By Ephraims Sheyin
The Treasury Single Account (TSA), introduced by the Federal Government to check corruption in the system, is stalling research in the universities, according to the Academic Union of Universities (ASUU).
Exempting the universities from the TSA is among the demands of ASUU, whose members embarked on a one-week warning strike on Wednesday, Nov. 21.
According to its National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, other demands include the payment of Earned Academic Allowances, effective funding of the universities, an end to the payment of fractions of salaries to some institutions, among others.
Ogunyemi has already warned that ASUU would embark on an indefinte strike after the warning strike, if their demands were not met.
Speaking specifically on the TSA, in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Dr. Christopher Piwuna, Chairman, Jos chapter of the union, said that the policy was of utmost concern to the universities because it was impeding their core mandate – research and breakthroughs.
“The TSA is a good policy, but its bottlenecks are too much,” Piwuna told our correspondent on Sunday in Jos.
“International and corporate bodies send research grants to universities, which are paid into the acounts of the institutions, but they get trapped in centralised TSA accounts that are not accessible.
“Such grants come with timelines and the granting institutions get agigated and start asking questions which we can neither answer nor explain. Often, this leads to forfeiture,” he said.
He regretted that the development had led to the loss of many research opportunities and possible breakthroughs, adding that it had also ruptured the confidence between the angry granting institutions and the helpless supposed recipients.
“ASUU has nothing against the TSA, we are only saying that the unversities should be exempted from it in view of the speed with which universities’ activities are carried out and also because lots of funds paid into the schools’ accounts come in from foreign sources,” he explained.
Piwuna admitted, however, that the TSA policy had checked a lot of excessess in the system and should be sustained.
“Some institutions have been found to have up to 25 accounts, some of which are not even known to their Chief Executive Officers.
“Obviously, such accounts were opened by corrupt elements to steal funds; it is a good thing that the TSA has stemmed such recklessness,” he said.
He explained that the warning strike was aimed at forcing government to revitalise the public universities “especially in view of the economic recession that has made it difficult for people to send their children to private universities”.
The ASUU chairman accused government of not giving education the attention it deserved, and vowed that the union would stand its groundS until the right thing was done.
He wondered why government would wait until lecturers began a strike before listening to their concerns.
“Since we started the warrning strike, we have held several meetings with the Senate President and other top stakeholders; one keeps wondering why it is difficult to listen to ASUU early enough so as to avert the worst scenarios.”
He alleged that 22 universities were paying incomplete salaries to workers, and argued that such would only affect commitment to service.
“The Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, for instance, used to collect only 92 per cent of their salaries, but even that has been slashed to 85 per cent.
“ As a union, we have tried to find out why and what we are told is that the budget office has taken six per cent of their recurrent expenditure without any explanation. Certainly, this is a recipe for confusion,” he said.
Piwuna said that ASUU was also “shocked and angry” that states that had not been able to fund their universities were establishing new ones.
He particularly criticised the Edo State Government for starting a new university when th state-owned Ambrose Alli University was being under-funded.
Piwuna also wondered the Bayelsa State Government was working toward establishing an additional state university when it had not been able to meet its commitment to the Niger Delta University.
The ASUU official expressed the union’s readiness to work with stakeholders willing to shore up the fortunes of the educational sector, pointing out that the nation’s fortunes were tied to its growth.