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 Why Owe ASUU?

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The dimension of the ongoing strike action by members of the Academic Staff Union of Federal Universities (ASUU) that is worth a second look is the Government policy of “no work, no pay”. The negotiating party on the Government side is insisting on taking advantage of this policy to deny the striking workforce (ASUU) the right to their salaries for the period of the work to rule action embarked upon by ASUU, since the 14th of February, 2022. On its face value, the government may appear justified in its attempt to deprive the striking workers the salary due to them, on the ground that they did not do the work they were engaged to perform in the first place. To state it more clearly, the lecturers did not go to class to teach students enrolled by the Federal Government into the various institutions of higher learning for the purpose of acquiring knowledge, which is the statutory responsibility of the lecturers. The lecturers did not teach the students for the period in contention, so how come they are demanding to be paid for a job not done? This is a simple logic: “no work, no pay!” On what ground could anyone fault the Government position here? In the first place, the primary responsibility of the aggrieved lecturers is to impart knowledge to the students placed under their custody by the Federal Ministry of Education. If the Federal Government can be seen as the defector employer of the “erring” lecturers, how would anyone expect the Government to pay salaries for work not performed? Are the lecturers contending this point? If so, on what grounds?
The logic in the Government’s  position on this subject matter is clear: ASUU is an employee of the Federal Government, assigned the sole responsibility of imparting knowledge to students placed under its tutelage. From the beginning of the strike action to date, the lecturers have not performed this contractual obligation, recognised by law. On the contrary, the students have been sent home to their parents and guardians. In search of what next to occupy themselves with, these hopeless victims of the strike action are daily roaming the streets of our cities. Some of them have reportedly, resorted to criminal activities; while the more responsible ones among them  have constituted additional burdens to their parents and the society at large. The presence of these idle students at home for this length of time (seven months, and still counting) does not in any way endear the rest of society to sympathise with the “noble” objectives of the striking lecturers, no matter what! Among the stated objectives of the striking workers is the quest to improve the lot of the students, in terms of the environment under which learning is imparted in the various public universities; ASUU also is seeking to improve the quality of education, through proper funding for research and other deliverables. These indeed, are commendable efforts which have, to a large extent, gained the support of the student population for the leadership role ASUU is playing in this direction.
On the other hand, the protracted nature of the strike action tends to dampen the hopes of the students; how long would it take to graduate from the university? What is the economic cost of overstaying one’s welcome in the various faculties to which these students have been enrolled? What happens to the academic calendar of the Nigerian universities? Higher education in Nigeria has become increasingly elusive, since a course of study originally billed to last for three academic years can now drag on to periods exceeding four to five years, due to incessant strike actions. Who pays the price for all these discrepancies in our university system? It is the common man who cannot afford to send his child to study abroad. It is the unfortunate student whose parent is not economically buoyant enough to send him abroad for higher education. It is the entire society that bears the brunt, when nothing is done to stop the elitist class from exploiting the nation’s wealth to train their children and wards in foreign institutions of higher learning, at the expense of the masses. What can be done to create a level playing ground for the education of our children in tertiary institutions? It is for government to legislate against the practice of sending our children to foreign universities for the purpose of tertiary education; especially to obtain the first degree certificate. Any child that graduates from the secondary school must be made to compulsorily take his/her first degree courses in a Nigeria institution of higher learning. Thereafter, parents who can afford it can send their children out  for higher degrees beyond the borders of Nigeria.
It is frequently argued that those in government and public service in Nigeria who, ordinarily, ought to ensure that our university system works, are in the habit of sending their children and wards to foreign countries to pursue their post-secondary school education. Hence, they don’t really care what happens to our university system in Nigeria.  As a fall out of this ASUU strike, the National Assembly must see it as its statutory responsibility to investigate this trend, and put up an appropriate legislative constraint against this unpatriotic development. Now, does the demand of ASUU that Government pays all arrears of salaries denied its members for the period of the strike, as a condition for calling off the current strike action,  actually make  sense? If so, how? Yes, I see ASUU making a legitimate and sensible demand here. In the first place, they did not just wake up one day to embark on strike. And based on the numerous demands put forward by ASUU, no reasonable observer would dismiss their action as frivolous. The reasons postulated for their action have been overwhelmingly  upheld by various parties, and interest groups, in both the public and private sectors of the nation’s economy. Most significant is the warning strike executed in support of ASUU strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress, less than a month ago. The NLC did not mince words as to the legitimacy of the strike action embarked by ASUU, and has  gone a step further to threaten that it is ready to give full backing to the demands of ASUU, should the Government fail to do the needful within a reasonable time frame. Government officials dragging the strike have not come out with any concrete evidence of any falsehood or breach of trust committed by the leadership of ASUU in the course of prosecuting its  grievances. The argument proffered by the Government in insisting on the policy of “no work, no pay” is, to say the least, untenable.  Those orchestrating the Government’s position in this regard have not come out with any tangible reason for denying the striking lecturers their earned salaries. The position of the Government in this regard can best be described as frivolous.
In any trade dispute, there are procedures to be followed by the parties in conflict. Is there any critical procedure ASUU failed to observe in the course of prosecuting its grievances that would disqualify it to its entitlement to earn the salaries of its members? Could ASUU be single handedly held liable for the prolongation of the strike action? Did ASUU give adequate notice of its intension to go on strike?  Did it first embark on what is popularly termed “warning strike”? Did ASUU seek and follow through the prescribed arbitration process and procedures? If indeed ASUU followed due process in pursuing its legitimate grievances against the Government in the course of its strike action, then there is no basis for Government to refuse to pay the striking lecturers their earned salaries. The salaries indeed were earned; and the government’s  decision to stop their pay, in the first instance, was wrong and punitive in intent. If ASUU was not focused on its main objectives for the strike, one would have expected the leadership of the academic union to take the Federal Government and its agent to court over the protracted demand for the payment of members’ salaries withheld by the Government.
Nothing in the books would have stopped it from seeking legal redress against Government’s unilateral action in stopping the salaries of its members, in the course of their legitimate action. That ASUU is not considering this option is, indeed a demonstration of the highest level of patriotism by members of the academic union in the face of unprovoked aggression by the Government.  If salary stoppage was not aimed at primarily threatening the lecturers to abandon their legitimate demands, the best option left for government was to embark on mass retrenchment of the “rebellious” workforce. This should have been the appropriate way of letting the “erring” employees come to grip with the realities of their “ill-informed” action. The other alternative was for the Government to take the leadership of ASUU to court. I am sure that there is room for industrial court arbitration in disputes of this magnitude. Luckily, the FG has decided to toe the line at last. By experience, no genuine problem, in the public domain, ever gets solved through the committee system of conflict resolution. This is more so, if such a committee is the brain child of Government. It is an indirect way of allowing Government to arbitrate in a case preferred against it. In the light of all the factors ex-rayed in this write up, it may be safe to conclude that Government has an obligation to pay the striking lecturers their earned salaries.

By: Pius Obute
Obute is an Abuja-based writer.

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Opinion

Professional Banditry

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Banditry has become such a hypocritical concept that some authorities would utilise it in order to hide away something more sinister than banditry. The uniqueness about banditry as different from other groups of criminals, is that bandits are hooligans who, in their frolicsome engagements, attack travellers to steal away what to eat. Are bandits terrorists? It would require following due process of law to be able to determine that!
From the perspectives of history, there are three species of bandits, namely: attackers of travellers; avengers, and then enigmatic highway men. Two old story books about Robin Hood and Ali Baba and his gang of 40 thieves, provide details about the first species of bandits who engage in frolicsome criminal activities. This first group of bandits often operate with some lighthearted principle of sharing their loots and booties with some needy persons or a patron god-father. For example, in 1961, a British woman married to an Urhobo man wrote an open letter to ‘dear thieves of Surulere’ who robbed her home, to return her wedding ring, which was among the items stolen. Four days after, the wedding ring was returned.
As part of their frolicsome mischief, the thieves of Surulere addressed a letter to Mrs Urhobo advising her that a wedding ring is meant to be worn on the finger and not kept carelessly. Yes, bandits of the first species can be humorous, capable of advising their victims to learn to lock their doors properly. Recently in Nigeria, this species of bandits who can also be called hungry thieves, specialise in hooking away smartphones and laptops from charging sockets in people’s homes. All kinds of devices are used for this nefarious purpose.
The second species of bandits – the avengers – can be vicious, with the purpose of passing a message to individuals and groups that abuse power with impunity and arrogance. Historically, the Red Indians, original owners of the American land and the Aborigines of Australia, suffered unspeakable abuses by early colonialists and armed invaders who dispossessed them of their ancestral lands. African slaves suffered similar acts of inhumanity in the American continent, while the Boer War dealt humiliating blows on the original owners of Transvaal and Orange Free State in South Africa.
The founding of Hispaniola in West Indies by Black slaves who broke free from their slave masters, with Haiti as seat of Black power (misnamed Voodoo) serve as ideal examples that oppressed people can develop some unique power. Similarly, labourers who were used during the construction of Panama and Suez Canals, were not only poorly paid but, like gold miners in South Africa, contracted some ailments that rendered them useless in life. Thus, slave masters, tyrannical labour masters and others who exploit, use and then dump those who worked to build up their economy, can face the wrath of such aggrieved labourers who can be misnamed as bandits.
In more recent times, poor, idle and helpless people have been unjustly exploited, used and then dumped by some political power gamesters to serve their political purposes. Such purposes range from inflating of census figures, rigging of elections, to carrying out of some acts of mayhem in the services of dark ends. It is common that jobless, poor but desperate youths can be hired, fed, trained and sent out to carry out some unethical activities, oftentimes under oath not to reveal their sponsors. Many die in such missions.
Some members of these exploited and abused youths who become aware of the exploitations and abuses that they suffer, turn around to become avengers, who can be misnamed as bandits. Many of such unsuspecting youths often confess that they did not know or bargain for the kind of engagement that they unwittingly found themselves participating in. There are recruiting agents who lure unsuspecting young men and women into various unethical engagements, taking undue advantage of the level of poverty and ignorance in the country. In the 1950s, some Nigerians were lured into job recruitment projects of working in Equatorial Guinea, also known as Panya. Many returned destitute and demented!
The third species of professional bandits, the enigmatic highway men, are not only very dangerous, but they are not themselves. In the psychic sense there are people, men and women, who can be said to have renounced their humanity, arising from various reasons which can hardly be examined here. Such renunciation follows drinking of the ‘Water of Usachi’, which is like going into a partnership with the forces of darkness. This water, like an aphrodisiac, places those who drink of it in the hands of dark agents, on a warfare with human beings striving for nobility.
Therefore, this species of professional bandits can be rightly called spiritual highway men and women. They include the witches that many weak people fear or talk about, the wizard of the desert and all those who perform various psychic acrobatics which lovers of miracles and wonders patronise. Their principal duty is to waylay and distract those seeking the path of light and truth. Often posing as agents of light and truth, this species of bandits operates largely in ecclesiastical circles.
Can we deny the truth that there are bandits in the ecclesiastical circles? Why should miracles, wonders, acrobatic performances and prosperity antics become ready means to lure seekers into the path of light and truth? Is truth no longer what should lead seekers into freedom? Should freedom not include maturing and growing above being lured away by the antics of spiritual highway men, and attaining the height of being guided intuitively, in the midst of perplexities? Why do many people jump from one belief system to another with little or no deep personal conviction?
Like the politics of stomach infrastructure which has become the order of the day, has religion not degenerated to a similar status, whereby bandits and highway men confuse many unsuspecting ones? Surely, the situation in the country currently demands that individuals should do things out of personal conviction and commitment. Such personal conviction can only come from a free and uninfluenced search and recognition of the truth. Those who float about, capable of being abducted by bandits and highway men, are hardly ready for the task of facing life on its own terms.
Similarly, the politics of banditry should teach discerning Nigerians the antics of surviving in a hostile environment. The inability to differentiate terrorists from bandits is an idiom whose significance would demand reading this article twice. The third species of bandits discussed here are in the league of those who terrorise people for the purpose of confusing and distracting them while something more sinister is being perfected. Many have taken the Water of Usachi!

Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer in the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

That Education Grant For DELGA Students

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Wednesday, 28 September was a date students, parents, indigenes of Degema Local Government Area, who appreciate human capacity development, will never forget. On that date, about 350 students  from Degema Local Government Area in universities across the country received a total of N17,500,000 as Education grant from the Local Government administration under the chairmanship of Hon. John Michael Williams.
In an euphoric and unprecedented season,  each student adjudged eligible,  after a dispassionate, transparent and objective  pre-qualification screening process, had his or her volunteered account credited on-the-spot with N50,000. Nothing can elicit greater joy in the recipients at a time when Nigeria’s depressed economy is biting hard on parents and students. Some students and parents have resorted to menial economic activities to put food on the table and body and soul together. Fifty thousand naira for a student at an austere economic period is  quite a good way of giving them a sense of belonging.
The Chairman of Degema Local Government Area, Hon. Michael Williams, deserves commendation for opting to give such largesse to at least 17 undergraduates from each of the seventeen wards that comprise nine autonomous communities of the Local Government Area.  The chairman is a hero for taking the bull by the horn to put smiles on the faces of indigenes of the local government area, when some local government area chairmen are struggling with payment of staff salaries, not because they do not have the financial capacity and capability to pay, but because they are considering the extra pecuniary benefits that would accrue to them at the end of every month.
Hon. Michael’s decision is novel, a path less taken at a time when stewardship is subsumed under inordinate quest for materialism even at the expense of the people whose resources should be held in trust by the Local Government Area Chairmen. Michael Williams has not only proven to be a rare breed of the  21st century politicians but has also lent credibility to the fact, even through his pedigree, that he has a passion to serve and deliver on his mandate. Leadership is not just about what to get from office,  but how to affect people’s lives, carving a niche for oneself by delivering the dividends of office attendant on good governance. Leadership is a function of  strong will, this trait the chairman of Degema Local Government Area has amply demonstrated. He came, he saw and he conquered in the area, his predecessor failed and lost credibility and integrity of students and the people. It would be recalled that in  a six- page paid advertorial titled: Beneficiaries of Free Higher Institutions Scholarship, published in the Monday August 26, 2019 edition of  The Tide  pages 16-19, the then  chairman of Degema Local Government Area had awarded Scholarship to 492 undergraduates which was not substantiated with payment. No purported beneficiary of that scheme received a kobo. It ended up a media hype and mere political gimmick to lull the people of the local government area to accepting a government that was inept, clueless and  failed the people.
For less discerning , selfish minds who disdain value system, Michael William’s meritorious initiative was a flagrant folly because, for them success is measured by how much public money you stole while in office.  Little did they realise that in keeping with Lao Russel’s human capacity development theory, “in vain you build the city if you did not first build the man”. When human capacity is developed, infrastructural development will be seamless and society will breathe the air of freedom from anti-social and deviant behaviours that presently pervade our societal. Human capacity development is the bedrock for society growth and a foremost parameter to determine the level of Human Development Index. Leaders who treat human capacity development as second fiddle, to say the least, have lost touch with reality. People are the greatest project of any government because government exists for the people and every government derives its legitimacy from the people. So, when programmes are not people-oriented, that government is headed to inevitable failure.
I commend the present chairman of Degema Local Government Area for not speaking from both sides of the mouth but trod  the path of honour and integrity by fulfilling his promise through a flawless, transparent and non-partisan process. I salute such administrative ingenuity. Hon. Michael Williams’ feat is reminiscent of the ingenuity of the Hon. Macjaja Robinson Amachree, who in three months remodelled the Degema Local Government secretariat into a storey building, brought life into a lifeless local government service, demystified leadership and demonstrated that there is dignity in labour, by giving incentives to regular staff, prompt payment of salaries and entitlements of workers, thus inspired enhanced productivity. Macjaja Robinson Amachree endeared himself to workers and people of Degema Local Government Area within four months as caretaker committee chairman of the Local Government Area.
I urge Michael Williams to sustain this project. The results will not be immediate but must certainly count for him with time.

By: Igbiki Benibo

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Opinion

A Lesson From Kenya

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The electoral body in Kenya conducted presidential election which was keenly contested by the incumbent vice president, Willam Ruto and the longest living opposition leader, Raila Odinga. The presidential election took place on Tuesday 9th August, 2022, across the length and breadth of Kenya. Voters elected the president, members of national assembly and senate, governors of Kenya and members of the 47 county Assemblies of Kenya as reported by Wikipedia.
Willam Ruto of UDA party with his running mate Rigathi, polled 7, 176,141 of votes cast while Raila Odinga of the ODM with his running mate Marth Karua, polled 6,941,930, votes cast. Willam Ruto, polled 50.49 per cent while Raila Odinga polled 48.85 per cent of the total vote cast.
It is worthy to note that general elections are held every five years. This is the third general election and the fourth presidential one since the promotion of the 2010 constitution. The incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta was not eligible for the third term, nor were two – term County governors as stated by the country’s laws. The 2022 election saw the lowest number of presidential candidates cleared since the multi – party system was implemented in 1992.
Indeed, the constitution of Kenya requires that a general election of members of parliament be held on the second Tuesday of August on every fifth year, which meant that the general election was scheduled for 9th August 2022. If Kenya is at war, the election can be delayed if a resolution is passed in each House of Parliament by at least two — thirds of all the members of the House. Such a resolution can delay the election by up to six months, and may be passed multiple times provided that the delays do not cumulatively exceed 12 months.  Ruto initially fought alongside Odinga in 2007 when police crackdowns on protesters and clashes that turned into ethnic attacks killed more than 1,000 people in post – election violence, eventually promoting a new constitution to devolve power. Ruto teamed up with Kenyatta in 2013. Both Kenyatta and Ruto had been indicted by the International Criminal Court on crimes against humanity charges for their alleged role in orchestrating the post – election violence.
The cases later collapsed, with former ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. In March 2018, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his former rival for the presidency, Raila Odinga, stunned the public when they shook hands and declared a truce after post – election violence in 2017 left dozens of people dead.   Clifford Machoka was, appointed to organise the presidential and deputy presidential debates ahead of 9th August- 2022 polls. The debates were scheduled to run on the 11, 19 and 26 of July 2022 at Catholic University of Eastern Africa; and they were broadcast live across most television and radio stations, and their online platforms. The campaign season officially kicked off in May 2022 as clearance of electoral candidates continued. Although the presidential race was considered a two – horse, with two main opponents, Raila Odinga and William Ruto, George Wajackoyah of Roots Party of Kenya gained significant popularity among the electorate due to his radical measures to quell the ballooning public debt. Kenya Kwanza alliance led by Ruto held true to their initial campaign strategy by self-proclaiming themselves ‘as “hustlers” Calling Odinga a dynasty and a project of the outgoing government.
Odinga of Azimio – one Kenya Alliance branded Kenya Kwanza as an alliance of corrupiont since most of the leaders in the coalition are suspected accused, or convicted of corruption and other integrity issues. Odinga billed himself and his running mate, Martha Karue, as liberators, who fought for multiparty system, campaigned for the new regime in. 2002, and were proponents of 2010 constitutional dispensation.
On 28 July 2022, Ruto’s presidential running mate, Rigathi Gachague, was ordered by the Anti – Corruption Court to forfeit KSH202 million to the state, after it was determined the funds were proceeds of corruption. On 6 August, 2022, all candidates across all elective seats, made their final submission on different parts of the country.
By the end of clearance, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission {lEBC) gazetted a total of 16,098 candidates contesting 1, 882 elective slots. The results were announced at 6pm by the IEBC chairman, Watula Chebukati. All the candidates except Ralia Odinga appeared at the announcement; Odinga’s chief agent Saitabao Ole Kanchory announced that Odinga would not appear until his campaign could verify the results.  Indeed, Odinga  rejected the result and went to the Supreme Court to challenge the Presidential result which was in favour of William Ruto. Despite some major challenges, the electorate were conscious of the presidential election and participated actively in the election. At least for the first time, Post – election violence was not noticed as observed in the past. Thus, the Independent and Boundaries Commission of Kenya was able to work with network operators for smooth transmission of results. Therefore, in Nigeria let INEC be unbiased with its duties in terms of conducting free and fair elections. Nigerian electorate should also wake up and participate in the coming election in 2023.

By: Frank  Ogwuonuonu
Ogwuonuonu resides in Port Harcourt.

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