From Gabriel Dike, Chukwudi Nweje and Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki
Coalition of civil society groups, under the umbrella of Joint Action Front (JAF), yesterday, called on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to commence mobilisation for a general strike and mass protest over the protracted industrial action by academic and non-academic staff of public universities.
A fortnight ago, Labour had staged solidarity protests across the country to compel the Federal Government to resolve the strike by university workers’ unions to allow students, who have spent more than five months at home, return to classes.
JAF in a statement by its Deputy Chairperson, Achike Chude and Secretary, Abiodun Aremu, said a warning strike and mass protest had become necessary following the inability of Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu to get the striking lecturers and non-lecturers resume work after the expiration of the two weeks directive issued to him by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The coalition condemned the unserious attitude of the Federal Government towards the implementation of agreements reached with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Non Academic Staff Union (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT).
It, however, commended NLC for organising the July 26 – 27 solidarity nationwide protest in support of university staff unions and in sympathy with students idling away at home.
The civil society group said while the universities have remained closed for 180 days, the attitude of the Federal Government does not show its readiness and sincerity to meet the demands of the striking workers.
JAT urged the NLC and TUC to declare a 48-hour general strike to save public education and demand urgent action from the government to deal with the cost of living crisis and improve the living conditions of all workers.
“We urge that such a general strike should be preceded by mass leafletting, public meetings and rallies across the country in order to build support of workers and the oppressed masses,” it said.
•Kalu calls for truce
Chief Whip of the Senate, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, yesterday, made a passionate appeal to the Federal Government and striking university workers to find a common ground that will lead to the call off of the protracted strike in the interest of students.
In a video clip, former Abia State Governor said: “I would like to appeal to both ASUU and the Federal Government to reconsider their stand in the interest of the students that are currently out of their campuses. Several students from my constituency have called me and pleaded that I intervene on their behalf.
“I feel that it is a Godly thing for all Nigerians, political leaders, religious leaders and community leaders as well as all Nigerians to join hands and appeal to ASUU to return to the classrooms. I also want to appeal to the Federal Government to save the families of ASUU members, some of them are starving to death, and they cannot stay for five months without being paid their salaries. The Federal Government should rethink, even if it is to pay them part of the salary while negotiations continue. Both the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran stated clearly that where you sow is where you reap. Our university lectures have no farms or businesses to sustain them, so I am calling on all parties concerned to see what they can do immediately.”
ASUU embarked on a four-week warning strike on February 14 this year. However, the strike has been rolled over as the government and the union have failed to agree on the issues in dispute.
•Strike no longer acceptable –Umahi
Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi,agreed that the lingering industrial action by university workers was no longer acceptable as it had pushed some students into vices.
He appealed to ASUU and the Federal Government to consider the plights of students and call off the strike now in its six months.
The governor, who spoke in his office at Centenary City, Abakaliki, when he received a delegation of Board of Trustee of Nigeria Police Trust Fund led by Ben Akabueze, said there was need for the government to begin to address striking university workers’ demands in batches.
He, however, said though ASUU’s demands were genuine, there was no way the country could borrow about N1.1 trillion to meet their demands.
He said the country’s education system was not being properly articulated noting that university education is not for everybody.
“That is the truth, the basic education every country strives to attain is secondary school and vocational schools. These are the basic schools and when you have these qualifications, you will able to use it either to start up something, or use it to be employed…
“There is a need to review our educational system, it mustn’t be for everybody. I am not ashamed that I have first degree and my deputy is a PhD holder, it doesn’t matter. It is what you bring on board. So, I cannot see how we cannot sit down with ASUU leaders and iron out this problem about the strike…
“So, it is important for ASUU to show some understanding and for those who are negotiating on the side of government to also show some understanding.” Lets meet ourselves halfway and then open the schools to save the fate of our children,” he said.