Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Olusegun Ajiboye, University of Ibadan branch, tells OLUFEMI ATOYEBI that the strike will continue unless the Federal Government honours the 2009 agreement it entered with the union
Apart from union activism, what other work do you do?
I am a lecturer at the Department of Teacher Education in the University of Ibadan and an Associate Professor in the institution.
How will you describe the attitude of President Goodluck Jonathan to education in Nigeria?
Everybody thought that President Goodluck Jonathan’s academic qualification would be an advantage for Nigeria. This is the first time we are having a president who holds a PhD and we were all hoping for the best. Being a Doctor of Philosophy puts you at the peak of academic achievement because other addition will come through promotion.
But we are not only disappointed but also let down. Even the military regimes that we all condemned supported education more than what we now have under Jonathan.
What are the issues that led to this strike and confrontation with the government?
If we go by the agreement that the Federal Government had with ASUU in 2009 and the MoU signed by the FG on January 24, 2012, you will discover that the critical issue is the funding of federal universities in Nigeria. There is a need for substantial amount of money to be injected into the universities to achieve total revitalisation and the two parties agreed on this. It was agreed in 2009 that a sum of N1.5trn would be required to fund the 24 federal universities then. It was also agreed that we will look at the number of students in state universities to determine how much would be needed to intervene.
With the 2012 MoU, the FG agreed that it would inject N1.3trn over three years into the universities. The modality for the payment of the money was that N100bn would be spent in 2012 which would rise to N400bn annually for the next three years.
When ASUU was making claims about the issue of funding universities, the government did not trust us, so it set up a committee to verify the claims. The National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy Assessment Committee report justified our claims and when it was being presented to the Federal Executive Council, Jonathan said all the state governors must also see the report. The NEEDS Assessment Technical Committee set up on the report said N800bn is required over two years to fund the schools. By now, the FG should have put in N500bn as intervention fund for federal universities if the MoU of 2012 was respected.
Critical to the issue in contention also is the Earn Allowances. This was part of the 2009 agreement but in 2012, the FG said the implementation committee should calculate how much is required to pay the allowance of all staff of federal universities. The committee was chaired by Wale Babalakin. The committee said N92bn is required to pay the money over two and a half years period. The government is deceiving Nigerians by saying that it has released the money already. Out of the money, N55bn will go to academic staff; the rest would go to non-academic Staff.
With your members’ salaries suspended, who is funding ASUU and how are your members surviving?
We are familiar with this terrain because this is not the first time that government will use hunger as a weapon in the struggle. Our members are determined and convinced that this is a just struggle. God is on our side and we don’t want any money from anybody. We are resolute in our demands and we will pursue this to a better conclusion. If the government wants us to call it off, it should honour our agreement. Our salaries are stopped but our lives have not stopped.
The government has the machinery to investigate movement of suspicious funds. We invite security agencies to go through ASUU account and see if we are receiving money from anyone. Members contribute money every month, so we do not need funding from anyone.
The Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, warned that the economy could collapse if the FG accedes to your demands. How true is this?
His position shows the extent of ignorance of some people. How can the demand for quality education collapse an economy? If you have to rebuild a nation, educational system must come first.
If the government could bail out failed banks with about N3trn and the failed airlines with over N500bn and the economy did not collapse, then there is nothing too much to do for education. We are talking of Vision 2020 but how do we achieve it with an educational system in need of a bail out? The government should be sincere and declare a state of emergency in the educational sector.
The students seem to be against your action with the call by some of them under the aegis of the National Association of Nigerian Students calling on lecturers to return to the classroom. Do you carry them along in this struggle?
We want to thank our genuine students for the support they have given so far. There is a difference between genuine and fake students body. We do not begrudge anyone. ASUU believes that this struggle is about the future of Nigerian universities. The bulk of our demands will benefit better learning environment for the students. ASUU is not fighting for its pocket. Our members work in the schools and have children studying there. We don’t have the money to send our children abroad but we must ensure that what we have here is good enough to shape the future of our country.
ASUU said the lives of their leaders are under threat. Who are the people threatening their lives?
Our members have been stopped by the police whenever they plan to have peaceful protest while other groups are allowed to do the same. Why is the government infringing on the rights of our members?
How far can you go in this struggle since the FG has refused to accede to your demands?
This strike is not about how far can we push it, it is about how well it will end. We want it to end well soon. We want our students to see evidence of our struggle. We want new hostels to emerge; we want them to see new classrooms; we also want them to see changes in the whole system. That is when we can look back and say that it has ended well. Parents are now beginning to see the reasons for our struggle. Our graduates are regarded as half-baked but we want this to stop.
Some said ASUU members are comfortable to stay away from classrooms because they have other means of livelihood like working in private universities while keeping their jobs in public universities as well. How true is this?
The university system gives opportunity to lecturers to work as adjunct staff in private universities. It is a practice all over the world. We are not encouraging our people to combine too many of these because they don’t even have enough time to do their normal work. What we encourage them to do is that they should face their work so the accusation is not just.
Do you have children in Nigerian university?
My two children attend UI. I don’t even have money to send children abroad to study or to a private school in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, any student that passes Universityies Matriculation Examination will go to public school and not private university. We are not condemning any university but what we are saying is that the quality we parade in public university must be sustained. Public primary and secondary institutions have been killed but we don’t want the public university to die.
How do you approach the issue of discipline among your members because there are cases of intimate assault involving lecturers in some universities?
We cherish discipline in our universities. We have Ethics and Grievances Committee which deals with such cases. We do not condone impunity. We stand for honesty and integrity.
How will you assess the quality of Nigerian lecturers?
We are best with great teachers that have made their marks in big universities abroad. We are a group of intellectuals. The minimum qualification for teaching in a Nigerian university is a Master’s degree certificate, which makes a lecturer an opinion leader.
Why then do we have graduates who cannot write letters?
That is the basis of our struggle. It all boils down to quality academic environment and funding. Nigeria is at the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of university funding in Africa. Ghana puts 30 per cent of its budget in education.
What is the situation of things now?
As at today, government has made some offers but we will present it to our people. The strike is still on but we must reiterate the fact that if the government refuses to honour our agreement in full, we will not go back to the classrooms.
News Source: MySchool Portal