Ten Months Salary Arrears of ABSU Staff: Who’s To Be Blame? Was The Hunger And Starvation Avoidable?

Let me start by empathizing with my colleagues, ABSU-ASUU and the entire staff of Abia State University, for the unfortunate events that have lead to us being owed nine (9) months salary arrears (not 10 months please).

However, as an insider who’s also affected by the challenging times, like every other staff, I have elected to make some objective clarifications on the issue. My position is based on empirical facts; beyond the SOS issued by the University Union, which has elicited public outcry, criticism and outright condemnation. Beyond the public vituperation against the University Management and Abia State Government, Abians and the entire public should know the facts about the salary arrears quagmire at ABSU. Who’s to be blame? Abia State government? ABSU Management or the Unions?

Background of the Current Challenges.

Abia State University is a state owned pubic university. The Abia State government, from inception of the university, has NOT been responsible for the salary payments of the university staff. What the state government does is to give monthly subvention, to the university. Presently, the subvention value is about 100 million naira monthly. The implication of this model is that the university Management is obligated to use internally generated revenue to make up about 70-80 percent to pay staff’s monthly.

The above model has served the University Management, the State government and the staff of the university, well over the years. For instance, the University between January 2016 and March 2020 under the leadership of Distinguished Prof Uche Ikonne, DID NOT owe even one month salary arrears to staff of ABSU. The then VC, considered salary payments as a first line charge; thus, he prioritized regular payment of salaries, to staff until he served out his tenure. This implies that baring any academic calendar interruptions, the ABSU model is sustainable, at least in short and medium terms.

However, given the COVID 19 pandemic that broke out in March 2020 , mid-wife by the 10 months ASUU national strike, which lasted from March 2020 to December 2020, the staff of the University were owed nine(9) months arrears.

Suffice it to say that it wasn’t rocket science to know why the arrears came into the life of the university community; the university under lock and key generated zero revenue within these 10 months. These fallow periods also brought the abrupt end to the administration of Distinguished Prof Uche Ikonne, whose meritorious tenure ended exactly on December 1st, 2020.

Salient Facts.
Having assumed office during the COVID 19 pandemic and the ASUU strike induced barrenness, Distinguished Prof Maxwell Ogbulu, made commitment to the Unions that he would substantially defray the outstanding salaries on or before December 2021. Did he do that? YES.

Fact #1.
ABSU staff have received seventeen (17) months salaries in one year; between January 2021 and January 2022. This implies that staff have received salaries regularly in the past 12 months, as well as additional 5 months from the COVID-19 and 2020 ASUU strike induced arrears. However, the monthly payments have stalled, since February 2022, as a result of the ASUU national strike. Another barren season of near zero internally generated revenue, ensued.

Fact #2
Most organizations ànd world economies are still battling with Post COVID-19 Challenges.
According to the World Bank, it would take the world economies about five years, to reverse the effects of the pandemic. For instance, the African Development Bank’s, African economic outlook 2020-2022, the Bank budgeted $432 billion to stimulate the economies of African countries, post COVID-19. There has been loan defaults, aborted economic and revenue projections, which have culminated in slowing down global productivity and growth. In essence, Abia State University and by extension Abia State Government wasn’t immune to the vagaries of the harsh economic climate, globally.

Fact #3
Staff salary obligations in ABSU, CANNOT be met under any form of academic calendar interruptions. Given the fact that bulk of the revenue to pay salaries and run the university comes from internally generated revenue, it is absolutely impossible to pay salaries as at when due, when the gates of the university is under lock and key. Owing to the ongoing ASUU national strike, which started in February 2022, the salary arrears have risen to additional 5 months.

Fact #4
Management of the university made firm promises to the Unions; assuring them that in as much as the university is in session, monthly salaries will not be owed, irrespective of receiving any subvention from the government. The Management of the university, past or present have lived up to this assurance, from the facts before us.

The hunger was avoidable. There were mixed opinions by staff, whether to join the ASUU national strike fully or apply “The One eye theory” as propounded by Distinguished Prof J. U Ogbonna. In his theory, Ogbonna was of the opinion that ABSU should not completely close down the “shop”, given our peculiarities as a state university. According to him ” the federal universities have nothing to fear, even if the ASUU strike should last for 3 years. This is unlike ABSU where our major source of funding is internally generated”.

Without deflecting the obvious benefits acruable from past and present ASUU struggles, ABSU staff would have averted the present hunger ravaging the university community, had we not completely down our tools.

Government monthly subvention alone cannot solve the salary payment challenges. At a monthly subvention of 100 million naira, the annual emolument, ceteris paribus will be 1.2 billion naira. With a monthly wage bill of about 300 million, this would take care of only four months salary cheques. How would the Management of the university raise the other eight months salary, when the academic calendar is constantly interrupted?

Fact #7
Abia State Government isn’t responsible for the payment of staff salaries of ABSU. The government only gives monthly subvention, to the university. The religiosity of such subventions, is outside the purview of this discourse.

From these facts, could you blame the state government, Management of the university or the Unions? Is our current hunger and starvation adjuvant or self-imposed? Judge for yourself.

Nnamdi Chinwendu Nwaeze, Ph.D.
Is a Senior Lecturer, in the Department of Economics, ABSU.

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