Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Prof. Iyayi's Last Interview : Our Leaders Have Contempt For Education, Want People To Remain In Ignorance

There is obviously no headway in the negotiations between ASUU and the
FG as both sides maintain the pre-strike positions? What is really
The truth is that ASUU went on strike over the fact that the federal
government refused to implement the 2009 agreement. The provisions in
the Memorandum of Understanding dictated by the Secretary to the
Federal Government of the Federation (SGF) on 24th of January 2012,
and then the Needs Assessment that was carried out in July 2012, a
number of issues were involved, and are still involved. One is funding
of the universities. The 2009 ASUU-FGN Agreement was specific in terms
of reversing the rot and decay in Nigerian universities. The chairman
of the Federal Government Team that negotiated with ASUU, Deacon
Gamaliel Onosode, said he wanted to enter the history books as the
chairman of a Government Team that not only identified the key
problems of Nigerian universities but has also provided the solutions.
He also said that he would not sign any document, any agreement; any
item that he knew that government was not going to implement and that
was why the negotiation took us three years – from 2006 to July 2009.
That agreement had four sections namely; funding of universities,
conditions of service, academic freedom and university autonomy and
then other matters.
On the question of funding, the agreement provided that within a space
of three years, government will provide 1.5 trillion naira in order to
address the rot in the university system. Between 2009 and 2011,
nothing happened. ASUU wrote over 200 letters to government on the
agreement, nothing happened. On the 4th of December 2011, after a
number of warning strikes, ASUU embarked upon an indefinite strike.
Then in January of 2012, the SGF apprehended the strike and called us
to meetings in his office. We went there, had discussions and the
Secretary to the Government of the Federation then dictated the
Memorandum of Understanding to the effect that on the question of
funding, instead of N1.5 trillion for the 24 federal universities that
had been captured in the 2009 agreement, government will instead
provide N1.3 trillion for 61 public universities, that is for both
federal and state universities. ASUU initially disagreed over the N1.5
trillion for 24 universities as against N1.3 trillion for 61
universities, but eventually bent over backwards and accepted it. The
Memorandum of Understanding, which was dictated by the Secretary to
the Government of the Federation, Mr Anyim Pius Anyim, said that N100
billion was immediately available, and that N400 billion will be
provided for each of the three years beginning in 2013 and ending in
2015 which will make a total of N1.3 trillion. He even said while
discussions were still going on that we shouldn't worry and that by
the time government started pumping this money into the universities,
we will in fact not know what to do with the money.
So we took that back to our members and our members were not happy
saying that we cannot trust this government, it is just on paper. I
said look, I moved the vote of thanks to Pius Anyim at the end of
negotiations. I did so because I thought he was very sincere, very
Because he told us that N100 billion was immediately available we then
said let us spend that money now, he then said no, let us do a needs
assessment, let us identify the priorities of each of the
universities. He said he didn't want a situation where we will just be
throwing money generally at the universities. It was on that basis
that government set up a team under the leadership of the Executive
Secretary of Tertiary Education Trustfund (TETFUND), Professor Mahmood
Yakubu, to go to each of the universities and identify the priorities
of each of the universities. That was done on the basis of which a
report was then made that captured the needs of individual
universities and then an integrative report dealing with all the
universities was also there.
That report was then taken to the Federal Executive Council where it
was presented by Professor Mahmood Yakubu, the Executive Secretary of
(TETFUND). ASUU members were also there during the presentation. When
the members of the Federal Executive Council saw the state of rot in
the universities – where students were using in their laboratories
kerosene stoves instead of Bunsen burners, where students were
excreting into polyethylene bags and throwing them through the window,
where students were standing under trees to receive lectures, where
there were laboratories without water, no electricity, where students
were doing theory of practical in Engineering and other science-based
faculties. When they saw these things, we were told; the members of
the Federal Executive Council were thoroughly embarrassed and ashamed
and swore, with President Jonathan there, that they were going to
address the problems.
The President said that that presentation was not enough, that the
Federal Executive Council is only concerned with federal universities
and that it was necessary to bring state governors into the picture.
They then scheduled another presentation for the National Economic
Council chaired by the Vice President, Namadi Sambo. That presentation
was made and all the governors were equally embarrassed by what they
At the end, they set up a technical committee with Governor Godswill
Akpabio, governor of Akwa Ibom State as chairman. The committee did
its work, brought its recommendations, they were taken to the Federal
Executive Council and the recommendations were approved and then
endorsed by the President who said they should go and implement. That
was in February of 2013.
From that time up to now nothing has happened. Since then ASUU had
interacted with the Ministry of Education, interacted with the
Secretary to the Government of the Federation pressing for the
implementation of the approved recommendations by the president and
nothing happened. It was at that stage that ASUU then went on strike;
and since the strike started, what have we heard?
We have been called by the National Assembly Committee on Education
chaired by Senator Uche Chukwumerije. Very interestingly, when we got
to the meeting with the committee at the National Assembly, it was
clear to all the members that the reason for the strike was because
government refused to implement the agreement, the Memorandum of
Understanding, and the needs assessment as approved by Mr. President.
When the Secretary to the Government of the Federation spoke, we were
shocked. When they asked him about the Memorandum of Understanding, he
acknowledged that he wrote it, he took responsibility that it is his
document but when they read that N100 billion was available to be
given to the universities in 2012, N400 billion each for the following
three years; he said: "Oh, what I meant was N100 billion and not N400
billion." So Senator Chukwumerije then said: "SGF, you are a lawyer,
you dictated this thing; that is what you started with, that you wrote
it; how can you say that you didn't know that N400 billion was not
N100 billion?" The SGF had no answer and embarrassingly, they closed
the session.
We then had other meetings in the SGF office and at one of the
meetings he shook the MoU in the face of the then Minister of
Education, Professor Rukayattu and said sarcastically: "Look, I think
they said they want N400 billion, go and give them the N400
billionnaow" and they laughed. The SGF ridiculed the MoU that he had
dictated! ASUU cannot have that because education is key to what a
country does, education is key to the development of a country.
Brazil said recently that any new oil field that they find, whatever
money derived from there will be used to fund education. Ghana spends
about 31 percent of its annual budget on education and if you look at
the percentage of the GDP spent on education, amongst a number of
countries, Nigeria has less than 1 percent of GDP spent on education.
Ghana spends 8.6 percent, even Republic of Benin and Togo; they have
higher levels of spending on education than Nigeria.
The fact is that government eventually of course, when we went on
strike, set up the [Governor Gabriel] Suswam Committee to deal with
the question of implementing the Needs Assessment Report but Suswam
came to that committee with a mindset. He came in order to be a
contractor and not to implement the report of the Needs Assessment
Committee. Against the N100 billion that the Secretary to the
Government of the Federation had told us was there and could be
released but that we should go and do a needs assessment report so
that they will know how to disburse it, what Suswam did was to first
and foremost tell us that there is no other kobo anywhere, that there
was no money; he was just talking to us anyhow.
The government has consistently argued, and may have succeeded in
creating the impression that all ASUU is after is money, money and
money in the form of increased pay and allowances and other benefits
and not improved university system? Don't you think that ASUU has not
been able to convincingly respond to this impression to drastically
change popular perception of the union?
When they said that all ASUU is after is money, money, money, they
mean for example that we are after salaries, we are after the money
that comes to the pocket of ASUU but fortunately, when anybody sees
the Memorandum of Understanding, the Needs Assessment Report and also
has read the statements credited to ASUU in publications, they will
know that ASUU is after the Funding of education and not after money.
In any case, if you have worked, shouldn't you be paid; if ASUU has
worked, shouldn't it be paid? It is said that a labourer is worth his
wages of his labour or something like that.
What we are trying to say is that, even as at yesterday [when the
interview was held], there was an editorial in one of the national
dailies which tend to push the whole blame for going on strike on ASUU
and not the Federal Government.
Well, we know that no matter what happens, no matter how much
information people have, based upon the biases that people already
have, they will bend the information that they have to suit those
biases. ASUU's struggles have never been about money per se, they are
rather about funding of education; we have been saying fund education.
UNESCO says fund education up to 26 percent of national budget, let
the Federal Government provide that money. We have been consistent
about funding of education.
Secondly, ASUU's struggles have also been about conditions of service.
In the 2009 agreement, we talked about earned academic allowances.
These are allowances in relation to responsibilities, that is,
responsibility allowance; like you are a head of department,
allowances in relation to supervision, you supervise PhDs, you access
professors; allowances in respect to excess workload.
In Nigeria, the NUC said that the student-teacher ratio should be
between 1 to about 40. In some Nigerian universities, we have a
situation of one lecturer to about 500 students. In Harvard, it is
about one to three, in Yale it is one to about five, you know, the
ratio varies but in Nigeria, in our public universities, no teacher
teaches a class, on the average, that is less than 150. We teach far
above and we have consistently said that look, employ enough teachers,
when you employ enough teachers, you won't have to pay for excess
workload because teachers are carrying more than the workload that
they ought to carry. So, staffing, not just academic staff but
non-academic and all staff of universities, they have earned
allowances which government has not been paying since 2009 and it has
accumulated and come to N92 billion for both academic and non-academic
ASUU, because we recognise the interconnections between the academic
staff and non-academic staff; we say pay everybody. We could have said
look, pay us the academic staff allowances and leave that of the
non-academic staff. ASUU said we work in a system; if you pay us and
you don't pay the others, there will still be crisis; so bring the
money so that all categories of staff are paid but government is
saying no, it doesn't have the money; it only has N30 billion. Mrs.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, [Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister
of the Economy] at a meeting in the office of the Secretary to the
Government of the Federation in the course of this strike told us: "I
have cash; 30 billion naira cash, I am putting it on the table, take
it or leave it. if you don't take it you can be on strike for the next
two or three years. Yes, that is what Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said!
With regard to that, there are a couple of issues to sort out.
Firstly, why don't you believe the excuse being given by government
that it has no money? Secondly, as a former president of ASUU and one
who is still active in the system, do you think the decay in the
education sector can be resolved without necessarily addressing the
decay in the entire society?
Well, on the first question of whether the government has no money;
that is not true, government has money, we do not believe that
government has no money. As we told Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, we are a union
of intellectuals, we have economists, experts in economics, and so we
have access to the figures that government itself produces in relation
to its revenue string. Government has a lot of money. What is
important is not the question of whether government has money or does
not have money but the priorities of government in relation to
spending the money that it has. Like we told her dramatically, it is
not the size of the cake that matters but how you share the cake to
the various individuals who have a stake in it.
So government has a lot of money but how is the government applying
that money? Government spent three trillion naira bailing out the
banks; it spent 500 billion naira bailing out the airlines; it spent
another 100 billion naira the textile firms; it even had money to give
to Nollywood and the Stock Exchange, private people who arrange deals,
they had money to give them, about 350 billion naira. How come when it
comes to education, government suddenly says it has no money? It is
because they have contempt for education; they want people to remain
in ignorance so that they can continue to toy with the destiny of
Nigerians. It is not that they don't have the money; they have a lot
of money. They are now amassing money for 2015, towards the next
elections. Whether the country goes to ruin or not it doesn't matter
as long as they can pursue their political ambitions. Yes, government
has money!
Even if you look at the international oil market today; a barrel of
crude oil is selling at 109 dollars. Nigeria is producing 2.4 million
barrels per day, yes, 2.4 million barrels!. So if you multiply 109 by
2.4 million, you will know what Nigeria is making on a daily basis.

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