It is clear that the federal government is not too keen to see to the end of the lingering dispute between it and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). It is also clear that what started as a dispute that would be resolved before long, has turned out to be a long-drawn battle and from all indications, the federal government, for all it cares, is no longer bothered. So, while they and their children go abroad for education, the fate of the ordinary Nigerian is left to chance.
As it is now, the government is unfazed by the fact that a very significant population of our young and influenceable youth has been staying idle for seven months. It is a shame that the federal government of President Muhammadu Buhari has carried on as though there is nothing to worry about. And as though taking a cue from him, his aides and ministers speak in such a manner that suggests that this strike might as well go on for as long as Buhari is in office.
Who but an irresponsible government prioritises attending to the needs of other countries over and above that of its own people? Who could have imagined this nation would come to a point where the education of the future of this nation can be treated with so much levity, yet the president of the nation would jet out for meetings abroad almost on a weekly basis while these students are on the streets? How does the president sleep knowing that these children are not in school for so long?
Whichever way one looks at it, the patriotic zeal of the ASUU to see to the need to improve the quality of education in the universities cannot be faulted by any well-meaning and dispassionate observer. What we get now are flippant and reckless statements that tend to trivialize the issue and blackmail the lecturers as demons. When in reality all they seek is to improve the standard of education so that scarce resources wasted by politicians and other government office holders seeking education for their children abroad can be minimized.
It is to the eternal shame of the government that Nigerians now seek education in Ghana, Togo and other neighbouring countries. Today, a lot of the schools in these neighbouring countries are only set up to fleece unsuspecting Nigerian students.
Recently, during an interview on Channels TV, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, declared that the President Buhari-led government cannot borrow to settle the striking university lecturers.
According to the Minister, the country cannot pay ASUU N1.2 trillion at the detriment of other sectors of the economy. He appealed to the lecturers to suspend the six months old strike and return to class as patriotic Nigerians.
He said, “You cannot allow one sector of the economy to hold you by the jugular and then blackmail you to go and borrow N1.2 trillion for overheads when our total income would be about N6.1 trillion. Let them go back to classes. They are not the only ones in Nigeria. They are not the only ones feeding from the federal purse. The nation cannot grind to a halt because we want to take care of the demands of ASUU.”
A reckless and indifferent attitude and statement to make if you ask me, especially coming from a minister who should be neck-deep in the efforts to resolve the dispute.
Meanwhile, ASUU on its part is saying that it never mentioned N1.2 trillion in its discussions and that rather than run to the press to make such claims the minister and the government ought to have told the ASUU leadership what it could pay since all they were demanding was pay review after over 20 years.
President of ASUU, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke alleged that the federal government is deliberately delaying the signing of an agreement with the union to prolong the dispute.
He said, “Nigerians should ask the federal government what they have proposed to pay, what have they done about it? Have we ever mentioned N1.2 trillion any day?
“You see, what we are seeing is that government officials just go to the media and speak every day without having any idea what they are talking about. We are going to respond appropriately,” he said.
On the proposed salary increase for lecturers which the government said would probably gulp huge amounts of money, Osedeke said ASUU did not mention any figure during negotiations with the government team.
The Federal Government had set up the Briggs-led committee to renegotiate the 2009 Agreement between the government and the university based unions, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, the Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Educational Institutions, NASU and the National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT.
But sources at the Ministry of Finance accused the Briggs Committee of connivance with ASUU in proposing an impracticable increase in the university wage structure where a Professor is to earn N2 million a month.
Also, sources close to the Presidential Committee on Salaries and Wages, according to news report, alleged that though Prof. Briggs is the Pro-chancellor of the Federal University, Lokoja, he still teaches at the University of Port Harcourt hence the alleged conspiracy to make a pay rise of about 180 percent for teaching staff, while the non teaching staff was given a paltry pay rise.
Should this report be true, you may be inclined to ask why the government appointed Prof Briggs if they knew that he may be an interested party. Second, why not meet with the ASUU and present these facts knowing that if the lecturers are so favoured at the expense of other unions, it would be only a matter of time before the entire university environment is thrown into another round of disputes?
Perhaps, one of the greatest flaws of this government is that everybody seems to have authority to act and speak as he or she pleases. The resultant effect being that there are regular flip-flops when it comes to government statements and pronouncements and policies.
A minister like Keyamo who should be bothered that our children are home is asking Nigerians who elected them to solve their problems to go beg ASUU to call off the strike.
Recall that the Presidency had said the minister of education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, had been given two weeks by President Buhari to see to the end of the strike. And just when parents were beginning to heave a sigh of relief that an end to the protracted strike is near, a few days later the presidency denied that the president never issued such a directive.
It is obvious that returning these students to the classrooms is the least of the problems of the federal government. The least we can do now that we are faced with the choice of choosing between the rock and the hard surface, is to plead with the ASUU to reconsider their stands and see how our children can return to school.
ASUU must realize that the federal government cannot be bothered that the strike has lasted for this long, otherwise, Mallam Adamu has no business being the minister of education. But the reason he is still comfortably seated as minister is not far-fetched. From the President to practically anybody who is somebody within the government either have their children educated abroad or in private schools.
ASUU owes it a duty to see how we can see to the end of an insensitive government that can allow a strike in a sector as critical as education to last for seven months. Agreed that the government is challenged and faced with increasingly thinning resources, yet within that same space, people still have enough to steal from the public till?