Students of government-owned universities might have just been condemned to extended stay out of school as the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, over non-implementation of the 2009 agreement seem set to continue owing to the government’s new tactic of threat.
The Federal Government had through the Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike vowed to sack any lecturer who fails to return to class within seven days, and had directed vice-chancellors of federal universities that are currently on strike to immediately re-open for academic and allied activities.
Briefing journalists in Abuja, yesterday, Wike said it was rather unfortunate that after a 13-hour meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja on November 4, 2013, the union came up with new conditions before they could call off the strike.
According to him, it was obvious that the new conditions put forward by ASUU were not in the interest of the nation, one of which was that President Jonathan should facilitate endorsement of resolutions reached with him, which must be signed by a high ranking government official, preferably the Attorney-General of the Federation but not a permanent secretary. ASUU said their representative as well as the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Abdulwahid Omar, would stand as witnesses.
The striking lecturers also wanted the N200 billion agreed upon as 2013 revitalisation fund for public universities to be lodged with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and disbursed to the benefiting universities. They also want the government to pay their salary arrears before resuming academic activities.
Wike told newsmen, yesterday that “All Vice-chancellors of Federal Universities that are on strike should immediately reopen for academic and allied activities as directed by their Pro-Chancellors. Vice-Chancellors should ensure that staff who resume for work are provided with the enabling environment for academic and allied activities.
“Any academic staff who fails to resume on or before December 4, 2013, automatically ceases to be staff of the institution and vice-chancellors are also directed to advertise vacancies (internal and external) in their institutions”.
Wike also accused ASUU of sabotaging the effort of government in addressing the issues especially after having a 13-hour meeting with President Jonathan where all issues were resolved and firm commitments were made.
He said: “On November 4, 2013, in a 13 hour meeting, President Goodluck Jonathan met with the ASUU executive, the labour union leaders from Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC, where all issues were resolved and firm commitments made to address the lingering issues.
“It is noteworthy that Mr. President’s gesture was more than sufficient to guarantee the commitment of Government to address all issues as resolved at the meeting with Mr. President.
“At the end of the meeting with Mr. President, the ASUU executive promised to meet with its National Executive Committee to present the resolutions reached and report back by Friday November 8, 2013.
“As a responsible government we cannot allow continuous closure of our public universities for this length of time (five months), as this poses danger to the education system, the future of our youths and national development”.
The minister therefore directed NUC to ensure all the Federal Government universities comply with the directives saying, “the National Universities Commission, NUC, is hereby directed to monitor the compliance of these directives by various institutions”.
Asked whether the directive by the Federal Government to vice chancellors to reopen was not against labour laws, Wike said if there were any grievances they should seek redress in the law court.
In its reaction, ASUU however said threat by the Federal Government to sack university lecturers would only worsen the situation and “another long path to make the strike linger more than necessary.”
ASUU stated the threat has now made it evident that the Federal Government had no intention of implementing any resolutions it reached with the union.
The union’s treasurer, Dr. Ademola Aremu, who spoke on behalf of the union said the Federal Government would only succeed in wasting the time of Nigerians and youths in the country if it failed to perfect the resolutions.
ASUU said it was trying to ensure the government was truly committed to the resolutions reached as it had reneged on the promises it made with ASUP, resident doctors, and health workers.
The union described the threat as an insult to the sense and sensibilities of Nigerians who were waiting on the Federal Government for positive reaction.
“with the latest action, the Federal Government has shown that they are not committed to all they have been saying.
“We are saying that since we agreed at the meeting that the sum of N200 billion is for 2012 and 2013 revitalisation, the Federal Government should deposit same in the Central Bank of Nigeria. We are already in November and December is around the corner.
“If they don’t do that now, when do they want to do it?. We are saying the non-victimisation clause should be included as agreed while the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement should be included as agreed with the President.
“It is a pity if the Federal Government is not willing to perfect the resolutions reached with union. This is why we find it difficult to hold our leaders by their words. How can someone be threatening to sack lecturers when universities are already short-staffed by almost 60,000.
“We are not in military era. The military tried it and failed. This one will fail again. They can re-open the schools. ASUU did not shut down the universities. It was the school management that ordered the students to go back home.”
Reacting to the directive in a telephone chat with the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, Chairman, University of Lagos branch of ASUU, Dr Oghenekaro Ogbinaka, said that the development was strange and laughable.
“Our reaction is simple. Let us just wait for the seven days to come around,” he said.
“What government has just done shows that they were not committed in the offer they made with the union that had the Trade Union Congress President and the Minister of Labour in attendance. We are not going to fall to that blackmail. Now, which one is better, government acceding to our demands or issuing out threats?
“Honestly, this whole thing ought to have been easily resolved, given the approach taken by President (Goodluck) Jonathan, but it is like we want to be taken for granted after all and it is unfair,” he said.