*‘We wrote 53 letters to govt in 16months’
*Says N100b mere propaganda, funds not released
Clement Chup is the zonal coordinator of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Abuja. Chup, in this interview, hints that there is no end in sight to the four months old strike by the university teachers which has kept students at home.
By Laide Akinboade
The Minister of Education recently said ASUU strike would be over in a few months. What is the
position of ASUU?
I may not be in a position to give you the official position of ASUU, it is the National President that would give you the official position, but I want to tell you that there is a lot of insincerity on the part of government and, because government has the machinery of propaganda at their disposal, they disseminate a lot of falsehood to the general public. We are not talking about what government wants to do; what we are talking about is the implementation of an agreement which was signed by government and our union. So what government should be explaining is the modality for the implementation; so far, government has not come out to say this is what we will do. Rather, what government is trying to do is to run away from the agreement and we cannot accept that because the agreement is binding. Government must be honorable and responsible and implement the agreement. To buttress their insincerity, government would claim, and they have been telling the general public, that they released N100 billion two months ago. Up till now that we are talking, one kobo has not been released to any university, that is to tell you how insincere government is. So when they say we would as from next year make budgetary provision for so so and so amount, the question we should be asking ourselves is , what was spelt out in the agreement, which we are insisting they should implement? They cannot even give you an answer. In as much as we painfully went into this strike and, in as much as we are painfully pursuing this strike, in as much as we want this strike to end, we cannot just end it without achieving the purpose for which we went on the strike. So, as long as government does not show any sincerity to implement the agreement, the strike continues.
Can you react to government’s allegation that ASUU is politicizing the strike?
Well, a thief always thinks that every other person is a thief; because they believe politics is all about falsehood, they think others are reasoning like them. But the question they should be asking is, does ASUU have basis for going on this strike? Let anyone of them come out and say no. Does the agreement exist and did the Federal Government sign the agreement? The answer is yes.
Why are they refusing to implement it? Like I said earlier, they have the machinery for propaganda at their disposal they can disseminate whatever false information they want and they think everybody is like them. We are a union of intellectuals we don’t just come out to say anything or do anything, we subject it to scrutiny. We cannot become like them; it was said even by government at the highest quarters, but you would recall they have not told us how, what manner of politics has come in and let Nigerians know. They said ASUU has been politicized. How? and it has been influenced by the opposition. The question we should ask is by which opposition. We look at them as politicians and all this claim is a tool by the Federal Government to blackmail us cheaply and we know they cannot succeed.
How many meetings have you had so far with the Federal Government and are the meetings on-going?
I prefer when you talk about meetings and discussions because there have been no negotiations going on but there are discussions, because you already have something to work with because when you have an agreement, it is a product of negotiation and it took us three years and I want to emphasise, three years, to arrive at that document called the 2009 agreement and, for you to arrive at an agreement, you must have made concessions. We have the document, it is for government to honour it.
We would not refuse any invitation by anybody. The Federal Government has been calling us for discussions and we have been going. So, as long as they call us we will go, probably they want to tell us how they are going to implement the agreement.
It was reported that the Federal Government has increased the N30 billion it released for earned allowance to N40 billion. Is this true?
The Federal Government didn’t consult us before they released the N30 billion. You see the insincerity? We were discussing how to implement the 2009 agreement and they simply went and released money to the universities, without any template, to cause further problems in the universities. So, if they have decided to add, and it was not part of the agreement, if they want to give universities award, they should go ahead.
If somebody wants to give you award, you won’t reject it, but we know that we have an agreement and you should implement the agreement and when you want to implement the agreement, you are supposed to carry us along.
Government is using this to blackmail us cheaply, and the next thing they would say is they have ‘released money, why won’t you call off the strike?’
We are not part of it and we have refused to participate in it and, in all the universities, you can ask, our members are not participating in the sharing of that money because it was not part of the agreement.
Public sympathy on the strike, what is ASUU doing about this?
We are taking that into consideration. You know one thing about public sympathy, it can easily change depending on circumstances, but what we are looking at is the fact of the matter and the truth on ground. Now if you look at it, people that are heroes historically were called rebels, even in the Bible, Jesus Christ was called a rebel, the people he was dying for were the ones shouting ‘crucify him’. ASUU stands for the truth to advance the cause of education in Nigeria. And also the cause of this country because by the time government becomes responsible, it will benefit not only education but also everybody. It is will be a stepping stone, then people will realize that government carries some responsibilities. For now, we are appealing to the public but we know we are fighting a just cause and we will continue. There are people who feel ASUU should call off the strike and then come back for negotiation?
There are no negotiations going on; so which negotiation are we going to allow or are we saying we should allow implementation?
Where was government when we were giving warnings? This is part of the insincerity by government we are talking about.
How many times did ASUU warn the Federal Government?
We wrote 53 letters since February 2012 and each of the letters was made public. There is none of our National Executive meetings we would not publish advertorial in newspapers and warnings constantly. We even visited some eminent Nigerians and urged them to talk to the Federal Government to honour the 2009 agreement.
We told them then we would eventually go on strike and it would not be good for anybody but they kept quiet; it is now they realize that there should be truce, truce for what?
All we want from the Federal Government is to tell ASUU how they are going to implement the 2009 agreement, that is all. Government cannot run away from the agreement; we must work based on the agreement.
But the Federal Government said it cannot implement some of the things in the agreement? It said the idea of releasing N400 billion per annum is not realistic?
Who signed it? Ask them. Looking at the kind of government we have in this country, only last week, the government said it was getting ready to bail out the aviation sector for the second time. They feel this sector is important because they fly;
But they have forgotten about most Nigerians that travel by road. Is it not Government money they are going to use? Where did they get the trillions they are going to use?
Nigeria is supposed to commence the operation of national carrier before the end of this year – that is more of a priority to them. Education is not. You see the outrageous expenditure for those in government. Does that give the impression that the nation doesn’t have money? A few days ago, the Central Bank came out to tell us that in nine months, the nation made over N6 trillion and our budget is just over N4 trillion. They shouldn’t come out with the falsehood that the nation cannot afford to implement some parts of the 2009 agreement.
Meanwhile, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation mid-wifed the memorandum of understanding that they are saying they cannot release, that is the insincerity we are talking about.
Is there end in sight to the four months old ASUU strike?
We don’t know, it is not for us to end it. When government is ready, we are ready.
What specifically does ASUU want the Federal Government to do?
We don’t want a fresh negotiation. When we wanted to go on strike, there was referendum in all our branches and they said until there is substantial evidence of implementation the 2009 agreement, we shall not suspend the strike. All we are saying is that the agreement should be implemented. There is nothing new about it, it is what we have been saying since the strike started and even before we went on strike. So let the Federal Government go on and implement the 2009 agreement. We cannot abrogate our agreement – on it we stand.
We are doing our best to give updates but you will agree with me that we are handicapped and we don’t have the quantum of resources that Federal Government has for propaganda. You will agree with me that is a challenge on its own. That is not to say that we are not doing our best trying to explain to Nigerians our situation.