Nigeria’s minister of finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has denied being a clog in efforts to reach a compromise between the Federal Government and the striking members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
A statement by the minister made reference to what she called abusive flyers and pamphlets allegedly being circulated in some parts of the country, and in mosques, which purportedly malign and demonise her as ‘being unsympathetic to the plight of students and parents.’
She claimed the pamphlets also peddled lies that she has insisted on a “take-it-or-leave-it approach” in the negotiations with ASUU.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said the minister in the statement signed by her special adviser, Paul Nwabuikwu.
“Contrary to some recent media reports, the Federal government has not adopted a take-it-or-leave-it approach in its negotiations with ASUU. Rather, the approach is focused on positive engagement and achieving sustainable solutions to the challenges facing higher education in the country. That is why President Goodluck Jonathan recently appealed to ASUU to respond to government’s positive steps by calling off its strike in the interest of suffering students and parents,”, the minister said.
The positive steps she spoke about included the N100billion the government has agreed to vote for infrastructure and the N30billion to meet the allowances of ASUU members. But ASUU has rejected the amount as too small.
While the minister alluded to government making further concessions to ASUU members, she was not specific about figures and what has been agreed upon.
“This is the first time, in years of negotiating with government, that significant sums of money have been put on the table for ASUU and universities on this particular set of issues.”, Okonjo-Iweala stated and even went further to share the credit for the gesture, along with President Goodluck Jonathan, who she said was working hard to “seek practical and sustainable solutions to the challenges facing higher education in Nigeria”.
The statement showed that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was very concerned about her image in the academic community and strove to put the matter in the right perspective.
“Dr Okonjo-Iweala is the daughter of two retired professors and her father is presently a member of ASUU’s Board of Trustees and has been one for a long time. She speaks with her father everyday on the issue so how can she be insensitive to issues concerning the sad state of tertiary education in the country? She understands and sympathizes with the plight of both students and lecturers. She wants our children back in school as soon as possible. Remember she is a mother and two of her young relatives are sitting at home due to the strike.”
Her statement concluded by joining President Goodluck Jonathan in appealing to ASUU to end the strike.
“Against this background, ASUU elements who want the strike to continue should have a heart and rethink their current take-it-or-leave-it approach to negotiation. Government has demonstrated its commitment to improving the university system. And it is even ready to do much more going forward. ASUU should listen to the voice of reason and the yearnings of Nigerians on this issue.”
In the leaflet or pamphlet Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said was in wide circulation, ASUU canvasses for more funding to education in the country and graphically shows that Nigeria votes the lowest fund to education, in contrast to many African countries.
In 2012, according to the pamphlet, total allocation by Nigeria to all tiers of education was $1.96 billion and $2.69 billion this year, which represents just one per cent of the nation’s GDP of $262.2 billion.
ASUU argues in the pamphlet that education deserves “better and sincere attention from the rulers of the country”