Ahead of the December 4 deadline given by the federal government to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to call off its strike, the presidency has said the federal government will do all that is needful to ensure that public universities are opened by Wednesday.
The statement from the presidency coincided with the decision by the University of Abuja (UniAbuja) to comply with the federal government’s directive to vice-chancellors (VCs) to re-open the universities.
UniAbuja is one of a few universities that have defied ASUU in recent weeks. The VCs of Osun and Ebonyi State Universities ordered the re-opening of their schools early last week, while the University of Nigeria, Nsukka is set to resume classes today.
Addressing a press conference yesterday, the Senior Special Assistant to the President, Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, said: “The president will do the needful to ensure that the universities are opened on Wednesday. Do you think that the government is a joker? Do you think that the government will say something it does not mean?”
The presidency also accused ASUU leadership of refusing to obey the resolution of the chapters of the unions, saying the ASUU leadership had refused to accede to the wishes of 42 of its 61 chapters nationwide, who voted in favour of the agreement reached with the president to call off the strike.
“Instead, in a surprise volte face, the union presented government again with a new set of demands and considerations outside the terms agreed at the presidential intervention,” Okupe said.
The presidential aide accused the ASUU leadership of not taking its responsibility seriously by wasting seven days before scheduling a meeting.
“When the meeting eventually held, the leadership decided to thwart and undemocratically override the expressed will of a majority of its chapters to call off the strike.
“This action is contrary to the established practice and procedure of any democratic labour institution, which ASUU is expected to be,” Okupe charged.
He observed that when the federal government “had reached an agreement with ASUU to make available N100 billion for the provision of infrastructure of 61 universities covered in the NEEDS assessment report, with a further commitment of N200 billion over the next two years, and N40 billion of the N90 billion earned allowances demanded by the lecturers, one would have expected them to reconsider their stand.”
“This was despite the fact that the ASUU leadership in the meeting with President Jonathan curiously failed to articulate the basis of the N90 billion demanded as earned allowances, which has been on the table since 2009,” he said.
Accordingly, Okupe said it had become crystal clear that the federal government had shown good faith and commendable commitment by acceding to most of the demands of ASUU.
“This ordinarily ought to be a thing of pride and an outstanding achievement for ASUU having been able to secure these unprecedented concessions as a direct benefit of the prolonged and painful five-month strike
“However, the negative disposition of the ASUU leadership is unarguably a pre-conceived and calculated treacherous plot pointedly intended to undermine the presidency and subvert the Federal Government of Nigeria,” Okupe said.
The president’s aide was of the opinion that ASUU’s leadership, by its action, has a political motive, adding, “This is clearly a hallmark of a leadership that is determined to employ subterfuge in an attempt to hold government, students, their parents and other stakeholders to ransom in a reckless and irresponsible display of insensitivity, lawlessness and absolute lack of patriotism and even the fear of God.
“Unfortunately, all this is perpetuated using unsuspecting but otherwise loyal, patriotic and responsible members of ASUU whose families are also sad victims of this reprehensible and callous attitude of their leadership.
“From all indications therefore, and other information available to government, it has become obvious that this is no longer an altruistic strike borne out of good intentions and aimed at improving the welfare of students and staff of the universities and the standards of our educational institutions.
“Rather it is an evil programme motivated by selfish political interests and motivations within the polity.”
Okupe, who made references to the sack of recalcitrant air traffic controllers by the late US President Ronald Reagan in August1981, said: “It is also pertinent to note that the new demands of the ASUU leadership unwittingly question the integrity of Mr. President.
“However, for the avoidance of doubt, we wish to state without equivocation that contrary to expressed fears, President Jonathan is widely known to be a God-fearing individual who has consistently honoured his word and commitment to the Nigerian people.
“He is not such a person as to single out anyone for selective punishment neither will he make anyone a scapegoat. Having said this, it is delightful and very gratifying to note that many reasonable and patriotic lecturers in several universities have decided to comply with the order of government and are ready to return to classes on or before the December 4 deadline.
“We salute their courage, commitment to their calling and loyalty to their nation. These are indeed the true patriots and the national heroes of this prolonged and painful struggle.
“We want to assure them that the government will take every step to protect them in their effort to comply with the government directives and their desire to discharge their lawful duties to the suffering Nigerian students, our universities and our dear country.”
However, the All Progressives Congress (APC) yesterday deplored the federal government's sack threat issued against striking university teachers in a bid to force them to end their strike.
The party said the resort to such military-era tactics reflects the poverty of ideas on the part of government, to resolve the prolonged ASUU strike.
In a statement issued by its interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party in particular criticised the supervising Minister of Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike, for the way he talked down on the striking teachers, while issuing the ill-advised, go-back-to-work-or-be-sacked threat.
APC said ASUU was right in demanding certain benchmarks, including the non-victimisation clause and the need for a senior government official, like the Attorney-General of the Federation, to sign the agreement, before calling off its strike, in view of the fact that the federal government has a history of reneging on its agreements.
“Wike's language was crude, his presentation was rude and his threat was demeaning and counter-productive. We believe his lack of finesse and the inability to think out of the box in handling the whole strike issue will not bode well for a quick resolution of the crisis.
“We also disagree with the minister's inference that the lecturers should automatically call off the strike because the president intervened and sat for long hours with them. It is this unnecessary deification of a democratically-elected president that has almost turned this president into an emperor.
“What is the big deal in President Jonathan sitting with ASUU members, his former colleagues for that matter? What is a president elected to do if not to solve problems?” it queried.
APC said it was unfortunate that Wike was threatening to sack university teachers at a time there is a shortfall of 60,000 lecturers in Nigerian universities, adding that the threat itself had shown that the federal government does not understand the enormity of the problems facing public universities in particular and the education sector in general.
On its part, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has described as “hasty” the ultimatum issued to the striking members of ASUU by the federal government, adding that the announcement was not properly ruminated over.
The acting Secretary General of the congress, Mr. Chris Uyot, in a telephone conversation with THISDAY yesterday said Wike should have considered the ongoing efforts put into resolving the crisis by the president.
“The minister should have thought the issue through before making the announcement. He was hasty because considering an issue as serious as the ASUU strike, the efforts which Mr. President has put in meeting the ASUU leadership, and the offer that was made to ASUU, if all those were taken into consideration, the minister would not have said so,” he said.
“The offer currently before ASUU was as a result of that discussion. When you have an offer, there is supposed to be a counter-offer or not. If there is a counter offer, it is possible to sit down and talk about it again, or simply listen to it. That is the process of industrial relations,” Uyot added.
When reminded that the minister might have acted on the directives of the president, the labour leader said: “I am not here to speak for the movement, but the minister made the statement. He should have allowed the process to be consummated. The other party presented a counter-offer and you just go to the press. But I believe strongly that the minister is lying.”
When reminded that NLC had described the new offer made by the federal government following the November 4 meeting as acceptable, Uyot clarified that while the NLC might have found it acceptable, it was not in the place of the movement to accept the offer, but the place of ASUU.
He, however, acknowledged that the November 4 meeting was the most meaningful meeting between the federal government and ASUU since signing the agreement in 2009.
In the same vein, the former President General of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mr. Peter Esele, said the ultimatum issued by the federal government had further widened the divide towards resolving the impasse, which entered its sixth month yesterday.
Esele, in a telephone conversation, said there would have been a better way to go around the new offer to ensure that any misgiving ASUU has, are factored in.
“But the Office of the President should also be respected. If the president has spent 13 hours, we should also try and see how to give him the benefit of the doubt. But the ultimatum has further widened the gap because it is like we are in a military era.
“Sometimes, we personalise issues, even the way Wike communicated the information, you could see his person showing in the whole thing,” Esele said.
Meanwhile, following the directive of the federal government on the re-opened universities, UniAbuja has opened for students to resume their studies.
Speaking with THISDAY, the Director of Public Relations of the institution, Mallam Waziri Garba, said the students had been instructed to resume since from yesterday.
He was however not sure whether lecturers would be available or not, stating: “We would have to wait and see.”