No Light in the Tunnel

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Nyesom Wike, new minister of education

It is not likely that the more than two-month industrial action by the members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities would end soon as the union insists on full implementation of their 2009 agreement

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Sep. 23, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

THERE is no likelihood that the current face-off between the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, may end soon. The face-off began on July 1, this year when ASUU called out its members on strike over the refusal of government to implement a 2009 agreement it signed with the union. Part of the agreement centred on increased funding to arrest the progressive rot in the universities and welfare of members.

Even though it is on record that the federal government has, on its part, granted appreciable concessions to resolve the lingering strike, but the ASUU insists that the concessions have not gone far enough. Yinka Gbadebo, president, National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, said that the ASUU has in 13 years, proceeded on strike 30 times. If this staggering statistics by the students’ leader is anything to go by, then the current trends in the educational system, whereby academic activities are paralysed every now and then, cannot only be described as worrisome but unfortunate. This has seriously undermined the development of human capital.

Nasir Fagge Isa, ASUU president
Nasir Fagge Isa, ASUU president

President Goodluck Jonathan is aware of the decades of rots in the educational sector. He’s not unaware of the fact that no country develops without a sound educational system. That is why education is one of the key components of his transformation agenda. He knows also that universities provide manpower for other levels of education. It is in view of this that the federal government set up a 22-member committee on the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities, headed by Gabriel Suswam, Benue State governor.

It is important to note that the committee was set up in line with the agreement reached between the federal government, the ASUU, the Non–Academic Staff Union and other Stakeholders in the nation’s education sector. Most importantly, the committee was set up in furtherance of government’s desire to revitalise the Nigerian tertiary institutions for a robust and healthy development of education.

As a demonstration of its clear commitment to revitalising the university system, federal government has released N130 billion to universities’ councils in order to persuade the striking lecturers to return to the classrooms. In spite of this noble efforts by the government, ASUU has remained unyielding. Its refusal of government’s offer, insisting on all or nothing, has made commentators to conclude that the opposition parties have infiltrated the union and egged on the lecturers to remain inflexible to government’s offer.

Sylvester Osakwe Ukwuteno, ASUU, chairman, Kogi State University Chapter, said the union is ready to fight until its demands are granted, even if it takes more than a year. He noted that Ghana experienced a year and some months of strike before the government came to its senses and the outcome is currently obvious in the country. Speaking to Vanguard Learning in a telephone interview, he explained that if there were plans for the sector, government would have speedily acceded to the plea to properly fund the sector, adding that the action of the union was to ensure that the country met the international standard of education.

Gbadebo
Gbadebo

“We hope this would be the last strike that will surface on this particular discourse, hopefully if the government cares for education because we will not budge until our demands are met. The much emphasis of ‘no money syndrome’ is all lies as the president could convey over 300 entourage including himself, to China coupled with their allowances, welfare and other incentives. They should tell Nigerians where the money came from. The quest is not money motivated as speculated, but to ensure that facilities and other necessary equipment needed to update the students are made available for effective learning. Universities are currently operating with little or no equipment in the labs, making the labs non-functional for practicals, thereby sterilising what is supposed to be practically inclined. It took Ghana a year and some months’ strike before the government came to its senses and the outcome is currently obvious. We would do even more till our request is granted,” he said.

Peter Akpatason, member, House of Representatives, representing Akoko-Edo federal constituency, Edo State, accused Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance, of being insensitive to the plight of Nigerian students, saying that she has been blackmailing Nigerians that government does not have the money to meet its agreement with ASUU.

“It is very disheartening that up till now, ASUU is still on strike but unfortunately, I am not in a position to blame ASUU because I was still fully in labour when this agreement was negotiated between ASUU and the government. So, it is irresponsible of anybody to enter into an agreement and then renege. It is totally unacceptable and that is the issue. It is unfortunate that a party has gone into an agreement and today, it is saying that it has no resources to fund what it signed. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is known for coming up with statements about inadequacy of funds but yet the entire revenue gates in the country are performing above estimation; customs, the oil and gas industry, immigration, they are all doing well beyond what was anticipated, yet Okonjo-Iweala keeps deceiving Nigerians and the whole world that Nigeria does not have money. What are they doing with all our money?” he queried.

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