By Charles Abah, Fidelis Soriwei, Femi Atoyebi, Kamarudeen Ogundele and Leke Baiyewu
PUBLIC university lecturers on Sunday insisted that they would not return to the classrooms on Monday (today).
They also accused the Federal Government of insincerity in its bid to resolve its dispute with the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
The President of ASUU, Dr. Nasir Fagge, confirmed this on Sunday via a Short Message Service to an enquiry by The PUNCH.
The Federal Government had through the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Prof. Julius Okojie, deferred its earlier ultimatum to the lecturers to resume work on Monday (today) or risk being sacked. The shift was to enable them to participate in the burial of Prof. Festus Iyayi, a former president of ASUU on Saturday.
Before this , the Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, had advised the striking lecturers to return to work on or before December 4 or face dismissal.
But ASUU had in a news bulletin to its chapters after its meeting in Ekpoma, Edo State on Sunday, said the Federal Government had not met its conditions for suspending the over five months’ strike.
When asked by one of our correspondents if the members of the union would go back to work today and if they had confirmed the N200bn the Federal Government claimed to have deposited in a special account at the Central Bank of Nigeria, Fagge simply replied, “No to both questions.”
ASUU had in the bulletin insisted that the government threat to sack its members would not break the union’s resolve to pursue its action to a logical conclusion.
A source privy to the meeting, said, “No Jupiter will force us to go and teach until all the agreements are documented. The Federal Government is not sincere. If indeed the authorities have agreed, why will they be afraid to document what has been agreed upon?
“Let the vice-chancellors, who can teach, go and do so. But our members are determined not to sign any attendance register tomorrow (today). The threat does not bother us, as truth will always supercede deception, lies and any form of intimidation.”
The ASUU National Treasurer, Dr. Ademola Aremu, who also spoke with one of our correspondents, confirmed that the lecturers would not return to work until the government met their demands.
He said, “Our position has not changed because we are still on strike. When we met President Goodluck Jonathan, we had a number of agreements but when the Presidency communicated to us, we noticed some gaps. We have written to the government on our observations but up till now, it has not responded.
“The only response from government representatives was the accusation against us that we are making new demands. This was after the letter we wrote to the government was exposed to the whole world.
“ASUU is not asking for anything new; what we are saying is that government should perfect the documentation binding the agreement we had with it. We know the agreement we had with the government and we will stand by it.”
Aremu also accused the government of inconsistency with the shift in ultimatum, noting that it was playing politics with the death of Iyayi.
He added, “The government did not play any role in the burial of Iyayi, who died in the struggle. The Federal Government would have been more responsive instead of threatening our members with sacking. The military used this system and it did not work. Why will it work in a democratic environment? I don’t think any right thinking government will use threat to achieve peace.”
On government’s claim that it was ready to pay salaries owed the striking teachers who returned to work, Aremu said the decision was a part of the ploy not to make things work in the education sector.
He added, “This government does not want things to work at all. We wrote to the government that we noticed some gaps but instead of writing us back to clear issues, it began to use threat as a weapon. I don’t think anyone who is worth the certificate he is using as a lecturer will panic because of four months’ salaries. You only treat casual workers in such way and not people with intellectual endowment. ASUU members are not casual workers so the position of Okojie will not shake us.”
The Chairman of the University of Abuja chapter, Dr. Clement Chup, also described the threat as “an empty one.”
He said, “We are still waiting for the government to respond to our letter; until that is done, the strike continues.
“When the December 4 deadline was given, I said ‘I dey laugh because I knew it would not work.’ Now that they have extended it, ‘I still dey laugh’ because it will still not work. Because you (Federal Government) are not ready to honour an agreement and you will begin to threaten people with sacking; it doesn’t work that way.”
His Nasarawa State University, Keffi, counterpart, Dr. Theophilus Lagi, said, “It is only the National Executive Council of the ASUU that could take the decision to suspend the strike.”
He said lecturers in the school would stay away from the classrooms since the NEC of ASUU had yet to suspend the strike.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe and Okojie , had last Tuesday, claimed that the Federal Government had deposited the N200bn promised as funding to universities in an account with the CBN.
The amount is for renewal of infrastructure in the nation’s public universities.
But the Special Assistant (Media) to the Minister of Education, Simeon Nwakaudu, expressed optimism that many lecturers would resume work today.
He said, “By tomorrow (today), we will know where we go from there. Let us wait and see what happens. Many ASUU members have contacted their respective vice-chancellors and indicated their readiness to work.”
Meanwhile, the Acting General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Mr. Chris Uyot, on Sunday, said the leadership of the NLC would hold a crucial meeting with the leaders of ASUU on Monday (today).