Bad News For Varsity Students: Strike Continues Until Demands Are Met – Osodeke, ASUU President

Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke

The striking Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, has offered no hope of return to classes anytime soon. President of the Union, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, gave this indication Wednesday morning when he appeared on Channels Television breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily.

Recall that in the past nine weeks, ASUU had been on strike over issues of the controversial 2009 agreement between it and the federal government during the President Goodluck Jonathan administration. The contentious issues are: funding of universities, welfare of lecturers, staff, and students, as well as autonomy of the university system, among other general issues.

Asked what must give for ASUU to return to the classroom in the interest of the children, Osodeke’s response suggested that they would not back down until the federal government accedes to their demands. “For the children, I have more than eight children in school. Some are my own; some are those I am sponsoring. They are at home with me. But for me, It is better for my children to graduate with good certificates, with laboratories that are well-established, have good degrees that they can go out with, than just rushing them through the system, and push them into the market as we are doing in some of the universities today”.

Lashing out at the federal government for not showing any sign at resolving the issues at stake, Osodeke lamented that nine weeks after the strike was declared, “Nothing really has happened”, adding that “We’ve not had any meaningful meeting with any of their organs, neither the minister of Labour, nor the minister of Education, and the negotiation team they put in place”. According to him, “We had a peace meeting with them and they didn’t come with anything from the government. … So really, nothing significant has happened since we declared the strike about nine weeks ago, which means that this system, they are not interested about education. If all universities are shut down for nine weeks and there is no single comment from the government’s side, it shows that something really is going on”.

Berating the Buhari administration over its claim of lack of funds to implement the terms of the agreement, the ASUU President said “It’s always very funny. A government that cannot raise ₦200 billion to revamp all Nigerian Universities and bring them to world standard, but that same government can raise ₦4 trillion for fuel subsidy! Fuel subsidy and university education, which is more important to any country that wants to move forward? You can go and make a budget to raise N4 trillion for subsidy in a year but you cannot raise ₦200 billion to fund your education; you say you don’t have money. It’s a matter of priority. You can spend ₦228 billion to feed children in primary, secondary school. I’ve not seen any child that is being fed, but you cannot raise ₦200 billion to fund universities. It’s issue of priority.

“What is the problem? If you remove ₦200 billion from four trillion, you still have ₦3.8 trillion for fuel subsidy. It does not take more than ₦1 trillion to build a refinery but you are going to spend ₦4 trillion to subsidise fuel. We have the crude here. Why would you now spend ₦4 trillion to carry your crude abroad to refine and brought back to you? If you challenge the Nigerian university system today, they will build a refinery for you in the next two years”.

Suggesting that fuel subsidy is a fraud, Osodeke posited that “We in the ASUU, we don’t believe there is fuel subsidy. There is no country in the world; you have the crude, you have the intelligentsia, and you say you are going to be importing fuel. For the past 23 years, you are importing fuel; you couldn’t build a refinery. There is something that is going on. It’s not subsidy; no country would do that in the world. In the 60s, 70s, 80s, we were building four refineries, and since 1999 till today, you can’t build one refinery, or service the old ones and spending billions every year to service those ones that are still not working. We don’t believe in fuel subsidy”.

Submitting that the federal government had been nonchalant about the fate of education in the country because their children don’t school here, Osodeke noted that apart from the ₦200 billion released in 2014 by the regime of Goodluck Jonathan who he said was committed to the issue at the time, sitting with ASUU in 2014 for about 14 hours, “the Buhari administration had done little”. According to him, “If that money had been released as we agreed with Jonathan, that ₦200 billion be released on annual basis, the situation would have been different today; but nothing significant has happened”.

He said out of the ₦1.3 trillion recommended by the Mahmood Yakubu committee set up by Buhari to review the 2009 agreement, bring education up to date like in other parts of the world, nothing significant has been released in the past seven years of this regime. All they have released is the sum of ₦70 billion; nothing else. And you can see the impact of this little money they have released”.

A visibly distraught Osodeke regretted that “We don’t take education as a priority. You know why? It is clear to us; their children are not in these universities. They have all left. They don’t go to our health centres; they run abroad. If they make it possible for all of them to stay here, they will take it as priority. But it doesn’t bother them. Nine weeks, no discussion! Because their children are not here. And Nigerians should hold those who are coming after them responsible. You can’t send your children abroad and you want to run our system”.

On the allegation by government that they were pushed to sign the new agreement under pressure, ASUU pooh-poohed the claim. “It is just how to dodge what they have agreed to. What is ₦200 billion to fund universities in a year if you are really interested in Nigerian universities? Go to the Nigerian universities, you will not see any foreign student, except those whose mother or father is a Nigerian. If you go to any Nigerian university today, you will not see any foreign lecturer. The ones that were here before that were on sabbatical, or contract, have been removed by IPPS (Integrated Personnel and Payroll System). But go to Ghana, you have not less than 1000 Nigerians teaching in Ghana; you have not less than 10,000 Nigerian students schooling in Ghana. Why should our students and lecturers be in Ghana and no Ghanaian lecturer in Nigeria?

“If Buhari had kept to their own side of ₦200 billion a year, we will not have this problem. So, we have always conceded as we go along on issues that the government raised they cannot implement, but they will not do anything. They believe a strike is a problem; it’s not correct. Strike is the symptom of a problem. As far as they are concerned, once ASUU calls off the strike, the problem has been solved, everybody goes to sleep which is not correct. They will not do those things you signed. All the MoUs they have signed, up to six of them, nothing.

“As at this time, we have done renegotiation on funding, wages for lecturers, on environment, on the conditions for students, all of them. Government came that the students should be charged ₦1 million as school fees, and we said no. And we all looked at both sides and agreed on how we can go forward without the students going to pay one million. With parents in Nigeria who are earning ₦30,000 per month minimum wage to pay one million school fees; which means that the children of the ordinary Nigerian, of the workers, would be pushed out of the university system”.

Asked if it was not high time ASUU faced reality of the prevailing situation and call off the strike, Osodeke retorted “We are facing reality and we are facing it well. The reality is that government is not interested in public education. They want what happened in primary and secondary education to happen. Nigeria gives the lowest percentage of its budget to education because of lack of priority. Any day they give the proper percentage to education, will solve the problem. The 2021 agreement that the government refused to sign, there are two major sections – funding and welfare and infrastructure. We have raised a number of issues that will assist government in funding the system, just as we did with TETFund; but they are not looking at that. We suggested how government can raise this money without going through their budgetary system because of paucity of funds but they are not ready to look at that”.

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