At a meeting of the Bayelsa state caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party, which held in Yenegoa last Friday, President Goodluck Jonathan accused the Academic Union of Universities (ASUU) of subversion. As far as the President is concerned the ongoing industrial action has nothing to do with trade dispute.
During his last media chat the President had accused the ASUU of playing politics with the strike. No doubt, the federal Government is utterly embarrassed that the strike has lasted for about six months. But instead of accusing ASUU of subversion, the Federal Government should be blamed for its inexplicable refusal to honour the 2009 FG/ASUU Agreement.
It is on record that officials of Ministries of Education and Finance frustrated the resolution of the strike.
It was on account of such frustration that led the President to take over the negotiations. At the end of the marathon meeting held between the President and the ASUU leaders substantial progress was made towards the resolution of the crisis. On its part the ASUU accepted the offer made by the President with some minor adjustments.
Regrettably, the President was informed that ASUU had rejected his offer. In view of such misinformation the Acting Minister of Education, Mr. Nyeson Wike issued a 7-day ultimatum to sack all striking university staff with effect from December 4, 2013. He also directed the vice-chancellors of all public universities to declare the posts of striking academics vacant with a view to replacing them.
If Mr. Wike had familiarized himself with FG/ASUU face-off in the past two decades, even under the defunct military junta, he would have discovered that ASUU members have never been cowed to submission. In 1992, the Ibrahim Babangida junta fired all lecturers and threatened to eject them from their official quarters. When the lecturers defied the junta a decree was promulgated which made strike by teachers a treasonable felony. ASUU also ignored the obnoxious decree and called off the bluff of the military dictators.
The then Secretary for Education, Professor Ben Nwabueze SAN described the 1992 FG/ASUU as “a contract of imperfect obligations”. But at the end of the day it became clear to the regime that universities could not be run like military barracks. Hence the junta swallowed its pride, withdrew its empty threats and decided to honour the Agreement which it had rejected.
As no university in Nigeria has the required number of Professors, Readers and Senior Lecturers the threat of a mass sack of academics is a huge joke. However, as the President’s former boss, Chief Diepreye Alamieseigha rightly observed the ultimatum, which has been planned to coincide with the burial ceremony of Professor Festus Iyayi, would portray the Federal Government as insensitive. The observation cannot be faulted since a convoy of Governor Idris Wada along the Abuja-Lokoja road killed Professor Iyayi while travelling to Kano to attend a meeting of ASUU leaders scheduled to review the strike. It is commendable that the President promised to review the provocative ultimatum.
Since the ASUU has accepted the new offer of the Federal Government the President should conclude the negotiations with the ASUU leaders forthwith. Instead of allowing Mr. Wike to expose the Federal Government to further ridicule a new Agreement should be properly drawn up and signed by the ASUU and top officials of the Federal Agreement. With the commitment of President Jonathan the industrial action can be called off within 48 hours.
By Femi Falana (SAN).