By Emmanuel Edukugho
For over three months now, universities in the five South-East States have been closed down as striking staff and lecturers are embroiled in a wage dispute with governments of the geo-political zone.
More than two hundred thousands students were thrown out from the various campuses, most of them roaming about hopelessly, staying at home idle or straying into crime and prostitution as their future seemed truncated.
While parents and some other stakeholders are worried and lamenting over the current impasse, the state governments who owned the universities are fiddling and playing games, revealing their lack of direction, foresight as can be seen by the governors who are so conceited, selfish and narrow minded that they hardly think or see beyond their immediate parochial interests.
These governors are unconcerned about the public calamities that their brazen incompetence and inability to meet the fundamental needs of the people have caused.
The affected institutions are:
* Ebonyi State University (EBSU), Abakaliki
* Abia State University, (ABSU), Uturu
* Anambra State University (ANSU) Uli
* Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT)
* Evan Enwerem University (EEU) Owerri
Despite several appeals to the striking lecturers and staff by the governors of the South East to call off the industrial action, they have remained adamant and unyielding.
Meeting under the platform of South East Governors Forum on 22nd August, 2010 in efforts to tackle the impasse the governors at Enugu, condemned the strike spearheaded by the zonal wing of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) which the governors claimed was not a legal body recognised by law.
Although all the five universities have their respective branches of ASUU, which are autonomous, however, the lecturers constituted a South East Zonal Union of ASUU to co-ordinate their struggle for better welfare conditions and enhanced salary structure.
It was becoming increasingly, difficult for each of the university to get something out from the government hence the formation of a zonal union for a unified action to confront the governments.
Mr. Peter Obi, Anambra State governor who read out a communique after the Governors Forum meeting in Enugu, said that the ASUU leaders have failed to consider the peculiar circumstances of the individual states because in the FGN/ASUU Agreement, it was explicitly stated that the agreement was not binding on states and private universities.
That individual states should negotiate with the ASUU branches and come to terms according to their financial capability.
In an apparent response to the position of the South East governors contained in the communique they issued after their forum’s meeting, ASUU said that the governors have unfortunately shown they have no idea of the ASUU structure – and indeed the need, in this country sometimes to acknowledge and deal with problems that are peculiar to a people on zonal basis.
“For record sake, ASUU has had and maintained zonal structures for several years now. These zones are meant to provide for easy coordination of the branches and union activities for the National Executive Council (NEC).
The striking lecturers noted that this is not the first time in this country that people of same need and geo-political contin-gency have grouped themselves to enhance the achievement of shared objectives.
On the governors allegation of the striking lecturers’ insensitivity to the peculiar (poor) circumstances of individual states of the zone, and are asking for an unnecessary agreement to be implemented, the union referred to the records of financial allocations from the Federation Account in 2008 summary.
This places Anambra State on number 20 out of the 36 states in the country which has consistently increased. By the last record of allocation available (the allocation of June received in July, 2010), Anambra came 15th on the record of allocation.
Looking at the states that occupy 30th to 36th in the allocation record, it can be seen that except the states of the South East in that position, others are implementing the 2009 agreement.
The record of funds received does not include funds from the excess crude sales shared intermittently to states of the federation, intervention funds from the Federal Government and Donor Agencies like MDG, UNDP, and Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
ASUU asked: “What in this record is the peculiar circumstance of the South East States that has made it difficult for them to keep their universities working? It is a matter of priority, considering the circumstance whence our Governors (Anambra State for instance) receive over N600 million monthly as security vote more than what he (Governor Obi) uses to fund the University in one year.”
It was pointed out that they were seven members from the states which comprised the government team; made up of representatives of both the federal and state universities, which negotiated the agreement. No protest came up at that time, even from Abia State University, Uturu, whose pro-chancellor Barrister Emeka Nwankpa was part of the making of the document.
The lecturers said equally important is the fact that the agreement document contained separate recommendations for federal and state universities in terms of the quantum of funds needed, clearly showing that it was not meant to be for the federal government and federal universities alone.
“Our worry now is why the state governments in the South East should remove their state universities from this standard setting document. Are we going to get our lecturers from the moon? Are our graduates going to be of a different (lower) quality?”
The Zonal Union of ASUU contend that the South East Governors led by Mr. Peter Obi of Anambra State are trying to justify their actions by maintaining that the agreement is not binding on them probably because it was signed by the president.
However, the union affirmed that in every part of Nigeria, it is only in the South East that the 2009 Agreement is neither implemented is not being discussed. In other zones, it is being implemented in the state universities.
The governors opting to negotiate individually with the respective state chapters of ASUU was not acceptable as it would be very problematic, judging from the “insincerity and irresponsiveness of the governors.”
The lecturers noted the grand design to place the children of these states in a bad shape as none of the South East Governors has his own children in these schools.
“We have also taken cue from the Governors themselves who moved ahead to decide not to implement the agreement, to decide to be together to fight it.”
According to the union, “this is a battle to save education in Igbo land, it is a battle to save our children from being made second class citizens to the Governors’ children.”
Dr. Jaja Nwanegbo, Chairman ASUU – ANSU, and Julius Ofodile, Secretary ASUU-ANSU respectively, said it is only in the South East that state universities still look like secondary schools, it is only in the South East that a university (Anambra State) with eight (8) faculties and one (1) big centre (General Studies) has less than thirty (30) senior academics (from senior lecturers to professors) and yet running degrees including M.Sc and Ph.D. It is only in the South East that no university has staff quarters, training facilities are not in place for lecturers, while the South East State Universities are the most poorly funded in the country, when their governors are swimming in the people’s money.
“Looking at the situation, we decided as academic staff of the South East Universities to come together to fight this decay and menace. Until all the state Governors in the South East, until the forum of South East Governors become aware of the dying education in the zone, we shall stick together to fight it,” they declared.
It was revealed that Abia gets about N500 million for Governor’s security monthly, subvention to the University per month is N100 million which has not been released to the school by the state government since November 2009.
Anambra receives about N650 million, subvention to the university per month is N50 million. The school gets in one year (N600m) less than what the Governor takes home in a month.
Ebonyi has about N500 million as Governor’s security vote, subvention to the University is N120 million which is less than what it takes to pay the least salary per month.
Enugu gets N500 million for Governor’s security, N60 million given as subvention to the University which is twice less than their wage bill per month.
Imo Governor has N500 million monthly as security vote, subvention to the University is N57 million, twice less than their wage bill per month.
Said Jaja Nwanegbo and Julius Ofodile:
“Education is the hub of community and national development, we must fight to keep it. We must say no to any attempt at killing education in the South East, while the Governors’ children are in London and elsewhere studying with our money. We must say no to making our children their servants and second class to the governors’ children.”
According to our sources, efforts are still going on to resolve the crisis.
ASUU officials and representatives of government met on 23rd September in Awka, Anambra State. At the meeting were Dr. Jaja Nwanegbo, Julius Ofodile and Levi Chinyaka Nwodu, on the ASUU side. The Government team had Barrister (Mrs) Ngozi Emelifeonwu, Head of Service, Professor Ikechukwu Ike and few others.
The meeting did not reach any agreement or arrive at any concrete decision. But the government team promised to go back, deliberate further on ASUU demands with Governor Peter Obi after which the union would be contacted on the decision taken.
Nwanegbo said other states in the zone have opened discussions with ASUU except Enugu (Police used police dogs to disrupt the peaceful protest by lecturers of Enugu State University of Science and Technology, ESUT).
The South East lecturers strike began in July simultaneously in all the five state-owned universities.
Casualities are already mounting. So far, law students have lost one year as they cannot proceed to law school.
Staying so long at home will adversely affect academic performance as they won’t be able to cope on return likely recording poor academic results.
Students will miss NYSC posting.
Many students are becoming idle, drifting into crime, prostitution and other anti-social vices. Some have even lost their lives due to misadventure and reckless travels.
Oso life Amachukwu, a student of Anambra State University said:
“Friends, please, we have to put this strike in our prayer. Let the hearts of those in charge be touched.”
Another student, Udeze Michael has this to say:
“It’s high time we students take our destiny in our hands and face Mr. Obi. Afterall, none of his children is in the state university.”