ES, NUC also disclosed that four new universities, two for medical sciences and two for science and technology have not been collecting salaries, including their vice chancellors, adding that the 2023 budget is now making provision for them.
“The four new universities two for medical sciences, and two for science and technology so far have no budget; they have not been collecting salaries including the vice chancellors themselves.
“I know for new universities there is the need now to get them on board. For other vice chancellors, budget is normal ritual. I know they have all made provisions for some few additional staff to cope with new courses, promotions and other issues.
The NUC ES shocked the lawmakers when he said “in NUC’s budget we have a problem. We had additional money given to us that we didn’t request, but I later went to ministry of finance to find out because our budget was always hovering around N3 billion with about N2 billion for personnel, about N700-N800 million for capital, about N700 million for overhead.
“But last year we saw additional N12 billion given for World Bank projects” adding that the World Bank projects are not processed through this mode, through World Bank mode”.
He said his finding at Federal Ministry of Finance showed that as at today over N6b has been released, “but we cannot not touched a Kobo and we are not going to touch a kobo of that money because we do not think it is part of what we are to spend. And in 2023 we see even more coming to us and it unsettles us.
“When our budget is N700 million and I see N12 billion under capital, it unsettles me. I don’t know what it is for and it’s not something I can spend. I don’t know; I’m not complaining. We can house it, but at the end of the year it will disappear”.
At this point, the Chairman of the Joint Committee, Senator Ahmad Babba Kaita jokingly said “Prof, if I may suggest, bring it here we will appropriate it”.