The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has denied the allegation of insensitivity being levelled against her by a section of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Okonjo-Iweala made the rebuttal in a statement issued by her Special Adviser of Media, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, wherein she decried the circulation of leaflets and other abusive literature portraying her as being indifferent and insensitive to the ongoing strike by the varsity teachers.
The statement explained that the approach of the federal government towards solving the problem is anchored on positive enegagement between both parties in the dispute with the aim of achieving sustainable solutions that can indeed, tackle the challenges of higher education in the country.
“That is why President Goodluck Jonathan recently appealed to ASUU to respond to government’s positive steps by calling off its strike in the interest of suffering students and parents”, the statement said.
She, however, regretted that in spite of the placatory approach, “for several days now, some elements in ASUU have been distributing pamphlets and flyers with abusive and inflammatory messages against the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in mosques and other places. This is taking academic unionism to a new low and infusing it with unnecessary politics. I am sure majority of ASUU members are not in support of this.
“These messages are directed at using falsehood to demonize the minister as callous and unsympathetic to the plight of students and parents. The major lie being peddled in the pamphlets and flyers is that Okonjo-Iweala has insisted on a “take-it-or-leave-it approach” in the negotiations with ASUU. Nothing could be further from the truth” Okonjo-Iweala said.
She explained further that her parents were two retired professors and that her father was “presently a member of ASUU’s Board of Trustees and has been one for a long time”.
According to her, “I speak with my father everyday on the issue. I wonder how I can then be accused of being insensitive to the matter.
“She understands and sympathises with the plight of both students and lecturers. She wants our children back in school as soon as possible. Remember she is a mother and two of her young relatives are sitting at home due to the strike.
“This is why government is working hard, under the leadership of the president, to seek practical and sustainable solutions to the challenges facing higher education in Nigeria. The President has made available N100 billion a year in the first instance to repair hostels, laboratories and classrooms and other facilities.
“An offer has also been made to ASUU of N30 billion towards their earned allowances. In fact, negotiations have even gone further than this. This is the first time, in years of negotiating with government, that significant sums of money have been put on the table for ASUU and universities on this particular set of issues. The Coordinating Minister is fully part of this”.
She appealed to ASUU to listen to the voice of reason, pledging that the federal government was willing to do more than it has already done.
Meantime, it has been suggested that the lingering crisis can be ended if the two labour federations: the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) can assume responsibility to apply sanctions if any party breaches an agreement.
But for this to work, the warring parties have to return to the negotiation table in the interest of Nigerian students who were left to bear the brunt of the strike which started on July 1, 2013.
The immediate past President General of the TUC, Mr. Peter Esele, gave this advice while speaking with sources, in a telephone conversation where he lamented that the strike had been allowed to drag on for so long.
If the two parties can reach an agreement, the two labour federations should be able to sanction whoever breaches the agreement, Esele advocated.
Such sanction, he suggested can be in form of a national strike.
“Both sides should go back to the table and negotiate. They must negotiate in line with what is in the best interests of our students in the universities. The whole thing is getting out of hand and going on for so long, both sides have to find a way out of this,” he said.
But despite the appeal, all striking lecturers at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) and Osun State University (UNIOSUN) yesterday staged sensitisation rallies at Ile-Ife and Osogbo respectively, to sensitise members of the public on the demands of ASUU from the federal government and the implementation of agreement reached in 2009 by the two parties.
Also yesterday, as teachers from OAU staged their rally round the streets of the ancient town of Ile-Ife, lecturers from UNIOSUN equally staged their rally at the newly constructed freedom square at old garage, Osogbo.
It was gathered that the striking lecturers from the two institutions staged the rally under police protection, decrying the action the action of federal government for attempting to introduce politics to the demands of the ASUU over the agreement reached with the former.
There were traffic jam at Ile-Ife as the rally began from the Oduduwa Hall of the institution through to the main gate and major streets in Ile-Ife. The Divisional Police Officer (DPO), it was gathered, coordinated the rally at Ile-Ife, just as police patrol vehicles were conspicuously seen on the Ondo-Ore road.
Speaking with journalists, the Chairman of OAU branch of ASUU, Dr. Adegbola Akinola, said the federal government was yet to fulfil the agreement reached with the leadership of the union.
He noted that the sensitisation rally was in compliance with the directive from the national secretariat of the union, stressing that the government had not worked in line with the agreement reached with the union.
Akinola said the government was not transparent over the ASUU’s demands declaring that the union’s position was to sanitise the tertiary education sector.
In his remarks, Dr. Amos Adeoye Idowu, from the department of public law, said the enlightenment rally was to ensure that tertiary institutions in the country are funded the way it should be saying that “we are saying no to bastardisation of tertiary educational system as was done to primary and secondary education system.”
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