The ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, the Joint Action Committee of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Education and Associated Institutions has been condemned by the Minister of State for Education, Mr Emeka Nwajiuba.
In an interview with Punch, the minister stated that lecturers shouldn’t ”disrupt” people’s lives because they’ve not gotten the money they are demanding for.
In his words;
The ASUP negotiation team led by the Joint Council Chairman is negotiating for the polytechnics. That negotiation is ongoing for the polytechnics sector.
I met with some academic colleagues and we assured them. The same things that ASUU is asking for is also what they are asking for. But theirs is different because they are willing to bear with the government even with the N15bn that is due to them not having been released for almost three years. They are willing to continue working. The place where we have this issue of suspension of work is with ASUU, SSANU and NASU. We believe that every union is entitled to make requests and the government has almost agreed with them in respect of all of the demands. The government is only releasing money as it has it. On the renegotiation with ASUU and the ministry, a committee has already been constituted, and everything ASUU asked has already been met. The only departure is in the willingness of ASUU and SSANU to continue working while same entitlements are being worked on.
The unions in the polytechnics also have the same entitlements but they are willing to continue working while they get their entitlements. There is nothing that they are doing or asking for that is wrong. The issue is not whether they are right or wrong. What we’ve consistently asked is government and the people of Nigeria will continue to look into the matter because if you disrupt academic sessions because of one entitlement, you would eventually get the entitlement but we would have lost the time our children would have used in learning. Your are being mean. There is no point in disrupting everybody’s life because you have not got your money.
The Minister also stated that there’s no need going for the strike as it won’t produce the money they are asking for.
Nwajiuba also said;
Well the strike has not produced the money they are asking for. If the money was there, they would have been paid the day they started the strike.
Otherwise, the government would have heard them from day one. Every strike they went on, they still got the money but human beings were lost. They are not only being wicked to the government but they are also wicked to the human beings that constitute Nigeria because eventually, they will get their money. Government is not going to take away the money.
My message is we understand what they have been saying. The 2.2 million children we have in tertiary institutions who are in the universities and other tertiary institutions, and the nearly 100,000 lecturers, that work with them are a very important segment of our workforce. But then, they are not the only people in Nigeria. There are unionists in so many different parts, including the army, and police. All we manage to sell after banditry attacks is just less than 1,000 barrels of oil in a day. When the money comes in, it is that money we are going to use to pay the rest of the police, man o’ war, and all the civil defence groups and other organisations in Nigeria. It is that same money you are going to use in paying secondary-school teachers. You are going to pay everybody from this little money.
To build infrastructure, government just goes around begging China, begging this, begging that, but to pay salaries, we have to sell this little crude oil in order to keep the lives of 200-so million lives running. You can see what the Ministry of Finance is doing – it gave N50bn, N20bn – we don’t have N200bn in the coffers at a go. When the last President signed the agreement, he thought he might have the money. He was not properly guided; he just went to the TETFund and took 200bn and gave it to the university now the TETFund is in N300bn deficit.
The government can’t be managed like that: The government is not run by robbing Peter to pay Paul. All the money that we gave in 2017, 2018, up until 2020 was money that we managed to get out of the system. They might be up to N200bn at a time, but we’ve been able to pay Earned Allowances three times already. We pay each as they come.
Nwajiuba also denied claim of government attempting to devalue Nigerian tertiary institutions like secondary schools. He added;
In all this, the Federal Government is creating more public schools instead of reducing them; we are not closing them down. We licensed 20 universities last year; another 12 this year. It is our belief that Nigeria is still below 250 universities for 250 million people. Now, every year, we get about 1.5 million people writing UTME. When they finish writing we can only absorb about 600 and something thousand. That’s the entire capacity of the country. So they are perennial JAMBites. This is not like a country doing well. So how can anyone complain now that we are expanding capacities?
As a plan, the objective of government is to train and give as many people access as possible. The objective of ASUU is to make sure that their staff are getting very good condition of service. That’s how unions can engage government. But that’s not something you go on strike for.
They said they have turned it into a constituency project, like University of Transportation, University of Logistics where a politician just want a university in his village, etc.
We have not licensed any of these universities you mentioned. What we have is a national policy for doing things in a particular manner. The university is a universal system of learning. That’s why we keep considering how to regulate it. There’s a national Nigeria Universities Commission, whose regulatory function is to oversee all of these things. What we have done is to at least expand access. And while we are using the resources that are available to us to improve human capacity to be able to run because those are the two things needed; buildings are not the universities. It is content that makes the universities. So as long as we keep developing human capacity around them, we will ensure we give access to our people in millions.
How does somebody you pay decide that he doesn’t like the way you pay him and shut down the place? Who should be ashamed?
Nwajiuba added that it is up to the lecturers to decide when schools will resume. He said;
It’s up to them, students, the government didn’t go on strike. It is the professional bodies that went on strike. They are the ones you should be asking when they will resume. We don’t have any disagreement with them. We are not promising anything. If you ask me why they went on strike, I will say I don’t know.