By Azeezat Adedigba
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has said the federal government is yet to begin any dialogue with the union over the ongoing strike.
The national president of the union, Biodun Ogunyemi, said this in a phone interview with PREMIUM TIMES Sunday evening.
The union embarked on strike one week ago over the poor funding of Nigerian universities and an alleged plan by the federal government to increase student’s fees and introduce an education bank. The union also accuses the federal government of not implementing a 2017 agreement.
Mr Ogunyemi on Sunday said the union has placed a memorandum before the government on how universities can be funded, but nothing has been done on it.
“For the minister, we have memorandum placed before them, but nobody is talking about the items there except to say that they cannot meet the union’s demand because of the oil prices.
“We have submitted the report of a joint committee to the minister; on how to generate funds to address the outstanding balance of N1.3 trillion. It is like the minister is not addressing issues raised and the recommendation in the report,” Mr Ogunyemi said.
The union leader said ASUU has not seen any invitation from government to discuss the strike.
“They know how to reach us. That’s not how we’ve been communicating,” Mr Ogunyemi said of an appeal by the education minister last week that the strike be suspended to allow for negotiations.
“The chairman of the negotiating committee came yesterday, Wale Babalakin, begging ASUU to come back to negotiating table. He has not addressed the issue we raised and he has been dancing around the issues.
“There are two issues that we’ve raised. But by his own attitude and actions, it was obvious to that he didn’t want that. That was why we said we have seen enough.
“Our members remain resolute and report we are getting from branches indicate that our members are determined. Government cannot continue to handle education with levity which is the focus for the development of any country. We cannot continue to pretend that we have education when our universities are in terrible condition,” he said.
Mr Ogunyemi said the strike has so far been successful across campuses but for few vice chancellors.
“We have report of one or two crisis where the vice chancellors are trying to give us problems. Like Adekunle Ajasin University, the VC threatened to sack our members and we tried to tell him to go ask from history,” he said.
Efforts to get the education and labour ministries to speak on why no negotiation has started since the strike begun were unsuccessful.
The spokesperson of the education ministry, Willie Bassey, said he has been out of Abuja and could not comment on the matter. Also, the spokesperson of the labour ministry, Samuel Olowookere, did not respond to phone calls and text messages put across to him.
However, earlier last week, the education minister, Adamu Adamu, urged the union to exercise restraint in its demands.
The minister said the demands of the union dated back to 2009 during the administration of late President Umaru Yar’Adua, when Nigeria had not yet entered into a recession.
Mr Adamu noted that the government would improve the funding of education when oil price rises and the economy improves.
Wale Babalakin team Inaugurated to Negotiate with ASUU
Also on Saturday, Wale Babalakin, who is the chairman of the Federal Government/Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) 2009 Agreement Renegotiation Committee debunked allegations that his team suggested a fee hike in universities. He however agreed that his team disagrees with ASUU on how to fund public universities but called for the suspension of the strike.
Civic Groups React
When contacted, the senior legal adviser of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Bamisope Adeyanju, urged the authorities to move swiftly to reach an agreement with ASUU to end the ongoing strike by lecturers.
“Education is a fundamental human right enshrined in numerous international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, all of which Nigeria has ratified,” Mr Adeyanju said.
According to him, these human rights instruments obligate the Nigerian government to take measures to progressively realise the right to quality education within its maximum available resources.
He said the federal government’s failure to use its maximum available resources to fund education is a retrogressive measure, and therefore amounts to a violation of Nigeria’s international human rights obligations.
“The authorities must take concrete and meaningful measures to eliminate all barriers to education, especially corruption and mismanagement, improve conditions for lecturers and teachers, and take steps to address underlying social conditions that impede educational access, particularly for children from socially and economically vulnerable populations,” he said.
Similarly, the national coordinator of Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Hassan Soweto, called for improved funding of education.
“Since 2009, this thing has been on and it is a question of funding of public universities. The Buhari Government cannot say it is not aware of those issues.
“If four years after, government is still finding it impossible to do the right thing so much that ASUU can go on long strike, then the Buhari government is a government that does not have interest in education of the people,” he said.