Supervising Minister of Education Nyesom Wike speaks on the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities, the 2015 general election, and the crisis in the Rivers State chapter of Peoples Democratic Party, among other issues, in this interview with Jaiyeola Andrews. Excerpts:
ASUU has been on strike for over four months due to issues bordering on the federal government’s renege on agreements it had reached with the union. Don’t you think this situation is worsening the image crisis of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration by creating the impression of a government that does not care about the people?
Let me say one thing, the government does not have any image crisis, talk less of worsening any image crisis. The Jonathan administration does not have image crisis.
But one would say that it is quite unfortunate that the ASUU strike has been prolonged this far. The truth of the matter is that whatever ASUU is agitating for today – I would not say that it is selfish – is not an agreement that was reached with this government. ASUU claimed this agreement was reached since 2009 when the former president, the late Umaru Yar’Adua was in office. But, of course, government is all about continuity.
First of all, you should give credit to Mr. President that this is the first time a president in Nigeria will say, go and assess the level of fraud, the level of decay in the tertiary institutions in the country. If the president has no good intention he wouldn’t have said we should go and do this.
He directed the Minister of Education and the National Universities Commission to go and do the assessment. This assessment was done and the report was presented at the Federal Executive Council meeting. Everybody that was in the Federal ExecutiveCouncil meeting was touched by the level of decay and Mr. President said this assessment we did was for only federal universities, but what about the state universities.
But state governors are not members of the Federal Executive Council.
Since governors are not members of the Federal Executive Council but they are members of the National Economic Council, which is presided over by the president, and there is also the need to present this report to the National Economic Council, he directed the Minister of Education and NUC to present the report before the state ministries of education and state governors. Everybody was disturbed by the level of decay in the tertiary education sector. That now made us to set up a technical committee which was headed by the governor of Anambra State.
So what ASUU is talking about is that we had an agreement with the government that every year government is supposed to release N400 billion as infrastructure development fund. I am not disputing that fact, however, the point we are making counters every issue, for government to release N400 billion and not only that, the N400 billion does not concern or affect the regular intervention by the Tertiary Education Fund or the regular budgetary allocation.
They said that aside from the money from the fund and the budgetary allocation the N400 billion will be for the universities. This N400 billion in three years will be 1.2trillion.
This thing they are talking about, the federal government cannot afford it, it is not practicable and it is not done, in the sense that government revenue does not come like that, it trickles in; you don’t just expect the government to carry N400 billion and keep somewhere, that with N100 billion yearly and the regular intervention of TERFUND, which is not less than N100 billion to the universities.
So assuming that they collected N100 billion from TERFUND and another N100 billion from government intervention, making N200 billion, to develop the universities, the question we ask is, does this institution have the capacity? Look at the TERFUND money, we are still having issues with it.
It is not that the federal government is happy with the ASUU strike; we are still committed to solving the problem.
Do you still believe the ASUU strike can be resolved amicably?
Yes, I believe strongly that this government can resolve the problem we are having with ASUU because this government is so passionate about education and we are not happy with what is going on. Parents are not happy, even our children are tired of sitting down at home. Government is doing everything it can to resolve this issue. I respect the ASUU agitation, I respect them, but we are still talking to ensure that we have a lasting solution to the problem. We have had series of meetings but I believe that very soon we are going to resolve this issue.
What do you think is the solution to the problem of incessant strikes in the government- owned higher institutions of learning?
I will want to plead with ASUU because the federal government is always committed to ensuring that all her institutions are well cared for. But sometimes when you say some things it may compound the existing problem or crisis, so to speak, but I think that we must also understand that no government has all the recourses to solve all the problems at the same time. In as much as education is key to the transformation agenda of Mr. President, it can be very difficult for him to say that he will not attend to other pressing issues in the country. We do know education is key but we cannot just ignore some pressing issues that equally need attention in the country.
You were recently reported as alleging that your state governor, Rotimi Amaechi, and others perceived to be opposed to Jonathan were behind the elongation of the ASUU strike. Do you have any evidence?
I never said something of such, I have never. By saying that it will look as if I am giving them credibility or giving them the power they do not possess. When people say things sometimes there must be some political motives. I never said so and it is not true. It is not that I am afraid of them but there is no truth in that assertion.
You have been quoted as saying that Amaechi cannot dictate to Jonathan in the attempts to resolve the Rivers State PDP crisis, besides other comments that seem to worsen relations between the president and the governor. Do you really have an interest in the genuine restoration of friendly relations between Jonathan and Amaechi? Don’t you think it is true, as some have insinuated, that you believe your political future depends on the continuation of the unfriendliness between Jonathan and Amaechi?
Is it not funny when you say my political future will be well when there is crisis? That is not correct. I want a genuine reconciliation; thank God you used the word genuine reconciliation. What is the definition of a genuine reconciliation? A genuine reconciliation where you were given a bad recognition, is that genuine? And the so-called crisis that you are talking about, what has it got to do with Rivers State? Are you saying that the politicians and the political leaders in the state do not know what they want? I mean people should avoid trivialising matters, when leaders are fighting among themselves the next thing you will hear is that the president is involved in the matter, it is not fair and I don’t think that is necessary.
People who do that are trying to make sure that if you call the name of the president, then it will mean that it is power from above that is behind what is happening.
If you have a problem at home you should learn how to solve that problem, but not by indicting or trying to indict some other people who have no business in it. That is what I tell every person that cares to listen that Mr. President has never called me to say, my minister, what do we do to the crisis rocking your state? He has never for once asked me.
Are you nursing a governorship or senatorial ambition ahead of the 2015 general election?
One thing I notice about people in this country, there is nothing you do that will not be ascribed to one thing or the other. If I am not talking today people will say it is because I want to retain my ministerial appointment, if I talk they will say I have a political ambition. Like I have often said, my focus right now is to ensure that we promote and grow our party, PDP, stronger in Rivers State. Some of the people who are very prominent and leaders of the party who had abandoned the party, we are trying to woo them back to the party, because there is internal crisis within the PDP in Rivers State and so many leaders of the party have left. We are just trying to bring them back to the mainstream ahead of the 2015 general election. When the time comes fully for political activities or to decide who runs for this or that, the leadership of the party will meet to fashion out ways on how to do that. It is not me that will determine what post I’m running for, it depends on the leadership of the party.
So let us try and rebuild the party first. You can’t be talking about ambition when your party is in crisis, you can’t, and we must have good roots before we start talking about ambition. If the party is not strong in the state then what kind of ambition are you nursing? There is nothing wrong in any human being having an ambition but you must also face the reality on ground.
Like I said earlier, one ambition that I have is to ensure that there is a credible and a violence-free election in Rivers State, and also to ensure that Jonathan is re-elected because he has done well in this country.
Look at his attitude and his commitment. Look at the transformation agenda, nobody can say that a government is 100 per cent perfect, but you cannot say you are not seeing any tangible thing that this government has done that you can appreciate. Look at the transformation in the power sector; you can see what is going on. By the time he is finished with the process and he succeeds Nigerians will be happy. So you must give people credit. That is why I will say that my ambition is to help Jonathan to be re-elected, but not according to the dictates of those that say that he can only be re-elected when he satisfies their own conditions, I will not agree to that.
Don’t you think the involvement of the Rivers State Police Command, especially the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu, in the murky political waters of your state portends danger ahead of the 20015 general elections?
What is the murky political water? What is that? I have often told journalists that they should always be fair when they are reporting issues. Part of the problems we are facing in this country is caused by the press men, in the sense that they report what does not exist. For example, they would prefer to write that the Minister of Education is shot dead, other political opponents of Amaechi are dead or locked up or are arraigned for one matter or the other because they are the ones the governor can use at any time to prosecute political opponents. Do you know what would have happened to people like us today? Do I need Mbu to go and help me campaign? All I need Mbu for is security, that I am going to a certain place to campaign. Look at what happened in Ekiti, nobody agreed to report it, but if that had happened in Rivers State they would have said Mbu has done this. So the press is always biased.
One professional policeman that I know in Nigeria today is Joseph Mbu. It does not matter that Mbu cannot remain the CP of Rivers State forever, one day he will be transferred. So as far as I am concerned, there is nothing murky in the political waters in Rivers State. Is it murkier than what is going on in Ekiti State today? Look at what is going on in Ekiti, where police came and said that nobody should campaign. For me, if not that there is somebody like Mbu in Rivers State people like us would just have died like that and that is the truth of the matter. Nigerians that are clamouring for Mbu to go are those who are plotting to assassinate those who oppose Amaechi. It was a deliberate plan to eliminate all of us by controlling the security machinery.
Do you think Jonathan’s government is fundamentally addressing the Niger Delta question, considering the gradual resurgence of kidnapping and armed attacks on the oil infrastructure in the Niger Delta, the uncompleted East-West road, the yet-to-be implemented UN report on Ogoni environmental restoration, and growing unemployment in the region?
Assuming he is not, is he the cause of the problem of Boko Haram ravaging the northern states? That is not correct. In any case, every tier and every arm of government have a role to play in addressing the issue of the Niger Delta. The federal government, the state and the local governments are all doing their parts.
I am a Niger Delta person; nobody can be more Niger Delta than me. Though, I cannot say boastfully to Mr. President that we have everything we need in Niger Delta, the president is trying because we can feel his impact and contribution in the Niger Delta. So the issue of addressing the Niger Delta question needs to be defined because Mr. President may not be able to address all, but he is trying his best.
But on whether he is addressing the issues, I will say, yes. I passed the East-West road the other time and I can tell you authoritatively that a substantial part of the road has been done.
However, that does not mean that they have finished and in the other parts of the Niger Delta they are doing well. So I encourage him to try and see what they can do so that by 2015 they must have finished the road.
Is the federal government not addressing the issue of the militants by training them to be useful in their lives? So those that are saying the president has not addressed the issue of the Niger Delta should mind the problems affecting them in their various states. Mr. President has tried so much for that region. He has looked into some of the problems we are facing that had been neglected for years. After all, he is the President of Nigeria not the President of Niger Delta.