By Tonnie Iredia
“We will not hesitate to shut down the education system in the country, if the government fails to fulfil or honour the agreement it entered into with the lecturers”.
Those were the words of the National President of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) Mr. Michael Olukoya on Thursday September 26, 2013 while announcing his union’s 2 weeks ultimatum to the Federal Government to resolve the ASUU crisis. The NUT was obviously not ready for a peace-maker role as some analysts would imagine.
Rather, it came into the subject on the side of ASUU. This can be deduced from the union’s statement that the current ASUU strike was “nationalistic, patriotic and self-sacrificing”.
The government probably sensed this and hurriedly met with the teachers to plead with them not to complicate the subject. Interestingly, although the NUT’s body language at the meeting gave an impression that it was persuaded by the plea, the union has since restated that its ultimatum stays. Considering that any responsible societal institution is expected to seek solutions to a nation’s problem it is hard to immediately appreciate the present posture of the NUT. Some labour analysts are quick at drawing attention to the fact that a solidarity strike is acceptable in global unionism. This according to them would move the government to take ASUU much more seriously. It would indeed get the attention of the international community and as such, put the Federal Government on its toes.
As if some other unions buy this principle of the power of democracy, the idea of solidarity action is gaining ground by the day on the ASUU issue. Already, 2 other powerful unions are warming up to join the strike. The Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) was the first to show concern. At the end of the union’s National Administrative Council meeting, held in Lagos last weekend, its President, Igwe Achese stated that his union was not happy at the crisis facing the public university system. It therefore threatened to stop distribution of petroleum products across the country if the Federal Government failed to implement the agreement reached with ASUU.
Only last Thursday, the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), gave the Federal Government seven days to resolve the ASUU strike or face a total shut down of electricity facilities in the country. The decision of the union was made known by its General Secretary, Mr. Joe Ajaero at a training workshop for labour leaders in the power sector in Enugu, The secretary was emphatic that the union could no longer sit back and watch the destruction of the future of Nigerian students who have remained at home for the past 3months on account of the ASUU strike. Thus it is now certain that dangerous dimensions are about to be introduced into the crisis making it obvious that it is time to call on well-meaning Nigerians to intervene and save the nation from disintegrating.
It will be recalled that the National Assembly, especially its education committees, had in the past waded unsuccessfully into the crisis. The Vice President, Governor Gabriel Suswan of Benue State, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Minister of Labour had all similarly tried in vain. Of course, the matter is far beyond the capacity of the current supervising Minister of Education. It would in earnest be unwise to leave it with him having failed when he along with the former main Minister in the Ministry tackled the issue. Is he likely to do better now that he is alone; more so as his other crisis in Rivers State might take more of his time? At this point, it seems rational to bring in fresh hands to handle the subject. Here, we suggest the invitation of Owelle Rochas Okorocha, the Imo State Governor, who is fast becoming accepted as a man with a rescue mission orientation.
Oh yes, the media has of recent become replete with wonderful stories of a complete transformation of Imo’s Education system. It is a man like Rochas who has made Education the biggest industry in his State that is needed right now. Perhaps because he is matching Governor Akpabio naira for naira in what looks like governance by publicity, some people tend to doubt the miracles of Rochas in Imo. The truth however is that even his political rivals marvel at his initiatives in the education sector. At the last count, Governor Okorocha has in his State ensured free education to the tertiary level; improved subvention of N252 million to Imo State University from N56 million, improved subvention of N98 million to Imo State Polytechnics’, Umuagwo from N45 million, construction of Imo College of Advanced Professional Studies [ICAPS], Young Scientist College and 305 European standard schools in the state. A few weeks back, the state government under his watch took delivery of 15 container loads of school uniforms, sandals, desks, books and other learning materials that have been freely distributed to school children under the free education programme.
A short trip to Imo State would convince cynics that public schools there now have clean and beautiful environments where several modern facilities abound. Unlike ASUU members, school heads in Imo now have maintenance budget and their salaries are now regular. Over 70% of them have been promoted with their staff rooms well equipped and decorated. It will be hard for the NUT to get Imo teachers whose allowances are guaranteed to join its solidarity strike. For instance, they now get wardrobe allowance as well as end of year bonus. There is also the story that teachers are paid before other public servants in the state. As a result, the idea of part-time teaching and part-time-trading that is prevalent in many states is banished in Imo. The Nigerian nation therefore needs the help of Rochas Okorocha, the new ‘Awo’ of Imo education to reveal how he manages education as well as teachers. If this suggestion is followed, Rochas will no doubt encourage all our leaders to follow his own avowed principle of “never to play politics with education”