The President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, on Tuesday, slammed the Federal Government for failing to prioritise education in Nigeria, stating that the woes bedevilling the sector will not end until the ruling elite are forced to train their children in public schools.
Osodeke, while dismissing the two-week ultimatum issued to ministers by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to end the strike, stated that ASUU had concluded negotiations with the government and was only waiting for the ministers to sign the agreement reached with the university lecturers.
The ASUU President, while decrying the brain drain in the education sector, noted that Nigeria is also losing its professionals in the medical line to other countries.
Osodeke, while featuring on Today Today, a current affairs programme on Channels Television, said the lecturers were ready to return to the classrooms as long as the government fulfils its part of the bargain.
On Buhari’s ultimatum, he said, “As a union, we also look at history – look at past precedents, until the issues are resolved, I don’t believe we…this will not even make any difference because this is not the first ultimatum given on this strike. Remember, when the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council met with the President on the 1st of February, they also set up a three-man committee to quickly resolve this issue within one month; and that was the Chief of Staff (to the President), the Minister of Labour (Employment and Productivity, Senator Chris Ngige) and the Minister of Education (Adamu Adamu). That committee didn’t invite us for a meeting until we rolled over the strike in May, that was when they invited us for a meeting. The NLC issued an ultimatum and that committee called a meeting.”
Osodeke recalled that after the negotiation, ASUU gave the government six weeks. “That was 22nd of May, we are (now) in July. We agreed on six weeks. That has expired, nothing happened. Now, (it is) another two weeks. Where we are, if we are serious, if we really want to resolve these problems, it should not take two days,” he stated.
The ASUU President went on the list other instances where the government side failed to report back or invite the union to scheduled meetings in the ongoing talks.
Reacting to Buhari’s “enough is enough” declaration on ASUU strike when governors in the ruling All Progressives Congress paid Sallah homage to the President in his Daura country home, Osodeke alleged that Buhari was being misled by those briefing him on the issue. “When people go to misinform the President, you (will) get what he is saying. When the Minister of Labour goes to misinform the President, you will see what he is saying,” he said.
The ASUU President recalled the government kept on setting up committees after committees, with their recommendations becoming inconclusive.
According to him, the lecturers are out to ensure improvement in the welfare and working condition in the academia, noting that what is happening in Nigeria is not recorded in other countries. “That is why a new professor earns less than N300,000,” he stated.
When asked about the average salary of a professor, Osodeke said, “The average salary of a professor at the bar today is about N400,000 a month – the highest rank, after you have spent about 10 years as a professor. When you are starting, it is about N300,000 as a professor. At the end, you earn N400,000.”
He added, “But when you compare it to other areas – the high impact areas, the most high-impact area in the whole world is academics, not NNPC, not Central Bank (of Nigeria). It is academics, where you take your best brains to; those who make First Class. For you to be a Lecturer 1, you must have Second Class Upper. That is your best brain and that is what they look out for in the world. And in this country, when you look at our history in the 60s, 70s, 80s, the only public servants that earned more than a professor was the Chief Justice of the Federation. A professor earned more than a minister, even more than a permanent secretary. You can check the records. Today, they have been relegated. They are not even earning anything. Check what a senator earns.
“We are not even talking about the Nigerian system, university is universal. When you go to universities in Ghana, you will see Nigerians working there, Indians, Asians. In Nigeria, like I said, in the 60s when they were well paid, when you went to Nigerian universities you would see people from Europe, America working in Nigerian universities. There was pay parity. But today, they have all left. Even Ghanaians, they used to be here; they have left. Today, you don’t see Africans coming to Nigerian universities.”
According to the ASUU President, when comparing the salary of a lecturer in Nigeria it should be done with the African average. He said of lecturers could not be attracted with the pay in Nigeria, it should attract First Class graduates to teaching in the universities and not “go to the banks or the NNPC.”
Osodeke noted, “It was the idea in those days. If you had First Class, no company would take you, you would want to work in the university. To ensure that those are already on ground…I can tell you…look at the history, as we are speaking now there is no year we don’t lose 400 to 500 lecturers going abroad. We call it brain drain. And none is coming (to Nigeria). Just like the doctors, they are leaving and none is coming in, which means you use your money to train your doctor here and he (or she) leaves the country. The nation is losing. You train your academics here, they leave the country to other countries where they know the value of education.”
The ASUU President also faulted the claim by the government that it had paid all workers in the universities the consequential minimum wage adjustment since 2019. “As I am speaking to you, all the universities of agriculture, nobody has been paid a dime. The payment was made in May but till now, they have not paid anybody in the universities of agriculture. In the universities where they paid, they selectively paid people: they paid some and left some, paid some half and paid some double.”
He stated that it was part of the irregularities that were recorded with the payment of lecturers under the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, which ASUU has condemned.
Osodeke also faulted the claim that a faction had broken out of ASUU and decided to discontinue the strike. “There is none. They should name them. Which university? We are together,” he noted.
The ASUU President stated, “Our stand today is that this system has to change…change in such a way that we will get to a stage where the child of a school teacher, a driver, a photographer will enter a classroom and sit next to the child of a minister or a governor – in the same classroom in a Nigerian university. Even in the hostel, a child of Okinbaloye (the presenter) sleep with the child of the President in the same hostel, in the same bed. That is our idea.
“What we have right now is a class struggle and we should know it. You have a group who ensure that their children, with our resources, are paid, go to good environments, good hostels and classrooms where you have access to laboratory equipment, and then you leave the ones to rotten so that the children of the other people who are about 90 per cent will just be there, taking lecturers across the windows, sitting on bare floors; so that when their children come back to the country with good education, they take the juicy jobs.”
Osodeke pointed out that public servants and others in the ruling elite must be restricted to public schools for education to develop in the country. “It is the priority that you place on education. When you check the world today…go to Ghana; Ghanaians were here before and we said ‘Ghana must go,’ but now they are telling us ‘Nigerians must go.’ Why? Because they funded their education. In Ghana, they give 16 to 20 per cent of their budget to education on a yearly basis. In South Africa, it is the same thing. That is why today, Nigerians pay not less than N200bn to Ghanaian universities as school fees,” he said.
On the way forward, The ASUU President stated, “The government should prioritise education – as the Number 1 priority in the country because all of us here, we must pass through the schools. Now that you have killed it, we are now wasting our money on foreign countries. Last year, as claimed by the CBN, Nigerians spent N1.6tn as school fees in other countries in the world. That would have turned around all the universities in Nigeria and bring them to standard, where people will be coming from outside the country. But now, people go outside but nobody comes in.
“This strike that universities have shut down, those who run the affairs of Nigeria – the National Assembly, the Executive arm (of the government), they don’t have any problem. Their children are not here; their families are not here. If they were here; if the children of all the ministers and all the senators are all here in our public universities, this strike would not last two days. When the aviation people wanted to shut down the country, the National Assembly called them immediately and settled them immediately overnight because they all fly; they cannot pass the roads again. They fly so they quickly resolved it. But the universities are closed.”