Following the protracted strike action by ASUU to enforce the funding agreement of 2009 with the Yar'Ardua/ Jonathan Administration there have been attempts to shift the focus of the public from the real issues and portray ASUU as an insensitive organization. We have tried to explain how we tried desperately to avoid the strike by virtually begging for meetings with the Federal Government for over three years to no avail.
As a last option to draw attention to our plight and get the government to talk, ASUU has had to devise an instrument of warning strike to force a dialogue and hopefully avoid the need for a strike. We believe that Nigerians remember that a warning strike was applied without the desired attention from government. Over and over again, we have been advised to adopt alternative methods to strike actions. ASUU has a permanent lobby in Abuja and regularly seeks the help of traditional rulers and influential individuals to persuade government to talk to her. Nigerians should not forget that governance in Nigeria is a big racket and leadership has one focus; unbridled appetite for power and money. Those who talk about the need for dialogue to resolve labour issues need to understand how the Nigerian Government and political environment functions. ASUU does not have the financial means to induce support of officials and mobilize the political apparatus. Even if we had the means, it is against our policy to give or accept bribe.
Those who accuse ASUU of being insensitive need to realize that it is easier for ASUU to concentrate on its conditions of service alone (as some have repeatedly suggested) and leave the government to do what it likes with the Universities. We have ready examples of national assets such as NITEL, RAILWAY, and NIGERIAN AIRWAYS among many others that collapsed because the workers paid attention only to their narrow interests. Members of ASUU often go without salaries for months during strikes and are subjected to untold hardships and indignities. Wouldn’t it just be easier to take our salaries and leave Nigerians to decide the fate of their institutions? Is this what Nigerians want? Do they want to finish off the Universities as was done to public primary and secondary schools? Will there be opportunities for the poor to have university education if we fold our hands and allow the public universities to be destroyed? Will the poor be able to send their children abroad or pay the exorbitant fees of private universities owned by politicians and their friends?
IS ASUU DISRESPECTFUL TO THE PRESIDENT?
There have been insinuations that ASUU has come up with new demands following the meeting with Mr President. In spite of the fact that we believe that Mr President could have thrown his weight behind a resolution of the crisis very early in the strike and in fact, he could have prevented the strike from happening, ASUU was very appreciative of his intervention. It is important to note that while the political machinery of government was more interested in the resolution of the current strike, ASUU, in addition, was more concerned about ending strikes for the foreseeable future in order to bring the university system to stability. Perhaps, government did not see the need to find a sustainable solution to the problem. Following the discussions with Mr President, a number of decisions were taken. Out of respect for Mr President, ASUU did not insist that the minutes of the meeting and decision extracts be produced, vetted and signed before leaving the venue of the meeting. ASUU’s experience in its dealing with government has been that Civil Servants routinely doctor minutes of meeting for political and selfish ends. We are also quite familiar with the fact that successive governments starting with the Abacha era have consistently disowned agreements with ASUU at the slightest opportunity. Nigerians are familiar with the burden of history and the “integrity challenge” which those in the highest offices in the land bear. The spoken promise of a President should normally be cast in stone. However, is that our experience in Nigeria? If agreements are not important then what is? If leaders violate agreements entered into with the cream of its intelligentsia, then the mass populace is doomed. We should not turn against the man whose rights have been violated because we think it is the fastest way to peace.
It is important for Nigerians to know that nothing new was demanded by ASUU. In fact, we were simply winding down the strike when our former president, Professor Iyayi was killed by the Governor of Kogi State. What was left after the meeting with the President was mere paper work and implementing our constitutional process for calling off a strike. The paper work was simply to ensure that ASUU and Government were on the same page. ASUU wanted the government to deliver on its promise by releasing immediately the 200 billion naira it promised earlier in the strike. It also requested that a high- ranking government official be assigned to sign the resolutions reached at the meeting with the President. Please note that one of the grounds given by the SSG Chief Pius Anyim for repudiating the 2009 agreement was that it was signed by a person of inconsequential status, a mere Permanent Secretary.
We had been reliably informed that Government was not really interested in fulfilling its agreement notwithstanding our meeting with Mr President. Nevertheless, ASUU did not think that the highest office in the land will be involved in gimmickry and politicking with the destiny of our youths. Moreover, we had been advised even by some of the vociferous critics of ASUU that it was unlikely that any funds not released by the end of this year will ever be available next year because government will be mobilizing all available resources for the elections.
What Nigerians do not know was that there are some influential officials in power who actually hoped that ASUU will not respond positively to Mr President. Remember that soon after the death of Iyayi, it was stated in some circles that ASUU will not call off the strike until 2014. It was a rude shock to these individuals that ASUU went ahead to start the process of calling off the strike.
Is ASUU engaged in subversion?
Was government truly interested in ending the strike? If indeed, it was serious, the frantic escalation of the crisis at a point where only paper work was left to call off the strike is very suspicious. Does the minister of Education have another agenda or is it just a case of immaturity and power intoxication on his part? Is ASUU engaged in subversion as suggested by the President? Over the years, ASUU has been accused of playing politics and acting like an opposition because of its principled position on the funding of education in Nigeria. It is yet unclear to Nigerians what constitutes subversion in ASUU’s insistence on minimum requirements of civilised conduct. An agreement is a sacred document which should be respected and not treated as a mere text in a sheet of paper. The same mindset that has led to the breaching of ASUU’s agreement also has informed the impunity with which the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has been treated over the years. It also explains why laws of the land are not respected and why the nation has become a fiefdom of a few powerful individuals who must maintain power and relevance at all cost. These individuals think that governance is about wearing a bowler hat, talk tough and take inspiration from Africa Magic. Leadership is not a movie.
Those who are engaged in subversion are those who use state apparatus to do oil bunkering, who fail to tackle corruption and are profiting from terrorism. They are the ones who fail to fund the educational system adequately, but send their own children to schools abroad. These individuals go to cure a headache overseas while leaving the poor to die in derelict health facilities at home.
Is ASUU also responsible for the crisis in the health and power sectors? Are we to blame for the fact that in all development indicators we are at the bottom of every positive indicator and at the top of every negative one? Nigerians should not be deceived. In the 80s, the heroic actions of the NUT were subverted and today we have the kind of primary and secondary schools that turn out illiterates.
The NEEDS Assessment report of government shows clearly that ASUU is not crying wolf. What we hear from critics is that we should relent and pray for divine intervention. ASUU believes in work and pray. While some people closed their eyes, they allowed the vultures to build nests over our heads. While we slept, the enemy sowed tares in our field. And now at the apex of national affairs, have emerged agents of midnight!
We implore all Nigerians to hold their future in their hands and rise up to challenge every form of oppression and corruption. We cannot afford to let the privilege few who have cornered our common wealth to turn our children to slaves in their own country. If the nation lacks resources , let it affect everyone down the line. If we need to tighten our belt, let the leaders give example. If they truly believe in our country, let them show patriotism by withdrawing their children from foreign schools to Nigerian Universities. If these schools are not good enough for their children, why must we be the ones to carry the burden always?
ASUU is resolved to see an end to this strike, and other strikes in the foreseeable future. Hence, we need the support of all Nigerians to ensure a sustainable resolution of the current crisis so that strikes will become a thing of the past in the university system.