Dave Umahi, the governor of Ebonyi State, claims that borrowing N1.1 trillion from the international financial system to meet the demands of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which has been on strike for almost six months, is not feasible.
When he hosted a delegation from the Nigeria Police Trust Fund, led by Dr. Ben Akabueze, in Abakaliki, Ebonyi, Governor Umahi expressed his feelings.
What Governor Umahi is saying
The Governor said, “There is no way the country Nigeria will go and borrow N1.1trillion to meet ASUU’s demand, it’s quite unreasonable. Are their demands genuine? Yes. But we can start little by little.
“There must be a commitment on the side of both parties that look, this ASUU is not asking for this to take to their houses’ so to say. It’s asking for it for our children, to better the infrastructure, to better the lecturers and the students. Yes, but we can start with a fraction of that and then have a programme that will run on the platform of sincerity to address all the lots.
“But let me also say that most of the time, our people have a low appetite for maintenance of public works.
“No matter how much you deploy to these universities unless the users and the industry regulators begin to treat public infrastructure as their own in the various universities, it will continue to go bad no matter how much the federal government deploys to it.’’
He also called on varsities lecturers to show some level of understanding so the strike can end.
He added, “So, it is important for ASUU to show some understanding and for those who are negotiating on the side of government to also show some understanding,” he added.
“Let’s meet ourselves halfway and then open the schools to save the fate of our children.
Federal Government undermines its legitimacy.
I have spent more than three decades fighting alongside ASUU to preserve the public varsity system.
The narrative has been one of the federal government’s constant marginalisation of the education sector in the creation of policy and annual budgetary appropriations.
Therefore, the little progress we have made in terms of providing for staff welfare, emoluments, and basic infrastructure has come after strike actions.
It is so unfortunate that without strike actions, the federal government would do nothing for the public universities. The federal government’s decision to renege on agreements formally reached with ASUU through protracted, exhausting, and rigorous joint meetings of government and ASUU’s representatives for negotiation is much more regrettable.
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The Government and ASUU would incur significant costs during some rounds of negotiation that lasted longer than six months. However, the agreements are never put into practise.
The federal government has kept renouncing its agreements with ASUU in a careless manner. Because it is only responsible to itself, the government can act in this manner with complete impunity. Because strikes in Nigeria stop the pitiful salaries of university teachers, members of the union and their families bear the brunt of this tragedy.
The current strike started on February 14, 2022, and wages were last paid at the end of the same month, in violation of labour laws that call for paying employees’ salaries during a strike for the first three months.
The strike has now lasted for almost six months! After months of its bellicose response to teachers’ patriotic and legitimate demand that the public varsity system be revitalised to effectively carry out its core functions of teaching, research, and community service, what would the federal government actually offer to boost varsity teachers’ morale?
It is important to let the Nigerian people know that their country, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, pays the lowest salaries in the world for university professors. The hardest hit parties in the situation are university professors and their families! Indeed, the ultimate losers are the Nigerian State, Government, Economy, and People as a Whole.
It should go without saying that a country’s level of development and growth is largely dependent on the quality of its educational system. How much advancement is possible in a country where essential university courses like biology, chemistry, engineering, architecture, and building technology are taught alongside literature, religion, oral history, folklore, and social studies? Why wouldn’t the essential courses be taught the way they are now if the necessary infrastructure and facilities are not available? How much progress can a country make when its university professors are completely demoralised and helpless under the weight of archaic income systems?
Today, few university professors are able to support their families’ basic needs, much less afford the luxury of having their own modestly furnished home or used car! This is due, in part, to the fact that wages are not paid during strike periods, but also to the unavoidable effect of an utterly inadequate pay system for university professors in a country where national officials and legislators are paid the second highest salaries in the world, after Australia.
We are about to witness what could end up being the longest ASUU strike in the organization’s history of fighting to preserve the public university system.
Ideology at its core is the issue. The so-called accursed thieving elite in charge of the prebendary state and its federal government lack the political will and sincerity of purpose to address the crisis in, and poverty of, the country’s public university system because they have blindly accepted and swallowed hook, line, and sinker the capitalist and commercial-advantage doctrine of global imperialism, with regard to social services in the Third World.
Therefore, it should not come as any surprise that they reluctantly gave in to pressure for the agreement’s review after refusing to implement the 2009 Agreement with ASUU for more than 12 years. However, the same federal government was unable to approve the renegotiated agreement draught that the Professor Munzali Committee presented after six months of laborious engagement, from December 2020 to May 2021. The Professor Briggs Committee was chosen by the federal government to review the draught created by the Professor Munzali Committee.
Since then, the Professor Briggs Committee has delivered its report. However, Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari, the president of Nigeria, would rather hear him vehemently yell “enough is enough” at ASUU than speak a word about the document produced by the Professor Briggs Committee.
No university professor today who attended a Nigerian university prior to the implementation of the SAP in the middle of the 1980s would not shed a tear for the country’s public university system. The justification for ASUU’S principled fight to preserve the system has been that it is nearly completely destroyed.
We who received our training in the public universities of the country in the 1970s and 1980s are no longer able to impart that knowledge to the students of today. To put it mildly, the infrastructure and facilities are woefully inadequate right now.
Second, the teachers lack motivation and are not only treated with contempt; their contributions are also marginalised. The majority of students are then incapable of learning due to the fundamental issue of successive governments destroying the primary and secondary levels of education, as well as the students’ basic needs and welfare issues.
I am unable to help but cry uncontrollably for the country as I consider the severe crisis afflicting Nigeria’s public university system.
Dear Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, the national president of ASUU, and his Executive Committee have my deepest sympathy. When one looks at the president in particular, one can see a leader who is obviously under pressure and who is very troubled who is being purposefully psychologically irritated by the government he is serving with the utmost selflessness and patriotism.
On the indices of protection of life and property, physical infrastructure, employment for people, access to food, cost of living, healthcare, primary and secondary education, transportation, energy, and even potable water, the federal government has lost its legitimacy.
The public university system is being slowly but surely dug out of the ground by the same government, who is also digging its own grave in the process.
Because the decaying state and its thieving agents and propagandists won’t have anywhere to hide when a popular democratic revolution occurs. Therefore, the ruling class must make a decision today between mass, spontaneous revolution and peaceful reform.
Onyekpe, PhD, is of the University of Lagos.
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