Non-payment of lecturer salaries ‘a growing trend’
Frustrated by an eight-month shutdown of their institution, students of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho, in South West Nigeria, embarked on 9 January on a peaceful demonstration to the Ibadan office of the governor, Isiaka Ajimobi, who is also Visitor to the university. Ajimobi’s office is about 200 kilometres from the university.
Because the university is jointly owned by Oyo and Osun states, the students have vowed to continue their protest to the office of the governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola.
Having gained an audience with Ajimobi, students demanded to know why university lecturers had not benefited from two bailout funds already allocated to all 36 states as reimbursements for excess deductions made by the federal government in terms of its Paris Club payments. According to the students, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had insisted that the funds be directed towards the backlog of salaries owed to state workers.
Student demonstrator Kikelomo Omolade also asked the governor how he was able, during the recession, to fund the education of some of his children in prestigious universities in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Angered by what he termed disrespect for “the constituted authority”, Ajimobi reportedly ordered his personal security aids to arrest the student. However, she was protected by colleagues and managed to avoid being detained.
A few hours after the incident, photos of which were posted on Facebook and other social media, one of the governor’s daughters studying in the United Kingdom reportedly labelled the protesting students on her Instagram account as “a generation of manner-less children".
According to reliable sources, Buhari, in response to the incident, ordered the two governors to release funds to pay at least two months of the salaries owed to lecturers. While the two governors complied, the lecturers have, under the auspices of the Academic Staff Union of Universities or ASUU, insisted they will not return to work until they are paid the full arrears.
While ASUU has made some suggestions for a way out of the impasse, vice-chancellors have been noticeably silent or non-committal, possibly for fear of losing their jobs.
The non-payment of salaries is a growing trend in Nigeria with regional universities around the country facing similar challenges. All universities depend on monthly federal allocations as the main source of salary funding. As a result of the situation, there is also no money available for research.
According to John Lamido, former chairman of the ASUU branch, and a political science lecturer at Gombe State University, regional universities in the north are facing similar problems with regard to the delayed and irregular payment of salaries.
“The northern states, like other states in the federation, depend on federal monthly financial allocations emanating from the country’s mono-economy of crude oil and gas sold at the international markets of the developed world. The free fall of raw materials at the international level, especially crude oil and gas, has adversely affected the level of federal allocations going to the states.
"Since the salaries of university teachers are directly linked to the quantum of money from the federal government, salary fluctuations and the attendant instability have become a norm in this period of recession,” he told University World News.
The situation is no different at regional universities in the south and south-east of Nigeria. According to Professor Vincent Okeke of the French department at Imo State University, Owerri, delays in and irregular payment of salaries are a source of anxiety and they cannot, in oil-producing regions, be easily explained.
“I cannot explain the rationale behind the delays and non-payment of salaries of university teachers in the oil-producing states of Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta and Cross Rivers. These states receive an additional 13% derivation fund from federal allocations,” he said.
The federal government takes the lion’s share of all allocations accruing to Nigeria from sales of crude oil and gas in the international markets. The federal government in turn finances universities in each of the 36 states. Thus, the fortunes of these universities depend on the fortunes of crude oil and gas in international markets.
Further complicating the payment issue is the fact that the federal government has instituted a centralised e-finance system called the Treasury Single Account. All monies accruing to the central government are deposited into this account in the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Each ministry and its agencies have a single account through which salaries are paid. In the case of federal universities, the account is held by the Ministry of Education under the direct supervision of the National Universities Commission. The latter sends salaries of teachers in the federal universities to various campuses.
The process has been criticised for being cumbersome. In addition, the software does not recognise complicated salary differentials in the university system.
“Every month we now receive salaries in fractions and instalments,” said Dr Aniekan Brown, ASUU chair and member of the department of anthropology and sociology at the federal University of Uyo. “The outstanding fractions of salaries from the previous month are paid in instalments the following month. This is very frustrating.”
According to ASUU President Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, the union has recommended the creation of new software capable of capturing the specificities of universities salary structures. “We want to be relieved from this unidirectional e-payment system,” he told University World News.
According to reliable sources, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities is to meet Buhari, Visitor of all federal universities, with a view to finding solutions to the e-payment system.
While the problem of non-payment of university staff is gradually spreading to other regional universities, salaries and allowances of all political office holders continue to be paid on time, despite the recession.
The irregular payment of salaries has revealed fundamental inconsistencies in the country’s salary structures. Civil servants earn more than university teachers and the annual budget dedicated to the university sector is far below that of the political class of the executive and the legislative arms of the government.
The situation has worsened with the current recession.
“There is a deliberate move to undermine the funding of the universities by the political class. Consequently, the salary scales in the universities are dwindling, whereas the salary levels of the politicians are improving as if they are not affected by recession and inflation – a very sad phenomenon,” said Dr Adewale Suenu, head of history and international relations at Lagos State University.