BY LAJU ARENYEKA
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) has said that it welcomes the decision of three trade unions – the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) – to embark on solidarity strike actions to compel the Federal Government to honour agreements signed with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
The National Coordinator of the ERC, Mr. Hassan Soweto said this in a statement to newsmen recently. Soweto urged the three unions to take this beyond the realm of threats and immediately name a day on which the solidarity strike would take place. He said that the unions should begin “active mobilisation of their rank and file members as well as students who are frustrated at home and concerned Nigerians to come out en-masse for mass protests and demonstrations on this day.”
Adding, the ERC Boss said: “We commend the three unions for taking this decision which we believe is in the best interest of the education sector and the Nation at large. We agree that the ASUU strike has gone on for far too long and the plethora of strikes in the education sector are just too many. Slowly the entire public education sector is grinding to a halt. For instance, the public polytechnics are equally closed and it will not be too long before the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) follow suit. The Colleges of Education lecturers had recently held a 7-day warning strike. Indeed, the Academic Staff of Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) had to resume the strike, they had suspended in July after three months, due to the insensitivity and insincerity of government to their demands and terms of the suspension of the last strike.”
Soweto argued that such a solidarity strike would be in the best interest of the education sector and the country at large. He said: “The three unions come from key sectors of the Nation’s economy. As such their decision to embark on solidarity strike if given full and practical effect could help pile pressure on the recalcitrant anti-poor Federal Government to meet demands of striking education unions so that public Universities and Polytechnics can be reopened for academic activities to resume. This would also serve as an example for other unions and the entire labour movement to follow. We want to stress that the solidarity actions which the NUT, NUPENG and NUEE have envisioned should also cover and back the strikes of ASUP, COEASU and all other unions in the education sector that have any on-going dispute with the government over pay, conditions and education funding. This is the best way to ensure that all the outstanding disputes in the education sector are resolved and all public Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Educations are opened for full and undisrupted academic activities.” Soweto added that the ERC understands the position of Nigerians who believe that the entire sector will crumble if such a union as the NUT goes on strike. In response to this, he said: The point that must be made is that with or without strikes, the entire education sector including secondary and primary education has already been destroyed and shutdown in terms of standard and quality that it is simply a pipe dream to imagine any serious learning is going on at any point in time in any of our public schools.”
We are yet to distribute the N100 billion —VCs
After Seven full weeks of the widely reported announcement of the distribution of N100 billion to 59 public universities, as part of Federal Government’s commitment to fund the implementation of identified needs of the nation’s public universities, there are indications that red-tapism or perhaps, insincerity of purpose has hindered the funds from getting to universities.
Grapevines from universities authorities, comprising of Vice Chancellors reveal that the monies have been gotten through the usual official policy statements and memo, but not in cash or cheque.
For the avoidance of doubt, this said money was ‘gallantly’ shopped by the Governor Gabriel Suswam-led Presidential Implementation Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities within 16 days of its inauguration (July 26- August 1, 2013).
If this whooping N100 billion was shopped from acclaimed sources like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and other government agencies, within 16 days of round-the-clock work; if the sharing formular which will be presented below was arrived at within 16 days of heated debates and counter debates, should there be any, then the expedient question is why the delay in implementation, that is disbursement to the nation’s decrepit universities after the ‘nice’ sharing formular, which has been made available to Vanguard Learning.
In the words of one of the revered sources contacted, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie, Ag. VC, Imo State University (IMSU), Owerri, who was the immediate-past National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU): “FG has only sent us a memo through the Ministry of Education that IMSU is getting N650 million from the funds. Until we get the alert into the university’s account, we will know how sincere, government is…”
Similarly, Prof. John Obafunwa, Vice Chancellor, Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo disclosed that the N1.200 billion earmarked for the university has not been paid as cheque or cash into the university’s account.
After about one month, what is preventing universities official accounts from getting the e-credit alerts.
According to the allocation, which grapevines say was based on “students’ population and the depth of infrastructural decadence glaring individual universities in the face,” of the 40 National Universities Commission (NUC) officially recognized Federal Universities, 27 will get varying amounts from the fund, leaving out 13. For State universities, of the 39 officially recognized, 34 will get varying amounts, leaving out 5.