Their agent submitted the copy of the agreement reached between government and ASUU to him since January 1st, 2009. Why will it take another month and a half or two months before they can get their act together? We did say sincerely to them at the meeting that if this nation is serious with the education and the future of her children, even an emergency can be declared because of this national strike. And within one week, whatever government wants to do about the agreement can be completed within one week. We told them it is fine with us if they think that they needed one month for them to look at the agreement. We are prepared to wait. When they are ready to sign the agreement we will meet them.
WT: For how long will the strike last?
Awuzie: If you read our press release, we said this issue is avoidable. The ball is in the court of the government. If they decide that they want the strike to last long, it will last long and if they want it to end in a week, it will end in a week. So, I will not say we are in for a long strike because in our own opinion, we want to return and teach our students. The government did nothing when we embarked on a two-weeks warning strike in May. They didn’t care.
WT: How would you react to the plea by spokesperson of the Senate, Senator Ayogu Eze for you to suspend the strike and give room for further deliberation?
Awuzie: What Senate said on Monday is a reaction to the two weeks warning strike. They cannot be talking about restraints on Monday when the indefinite strike started on Monday. Throughout the period of the warning strike, the Senate did nothing. Even if they were on recess and they got to know that there is a looming strike that could cripple Nigerian universities, they supposed to have treated it like an emergency. This tells you how unserious we are with education in this country.
WT: Most Nigerians feel that this is one strike too many and at the end of the day ASUU will not achieve anything. Does it mean that strike is the only weapon ASUU has?
Awuzie: What do you mean that Nigerians are feeling that this is another strike that will not yield result? Is the Nigerian public saying that the situation in the universities should continue to deteriorate? Is that the answer to the problem? Okay those Nigerians you are talking about what have they done? Is it not part of their responsibility to hold those they have elected accountable on the quality of education they want for their children. Have they visited the universities to see where their children are learning and condition of their accommodation? Are they not aware that most Nigerian children don’t have access to universities? Do they want academicians to perform magic when the tools to work with are not there? Do they want universities to be using alternative to practical to train doctors on how to perform surgery because the equipment are not there? Is that what they want? We have lobbied government for two years over this agreement. We have dialogued with them for two years over this agreement. We have met the House and the Senate. We have talked to eminent Nigerians over this issue for two years. If there is any Nigerian who knows another alternative to lobbying and dialogue, let them give it to us because we have exhausted these two options. For us, strike becomes inevitable when the dialogue become that of the deaf and dumb. If you read our last press statement we said it with greatest pain that we declared this strike because no academic took up teaching appointment to be going on strike. It didn’t take the Second World War two and a half years to be resolved. We have dialogued and lobbyed for two and a half years and we have exhausted the two options.
WT: Could you gives a breakdown of this agreement?
Awuzie: We had agreement in 2001 and there is a provision that the agreement should be reviewed after three years which felled in 2004. In 2004, we reminded government that the agreement was due for renegotiation. Government dragged on. In fact, we wrote 35 letters reminding government, it agencies and individuals that the agreement was due for renegotiation so that we could return to negotiation table to review the achievement made, problems encountered. Government did not constitute its negotiation team until 2006 when it constituted the Gamaliel Onosode negotiation panel. The terms of reference of that letter said you will negotiate on the issues of funding the universities, condition of service, university autonomy and academic freedom and other sources of public education. These were the principal issues. What was the goal? The goal was to reposition the Nigerian university system. The objective was to reverse brain drain because the rate at which senior colleagues, lecturer 1 and even lecturer 11 are migrating to South Africa, Botswana, Ghana and several African countries is alarming. The second major objective is to reverse the decay in infrastructure like classrooms, accommodation and even deposable like laboratory equipment to enhance practical and research. We equally wanted the accessing university education to be expanded because every year one million Nigerians applied for admission but only 200,000 get spaces leaving 800,000 stranded. Part of the agreement has to do with fighting ethical issues in the university. We have resolved to investigate cases of ethical problem and expel bad eggs in the system. We have agreed to check how the funds coming into universities are spent. In this regard we recommended that academic and non-academic staff, council members, senate and the students should become proactive and monitor how university funds are spent. We equally agreed on the sourcing of new funds for universities. The agreement is not about salaries as most Nigerians are made to believe. It goes beyond that.
WT: What will ASUU do if the government decides to resort to the popular no work no pay strategy?
Awuzie: That is not known to any labour law. We are not daily paid workers. We also do research and other things. But if they want to do that we are prepared. Look, in Ghana, academics once abandoned the universities for two years where they told the Ghanaian government that when they are ready to run the universities they shall come back and start it afresh. They didn’t die. They survived it. We can survive it too. If they want to go that way, we closed the universities when the Nigerian government is ready and want universities, we have university. They think that they can keep their children in universities overseas and destroy our universities. We cannot continue to be deceiving the children of the masses with the kind of education they are getting in our universities. We have other skills. We can survive. We need to call government bluff this time.
WT: Education is part of the seven-point Agenda and the President and the Vice-President were former academicians. Is the ASUU impressed with their education policy so far?
Awuzie: How can we be impressed with it? It is a continuation of Obasanjo policy. Abdulsalami Abubakar, in 1999, voted 11 per cent for education. From Obasanjo’s time we never got up to eight per cent in education. In this year’s budget, they voted two per cent for education and you say education is among the seven point agenda. Remember that the UNESCO budget benchmark for education is 26 per cent for third world countries to develop. Yet, they are talking about vision 2020. Even the so called education road map is mostly about how to attract fund from donor agencies. Why can’t we use our money to educate our children? Is it a crime?