On 3 December, 2013, while the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, was biting hard on students and parents across the country, the Federal Government, through President Goodluck Jonathan’s aide on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, announced that it had deposited N200 billion infrastructure renewal fund in a dedicated account with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, as part of its agreement with ASUU in 2009 to disburse to universities the sum of N1.5 trillion for infrastructural development.
The government had argued that since it could not make the instalmental payment of N500 billion per year, as that could wreck the country’s economy, it would pay N200 billion and meet the demand for salary arrears and allowances of the lecturers.
Even though ASUU said it had not received any such information concerning the N200 billion deposit with the Central Bank, the announcement from Okupe led most Nigerians to demand that the lecturers go back to the classrooms and end the five-month old strike.
Before the announcement, the government had threatened to sack all the lecturers if they refused to go back to work on 4 December. It also embarked on blackmail to hide its own lack of integrity concerning the demand of ASUU, but none of these met the desired goal of winning the sympathy of the people against the union. To the government, ASUU was being influenced by enemies of the Jonathan administration.
ASUU called off the strike, but not without registering in the hearts of Nigeria the fact that they had no knowledge of, nor documents to authenticate, government’s claim of depositing the said amount.
It is therefore disheartening to note that two months after the Presidency’s claim, the lecturers have not been able to access the funds or get the modalities for its disbursement. This gives ASUU and Nigerians the impression that, as usual, the government is not sincere with agreements.
If the recent complaint, also, by the ASUU National Treasurer, Ademola Aremu, that the government did not meet the N220 billion it agreed to in the Memorandum of Understanding for the 2014-2018 programmes is anything to believe, then it means the Federal Government is yet to learn any lesson concerning the consequences of its characteristic lack of honesty. It goes to show that those at the helm of affairs in the country are more concerned about their own welfare than the country.
We wish to warn the government against precipitating another industrial action by the lecturers. We also want to state clearly that the usual argument by the government that the country has no such money to meet the agreement with ASUU is flimsy considering government’s lack of priority in budget consideration, the level of corruption and thievery in the system and the huge amounts of money involved in these acts of brigandage.
Government must therefore meet the demands of the lecturers without delay since it was not forced to sign the agreement with the union. Any industrial action by ASUU, in the face of the industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, would not only spell doom for the country’s tertiary education, but would be a danger as the country approaches an election year.