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|ASUU Strike Enters Do-or-die Stage by Enibaby(f): 10:55pm On Nov 09, 2010|
The past four months have not been the best of times for striking lecturers in the five state-owned universities in the South-East. The policy of ‘no-work-no-pay’ adopted by the governments of their various states, after failed attempts to woo the distraught lecturers back to work, was an attempt to emasculate them and sabotage their struggle. Surprisingly, the ‘hungry’ lecturers have stuck to their guns, as they have vowed never to allow government’s refusal to pay their salaries to emasculate the on-going struggle for the full implementation of the 2009 FG/ASUU agreement. Reports from the affected universities indicate that aside the non-payment of worker’s salaries, financial transactions have also been halted since the strike commenced.
The Vice Chancellor of the Abia State University, Uturu, Prof. Mkpa Agu Mkpa, told Daily Sun that the on-going strike has brought a seizure of cash flow in the university. Aside the cash-strapped South-East universities, the same predicament exists in other tertiary institutions in Lagos State, as some of the affected staff, who spoke to our reporter, confessed their impecunious state. At the Lagos State University, Ojo, a senior staff who pleaded anonymity, said workers’ are ‘suffering and smiling’ , as their salaries have not been paid since the Joint Action Committee, involving the unions in all the state- owned tertiary institutions commenced an indefinite strike.
Reacting to the situation, the Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), Gab Agu, flayed government’s refusal to pay the salaries of the striking workers, and described the Enugu State government as ‘insensitive, inhuman and anti-people’.
“We have not been paid for the past four months. The governors did that to intimidate us so that we would be compelled to call off the strike. But our members are not cowed by this situation. We are even more determined to continue the struggle for the next three years. We are familiar with the situation; we cannot chicken out. We will never suspend the action unless our demands are satisfactorily addressed,” he said.
On the progress of the negotiation process, Agu said talks with the state government have been deadlocked, as an eerie of silence has continued to prevail between the union and the state government, even when the government team, at a negotiation mediated by the Anglican Bishop of Enugu, Bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma, endorsed a document.
Agu laughed off speculations that withholding workers’ salary could weaken the lecturers and expedite the suspension of the strike. He said lecturers are prepared to make the required sacrifice for the redemption of the deteriorating university system. He bemoaned the indifference of the state government to the crisis, as he warned of the dire consequences which the prolonged action would cause the university system.
“This would only encourage mobility of labour. Lecturers can still ply their trade outside the shores of the country. The loss of, human capital through brain drain cannot be quantified. Patriotism does not mean dying on the beat. For us lecturers, we have other alternatives”, he said.
Also speaking, the ASUU chairman, Abia State University, Dr George Chima said although lecturers have not been paid for the past three months, they are still doing their research and community service.
“We are already hunger-prone. We will survive. The consolation is that the current struggle would later translate to the good of the university system”, he said. Dr Chima said ASUU met with the state governor, Theodore Orji on Monday, November 2, but issues of disagreement have not been resolved.
He said despite Governor Orji promise to implement the 2009 agreement, with effect from January, 2011, the union disagreed with him over the payment of arrears. According to the ASUU chairman, the governor rejected the union’s demand for the payment of arrears accruing from June, 2009 when the agreement was endorsed for implementation nationwide.
“The strike is still on. We have not agreed on the arrears yet. There would be no suspension order unless all the issues raised by our members are addressed”, he said.
In a remarkable solidarity to their suffering comrades, the staff of the University of Nigeria Nsukka Nursery, Primary Staff School has been on strike for over three weeks. The Public Relations Officer of the institution, Nnanyelugo Okoro, told Daily Sun that the action was in sympathy with the indefinite strike embarked upon by the South-east regional ASUU.
The Vice Chancellor Prof. Bartholomew Okolo, was reported to have traveled overseas and could not be reached for his comments. But the PRO said the university authority is addressing the workers’ demands and expressed optimism that the action would be suspended this week.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), South-West Zone D, has sought the intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan on the lingering crisis. Addressing newsmen at the Social Justice Centre, Falana Chambers, Ikeja, NANS South-West executives, led by the Co-ordinator, Eniola Opeyemi, lamented the harvest of strike in the tertiary institutions in the country.
While counting the loss from the exercise, Eniola said acts of hooliganism and crime have risen considerably in the society due to the frustration of the academic ambition of these young scholars. He called for an immediate resolution of the crisis, so that the future of young Nigerians would not be truncated.
In a similar development, Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi at the weekend slammed the striking ASUU and Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) describing them as a greedy lot. The governor stated this in Abuja, while receiving a letter from National Universities Commission (NUC) in recognition for the establishment of Rivers State University of Education, Rumuolumeni.
Amaechi chided the striking lecturers for their non-contentment with state government’s salary scale which was far above that offered by other states. The governor who was represented by his deputy, Telle Ikuru said that the strike action was unwarranted and uncalled for.
He told the striking university lecturers to either reconsider the state government’s offer or consider federal government offer and go back to classroom.
“Its simple greed that has kept us where we are till now on the issue of the protracted strike. We have told them to stay with us, so that from time to time we all negotiate and reach compromise over the issue of their increment or that they should simply tell us they want to migrate to the federal salary scale and then we pay them the federal salary scale the following day to end the disagreement for good.
We have told them that if they want to be paid like a federal university lecturer we are prepared to start payment the following day but they cannot eat their cake and at the same time have it. So, it is either they stick with us as a state then from time to time we negotiate or on the other hand they migrate to the federal but we are hoping that in the shortest possible time we would be able to negotiate and come up with a solution. The strike action is uncalled for and unnecessary”, he stated.
Amaechi who said that the present administration in its bid to find lasting solution to poverty problem in the state which the administration is tackling seriously through education disclosed that Rivers State was the first to take primary school responsibility out of local governments as well as offer free education which comprised books, uniforms and sandals for Primary 1 to SSS 3.
Earlier, the Executive Secretary of NUC, Professor Julius Okojie castigated the political process that necessitates the high turnover rate in the emergence of state governors in the country, saying the trend accounted for some factors crippling tertiary education system.
He noted that most of the governors were interested in establishing fresh universities as part of their achievement while in office only to abandon the existing ones.
“We usually have problems with state governors as it concerns university education because there is quick turn-over of governors in this country. When one governor comes into office, he starts mooting the idea of creation of a new university while he refuses to fund the old ones. These universities which are usually created in a hurry fall short of the requirements necessary for a good standing tertiary institution. These are some of the challenges we encounter apart from striving to create access in the system,” he said.
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