ASUU STRIKE: ERC CALLS ON FG TO MEET ASUU DEMANDS SO THAT THE UNIVERSITIES CAN BE RE-OPENED
CALLS ON STUDENTS AND PARENTS TO EMBARK ON NATIONWIDE PROTESTS AND DEMONSTRATIONS TO COMPEL GOVERNMENT TO FUND PUBLIC EDUCATION
* WARNS AGAINST ANY PLAN TO PROSCRIBE ASUU AND/OR VICTIMISE STRIKING LECTURERS
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) considers last week’s promise made by the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige on a programme “Politics Today” on Channels Television on Friday 13 November 2020 that the Federal government is making effort to ensure that the issues that led to the prolonged strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are resolved within the next one week as a promise lacking substance going by the facts of the ongoing negotiation between both parties.
From our own understanding, the picture painted by the Minister which gives the impression that the federal government has nearly met all of ASUU demands is patently false, deliberately misleading and mischievous. We want to put on record that it is this kind of distasteful approach to negotiation based on lies, subterfuge and appeal to base sentiment which has built up decades of mistrust and suspicion between unions and the Federal Government.
We therefore urge Nigerian students and parents not to allow themselves to be fooled by the Minister of Labour. Rather, students should begin earnest preparation for peaceful nationwide protests and demonstrations to compel the Federal Government to meet the demands of ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT so that the Universities can be reopened for academic activities to commence. Nigerian students have suffered too much already but the antics of the Federal government shows the Buhari APC capitalist regime does not care. Hence the need for mass protests and demonstrations to kick off nationwide to send a note of warning to the Federal Government that students can no more tolerate the delay and closure.
According to a report of the Channels TV interview by Punch newspaper, the Labour Minister when asked if it meant lecturers may not return to the classrooms in the next one or two weeks said the following: “I’m an optimist on this matter. By next week, we will conclude this matter” (Punch newspaper, 14 November 2020). But going by the Minister’s subsequent statement during the interview, it is clear that even though progress has been made yet there are still some key areas that have not yet been sufficiently ironed out between ASUU and the Federal government. This is especially with respect to the funds for revitalization of Universities as well as the replacement of IPPIS with UTAS.
For instance, the sum of N30billion which the Labour Minister claimed in the interview that the Federal Government is committed to “out of 40 billion demanded by the union as the payment for November 2019 and September 2020” is not revitalization funds, rather it is a fraction of the total sum of earned allowances owed to ASUU members. The true position is that till this day, there has been no serious commitment by the Federal Government to pay the arrears of funds to revitalize decaying facilities in the Universities like lecture theatres, libraries, laboratories, hostels etc. Rather the FG has consistently being refusing to agree to ASUU’s demand to pay the sum of N110 billion out of about 5 tranches of the revitalization funds totaling N1.1 trillion that the Federal Government is presently owing. Meanwhile this is a government that easily spends billions and trillions to bail out private businesses like banks, airlines etc. The same government doled out over N1.5trillion within 5 years to the privatized power distribution companies even though there is no commensurate value in terms of quality of electricity supply.
The above shows why Nigerian students and parents should not fall for the lies of the Federal Government. Rather, preparations should commence for united actions consisting of nationwide protests and demonstrations by students, striking lecturers and parents to compel the government to meet the demands so that schools can resume.
We reject the fraudulent argument of “grass suffering as two elephants fight” which gives the erroneous impression that students are a neutral entity in a conflict over funding of education between the government and ASUU. Unfortunately, this fraudulent argument has found its way into the mouths of some so-called student leaders and NANS activists. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Those who parrot this argument are ignorant of the history of the students’ movement and NANS itself. The Nigerian students movement has never being neutral in a struggle for better funding of education. Rather Nigerian students through their unions and NANS have always taken the lead in this struggle because students are the ones to benefit ultimately if the demands of ASUU for release of revitalization funds and improved budgetary allocation to education are achieved.
Therefore the role of Nigerian students in this struggle cannot be that of a neutral arbiter. Rather Nigerian students must give solidarity to ASUU’s struggle against an anti-poor and anti-education Buhari capitalist government which once it is able to defeat ASUU would waste no time in pouncing on students as the next victim in its drive to make university education the preserve of the rich few. Already some of the public tertiary institutions that have resumed academic activities are beginning to charge students COVID-19 levies amidst other anti-poor policies. This is an indication that students will not be spared in the imposition of anti-poor policies by the Buhari capitalist federal government and other similarly anti-poor and corrupt state governments across the country.
While offering solidarity, it is also crucial and very essential that Nigerian students put forward their own charter of demands which addresses the issues of astronomically high tuition, imposition of COVID-19 fees and levies, terrible welfare conditions in schools and hostels, attacks on independent unionism and victimization of students activists etc. This is the only way to ensure that students resume into a school environment that is properly funded, well provisioned and democratically managed and not the pigsty that many Universities’ lecture theatres and hostels are at the moment.
We equally note a subtle warning in the Channels TV interview of the Labour Minister wherein he said “There are so many options left. We have the labour laws and I have options left to me in the labour laws. I have other channels”. Although he did not specify what exactly he met, but the ERC feels it expedient to warn the Federal Government not to even think of victimizing the striking lecturers or proscribing ASUU as this will be seriously resisted. The striking lecturers have been enduring months of hunger due to stoppage of their salaries as a result of the refusal of a majority of them to migrate to the IPPIS. Any other retributive step taken by the government will only worsen the crisis while throwing the University system into turmoil.
Ogunjimi Isaac Ayobami
ERC Deputy National Coordinator
ERC National Mobilization Officer