ASUU protests erupt in Ile-Ife, Calabar, Ibadan, Port Harcourt as lecturers take to streets

Semiu Salami
Semiu Salami
Protesting University-of-Calabar lecturers

The striking university teachers have moved their battle for better education to the streets months after talks for the resolution of the crisis appears to have hit the dead end.

Our correspondents however, report that the police are stopping the university lecturers fromm holding rallies and marches.

In Calabar, the police yesterday stopped a planned protest by lecturers of the University of Calabar (UNICAL) and the Cross River University. But the lecturers still addressed a rally on the UNICAL campus.

In Ibadan, University of Ibadan (UI) lecturers had a town hall meeting to sensitise the people to the strike.

In Ile-Ife, Osun State, Obafemi Awolowo University lecturers marched on the streets, getting to the palace of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, where they urged him to pravail on the government to implement the 2009 agreement it signed with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), without which the strike would continue.

President Goodluck Jonathan said during last month’s Presidential Chat that the government cannot fully implement the agreement, especially the financial aspect, because doing so would force a shutdown of other departments.

The Nigeria Labour Congrees (NLC), also yesterday, said although it would not call out workers on a solidarity strike with the lecturers, it would hold a meeting in Kaduna tomorrow to take a stand on the way forward.

The Calabar walk, which was organised by the UNICAL and Cross River University of Technology (CRUTECH) branches of ASUU, was disrupted by over 200 policemen, most of them heavily armed.

The walk was originally scheduled to take off from the UNICAL gate at 7am and go through some streets of Calabar, but the policemen ensured the teachers did not leave the campus

The policemen said they were acting on “orders from above”.

ASUU Chairman Dr James Okpiliya said: “Our union is law abiding. We wrote to the police and other security agencies on our intention of walking the streets in pursuance of our cause to put the records straight.

“Many groups have been walking the streets, giving people the wrong impression about the situation. We just want to put the records straight. The police are telling us that they have orders from above not to let us walk the streets of Calabar. It is a shame. You can all see the hypocrisy of government.

“They allowed youth and market women but they would not let us academics, peace loving people. We would remain resolute. No amount of provocation would stop us.”

Okpiliya went on: “We are not on strike because of our salaries. We are fighting for our students and the terrible conditions of our university. Most of our science students do not know the difference between Bunsen burner and a stove. They don’t even know the chemicals.

“The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) today has become a main funding source of our universities, but this is not to be so. TETFUND is only an intervention agency. Government has bailed out banks and even Nollywood, but not our universities.

“The strike would continue as long as the government remains adamant. The President said after all, the strike in Ghana lasted two years, so that means this one can continue even up to five years.

“It is a shame for the President to say the strike is political. The strike is not political. We are fighting for the good of our people. If there is anything political about this it is by him Jonathan. Let him implement the agreement and if the strike continues then he can say it is political. Any government that does not pay attention to the education sector is a dead government.”

The Chairman of ASUU, CRUTECH branch, Dr Nsing Ogar, said the Federal Government must honour the agreement.

A former president of ASUU and renowned author, Prof Festus Iyayi, said a government that does not respect agreements is calling for anarchy.

He said: “This is the final struggle. Even if it takes 10 years, the students should know we are struggling on their behalf. A day would come when the police would join us. A day would come when we would not care whether the police would stop or not. The state has failed.”

Another lecturer from UNICAL said: “If the strike is called off today, everybody will be worse off for it. People are not looking at the issues; they are just saying open the school, let the children graduate. Let them go to school. They are not bothered about the quality of education they are getting. In the future, whatever we say the government will never take us seriously.”

OAU chapter Chairman Prof. Peter Akinola, who led the protest, urged the Federal Government to accede to ASUU’s demands to enable the union suspend the industrial action.

Addressing residents at the palace of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Akinola said the education sector deserved a better deal.

A member of the union, Prof. Gbolahan Babalola, said protest was to show the concern of ASUU for undergraduates who had stayed at home for months.

He urged traditional rulers and other stakeholders to resolve the impasse.

The Sarun Oodua, Adekola Adeyeye, who represented the Ooni, praised ASUU for the peaceful conduct and show of concern for students.

Adeyeye said that the Ooni understood that education was the best legacy that any parent or government could bequeath to any child.

He promised that the union’s message would be relayed to the traditional ruler.

The OAU lecturers moved round major streets of Ile-Ife. Osun State University teachers staged their rally at the newly built Freedom Square near Old Garage in Osogbo, the Osun State capital.

The Ile-Ife rally, which kicked off from the Oduduwa Hall of the OAU caused a traffic gridlock for many hours in the ancient town.

Osun State University branch Chairman Dr. Joseph Abiona was worried over the misinformation being dished out to Nigerians by the Federal Government as reason for the strike.

The NLC said it was in the process of mediating between the Federal Government and ASUU.

Oyo State NLC Chairman Comrade Bashiru Olarewaju spoke at a town hall meeting organised by ASUU to review the strike. The meeting was held at the Trenchard Hall of the University of Ibadan (UI).

At the Town Hall meeting were hundreds of people, including civil society groups’ members, politicians, the clergy, traders who were presented with slide of the NEEDS ASSESSMENT REPORT of 2009 .

The NLC, according to Olarewaju , will meet tomorrow in Kaduna to take a decisive action on the ASUU strike.

He said: “The government and some other people have been trying to undermine the power, the influence and the ability of each group that can salvage this nation from collapse . And let me say this, that NLC has not been quiet. No, many people will want the NLC to go on strike. No; we will not go on strike on ASUU for now. But, anything can happen after Wednesday.

“This is because we have more than 40 affiliates. If an affiliate of NLC is in crisis and we now bring the entire workforce to join the strike, the train of the nation will not move forward. What we do in most cases is to mediate. ASUU is an affiliate of the NLC. ASUU is our partner. We will work together ,” the NLC chair said.

Prof. Remi Raji, Dean, Faculty of Arts, UI, said: “The way forward is for the government to look at the NEEDS ASSESSMENT report, which was presented to the government in November, 2012.

“In the next few days, it will be one year and nothing has been done of the 189 recommendations and we are saying that it is very crucial for government to deal with it squarely for the future of our children and our nation because a country that does not develop its own capacity within, to develop its own education standard to world class quality, cannot claim to be a giant of Africa, cannot claim to have a clean bill of economic health . This is the issue.”

UI chapter Chairman Dr. Olusegun Ajiboye said the appeal by President Jonathan to be patriotic is not needed but action and implementation of the agreement reached with the union.

He said it was sad that a President who claimed that corruption is not Nigeria’s problem can watch a Minister buy bullet proof vehicles for N255 million, yet claiming there is no money to fund education.

He berated the President for speaking out publicly on the ongoing strike close to four months after it began, maintaining that he has not been patriotic and sensitive enough to the needs of the majority of Nigerians.

He said: “Will it have been possible for Mr. President to be quiet if his children are in one of our public institutions and be at home for four months? “How many years of appeal will make Mr. President implement a four year old agreement? The truth is we are tired of appeal. We need action. “

The Chairman of ASUU, Niger Delta University (NDU), Wilberforce Island, Bayelsa State, Dr. Beke Sese, said the strike is to save the universities from collapse.

He maintained that the strike had no political undertone and not targeted at Jonathan or his administration.

Sese told reporters in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, that the industrial action was to protest the deplorable condition of public universities.

“Imputing political motive to the strike is a calculated attempt by some persons to deploy propaganda gimmicks to the cause of the university teachers, in order to divert attention from the real issues that informed the strike,” Sese said, adding:

“When the current Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, was ASUU president, the members did not compromise, when there was similar strike, during the regime of the late Gen. Sani Abacha.

“This is the first time that ASUU members have embarked on a protracted strike, which centres on funding of the universities and improvement of the infrastructure. The funds so far released by the Federal Government are grossly inadequate. The 2009 agreement must be fully implemented.”

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