Waiting for ASUU

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Nasir Isa Fagge, ASUU president

Students and parents wait for ASUU’s response to federal government’s claim of payment of N200 billion demanded by it into a CBN designated account

By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Dec. 16, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

THERE are indications that the prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, may be called off soon. Segun Ajiboye, ASUU chairman, University of Ibadan branch, said on Wednesday, December 4, that the strike would soon come to an end since the federal government had begun to shift grounds. He failed to give details and the extent of ground shifting the federal government had done.

But the presidency said it had paid the sum of N200 billion into an account with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, designated for funding the nation’s comatose universities. Doyin Okupe, senior special assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on public affairs, said that the account, a revitalization of universities infrastructural account, was authorised by the office of the accountant general of the federation on November 13. He argued that there were enough reasons for the nation’s striking university lecturers to return to the classroom. “I state categorically that I have personally seen the balance in the account as of today and confirm that it contains the requisite amount and disbursement will commence as soon as ongoing administrative processes are sorted out,” he said.

Okupe
Okupe

Okupe said he wanted to re-affirm that the president and the administration have no credibility issues whatsoever. “Mr. President has always honoured his words and obligations to the Nigerian people as at and when due.” He also dismissed the four items mentioned by the ASUU as preconditions for calling off the strike, stating that none of them remain substantially pending or weighty enough to justify the continuation of the strike even one day longer.

“Having come this far, we believe it is time that we all come together once again as major stakeholders in the affairs of the country and the educational sector in particular to move on and begin to chart a new course for advancing the sector and improving the standard of our institutions for higher learning. There are no victors or vanquished in this protracted disagreement,” he said.

The federal government had earlier issued an ultimatum to the striking lecturers to return to work on or before December 4, and those who failed to do so would be sacked by the university authorities. But this ultimatum has been extended to December 9. Meanwhile, the union’s refusal to call off the strike even after majority of its member chapters voted to return to work showed that ASUU was undemocratic in handling the strike. After the union’s National Executive Council, NEC, meeting in Kano, on November 23, 42 chapters, representing 60 percent voted in favour of discontinuation of the strike, while 19 chapters, representing 40 percent voted otherwise.

The majority agreed to suspend of the strike following the fresh commitment its leadership obtained from the federal government. But the minority insisted that the strike should continue until it got concrete assurance of implementation of all agreements from the federal government. The union also said it would not suspend its ongoing strike until the four months’ salaries owed its members were paid. It also wanted an immediate implementation of the N1.2 trillion offer by the federal government to public universities, starting with the release of N100 billion this year. The balance of N1.1 trillion, according to the union, should be spread over five years from 2014.

These fresh demands led to the ultimatum which the federal government issued to the union. According to the federal government, ASUU leadership had gone contrary to the desire of majority of their chapters who had voted and agreed to end the strike because of the personal intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan. ASUU leadership had earlier dismissed federal government’s threat to sack striking lecturers as a big joke.

Okupe said that ASUU leadership came into negotiation with a mindset that betrayed what he termed, lack of understanding that the nation and the government were a continuum. He said that there was nothing dictatorial and undemocratic about the federal government’s marching order to members of ASUU to call off the protracted strike or face mass dismissal. He described the striking lecturers as enemies of the state operating from within who are apparently playing the script of politicians in the country.

“Given this dangerous and invidious tendency, no right-thinking government sworn to protect the welfare of its citizens will fold its arms and watch the situation deteriorate any further. History has shown that when governments worldwide are pushed to the wall, they take whatever lawful steps that are necessary to protect the interests of its people and the state over which they govern. The negative disposition of the ASUU leadership is unarguably a pre-conceived and calculated treacherous plot pointedly intended to undermine the presidency and subvert the federal government of Nigeria.”

ASUU solidarity march for Iyayi
ASUU solidarity march for Iyayi

Okupe recalled that on May 7, 2012, the Lagos State government sacked 788 doctors in its employment for participating in a three-day warning strike between April 11 and 13, 2012. He also said that on the August 5, 1981, Ronald Reagan, then American president, sacked 11, 345 air traffic controllers after a two-day strike. Reagan took the decision after the striking workers turned down an 11 percent wage increase he had offered them.

Expectedly, the All Progressives Congress, APC, has condemned the federal government for issuing a sack threat to striking university teachers, saying the resort to such military-era tactics was a reflection of the federal government’s poverty of ideas in resolving the prolonged ASUU strike. In a statement in Lagos, Lai Mohammed, interim national publicity secretary, APC, criticised the supervising minister of education, Nyesom Wike, for the way he talked down on the striking teachers while issuing the ill-advised, go-back-to-work-or-be-sacked threat.

“Wike’s language was crude, his presentation was rude and his threat was demeaning and counter-productive. We believe his lack of finesse and the inability to think out of the box in handling the whole strike issue will not bode well for a quick resolution of the crisis. We also disagree with the minister’s inference that the lecturers should automatically call off the strike because the president intervened and sat for long hours with them. It is this unnecessary deification of a democratically-elected president that has almost turned this president into an emperor. What is the big deal in President Jonathan sitting with ASUU members, his former colleagues for that matter?  What is a president elected to do if not to solve problems?” he said.

In another development, ASUU on Wednesday, December 4 began the funeral ceremony of late Festus Iyayi, its former president killed in a car accident, in Benin, Edo State, with a solidarity march by members of the union and civil society groups. Members of ASUU, in their hundreds from other universities including the University of Ilorin, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, and Delta State University, Abraka, joined their colleagues in the University of Benin to pay their last respect to late Iyayi. Other groups represented included the Nigeria Labour Congress, Conference of Non-Governmental Organisations, Joint Action Front and Parents Consultative Association of Nigerian Universities. Iyayi will be buried on December 7 in Benin.

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