The Save Public Education Campaign, a broad platform in which the Workers and Youth Solidarity Network participates, organised a National Town Hall Meeting on Thursday, September 15th, 2022. The meeting was on Tertiary Education in Nigeria and was titled “The Locked Gates of our Citadels – A National Emeergency”. It was held in Olaitan Oyerinde Hall, Paschal Bafyau Building Labour House, Central Business District, in Abuja. The meeting was part of efforts at resolving the lingering Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), strike.
ASUU embarked on a nationwide strike since February and the strike has lasted for over 200 days without any end in sight. Nigerian students have in displeasure, organised series of protests in Universities and major towns. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has also organised a two day nationwide protest in solidarity with ASUU in July. NLC had also threatened a three day general strike if the federal government refuses to meet the demands of ASUU, but this has not been implemented. In similar vein, several other workers unions have also expressed solidarity with ASUU in the struggle.
The Town Hall Meeting had the attendance of Participants and Comrades from the public and different organizations and Trade Unions. The Minister of Education also sent a representative to the program.
Convener of the save-Public-Education-Campaign, Comrade Vivian Bello, while declaring the event open, bemoaned the difficulties the strike stalemate has brought about on Nigerians. She expressed empathy with the issues ASUU was fighting for and expressed worry at the linger of the strike. According to Comrade Bello “the response of the authorities so far to the situation has been less than desirable and I think there is need to declare a state of emergency in the education sector in Nigeria, even though virtually all the other sectors in the country are actually all in state of crisis, but I think that of Education, by reason of this lingering strike action is urgent”.
The Convener commended both the ASUU and the government for their disposition to resolution of the crisis indicated by their presence in the Town Hall Meeting and appealed to both to work towards quick resolution of the industrial dispute for the sake of the students and the growth of the country.
President of ASUU
The President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Emmanuel Osedeke in his speech, recounted the history of the strike dating back to the previous agreements between them and the government including the revitalization fund, Integrated Payroll Payment System IPPS, Earned Academic Allowance, proliferation of universities, renegotiation of Agreement amongst others, and the government failure to implement these agreements leading to the strike action. He pointed out that the issue the union was fighting for were not much of personal interests but issues bordering on strengthening Tertiary Education in Nigeria as he lamented that currently, no Nigerian university ranks among the first 1,000 in the world. He said the union was willing to call-off the strike if the government comes forward to negotiate with a reasonable agreement.
“We’ll be committing suicide when we walk into any Nigerian hospital in the next few years if we don’t do anything now,” Osedeke said, adding, “and so the union is looking at having a university system where adequate equipments would be made available and the ratio of lecturer to student is 1-5 as opposed to 1-30/50 we have now.”
The ASUU President lamented government’s lack of priority on education which he said was bleeding the country financially to the tune of 1.6 trillion naira annually, as tuition fees going to other countries in contrast to the 1.3 trillion naira the union has been demanding for, for the past six years.
The ASUU president said that following an agreement in 2014, the government agreed to pay a certain amount of public money within a space of six years. “They paid only for the first year, and only 50 million naira has been released since 2015”, adding that making the resources available to Universities will go a long way in solving many of the issues and challenges faced by the Institutions.
SPEC Co-Convener, Comrade Dimeji Macaulay
Dimeji Macaulay, co-convener of the Save Public Education Campaign and member of the Revolutionary Socialist Movement (RSM), saluted ASUU for remaining steadfast in the struggle despite intimidation and attacks they face such as the stoppage of their salaries for months amongst others.
He pointed out that Nigeria is so rich in both human and natural resources that it ordinarily should have enough to fund education, health and also meet the demands of ASUU and called for support by Nigerians for the struggle by ASUU for better working conditions of and quality Education in the Country.
Comrade Macaulay lamented that the only reason Nigerians were suffering and having endless strikes in several sectors, was because, according to him, the wealth of the society was in the hands of individuals that subscribe to the capitalist doctrine instead of the real working masses adding that it was time for general strikes and mass protests pressure the government to meet the demands of ASUU so that students can resume back on campus.
Participants and Resource Persons made interventions and submission at the Town Hall. In his intervention, Comrade Drew Povey, a leading member of the Socialist Labour, urged the union and the citizens to utilise other means of getting the government to come to terms with the ASUU strike, since the strike was not yielding positive results. While making reference to the student protests in Kaduna State and other states, comrade Povey called on students to take it upon themselves and see that the issues were resolved for their own good, as ASUU was fighting a just cause. He called for coordinated mass actions by unions pointing out that the world capitalist system cannot fund Education, as according to him, from Britain to America the story was the same across the world.
In her speech, Comrade Deborah Yusuf, Take It Back (TIB) North Central Coordinator, and Social Justice Advocate, called on ASUU to step up its public education campaign to enable the people get better insights into the issues and secure their buy-ins as well. She expressed concern over the attack on lecturers by stoppage of their salaries in order to force them to work and called on the Nigerian people to support the ASUU strike as according to her, it was about saving public education from total collapse.
Other speakers at the event identified corruption as one of the principal factors at the bedrock of the crisis facing the Education sector in the country and urged people to use the electoral period to right the wrongs in this regard by voting firmly against people known to have hoisted this status quo. The participants in the Town Hall Meeting resolved to continue to support ASUU and build the movement until victory.