Vanessa Obioha writes on the threat issued to political parties by the National Association of Nigerian Students to either urgently resolve the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities or forget their party primaries billed for Abuja this month
As part of their strategies to force the federal government to urgently resolve the strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Nigerian students under the aegis of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) recently threatened that no political party would hold their primary election to elect any presidential candidate in Abuja. NANS President, Comrade Sunday Asefon, made the threat in a statement made available to journalists.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chose the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for its primary this month to elect its presidential candidate among 15 aspirants from all over the country. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is also reported to have considered Abuja for its presidential primary later this month.
But NANS, in its statement, told the political parties to either end the strike, which ASUU had commenced on February 14, 2022, or forget about holding any presidential primary in the nation’s capital. The apex students’ union body also expressed anger that those saddled with the responsibility to ensure the smooth running of the education sector such as the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba; and Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige have purchased the outrageous N100 million presidential forms of the ruling APC. They specifically vowed to truncate the presidential ambitions of Ngige and Nwajiuba, if they do not take decisive steps to end the strike.
“Let me say without mincing words, the two major political parties should forget any political gathering in Abuja except there is a solution to the lingering ASUU strike. We will frustrate all the activities leading to the selection of party candidates if we remain on strike. We also want to advise the government and the politicians who are busy campaigning to be president to either resolve the ASUU crisis or give direct orders to the security operative to shoot us at sight during party conventions to select a presidential candidate. If we remain on strike, they should just forget it,” NANS said in the statement.
To show its seriousness, NANS in another statement made available in Ado Ekiti, stated that it had given mediators time to prevail on the federal government to resolve issues with ASUU and ensure students resumed their studies.
“But it seems all mediation plans have failed. Politicians have shown no concern for the plight of the students, but are rather busy with their selfish and inordinate ambitions to become the next President. We have also in the past weeks seen those saddled with great responsibility in the education sector and those saddled with responsibilities of resolving labour crises declare interests to contest for the seat of the president come 2023. We are surprised at their effrontery and total disrespect to the Nigeria people for having the courage to even mull the idea of contesting, much more picking up the N100 million-presidential form while students languish at home because of their (leaders’) collective failures.
“Let me say without mincing words that the two major political parties (APC and PDP) should forget any political gathering in Abuja or elsewhere except there is a solution to the lingering ASUU strike. We will frustrate all the activities leading to selection of party candidates if ASUU remains on strike. We also want to advise the government and the politicians who are busy campaigning to be president to either resolve the ASUU crisis or give direct orders to the security operative to shoot us on sight during party conventions to select presidential candidates. If ASUU remains on strike, they should just forget it,” Asefon explained in the separate statement.
ASUU had on Monday, February 14, 2022, embarked on a four-week warning strike to force the federal government to implement the agreement signed with universities in 2009. When the government failed to listen to the lecturers at the expiration of the warning strike, on March 14, 2022, they extended the industrial action by two months.
Initially, the union, led by Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, said it decided to extend the strike to give the federal government and its agencies enough time to meet the lingering demands of the union. Before the current strike, the union had embarked on a nine-month strike in 2020 before it was called off in December of that year due to pressure from parents.
The union’s demands include funding for the revitalisation of public universities, earned academic allowances, University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS).
Others include the renegotiation of the 2009 ASUU-FGN Agreement and the inconsistencies in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).
Before it embarked on the strike, ASUU had directed its various chapters to set aside a day to sensitise and mobilise Nigerians for its fight to save the university system from collapsing. This, perhaps, was meant to create an atmosphere of understanding but the government ignored the window of opportunity. But the Nigerian government has refused to implement the Memorandum of Action (MoA) that led to the suspension of its nine-month prolonged strike in 2020.
Since the strike commenced, the federal government has not shown enough sincerity of purpose in addressing the issues raised by the striking teachers. It has continued to give excuses to explain its inability to meet ASUU’s demands.
Recently, for instance, Ngige exonerated his ministry and blamed the Ministry of Education for the lingering strike, saying he had made use of the labour instruments at his disposal. He noted that “the bosses in the Federal Ministry of Education do not feel the strike. There are things that are above me. I am not the Minister of Education.”
Students mostly bear the brunt of the strike. Some of them have fallen victims of rape and other criminal activities in the country as their youthful energies are being wasted at home. Part of the consequences of these regular strike actions is the frequent disruptions in the academic calendars of universities. Sometimes, programmes that are designed to run for four years translate to five or six years for a student without a record of failure. It is worse for those whose courses run longer than four years. They end up staying on campus longer than intended. It is thus sheer agony when they finally graduate to join the labour force for the entry-level age requirement for many graduate jobs is 26.
Stakeholders have also raised concerns about the incessant strike action, considering its heavy toll on the academic pursuit of students in public tertiary institutions. Many analysts have argued that just as it has failed ASUU, it has also failed to keep the promises made to the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU). These unions are also on strike and have threatened to make the action indefinite.
However, the Minister of State for Education, Nwajiuba, has insisted that the union cannot dictate to the federal government on the platform to be used in paying their salaries. The minister while addressing journalists shortly after receiving his presidential nomination form of the APC purchased for him by the Project Nigeria Group, said: “It is impractical and incongruous to continuously expect that somebody who is paid a salary continues to dictate to someone who pays him: ‘This is how you must pay me’. This is where this anomaly is.”
President of SSANU, Mohammed Ibrahim, had accused the federal government of focusing on frivolous things and neglecting the education sector and the youths. Speaking during the 2022 May Day celebration in Abuja, Ibrahim said the universities were forced to shut down due to the government’s insincerity, adding that the standard of education had continued to go down.
To the save the federal government from embarrassment of the students, stakeholders are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to end the strike. Even though he had recently pledged that his government was committed to fulfilling the promises made to ASUU, nothing has been fulfilled. Will NANS’ threat against the party primaries be the game changer? Events of the next few weeks will reveal.