Atiku Abubakar, the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has assured of honouring the demands of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) including clearing the salary backlogs if elected president in 2023.
The PDP candidate made this promise to members of ASUU while speaking during the People's Townhall organised by Channels Television on Sunday in Abuja.
“I’m going to increase the funding level (of education) as against what is currently obtained, no doubt about that because I am a firm and committed believer in education.
“I have undertaken to say, ‘Whatever backlog – we are going to clear all the backlogs and make sure that you go back to classes and students go back to school,” he said.
Atiku noted that the fund for universities in Nigeria do not go straight to the universities but go through “another federal bureaucracy” that “might decide to do whatever they want”, leading to “sometimes invisible roadblocks” to receiving funds in full.
“Why not remove the bottleneck?” he asked. “Whatever is due to university A, B, C, D, send it directly!”
The Presidential candidate recalled how backlogs of salaries were paid during his tenure as the former Vice President between 1999 and 2007.
"I visited several embassies and found that all the staff had not been paid for several months.
“I even visited Togo which is the headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
"Every West African country has a building and staff quarters as poor as they may be, and Nigeria didn’t have, a founding member of ECOWAS.
“I came back and called the minister of finance and said, ‘What is happening? Let’s do something different.’
"She said, ‘What?’ ‘Let’s ask every embassy to give us their budget.
“And when they give us their budget, we don’t send the money through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), we send the money straight to the embassies.
"That immediately eliminated the backlog of all the salaries that they were owing to our staff abroad.
“But then, the ministry didn’t like it; they (MFA) kept on fighting.
"So, sometimes you have to really be bold enough to change some of the processes or procedures that are currently obtained in the public service to get service delivered to where they should be delivered,” he explained.
He added, “I was told of a story where, of course, some funding for universities was stalled at the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC): ‘NUC, what do you want to operate?’ (This) much. ‘Universities, where do you want to operate?’ (This) much.’ You give them directly. Why do you have to go through NUC?
“As I’ve said, I’ve pledged to increase the funding of education as far as our budget is concerned.
"Sadly, we are not even meeting our counterparts in West Africa.
"They may be poorer than we are, but we are not spending as much, as far as the educational sector is concerned.”
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