By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye,
Abuja – Ray of hope emerged for embattled students of public-owned universities with the announcement, yesterday, that the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, has taken over the headship of the Federal Government team that will negotiate with the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
This is coming two weeks after the lecturers downed tools and 48 hours after members of non-academic staff of universities unanimously voted “yes” in a referendum called to ascertain whether to resume the strike they suspended last January.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, who briefed alongside his colleagues in Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola and Sports and Youth Development, Solomon Dalung, after the first Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari since he returned from London where he was for over 100 days for medical care, said Osinbajo took over some aspects of the negotiations and would henceforth preside over meetings with the teachers’ union.
According to the labour minister: “Government is leaving no stone upturned to make sure that we reach a conclusive agreement with ASUU so that they can go back to the classroom. This is the first national strike that this government is facing and we want to discuss.
“At council today, the vice president has taken over some of the aspects of the negotiations and discussions, so we are continuing the meeting in his office; and when we finish meeting, we will get back to ASUU for another round of meeting. We are hopeful that we will be able to go to an appreciable extent to solve some of the outstanding issues that is preventing them from going back to work.”
Ngige blamed the private sector for the delay in announcing the chairman of the Minimum Wage Review Committee. According to him, the Federal Government will announce chairman of the Committee when all the names of representatives of the private sector were received.
“The national minimum wage committee, the government side is ready. We have on the government side four ministers – labour and employment, finance, budget and planning. I can’t remember the last one now but we have our team ready. We also have the Head of Service of the Federation, acting Secretary to the Government of the Federation on the government team. The chairman will be unveiled when we have full component of the committee.”
ASUU, on August 13, began a nationwide strike over failure of the government to implement an agreement it reached with the union in 2009.
The union also alleged that the Federal Government did not implement the Memorandum of Understanding both sides signed in 2013.
ASUU, in a statement on Tuesday, said it would call off its strike after receiving a positive response to its demands from the Federal Government. But on Tuesday, it boycotted a scheduled meeting with the government.
While the Federal Government intensified efforts to persuade ASUU to return to work, FEC approved the award of engineering as well as electromechanical works contract worth $5.792 billion for the Mambila Hydro Electric Power Plant located in Taraba State.
Fashola, who said the project began in 1972 but made no significant progress since then, explained that the contract awarded to a joint venture with a Chinese Civil Engineering Company (CCEC) will be completed in about six years.
Giving insight into the scope of work to be handled by the firm, the minister said the project “requires the construction of four dams, one of them is about 150 meters in height, the immediate two are 70 meters in height and the smallest of them is 50 meters in height. It also includes 700 kilometers of transmission line. It will be in Taraba State in the area called Gembu, and it will unleash the potential that have been reported about Mambila, including agriculture, tourism and energy.”
The minister noted that when completed, the project would help Nigeria strike a big blow on the climate change issue and fulfill its commitment under the Paris agreement.
Explaining how the joint venture will work, Fashola said: “You will recall that sometimes last year, the Chinese government held a summit in South Africa, essentially what that was about was supporting and partnering with African government to do their infrastructure and also funding the Agurua projects. So, this was one of the projects of infrastructure that was submitted there. I think it also had the rail component.
“The money is coming from the Chinese government through their
Eximbank. So, it is an export funding support for them and an import funding for us. Eighty-five percent is supposed to be financed by them and 15 per cent is our own counterpart funding. The award now triggers contract negotiations for the financing side and after that is concluded the projects can now start.”
He said when completed Mambilla would generate 3,050 megawatts of power.
“The productive output will be a function of water supply, because that is the major source of fuel, is a hydroplane,” he stated.