The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has decried Federal Government’s use of methods it considers blackmail to force it to back down on its demands, vowing to press its course through, until its demands are met.
Speaking at a press briefing on the Abuja Campus of the University of Port Harcourt, on Wednesday, the chairperson of the UNIPORT branch of ASUU, Professor Antonia Okerengwo, noted that the Federal Government had not been entirely truthful about the reasons Nigerian lecturers are on strike.
According to her, it was both untrue that the struggle embarked upon by the ASUU was basically to better their personal welfare deal and that the lecturers were being used to fight a political war.
According to her, the number one reason for their fight was for the revitalisation of the university system in the country, adding that they chose the industrial strike option when their other means of persuasion failed with the government.
“The resort to blackmail is not the solution to the present impasse, as we cannot run away from our problems. We cannot continue to pretend or wish that these problems do not exist. Practical problems need practical solutions.
“You can give the dog a bad name and then you can hang it, of course it is not about what goes into our pocket, let me put it in a lay man’s language. Number one on that memorandum of understanding is the revitalisation of Nigerian universities, if you have a horse that is carrying luggage for you, at least you will feed the horse, at least you will give the horse water to drink, at least you will clear the path it walks. The revitalisation of the laboratories, the classrooms that we stay to do the work.
“Number two is progressive increase of the allocation to the education sector. The UNESCO recommended 26 per cent of the budget, has the minister told us the percentage we are having, so we can compare it to that of Ghana? This year Ghana gave 31per cent, Nigeria gave seven point something per cent and that is the lowest in the whole world. The last time we had a media chat we gave a comparison of that when Ghana gives 31per cent to its education sector, Nigerians will now send their children to Ghana.
“Number three is this earned allowances that government is harping on and the earned allowances that we are talking about is not only for lecturers, it’s for all the staff in the university, we have already worked for it,” Okerengwo said.
She further said the Federal Government had only released N30 billion out of the N92 billion meant for earned allowances, adding that the 2009 agreement, which the union was on strike to be implemented had since 2012 been due for renegotiation.
On President Goodluck Jonathan’s claim that the struggle of the lecturers had been hijacked by those with political vendetta, Okerengwo noted that it was the Federal Government that had reduced the struggle to politicking, adding that ASUU had always taken the last route when other means had failed.
“When I listened to the president saying that, I sent a message to somebody and said ‘it’s the government that is being political, we know our politicians, once something is not going their way, they explain it to me their enemies are using it for political reasons, is this the first time ASUU is going on strike? We have been on strike for the same issues all along. Did we also played politics during Babangida’s time, during the military in 1992 when we went on strike? Did we also play politics when Abacha was head of state and we went on strike, was it also political?,” she asked.
She further noted that the union decided to go on strike since efforts to get the Federal Government to honour its agreement of 2009 had failed after dialoguing, lobbying and appealing.
“We wrote letters to the Federal Government; we lobbied members of the National Assembly on the need to revitalize the education sector. Now, government is saying our action is politically motivated.
It is the Federal Government that is politicizing the issue.
“I feel bad because we have waited for four years. The agreement in 2009 was due for renegotiation in 2012, but since the first agreement has not been addressed, it will be difficult to start talking about renegotiation”, she said.
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