Many Nigerians, including newspaper columnists, have criticized the Supervising Minister of Education, Barrister Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, over what they see as the rambunctious, boorish, demeaning military manner in which he handed down the order to members of the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), to resume on December 4 or be sacked, an ultimatum which was, last week, extended to yesterday, December 9.
“Whatever may be the justification for such a harsh stance, it is not likely that it will help to resolve the crisis that for all practical purposes may have already resulted in the loss of one academic session for the students concerned,” ThisDay noted in its editorial of Sunday, December 1.
“That a Minister of Education would pronounce a threat of mass sack of academic staff is a tragedy of huge proportion for Nigeria and Africa,” ASUU President, Dr. Nasir Isa Fagge said in an interview with reporters.
“It is disheartening that when the university teachers were at the verge of calling off the strike, the minister mismanaged the whole matter,” Prof. G. O. Ozumba, of University of Calabar, noted. “What the minister would have done was to use wisdom and reassure ASUU leadership that the President will not renege on his promise. Frayed nerves would have been calmed. But the military style of ordering lecturers and Professors to go back to the lectures or be sacked is like pouring fuel on a flickering fire that is about to die. Lecturers are Nigerians and should not be threatened with sack as if they are strangers.”
In an exclusive chat with Education Review, last week, Wike regretted that his aim in issuing the order was misunderstood by critics. “All we are saying is that this strike has taken quite a long time and ASUU should be considerate enough now that the government has given a lot of commitments. If the government was not serious, it wouldn’t have got to the point where the President would sit with the union for 13 good hours discussing issues.
“And, like I said before, virtually everything was agreed upon and what we were expecting is that in the next few days ASUU would call off the strike. In fact, after that meeting, ASUU requested that it be put down in writing so that they would know what we agreed upon for them to take to their members. This was done and signed by the permanent secretary, Ministry of Education. So, virtually, everything was agreed. In fact, the Federal Government was requesting that it should be given eight years for it to revitalise the infrastructures in the various universities. But ASUU said, ‘give us 30 minutes, let’s discuss and come back.’
“So, we took a break. ASUU came back and said what they can give us is five years. That means the agreement was sure and certain. Then in that five years, starting this year, this is the amount of money that will be put into a special account. We set up a committee to be headed by the Minister of Education. ASUU, Vice Chancellors, Pro-Chancellors and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) will have a representative respectively, for proper implementation of what that money should be used for – the building of infrastructures in various universities. So what we were expecting from them is that they would say we have met with our people and they have given us the go-ahead to call off the strike.
“Now, ASUU sent us a letter that if we don’t deposit the promised N200 billion within two weeks, for them to see the money in the account, they will not be able to call off the strike, that we should include it in the agreement that we are going to renegotiate in 2014. We have not even started implementing what we agreed upon and you are saying in 2014 we should renegotiate. And, then lastly, that the Attorney General should be the one to sign. These were not the issues that were discussed and agreed upon.
“Before I came on board, my former Minister of Education was in charge, most of the discussion took place under her. But I was the one who personally signed the first release of N100 billion. Personally, and officially, we were discussing. I was virtually calling the ASUU President, three times in a week. So, nobody can say I never showed any goodwill towards what we were doing. But the truth must be told that everybody needs to make a sacrifice. Government said every year, we will be spending this kind of amount. I mean the N200 billion which has been approved and released is enough for ASUU to call off the strike. As I am talking to you, a special account has been opened for that purpose. ASUU is supposed to be a member of the committee that will monitor the implementation. So, I don’t see where anybody will say we have erred. These matters were discussed very well; there is no question of any minister making any mistake. It is not a personal thing, but we must discuss and we must move on. We can’t continue to live this way. The truth must be told though it is difficult to accept the truth. It doesn’t matter that people will abuse you but the truth must be told.”
“The Supervising Minister has shown that he does not understand how many months it takes to recruit lecturers,” Dr. Segun Ajiboye, Chairman of the University of Ibadan (UI), ASUU chapter, said in a newspaper interview. “The Federal Government is designing a plan to keep students at home till the middle of next year after the recruitment must have been completed.”
“It will take more than one year to employ new lecturers,” Dr. Oghenekaro Ogbinaka, Chairman of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) ASUU Chapter, countered. “They will check their curriculum vitae, screen and interview the lecturers before they are employed. Then, will they start all over again? How will they know where the old lecturers stopped? All this will take time.”
Asked if the Federal Government is ready for a showdown in the event ASUU members fail to report to work, Wike said: “I wouldn’t want to use the word “showdown” because we are not quarreling with anybody. And, so, I want to say there’s nothing like a showdown. Before now, the Pro-Chancellors who are chairmen of the Governing Councils of these universities had given a directive to the Vice Chancellors to open the universities for normal academic activities. What we did is to ask the Vice Chancellors to comply with that directive. What we said is that, ‘open the universities for normal academic activities.”
“We didn’t say that if you open the university today, lectures must commence immediately. They have to meet and then change their academic calendar. But then let it be that something has started. And, then we also said, ‘you’ve been asking to fill up some vacancies, you lack this, you lack that, to encourage you, advertise for internal and external vacancies. Lecturers who are willing to teach, let them pay their salaries, let us know those who are not willing to teach. We did not say they should sack any lecturer yet. We only said, ‘let us know those who are willing to teach.’ For those who are willing, create an enabling environment for them to teach. And, we told the security men so that hoodlums will not use that opportunity to cause problem.. Nobody asked the security men to go to universities and chase out people.
“I have told you that 80 per cent of the so-called agreement has been implemented. As you must have heard, N200 billion has been deposited in a consolidated account. So, there’s no way the President can be faulted. The Federal Government is not unconcerned about the state of the education sector. But the point needs to be made that inasmuch as you are talking about improving the education sector, we are also concerned. We appreciate the concern of ASUU but it has got to the point where we say, ‘look, we’ve reached this point, why not let us go back to the classroom?’
“In reality, where have you seen in negotiation, in dialogue, in discussion, it is virtually what you want you must get or else nothing? Where has it happened? So, if you cannot trust the Minister of Education, you cannot trust the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, you cannot trust the Minister of Finance, you cannot trust the President too? As a mark of respect, I expected that now that Mr. President came into the matter personally and not his representative, ASUU should have called off the strike. Nobody is rubbing any shoulder with ASUU. Why do we have to do that? But all we have done is to say no, we can’t continue to leave our children out in the cold. Their staying out has so much affected our economy. So, the issue of threat or no threat is neither here nor there. All we are saying is, ‘comply with the directives of the Pro-Chancellors by opening the universities and take a stock of lecturers who are willing to teach, then let us know what we have..ASUU should be fair:we cannot be playing politics in everything we are doing. We can’t play politics with the lives of our innocent children. That’s the point we are making.”
Source: Daily Sun
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