The four month-long strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, yesterday took the life of a former president of the union, Professor Festus Iyayi of the University of Benin.
Iyayi, who died in a car accident on his way to the National Executive Council meeting of the union in Kano. The NEC meeting was to decide whether to call off or continue the strike after ratifying the decisions of the 61 chapters of the union.
The accident which happened at about 11 am at Banda village along the Lokoja-Abuja highway involved a vehicle in the convoy of the Kogi State Governor, Idris Wada.
With his death, hope of the suspension of the four month strike appears dim as the news shocked his friends and allies in the labour movement.
Also in the ASUU bus conveying the late Professor were Dr. Ngozi Ilo, National Welfare Officer of ASUU who was said to be in critical condition; the Chairman of ASUU branch of UNIBEN, Dr. Anthony Monye Emina, who was reported to be in stable condition and the driver of the vehicle, whose identity was not known at the time of this report.
It was gathered from the Kogi State Specialist Hospital that the female lecturer who sustained fracture in her left arm, and the male passenger who sustained bruises all over his body were receiving treatment at the hospital.
An eyewitness said the accident involved a rear vehicle in the convoy of the Kogi State Governor and a Toyota Hilux with number plate ED 357 USL belonging to ASUU, UNIBEN branch.
The eyewitness who took part in the rescue operation said the rear vehicle in the governor’s convoy pulled out to overtake the other vehicles in the convoy and in the process rammed into the ASUU bus coming from the Lokoja end of the road. He added that the ASUU vehicle veered off the road, and somersaulted three times before hitting a tree in the nearby bush, killing Professor Iyayi instantly and injuring the two others.
Vanguard also gathered that seven security aides of the governor, who were in the vehicle that hit Iyayi’s vehicle also sustained injuries and are receiving treatment at the government house clinic, Lokoja.
Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission, Olakunle Motajo who confirmed the accident said, preliminary investigation revealed that there was wrongful overtaking on the part of the governor’s vehicle, saying that proper investigation has commenced.
Olakunle confirmed that Professor Iyayi’s corpse has been deposited at the hospital morgue where the injured ones are receiving treatment.
Meanwhile, Governor Wada later visited the emergency unit of the hospital to sympathise with the victims and also the mortuary to see the remains of late Prof. Iyayi, saying he was shocked over the incident.
As at 5 p.m. yesterday, lecturers, students, commissioners of the Edo State Government were at Professor Iyayi’s residence in Benin to console his wife, Grace and their four children.
On the current ASUU strike, the late Professor Iyayi had, in an interview with the Worker magazine, said: “We do not believe that government has no money. As we told Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, we are a union of intellectuals, we have economists, experts in economics, and so we have access to the figures that government itself produces in relation to its revenue string.
Government has a lot of money. What is important is not the question of whether government has money or does not have money but the priorities of government in relation to spending the money that it has. Like we told her dramatically, it is not the size of the cake that matters but how you share the cake to the various individuals who have a stake in it.
“So government has a lot of money but how is the government applying that money? Government spent three trillion naira bailing out the banks; it spent 500 billion naira bailing out the airlines; it spent another 100 billion naira for the textile firms; it even had money to give to Nollywood and the Stock Exchange, private people who arrange deals, they had money to give them, about 350 billion naira.
How come when it comes to education, government suddenly says it has no money? It is because they have contempt for education; they want people to remain in ignorance so that they can continue to toy with the destiny of Nigerians. It is not that they don’t have the money; they have a lot of money.
They are now amassing money for 2015, towards the next elections. Whether the country goes to ruin or not it doesn’t matter as long as they can pursue their political ambitions. Yes, government has money!”
Iyayi’s death painful — Jonathan
President Goodluck Jonathan has expressed sadness over the death of Prof. Iyayi, saying his death was painful because it came at a time that he (Iyayi) was going to contribute to the resolution of the prolonged ASUU crisis.
In a message by the Special Adviser to the president on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati the president described Iyayi as a ‘renowned academic and award-winning writer who rose to national prominence in the 1980s with his courageous leadership of ASUU in its struggle for a better working environment for teachers and academics in the nation’s university system’.
“On behalf of himself and the Federal Government, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan commiserates with the leadership and members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on the tragic death today (yesterday) of former ASUU President, Dr. Festus Iyayi.
“President Jonathan also extends sincere condolences to Dr. Iyayi’s family as well as his colleagues, friends and associates across the country and beyond.
“The President joins them in mourning the renowned academic and award-winning writer who rose to national prominence in the 1980s with his courageous leadership of ASUU in its struggle for a better working environment for teachers and academics in the nation’s university system.
“He is particularly dismayed by the fact that Dr. Iyayi has sadly lost his life while going to contribute to efforts to finally resolve the current ASUU strike which has unfortunately disrupted academics in most of the nation’s universities for over four months.
“President Jonathan prays that God Almighty will comfort all who mourn Dr. Iyayi and grant his soul eternal rest”.
He was a respected teacher — Tambuwal
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, has also condoled with the Nigerian academic community and the family of the former ASUU President. In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Malam Imam Imam, Tambuwal described the deceased as a respected teacher and unionist who gave his all for the progress of the education sector.
According to the Speaker, late Iyayi’s life time of struggles will no doubt inspire many upcoming lecturers and unionists to render selfless service to their country.
While urging ASUU and the Federal Ministry of Education to immortalise the late Professor, Tambuwal prayed to the Almighty God to give his family the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss.
Also reacting to his death, the general secretary of the Non- Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, NASU, Comrade Peters Adeyemi who spoke from Geneva described the news of his death as shocking. He said: “ Festus was a committed trade union leader who devoted all his life to the emancipation of the down trodden. It is unfortunate that he died with this ASUU struggle”.
Labour leaders react
Vice-president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Issa Aremu said: “ The Nigerian labour movement has indeed lost a tested and committed activist of decent work in the universities and Nigerian labour market in general”.
Aremu said, the late Professor Iyayi would be remembered for the honesty and commitment as well as abundant energy he brought to the struggle of working men and women for improved working and living conditions”.
Comrade John Odah, immediate past General Secretary of the NLC, described Iyayi as “easily the finest this country had in terms of intellect, patriotism and honesty”.
He recalled that Festus Iyayi led “ASUU at a very difficult time and remained steadfast despite the military’s efforts to break him by sacking him, throwing his property out and eventually throwing him into prison. His consistency saw him through when the Supreme Court of Nigeria ruled that the Alele-Williams leadership of UNIBEN acting at the behest of the military was wrong and reinstated him”.
Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, in a statement by its President, Bobboi Kaigama, said: “Congress feels particularly pained that the comrade died while travelling to ensure the resolution of the four month-old strike embarked upon by ASUU. Comrade Iyayi was a dogged fighter and crusader of justice. He will be remembered for his service to the working people and humanity. The labour movement has lost a tested and committed activist of decent work.
“Only two weeks ago the Congress appealed to the Federal Government to end the ASUU strike as if we had a premonition of what will happen, little did we know that the strike will claim the life of our indefatigable leader and an ardent believer in the struggle for the emancipation of workers.
But for the strike, Comrade Festus as well as students should be in the lecture room going about their academic works and not on the road. Festus’ death was avoidable; he is a victim of Nigeria’s crisis of governance.
Uduaghan mourns Iyayi
DeltaState Governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, also expressed deep shock at the sudden death of Iyayi and called on players in the education sector, including the Federal Government and striking lecturers in the country to rededicate themselves to the pursuit of excellence at the tertiary level in honour of the deceased.
The governor in a statement by Felix Ofou, his press secretary, said the highest honour that the late Festus Iyayi deserved was the return to the pursuit of academic excellence in our universities and other higher institutions, arguing that anything short of this would have meant that the late activist might have died in vain.
The man, Festus Iyayi
Born in Ugbegun in Ishan in Edo state of Nigeria, Professor Festus Iyayi started his education at the AnnunciationCatholicCollege in the old BendelState and finished in 1966. In 1967, he proceeded to Government College Ughelli in the present DeltaState and graduated in 1968.
That same year, he won the zonal prize for Kennedy Essay Competition organized by the United States Embassy in Nigeria.
Festus Iyayi travelled to the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) where be obtained a Masters Degree in Industrial Economics from the Kiev Institute of Economics . He obtained his Ph. D from the University of Bradford, England after which he resumed at the university of Benin in 1980 as a lecturer in the department of Business Administration .
He held radical views on social and political issues.
The late activist and Professor is survived by his wife , Grace and four children.
The late Professor was one of those listed to pay tributes to another Comrade, Baba Olumide Omojola at his pre-burial ceremony tomorrow (Thursday).
As president of ASUU, Professor Iyayi led a national strike in 1986 which saw the authorities of the university of Benin under the first female vice-chancellor, Professor Grace Alele Williams throwing his property and family out while evicting him from the university campus.
Ironically, that same year, he won the Commonwealth Prize for Literature for his book Heros.
He was however reinstated when the Supreme Court ruled that the university of Benin was wrong to have evicted and dismissed him from service.
Professor Festus Iyayi became president of ASUU in 1986 during which he led a national strike which led to the government of General Ibrahim Babangida promulgating Decree 17 of 1986 to de- affiliate ASUU from NLC and make membership of ASUU voluntary.
The decree failed to achieve its objectives.
The late activist and Professor is survived by his wife , Grace and four children.