According to Punch The Academic Staff Union of Universities has turned down President Goodluck Jonathan’s plea for the lecturers to end their 114-day-old strike.The Chairman of ASUU at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Prof. Adegbola Akinola, and his University of Ibadan chapter counterpart, Dr. Olusegun Ajiboye, said university teachers would only return to the classrooms if the government honoured the 2009 agreement it entered into with them.
They spoke just as the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, berated the union, saying it had taken unionism to an all time low.
But Akinola told journalists during a rally staged by members of the union in Ile-Ife on Monday, that Jonathan needed not beg for the strike to be called off.
He said, “ASUU does not need any plea from Mr. President. We are not asking for impossible things. The Federal Government reached an agreement with us and we are asking them to honour it. It is so simple.
“Government should be honourable. Is it honourable not to honour an agreement? Certainly no. The Federal Government should not allow the public universities to continue to degenerate. Posterity will not forgive us if we allow public universities to totally collapse.
“Our country has the resources to honour the agreement but education is not given priority.
“The Minister of Aviation (Mrs Stella Oduah) just got two bulletproof cars bought for N255m by an agency under her supervision. So, who do you want to tell that this country does not have the resources?
“We won’t allow public universities to be destroyed. That is why they are establishing private universities all over the country with the nation’s money. Except those owned by the missionaries, tell me which of the private universities was not established with the nation’s resources?”
Akinola said that infrastructure were decaying in public universities because of the neglect they had suffered.
He explained that the strike was not about members of the union but a means to force the government to do the right things.
The ASUU chief warned that children from poor homes might no longer have access to university education if the union should succumb to the blackmail being employed against it by the government.
Also Ajiboye said at a town hall meeting and presentation of the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy assessment report to clerics , civil society, labour and students at the Trenchard Hall, UI on Monday, that Jonathan’s plea would not make ASUU end the strike.
He said, “Will the President be quiet if his children are in one of our public institutions and be at home for four months? Does he care about the future of the country while the children of the masses in public institutions have been asking their leader to be more sensitive and patriotic enough to public institutions?
“How many years of appeal will make the President implement a four-year-old agreement? The truth is that we are tired of appeals. We need action .
“In ASUU, our belief is that today’s event will shape the future. We cannot live on appeal while the children of the rich use public funds to study abroad and even make use of government scholarship scheme.”
However, about 200 heavily armed policemen on Monday stopped members of ASUU from carrying out an enlightenment walk on the strike in Calabar, Cross River State.
The walk was organised by the University of Calabar and Cross River State University of Technology branches of ASUU.
It was to take off from the UNICAL gate at 7am through some streets of Calabar, but the policemen ensured the union members did not leave the gate of the institution.
They said they were acting on “orders from above.”
The Chairman ASUU, UNICAL branch, Dr. James Okpiliya, said, “Our union is law- abiding. We wrote to the police and other security agencies on our intention of walking the streets in pursuance of our cause to put the records straight.
“Many groups have been walking the streets giving people the wrong impression about the situation. We just want to put the records straight. The police are telling us that they have orders from above not let us walk the streets of Calabar. It is a shame. You can all see the hypocrisy of government.
“They allowed youths and market women but they would not let us do the same. We would remain resolute. No amount of provocation would stop us.
“We are not on strike because of our salaries. We are fighting for our students and the terrible conditions of our universities. Most of our science students do not know the difference between a Bunsen burner and a stove. They don’t even know the chemicals.
“The Tertiary Education Trust Fund today has become a main funding source of our universities, but this is not to be so. TETFUND is only an intervention agency. Government has bailed out banks and even Nollywood, but not our universities.
“The strike would continue as long as the government remains adamant. The President said after all, the strike in Ghana lasted two years; so that means this one could continue even up to five years.”
The Chairman of ASUU, CRUTECH branch, Dr Nsing Ogar, said the Federal Government must honour the 2009 agreement.
But university administrators in the country on Monday expressed concern over the strike and appealed to both ASUU and the Federal Government to urgently reach a compromise on the issue.
The National President of the Association of Nigerian University Professional Administrators, Mr. Samuel Mwansat, made this appeal at the ongoing annual retreat of the National Council Members of the association at the Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijagun in Ogun State.
He stressed that the current disagreement between ASUU and the government required “understanding.”
In Abuja, Okonjo-Iweala, accused ASUU of taking unionism to an all time low with its latest approach to the strike.
She accused the union of introducing politics to the strike through the distribution of “flyers riddled with lies in mosques in the North.”
The minister, in a statement by her Special Adviser, Paul Nwabuikwu, said contrary to the position being spread by ASUU, she had not taken a “take-it-or-leave-it approach” to the face-off between the union and government.
She claimed that it was ASUU that had taken such an approach, saying no government had been as responsive to the demands of the striking lecturers as that of Jonathan.
The statement reads in part, “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 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.
“Despite this, for several days now, some elements in ASUU have been distributing pamphlets and flyers with abusive and inflammatory messages against Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in mosques and other places. This is taking academic unionism to a new low and infusing it with unnecessary politics. I am sure majority of ASUU members are not in support of this.”
She said the government was working hard to seek practical and sustainable solutions to the challenges facing higher education in the country.
According to her, “ The President has made available N100bn a year in the first instance to repair hostels, laboratories and classrooms and other facilities in the universities.
“An offer of N30bn has also been made to ASUU towards the earned allowances of its members.”