The president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Sunday Asefon, has vowed to make real his threat that major political parties would not be allowed to hold their primaries in the country’s headquarters unless the universities are reopened.
Mr Asefon had on May 1 in a statement threatened that the primaries of both the ruling All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would be disrupted by his members.
He said the only way to avoid such was the resolution of the crisis between the striking university workers and the Nigerian government, which he noted, must lead to the immediate reopening of the universities.
In an interview on Channels Television on Thursday, Mr Asefon repeated the threat and said the students would not allow political party primaries in the nation’s capital “even if we would be shot by security operatives.”
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, political parties are required by the electoral law to organise primaries to elect candidates for various political offices. And in fulfilment of the requirement, many political parties have scheduled their primaries to hold in May.
Meanwhile, the country’s capital territory, Abuja, usually hosts the presidential primaries of major political parties, and this is why Mr Asefon has said his union targets such an avenue to express its frustration over the continued strike.
He described the protest held on Wednesday by students in Benin, the Edo State capital, as “only a sign of the mother of protests to be expected by Nigerians in Abuja.”
Confirming the threat, Mr Asefon told PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter in an interview that while Nigerian politicians are unconcerned about students’ plight, they are paying rapt attention to the 2023 elections.
He said: “We are talking about education, we are talking about life, our life is no longer being discussed by the leaders, these leaders that we elected; but rather, their focus now is about the election. This election that we are talking about is because of their parochial and selfish interest.
“We are battle-ready. They will ask their policemen to shoot us, if we die, the generation coming will know that we died while fighting for them. They would also know that they shot us because they are preparing for an election. But we need to take action.”
The union said each time it tries to engage each of the parties in the crisis, they all blame one other and always shift the blame.
According to the union’s president, while the government would blame its predecessors, the striking workers would always rely on its agreements duly signed by the government irrespective of which administration did.
“If you meet ASUU and the government, the government will tell you it inherited the problem from predecessors, but the union would insist the negotiation had been on for long. But what we believe as students is that the government is a continuum, these issues should be fine-tuned and a lasting solution provided immediately,” he said.
He said students can no longer be at the receiving end, “so they should stop using us as a pun on their chessboard.
ASUU had on March 14 extended its then one-month-old industrial action by two months to allow the government to meet all of its demands.
The university lecturers are seeking improved welfare, revitalisation of public universities, and academic autonomy.
The union is also requesting the replacement of the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) with the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) that was developed by its members, for the payment of salaries and emoluments.
Meanwhile, while the disagreement with the lecturers’ union was yet to be addressed, the non-academic staff unions on the campus also embarked on strike, which has since been extended by another month.
But the government has insisted that it does not have the required financial muscle to accede to the workers’ requests, citing poor economic conditions.