From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and its affiliates unions matched in mass to the National Assembly Headquarters in Abuja on Wednesday, in solidarity protest with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Non Academic Staff Union of University and Allied Institutions (NASU), the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT).
The unions in large numbers hit the street of Abuja to continue the two-day protest which had earlier held in various states of the federation to push the Federal government towards ending the month long strike in the university system.
The rally which began from the Unity Fountain at about 9:30am was led by the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba; former Senator and activist, Shehu Sani, the Country Director of Actionaid Nigeria, Ene Obi, Human Rights Activist, Omoyele Sowore as well as current and past leaders of the affiliate unions.
The protest which willfully held amidst the shaky security situation of the nation’s capital, incurred huge security presence of the police, the personnel of the Department of State Services (DSS), and the Nigeria Security Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) to monitor things.
The crowd chanted angrily while holding placards and banners with different inscriptions such as: The arrears of our earned allowances are our rights: pay us!, medical doctors stand with ASUU, when enough is enough!, banish that Okija priest from our universities!, stop making universities constituency projects!! amongst several others.
Submitting the unions’ demands list to the law makers, the NLC President condemned the Federal Government for paying lip service to education and the welfare of workers in tertiary institutions and warned that further delay could attract a shutdown of the Labour force in a strike action.
He said most of those at the helm of affairs currently were beneficiaries of a thriving education sector in the past as they enjoyed free and quality education.
Wabba decried the level of hardship and the spate of insecurity in the country, and warned that depriving children of the poor access to quality education would only fuel the insecurity situation of the country
He further criticised the “no work no pay” policy enforced on the striking lecturer by the government, stating that Nigerian professors are the lowest paid in Africa
According to the Labour leader, the about N1.6 trillion spent by the elite to send their children to school outside the country, is enough to rehabilitate education in the country.
“The reason we are here today cooperates is something that is well known to every Nigerian. The children of the working class, have been at home for the past five months, and nobody cares. No reason is good enough for the children of the working class and the poor, to be at home. For one day. Whereas the children of the elites are graduating from Private universities, and the ones abroad. And they have the audacity to post them on social media so that we can see.
“Comrade we must be angry because this is not what we bargained for. We bargained for good government that will listen to us because democracy is all about the people, and you cannot talk of people without quality education. So that is why we are here. We will continue from here.
“And all of you must be ready to salvage the country and salvage the education sector at all levels. Because all the unions, including the Academic Staff union of polytechnics colleges of education of universities, of non academic have senior staff, all of them have issues and those issues are straightforward. But yet our leaders cannot listen to fix those issues. It has been promised upon promises and those promises of robbing caps. We are tired, we are tired of their antics. Those antics cannot fly again. We must take our destinies in our own hands.
Also speaking, ASUU President, Emmanuel Osodeke, said by the National Universities bemoaned the ratio of students to lectures in tertiary institutions, which he said was was part of the factors eroding the quality of education in the system .
He said; “In the university today, there are 1 teacher to over 1,000 students. That’s what brought the earned academic allowance that they did not pay.
“So we need to let them know that they don’t have dominance over us. Universities are universal. Our universities used to have foreign students. You are a child of a governor, you sit and learn with the child of a driver. Eat in the cafeteria together. Stay in the same hostel. Today, it is not like that”.
As SSANU President, Mohammed Ibrahim said “These agreements must be respected. Universities must take a universal look. We must have the best of our brains. We must have our teachers, lecturers, members of staff, academic, non academic, junior, senior security, everybody is important, and therefore, government must rise up to the occasion. The issue of IPS is no longer news to you. IPS has made everybody in university community poorer. Registers are paid salaries of cleaners and so on and so forth. What you get today you don’t know what you get tomorrow. And that is why we are challenged. We have come up with our solutions. The UGPPPS is there. The UTAS is there. We are ready to work together. We will give them the best. our students should go back to classrooms. Our hospitals should look decent. Gentleman the security has become something else. Our people, lecturers, teachers, everybody, no one is safe in the university community.”
Meanwhile, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, who was represented by Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Robert Borrofice, while addressing the aggrieved workers, promised that the National Assembly would intensify efforts to ensure the issue is addressed.
He said. “The Senate is here with you today. We believe in your struggles and that is why on several occasions we held meetings with the leadership of ASUU and the federal executives. There is no country in the world where children of universities will be away from class room for five months. So we are with you. I confirm the receipt of this letter from the NLC ok respect of your struggles.”
Also, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, represented by Hon. Mohammad Wudil, assured he would to ensure that ministers of finance, labour and employment, education as well as all relevant stakeholders, are brought together immediately to resolve thee contending issues.
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