The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) has urged the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) not to succumb to the propaganda of government aimed at getting the union to call off the strike with nothing concrete achieved.

ERC commended ASUU for prioritising the demand for revitalisation funds for public universities, “against the background of the Federal Government’s attempt to water down the demands of ASUU, and cast them to the public as selfish”.

A statement by Hassan Taiwo Soweto and Wole Olubanji, ERC National Coordinator and National Mobilisation Officer, respectively, berated the Nigerian government for its insincerity in “resolving the widely acknowledged problems bedeviling Nigeria’s education sector”.

“We condemn in very strong terms the deceitful manner the government has been conducting negotiations with the striking lecturers. We equally reiterate our support for the demands of the ASUU for revitalization of public universities across the country,” the organisation said.

Highlighting the various commitments by the Nigerian government aimed at improving the education sector, ERC noted that the “N20 billion promised for revitalization of the public universities is scandalous”.

The statement read: “The arrival at a revitalization fund for public universities was reached, by the government, from a NEEDS assessment study it sanctioned and conducted in 2009. The parlous state of affairs in public universities led the Federal Government in 2013 to the conclusion that a sum of N1.1 trillion would be made available to the universities over a five-year period. (The agreements government entered with ASUU require the federal government to release a sum of N220 billion per annum to the universities.)

“The question to ask now that government is dangling N20 billion before Nigerians in the name of ‘revitalization fund’ is whether the problems identified in 2009 that required N220 billion per annum have abated? Indeed these problems have been exacerbated by an economic recession and the paltry budgetary funding that government earmarks for public universities despite the impacts of the recession.

“By offering N20 billion as revitalization fund, the federal government has showed that it is not committed to seeking a permanent solution to the perennial strike actions that often paralyze tertiary institutions. Equally saddening is the realisation that government’s game of ‘hide and seek’ during negotiations shows that the government is less concerned about the pains that the strike has caused students and their parents. We strongly believe that if this strike is called off without a genuine effort at funding the higher institutions, academic activities would sooner than later be disrupted, because the key question of underfunding of these schools remains unresolved.

“We consider the excuse of shortage of fund, cited by the federal government, as weak and untenable. Despite the purported shortage of funds, the government wasted no time, through the CBN, to bail out deposits in the defunct Skye Bank that was plundered by her Chief Executive; and the same government pays political appointees remunerations considered to be one of the highest in the world.

“For us in the ERC, it is the priority of government that determines where it spends money; and obviously education is not one of the priorities of the present government. We have always argued that the industrialization of this country would require a quality education system; and that the present underfunding of education should also be comprehended as government’s contempt for the much needed industrialization of the country.”

ERC commended ASUU for “staying true to its pro-people principle, in the face of government’s sponsored blackmails and misinformation, especially those emanating from the discredited NANS”.

The organisation also berated NANS for its stance against the lecturers, noting that the student organisation had no basis to work against the lecturers.

“The NANS has once characterized the struggle of ASUU as selfish, suggesting to the public that ASUU strike was intended to enhance the pay of lecturers rather than the interest of all stakeholders in public universities. But the insistence of ASUU that the revitalization fund is central to this current struggle has completely knocked the life out of NANS misrepresentation of facts.

“While ironically NANS has nothing coherent to say on the fee hikes that have forced many poor students to drop out of school, and pushed many families to the brink of poverty, it is the same ASUU that has been maintaining during this strike that government should not resort to fee hikes or education loans to fund the universities. Though, ASUU branches hardly openly condemn fees hike whenever it is imposed in universities. This is an area the ERC has consistently challenged ASUU to improve on. We also call on the ASUU to end its sit-at-home approach to the ongoing strike and organize public mass activities including rallies, symposia, leafleting etc. This should be with aim of sensitizing the public including students and parents and sustaining their support for the strike, a factor that could compel government to meet their demands.”

The organisation also called for a united front on the part of the lecturers across institutions, irrespective of union.

The statement added: “The union of Polytechnic lecturers (ASUP) is equally on strike, while COEASU (union of lecturers in Colleges of Education) called off her strike on the basis of a promissory note late last year. This shows that there is a ubiquitous crisis in the education sector.

“And rather than the independent and isolated struggles of these unions, we believe that the struggle could be more strengthened under a united front of education workers, with the demand for immediate release of funds to the education sector and the democratic management of all resources involving elected representatives of education workers and students. We are committed in the ERC to a publicly funded and democratically run education system that would guarantee quality education and hasten the growth of the productive forces of this country.”

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