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ASUU, FG: Who Is Fooling Who? (II)

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Ikegbu Emmanuel

ASUU had made all efforts to get well meaning citizens to understand their plight. They were present at a Joint National Assembly Committee of Higher Education in 2002 to project their demand for autonomy, which was passed into an Act in June 2003 and was signed by President Obasanjo as the University Miscellaneous Act on July 10, 2003.

But since after then, this law was not implemented. Several other demands have since crept in. As they were not also met, ASUU went on strikes.

For instance, Imo State University Owerri, had only 11 weeks lectures but 12 weeks just within the first semester of 2008/09 session and is yet to conclude exams for some departments. This is outside the July – August ASUU strike.

Smaller countries such as Bostwana, Lesotho, Togo, Ghana, and Gambia, among the lots, whose GNPs are not up to half of Nigeria’s, have better education system. But, Academic unions of Ghana and Benin had to go on long strikes before their education sector got better funding.

Perhaps, the important point is that their governments were people friendly. They took education as a top priority and accorded it 26 per cent – 42 per cent of their annual budgets. University education got a greater share of the education budgets.

The ASUU –FG saga has lingered for long. About three years ago, the Federal Government entered into a fresh agreement with the union. They were never implemented.

President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was ushered into power with ASUU’s six months old strike. Every effort was made to pacify the Union’s National Executive Committee with much lobby, the strike was kept in abeyance.

Soon after then, the demands of ASUU were not met as industrial actions continued. But the Minister of Information, Prof Dora Akunyili, after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting of July 1, 2009, authoritatively  informed newsmen of government’s moves concerning resolving the impasse, stating that “they wanted increased funding, that we have granted; they wanted autonomy, that we have granted; they wanted retirement at 70, that we have also granted; they also want 109 per cent increase in salaries, that we are negotiating. As I speak to you, the Minister of Education, Dr Sam Egwu, is with Mr President discussing this issue. Government is not folding her hands. Government would not fold her arms and watch our university students sit at home,” she assured.

The FG feels that the demands of ASUU are much though they are doing their best, as it believes but the picture from ASUU shows the reverse. They want the government to sign the agreement reached a few years ago.

ASUU is disappointed that months after negotiations, with research based forward looking, condition of service, autonomy of universities, increase funding, and education tax should be harmonised. The union sees the FG’s attitude as “provocative action.”

ASUU argues that an agreement was reached for federal and state governments to devote 26 per cent of its annual budget to education.

The implementation of the constitutional provisions that the government should appropriate funds to assist the states in the area of higher education.

While the tortoise and monkey continues to display their sagacity and dexterity, we must not forget that it is the grass that suffers when two elephants fight. Our students have been suffering the muscle flexing.

Permit me to also ask ASUU, how sincere have our lecturers been? Research grants have been converted to allowances, given some lecturers untamed access to influence. Some earn more than their income. The issue of exploiting innocent students cannot be swept under the carpet.

The rate and manner in which students are exploited by lecturers is pitiable. The former ASUU Boss at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, lamented that some lecturers sentimentally defend their colleagues caught in corrupt acts.

But for the fact that students stay idle at home, the option would have been for the government to squeeze and flush out the rotten eggs in the system. The Judas is denting the image of the eleven.

Nevertheless, the government should be sincere with ASUU even as Nigerians want both parties to always go to the negotiating table. We are privileged that President Yar’Adua, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, and the Minister of Education, Dr Sam Egwu, who are key players in this matter were all once in the lecture hall. They have worn the shoes. They should know where it pinches.

Let no one fool anyone. Vision 20 – 2020 enshrined in the seven-point agenda awaits us. ASUU, FG, is anyone fooling the other?

Emmanuel is a Student of Imo State University (IMSU) Owerri.

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Opinion

A Trophy Beyond Atrophy

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Trophies, in whatever form or substance, signify exploits in service to the community and advancement of human endeavour towards pushing the boundaries of knowledge, development or human enterprise; they are obtained at various levels and stages of life: at school, village, community, local government, state, national or international level, in public office, private sector, etc. Irrespective of what level or where they are obtained, trophies attest to human commitment to and achievement in development in every field and they are rarely hidden in chests or closets; rather, they are conspicuously displayed on walls of hallowed halls for passersby to see, appreciate and thereby be inspired and emulate. Generically speaking, trophies come in form of statuettes, shields, cups, etc, awarded as a mark of success in competition or for meritorious service to mark special achievements; these become keepsake, souvenir, mementos to proudly show off during one’s lifetime and even beyond by family.
A typology of trophies indicates that it is those that come in form of plaque imbedded in the concrete wall of the entrance of a building or cenotaph at some point of a social infrastructure that get the most exposure and attention. Largely, it is those that relate to the provision of basic infrastructure, especially those areas that affect the generality of the public in their everyday lives that are most relevant, most visible, most endearing to the public and, therefore, most memorable. For instance, Point Block, the tallest building in old Rivers State (Rivers and Bayelsa States), is the most conspicuous trophy of the Diete-Spiff administration; it is a memorabilia to be proud of. In this vein, September 2019 will go down the history of Rivers State as a month during which Rivers people witnessed the commissioning of an unprecedented number of completed projects in one fell swoop. Between September 9 and 27, 2019, Governor Wike commissioned fifteen projects that touch virtually every segment of the society from the educational sector through markets, entertainment, labour union, student union, housing to roads; it was really a bountiful harvest of completed projects.
Departing from the tangible ones, trophies can also be invisible, intangible and intrinsic. For instance, the generation of this author can never ever forget the robust scholarship programme of the Diete-Spiff administration. It is on record that in response to the acute dearth of manpower in the state in the immediate post-civil war period when Indians, Pakistanis, Puerto Ricans, Filipinos and people from neighbouring states manned the state’s Civil Service and taught in the schools, Diete-Spiff embarked on a liberal educational policy given which virtually every Rivers indigene with the requisition qualification and admission to study whatever and wherever on earth was given scholarship.
On Monday, November 18, 2019, the executive members of the Rivers State Government Committee on Accreditation and Approval of Private Schools (CAAPS), led by Prof Ozo-Mekuri Ndimele, submitted the final report of the 46-member Committee to Secretary to the State Government, Hon Dr. Tammy Danagogo, at the Rivers State Government Secretariat, Port Harcourt. Established by Governor Nyesom Wike and inaugurated on July 8, 2019 to evaluate the functionality of private nursery, primary and secondary schools in the State, CAAPS, which was made up of professors, bureaucrats and seasoned technocrats, physically visited, reviewed and evaluated the facilities, equipment, personnel and operations of 2,586 institutions. The Committee devolved into several subcommittees and visited schools across the state from Ndoni at the northern fringes of the state to Andoni at the Atlantic seaboard. Between these two geographical extremes, they visited schools in Aseasaga, Aggah, Utu, Uju, Omoku, Rukpokwu, Obrikom, Rumueprikom, Ebocha, Igweocha, Mgbede, Ede, Egbada, Egbeda, Elibrada, Egbema, Degema, Igwuruta, Rumuokwuta, Abuloma, Ogoloma, Bodo, Mgbodo and other communities imbued with commonalities that run deeper than the superficialities of poetic rhymes and rhythms. At the end of the exercise, 1,405 were fully accredited, 754 earned interim accreditation while 427 were denied accreditation; this reflects 54 per cent accredited, 29.2 per cent interim accreditation and 16.5 per cent denied. Further analysis of these figures belongs in a forthcoming academic endeavour and another narrative.
It has been said that a major barometer for measuring the health of a nation is through the pulse of its educational system; also, at the gate of a major university in Africa, it is written inter alia that to destroy a nation does not require utilizing nuclear bombs and long-range missiles; rather, it requires lowering the standards in its educational institutions, allowing students to cheat during examinations and letting the teachers get away with underhand practices. Setting up CAAPS was, therefore, a product of a combination of factors: (1) the patriotic fervor of Governor Wike (2) his experience as Minister of Education and (3) the realisation that decadence in the educational system spells doom for any society. The point remains that while the work of the Committee left no physical structure or edifice to behold now and in times to come, its product is the establishment of a solid foundation with unquestionable integrity on which the superstructure of education in the state will stand firm, soar and produce educationally well-rounded citizens for Rivers State and Nigeria. This constitutes an invisible edifice that will outlive physical structures, which could be brought down like the Olympia Hotel, Port Harcourt; a fate the majestic Point Block narrowly escaped.
Obviously, if the standards set and recommendations made by CAAPS are maintained and sustained by subsequent administrations in the continuum of governance in the State then that would be Governor Wike’s intangible legacy; a bequest that will outlive every superstructure and continue to impact positively on the lives and standard of living of the people of Rivers State ad infinitum. It will be Wike’s invisible plaque that would defy display on walls, halls and cenotaphs. Undoubtedly, it is a trophy beyond atrophy.
Dr Osai lectures at the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

 

By: Jason Osai

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Opinion

Our Politicians, A National Curse?

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Recently, the famous Kenyan Pan-Africanist advocate, Prof Patrick Lumumba, had this to say about African leaders, “The Africa’s politician is perhaps (with due respect to them), African’s curse. The day the African politician realises that the occupation of political office and political space is one of servant leadership, that is the day Africa will begin to move in the right direction”
Situate that speech to Nigeria and you will agree that the prof is not far from the truth. In the country today, majority of the people are in lack. There is abject poverty, insecurity, high level of unemployment, lack of infrastructure and many more. The new minimum wage of N30,000.00 is still a big issue in many states. Workers in some states are still being owed many months’ salaries and arrears. Civil servants are not being promoted. Retirees are not paid their pensions and gratuities. Stories abound about how some of them slumped and died during verification exercises to enable them collect the paltry sum.
Amidst this misery of the people, ex-governors, their deputies and other top political office holders in some states collect humongous sums of money every month in the name of pensions and allowances in addition to other unmerited privileges. After years of siphoning state funds without accountability, the ex-governors stampeded their state Assemblies to pass obnoxious and anti-people laws, enabling them to milk the states for life in the form of pension.
In Lagos State, for instance, the 2007 Pension Law states that former governors of the state are entitled to a house each in any location of their choice in Lagos and Abuja. Section 2 of the law states that, “One residential house each for the governor and the deputy governor at any location of their choice in Lagos State and one residential house in the Federal Capital Territory for the governor on two consecutive terms.” The law also provides for six new cars every three years, 100 per cent of the basic salary of the serving governor (N7.7million per annum), as well as free health care for himself and members of his family. The law also says former governors will be entitled to furniture allowance, which is 300 per cent of their annual basic salary (N23.3million); house maintenance allowance, which is 10 per cent of basic salary (N778, 296); utility allowance, which is 20 per cent of the salary (N1.5million) and car maintenance allowance, which is 30 per cent of the annual basic salary (N2.3million). Other benefits include entertainment allowance, which is 10 per cent of the basic salary (N778, 296) and a personal assistant, who will earn 25 per cent of the governor’s annual basic salary (N1.9million). A former governor will also be entitled to eight policemen and two officials of the Department of State Services for life.
The Gombe State the Executive Pension Law is said to provide monthly salary for life to all former governors and deputy governors. An ex-governor is also entitled to a 30-day paid travel expenses annually to any country of his choice alongside his wife, so also the deputy governor and his wife. They have a choice to ask for a befitting house of their choice at any location in the state, or may request that money equivalent to such house be given to them. A former governor is also entitled to two utility cars, while his deputy is entitled to one car to be replaced periodically. The governor is entitled to an employee on Salary Grade Level 12 who will be serving him, also to be paid by the state government. Both the governor, deputy governor and their wives are entitled to paid medical treatment at home or abroad. The state executive pension law also stated that a governor and his deputy serving their second term can pay themselves the housing and gratuity if they have successfully finished one term in office.
The story is not different in our state, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Kano, Sokoto, Kwara and Zamfara (before the law was repealed by the state House of Assembly few days ago). Meanwhile, most of these ex-governors are still in government either as ministers or federal lawmakers, receiving huge salaries and allowances.
So it is heartwarming to know that the court has ordered the Federal Government to recover pensions collected by former governors serving as ministers and members of the National Assembly. In judgement to a suit filed by Socio – Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), challenging the legality of pension laws in question, Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of the Federal High Court, Okoyi, Lagos State, also reportedly directed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws permitting former governors and other ex-public officials to collect such pensions.
This landmark judgement will surely go a long way in rekindling the peoples’ dying belief in the court as the last hope of the common man. But knowing “how good our leaders, especially those at the highest level, are good at obeying court orders”, we wait to see how things will pan out. However, for a government that is interested in the good of the citizens, compliance to this order should be prioritized.
Meanwhile, while the federal government is playing her own part, State Houses of Assembly where this repugnant law is in existence should emulate their colleagues in Zamfara State by speedily repealing it. We obviously do not need laws that will permit a few priviledged people to be living as super rich and demi-gods at the detriment of the generality of the people. We are tired of selfish leaders who see political offices as an opportunity to milk the states and the nation, thereby becoming a curse to the people instead of blessing.
It is high time we had servant-leaders who will see leadership as an honour and a privilege if we must develop as a nation. In the words of Craig D. Laounsbrough, “The sacrifice ‘of’ self for the greater good is the greatest calling imaginable, and it is the bedrock of the greatest nations. The sacrifice ‘for’ self is the most pathetic calling imaginable, and it is the quicksand within which nations perish”.

 

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

Buhari And Fifth Columnists

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According to Wikipedia, a fifth columnist is “any group of people who undermine a larger group from within, usually in favour of an enemy group or nation. The activities of a fifth columnist can be overt or clandestine. Forces gathered in secret can mobilise openly to assist an external attack. Clandestine fifth column activities can involve acts of sabotage, disinformation, or espionage executed within defense lines by secret sympathisers with an external force.”
Literarily, it refers to persons who willfully constitute clogs in the wheel of progress within the system for no justifiable cause. Simply put, self-centered persons who allow selfish interests to override public interests. It doesn’t matter heights attained, greed and acrimony will always manifest either patently or latently in their actions.
President Muhammadu Buhari must not allow some politicians constitute clogs in the wheel of his progress knowing that masses confidence on him is at stake. Election is over. This is the time to be strict and focused for service delivery to earn accolades after exit from politics in 2023. Those that preferred conceited interests and ambitions to public interest should be laid off. Second term in office by Nigeria’s Constitution precedes retirement. But the retirement; fulfilled, glorious or otherwise will be determined by some dynamics.
In the Oath of Allegiance in the 1999 Constitution, Federal Republic of Nigeria for public officeholders, it provides for recitation, “….I will discharge my duties to the best of my ability, faithfully, and in accordance to with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the law, and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…..; I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or official decisions ……; I will do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will …….”.
These are the social contracts by which anyone; from president down to a commissioner can take up any official responsibility from the Constitution. Unfortunately, whilst the drafters of the Constitution took it seriously, politicians take it as mere recitals or formality. A pity, indeed!
The major challenge facing the country is insecurity which has perceptibly given President Buhari sleepless nights. Economy may never boom as targeted until insecurity is dealt with. The twosome (security and economy) go hand-in-hand. And any government that failed to prioritize them is cruising toward abysmal failures.
Unfortunately, scores of citizens that devotedly enrolled in a government institution – National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) – and graduated since 2013 have been subjected to redundancy and idleness; roaming the streets without vocations by designs of some privileged persons in government. What a contradiction?
How could scores of citizens be kept in such a tight corner for years with all manner of gimmicks, forgetting that the victims have a right to live a comfortable life? How many of the conspirators or schemers can stay without remunerations to justify the years the innocent victimised students have stayed without jobs? And finally, what have the schemers gained from the obnoxious ploys?
Pondering on the unending ugly dramas regarding the admission of NOUN law graduates who had been encumbered from proceeding for their vocational training in the Nigerian Law School for no crimes committed can only make any patriotic persons weep deeply for the nation. The commonest question that must come to mind is; can the country freely move forward with such actors as public officeholders?
The most horrible challenge any government can face is harboring fifth columnists who pursue selfish agenda distinct from the government they constitute. This is, indeed, unfortunate. Lack of continuity, unity of purpose and open-mindedness in government is the major task in governance. Any system where personal interests are placed above public interests will collapse.
The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu’s efforts on the protracted NOUN/Law School crisis have often met a brick wall. Adversaries within, they say, are the worst enemies. And President Buhari must be mindful of such characters as they can sabotage other government policies mutely. Like corruption, if the government does not deal with fifth columnists within, they will deal with the government.
Anywhere a principal and subordinates pursue different interests is doomed to fail. No doubt, NOUN/Law School crisis was inherited from two previous administrations, but President Buhari must give these oppressed students the anticipated relief. According to Simone de Beauvoir, “All oppression creates a state of war”. And the time to avert it is now.
It is bizarre for a unique innovation which the federal government adopted from developing nations and established with public funds to be subjected to hostility and the pull-down syndrome instead of being strengthened to stand. How could human beings willfully and joyfully cripple their fellow citizens?
Anyway, a fulfilled and glorious retirement after serving the nation is only tenable by remarkable accomplishments and, therefore, any detractors within the system should be discharged in the best interest. Thus, let the needful be done.
Umegboro is a public affairs analyst.

 

By: Carl Umegboro

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