ASUU: ANOTHER CRISIS AVERTED

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The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila is a stabilising force in the polity, writes

Abby Nwosu

The mood of the nation is tense. Both the mighty and multitude at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid are wailing under the pangs of insecurity, record inflation, looming anarchy and general state of uncertainties. A nation that is challenged on multiple fronts need no further distractions that are obviously avoidable.

Another crisis that could further compound the woes of Nigeria and her people was averted recently by the timely intervention of the Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The university’s teachers had threatened to close classrooms following the foot-dragging of the federal government on implementation of agreements reached with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). They issued a three-week ultimatum.

At the behest of Gbajabiamila’s meeting, N22.17billion earned allowances and N30billion revitalisation fund was agreed to be paid to university lecturers.

The agreement was reached on Thursday after a meeting between the representatives of ASUU, led by its President, Emmanuel Osodeke, and the government representatives led by the Minister of Finance and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, and Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba.

The speaker did not speak tongue in cheek on the matter. He lampooned the federal government for stalling the implementation of the agreement and warned of dire consequences of closing public tertiary institutions.

At the meeting, ASUU President, Osodeke said the union had given the federal government several opportunities to fulfil the 2009 agreement and other agreements signed.

He noted that the minimum the union was willing to entertain was that the government should pay the N30 billion agreed as part of the N220bn tranche for the revitalisation of schools and the N22.17bn earned allowances. His words, “We met in August 2021, we returned to our members that they should not be agitated, that they have promised that everything will be sorted out by August. When none of it was implemented, we met again on October 14, we were assured that all these things will be resolved by the end of October”.

This is yet another patriotic move by the speaker. The leader of the Green Chamber since his assumption of office, he has left no one in doubt of his capacity to lead and provide succour when the nation bleeds. He has been a stabilizing force in the polity.

Many crises have been averted by his interventions. From health workers strike to electricity union imbroglio to transnational diplomatic row, Gbajabiamila has shown that he is a leader that can be trusted.

When he declared at the inception of the ninth Assembly that his legislative agenda will be revolutionary, many sneered. The trajectory of his stewardship since 2019 has validated that he is indeed a man on a mission.

He championed the return of the budget circle from January to December. This ostensibly opened up the system for greater productivity. Business concerns can make economic projections with a stable budget circle.

Only few leaders can survive the burden of leadership in a crisis period, when the COVID-19 raged in 2020, Gbajabiamila came out frontally for the poor. In what has never been witnessed in the annals of legislative history, he forged an alliance with the Executive and other critical stakeholders to conquer a common enemy.

He called on the DISCOs to show humanity in times of crisis. He railed at the health minister that was toying with the welfare of health workers who were at the forefront of the fight. He mobilized his colleagues to donate salaries for the cause of the poor.

The speaker considered a strong legislation to curtail the spread of the deadly virus. The Nigeria’s Infectious Disease Bill that generated uproar was explained and frayed nerves inflamed by rumours and speculations were calmed.

Explaining the motive behind the bill, the speaker said, “The current law severely constrains the ability of the federal government and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to take proactive action to prevent the entry into Nigeria of infectious diseases and the management of public health emergencies when they occur.

“Even now, the government remains vulnerable to claims that some directives already being implemented to manage the present crisis do not have the backing of the law and therefore cannot withstand judicial scrutiny”.

He argues further, “I disagree wholeheartedly with the suggestion that this is not the ideal time to seek reforms of the infectious diseases and public health emergency framework in the country.

“The weaknesses of the present system have already manifested in the inability of the government to hold to proper account those whose refusal to adhere with NCDC guidelines led to the further spread of the coronavirus in Nigeria.

“We have had people break out from isolation centres, and others, who are fully aware of their status, chose to travel across state lines on public transport.

“The number of those currently infected by the coronavirus continues to rise alongside the number of those who have died. There is no timeline for when this disease will pass, and nobody can predict when the next public health crisis will occur, just as nobody predicted the present predicament.

“It bears restating that we do not have in our country, a healthcare system or for that matter, a national economy that is sufficiently robust to withstand the dire consequences of a sustained infectious disease pandemic. We cannot tie our own hands in the fight against this disease”.

Yet, as the speaker is performing on the national stage, he has not abandoned his constituency. Surulere Federal Constituency is not left behind. He has facilitated major roads construction, schools, health centres, among others.

He has landmark projects in all tertiary institutions in Lagos State from the federal government-owned University of Lagos to the Lagos State University (LASU).

No doubt, the speaker has raised the standards of leadership in Nigeria. He has shown that in the midst of a leadership crisis, there is still hope.