The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) demand for better pay, met a brick wall on Tuesday as the Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said that the Federal Government has no resources to meet the union’s demands.
Asuu has been on strike for five weeks now pushing for among other things better pay, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said the lecturers were asking for N92 billion in extra allowances, but maintained that the government has no such cash.
Speaking in Minna at the yearly National Council on Finance and Economic Development (NACOFED) with the theme: “Restructuring Nigeria’s Finances”, the minister said the ASUU demand was coming when government was making efforts at reducing the structure of public expenditures.
Her words: “At present, ASUU wants the government to pay N92bn in extra allowances when resources are not there and when we are working to integrate past increases in pensions. We need to make choices in this country as we are getting to the stage where recurrent expenditures take the bulk of our resources and people get paid but can do no work”.
If the demands of the university lecturers are met and “we continue to pay them salaries and allowances, we will not be able to provide infrastructure in the universities”, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said.
The minister argued that when she assumed office, “the share of recurrent expenditure in our total budgets had increased astronomically”.
Maintaining that Nigeria is still suffering from the effect of the 2010 increase in salaries, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala asked “do we want to get to a stage in this country that all the money we earn is used to pay salaries and allowances?”
She lamented also that Nigeria’s over dependence on oil has resulted in deterioration of non-oil tax, noting that in 1970 non-oil taxes accounted for 74 per cent of the country’s revenues, but by 2012 it had declined to only30% of Federal Government revenues.
She said the volume of external and internal debts of the country had been increasing. “In fact in August 2006 when I left office, we had a total of $17.3bn, comprised $3.5bn in foreign debt and $13.8bn in domestic debt.
The minister went on: “By 2011 when I returned to office, the total debt stood at $47.9bn and the domestic debt had grown to about $42.3bn”.
The minister however, said the Federal Government had taken measures to revamp the economy, adding that these measures had started yielding fruitful dividends in direct capital investment in the country and in establishment of industries and agro-based firms.