Universities’ Closure: Labour Protest Grounds Activities in Abuja
• FG, varsity workers must resolve issues without delay, say NLC, TUC
•Labour takes protests to N’Assembly, declares no going back on planned strike
•Lawmakers promise to resolve issue soon, to meet with relevant ministers
Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Udora Orizu in Abuja
Normal activities in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were yesterday disrupted as workers under the auspices of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and their affiliates thronged the Unity Fountain early in morning to kick off their protest meant to compel the federal government to speedily resolve its industrial dispute with university workers and reopen the tertiary institutions.
Both leadership of the NLC and TUC in their statements condemned the continuous disruption of academic calendar in public tertiary institutions and the condescending attitude of political office holders towards government owned educational institutions.
The labour leaders also demanded that federal government must act immediately to resolve issues with lecturers and non-teaching staff of universities to pave way for the resumption of academic work.
The protesting workers who besieged the Unity Fountain caused traffic gridlock as motorists tried to seek alternative routes to avoid the Federal Secretariat area of the Federal Capital city.
They also took the nationwide solidarity protest to the National Assembly, complex in Abuja.
For more than five months university-based unions including, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU), the Non Academic Staff Union of University and Allied Institutions (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) have been on strike with no end yet in sight.
In response to the call for protest, thousands of workers piled up at the Unity Fountain where they were briefly addressed by labour leaders before proceeding to the National Assembly.
Addressing the workers, President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, urged them to be orderly in their conduct and not be provoked into transferring their aggression on any innocent person.
He slammed the federal government for paying lip service to education and the welfare of workers in tertiary institutions.
According to him, most of those at the helm of affairs in the country currently were beneficiaries of a thriving education sector in the past as they enjoyed free and quality education.
Wabba also dismissed insinuations by government that their rally would lead to civil unrest, saying on the contrary, the actions of the government were fueling social disturbances.
He said there was nowhere in the world that protesters were denied their right to protest except in Nigeria.
Wabba further criticised the no-work-no-pay policy of the government with respect to the ongoing strike in the universities, describing such actions as draconian laws.
He said: “We will reset this country. We will make sure that our leaders hear our voice. The reason we are here today comrades is something that is known to every Nigerian the children of the working class.
“The children of less privilege, 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,” he said.
He also decried the poor remuneration of the university teachers whom he said earns far less as compared to their counterpart in other parts of Africa.
Wabba decried the lack sensitivity on the part of some of the leaders in the country who openly celebrate the graduation of their children in their schools abroad.
“Whereas their children are graduating for from Nigeria universities, private ones, and abroad and they have the audacity to post them on social media so that we can see.
“We are now divided into classes, the class of ruling elites and the class of we the masses. Comrades this is a very serious matter.
“Once you deny citizen education, you are denying him everything because the difference between life and death is the education that we have,” he said.
Wabba commended the governors that came out openly to support the labour protest
“We are tired of lamentation. We want solution. We want the issues to be fixed that is why we are here comrades, and therefore we must be ready. We must be ready. This is the first phase, the second phase, which is a three-day national strike,” he warned.
He said about N1.6 trillion spent by the elites to send their children to school outside the country was enough to revamp education in the country.
He said Nigerian university lecturers were the poorest in Africa, which according to him had led to massive exodus of the best brains of the country to other countries.
While demanding that the federal government should resolve the issue quickly with ASUU, Wabba urged the State Assemblies to adopt the autonomy of local government as approved by their federal counterparts during voting on the constitution review.
On its part, the TUC urged the federal government to immediately resolve all lingering issues with ASUU without further delay.
A statement issued in support of the labour protest described as worrisome the closure of the federal universities for over five months.
The statement signed by the newly elected president of TUC, Festus Osifo said the congress was in total support of the national protest, describing it as a just and patriotic cause.
“The clear ineptitude in this administration is becoming more worrisome, unfortunately there appears to be no end in sight, making the country a laughing stock in the comity of nations.
“Government must engage ASUU without further delay in constructive negotiations to find a lasting solution to their complaints.
“Education is one of the factors that influences the progress of any society but in our clime, it appears there is a deliberate effort to stifle the sector to keep the country perpetually in dark and under-developed.
“Nigerian politicians unfortunately, do not care because their children and wards school abroad. They arrogantly walk out of meetings called to resolve industrial issues and travel abroad to celebrate with their children on the day of graduation; this level of impunity will not be condoned anymore by the working people.”
Usifoh said the TUC would be strategising with the leadership of the NLC and ASUU on how best to get government to meet the demand of the university teachers.
Wabba who declared the protest as very peaceful presented the letter containing the demand of the workers to the representatives of the principal officers of the National Assembly.
While receiving the letter on behalf of the Senate President, Senator Chukwuka Utazi told the workers that the lawmakers were on the same page with them as far the demand for speedy resolution of the dispute in the universities are concerned.
Speaking amidst booing from the protesters, Utazi assured them that the leadership of the National Assembly would do all within their powers to resolve the matter as soon as possible and reopen the universities.
Addressing the aggrieved workers, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, who was represented by Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Robert Borrofice, assured that the National Assembly would work hard to ensure the issue was resolved.
Similarly, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who was represented by, Hon. Mohammad Wudin, promised to ensure that all relevant stakeholders are brought together as soon as possible to address the challenge.
Wudin said the parliament, as the last bus stop of the common man would meet with the ministers of finance, labour and employment, education and other stakeholders to resolve the matter as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila is currently out of the country undergoing a leadership course at Harvard University.
Wudin, lamented the continued closure of the nation’s universities describing it as unprecedented.
He, however, said the lawmakers and the leadership of the House of Representatives had been making efforts to resolve the dispute between government and university based unions.
Wudin pledged that the House of Representatives was going ensure that it brings all the stakeholders together on one table to resolve the dispute once and for all.
Personnel of the Nigeria Police Force, the Department of State Security Service, and the Nigeria Security Civil Defense Corps beefed up security around the parliament’s complex, over the ongoing protest.
President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, Sunday Asefon, lamented that there had been several promises to resolve the issue, but none had been kept.