Federal Government, yesterday, expressed shock over plans by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to extend its two-month strike by 12 weeks.
Director of Press and Media Relations, Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Goong, who disclosed this in an exclusive interview with The Guardian, accused ASUU of intimidation and bullying.
ASUU had disclosed its resolve, following its emergency National Executive Council (NEC) meeting at the union’s secretariat in Abuja, yesterday.
The director, who described a 2009 agreement between the union and the Federal Government as having been reached “at gunpoint”, said some of ASUU’s demands can’t be implemented.
He said: “When you remain in strike for so long, that until xyz is done, you will not call off the strike, it becomes an agreement at gunpoint, in the sense that in an attempt to get children back to classes at all cost, government went into signing that agreement in 2009.
“It is clearly an agreement at gunpoint, and ASUU is going the same way. I don’t think strike is the only way to resolve issues. You might not go on strike at all and get something more than someone who is on strike.
“Our reaction is that the extension by three months is uncalled for. ASUU should call off the strike so that we can negotiate under a serene atmosphere, and whatever agreement we arrive at would be acceptable to all; not an agreement you force through someone’s throat and then you start quoting series of agreements.
“When this agreement was signed in 2009, nobody took into cognisance the role Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has come to play. TETFund is pumping in a minimum of N230 billion into the universities yearly. Whether it is from budget or from TETFUND, it is money.”
MEANWHILE, TETFund, yesterday, began disbursement of direct intervention funds approved by the Presidency to public universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education in the country, as part of efforts to improve infrastructure in the country’s tertiary institutions.
The latest intervention, which runs into several billions of naira, saw N642,848,138 being allocated to each university, N396,780,086 to polytechnics and N447,758,804 to each college of education for the year 2022.
The allocation papers were presented to heads of beneficiary institutions at the National Universities Commission (NUC) by Executive Secretary of the Fund, Sunny Echono.
According to Echono, the desire to develop human capital to service various sectors of the Nigerian economy, informed government’s investment in the education sector.
The Fund’s mandate involves the utilisation of initially two per cent and now 2.5 per cent Education Tax charged on assessable profit of all companies registered in Nigeria to improve quality of the nation’s public tertiary institutions.
ALSO, Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, declared the strike as illegal.
He disclosed this in Abuja while speaking on the National Productivity Day, which will be hosted by President Buhari at the Presidential Villa on Thursday.
He said: “When issues are being resolved and employees refuse to go back to work, it is a breach of the labour law.” Ngige, who maintained that the ministry has successfully resolved 1,683 cases since he assumed office, added: “University workers are not the only workers in Nigeria. The issue of revision of salaries and emoluments is not strictly a concern of the workers alone. There are other strata of workers that are agitating for salary increment as well.”
The workers that are agitating for an increment in salaries are at work. Why will university workers be different from other workers?”
A PARENT, Ayo Popoola, said ASUU and the Federal Government could sort out their differences without making students victims. He said: “This would be the third time strike is being extended. This is even a warning strike. What do we do when it becomes indefinite? ASUU and government shouldn’t hurt innocent students and their parents.”
A student leader, Femi Fatunbi, expressed frustration, saying: “Some of our leaders kept saying there is no money in the country but majority of those buying presidential forms are past and current political office holders. They don’t have any other job but politics. They stole money at will and are putting Nigerians in the shackles of poverty.”
National Secretary, National Association of Nigerian Students, Zone B, Segun Oladeji, accused the Federal Government of insensitivity, wondering why a serious government would not give priority attention to education.
SOME students of the University of Lagos also expressed disappointment during a peaceful protest held in front of the institution, urging the Federal Government to resolve the impasse.
They chanted solidarity songs and displayed placards with various inscriptions calling for an end to the strike. Speaking on their behalf, Femi Adeyeye said the extension shows that government has zero regard for education.
A 400-level Finance student, Emmanuel Ubechukwu, said: “We are here out of genuine desire to tell the government that we are tired of staying at home. No interest group or politician sponsored us. Our coming here is out of genuine desire to return to the classroom.”
ALSO, the leadership of Great Ife Students Union of Obafemi Awolowo University reacted in a statement signed by Olayiwola Folahan Festus (President), Odewale Samuel Damilare (Secretary General) and Ogunperi Taofeek Olalekan (Public Relations Officer).
The statement reads in part: “We, for the umpteenth time, condemn unequivocally the failure of the Federal Government and its agencies in resolving the concerns of ASUU, such that the hitherto announced warning strike, which took over two months of academic activities away from us, Nigerian students, is on the verge of rebounding as a total and indefinite strike.”
“We are, therefore, by this statement, sensitising the public and especially Nigerian students that, should the government fail to earnestly resolve issues with ASUU, with the supports of Great Ife students and other Nigerian students who have had enough of the nemesis that this strike is, we shall be scaling up our efforts in such manner as may make our demand for the reopening of our school met.”