The PUNCH Newspaper
The National President, Parent-Teacher Association of Nigeria, Haruna Danjuma, speaks to GODFREY GEORGE about the lingering industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities which has gone on for almost six months
How would you assess the response from the Federal Government as regards the demands of the Academic Staff Union of Universities which has made students of public varsities be away from school for nearly six months?
The Federal Government is now beginning to respond in a more pragmatic manner concerning the ASUU strike. The issue of ASUU has raised a lot of reactions that even the Ministry of Labour and Employment had to come in. Now that the President, Muhammadu Buhari, has mandated the Ministry of Education to take over the matter, I think there will be light at the end of the tunnel. We hope that within the two-week ultimatum given to the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, changes will come. We need tangible results as parents and stakeholders in education. Our children need to go back to school. They are tired of just sitting at home, doing nothing. They need to continue their academic exercise.
The ultimatum expired over a week ago. Don’t you think this shows the government’s unwillingness to meet the demands of ASUU?
No. Adamu just came on board . He needs time to make recommendations and will do so soon. He understands education better.
It has been almost six months since the strike began. Is this intervention not belated?
People need to know everybody’s role. It is the role of the government to establish universities and engage the services of lecturers and educators that will teach our children. They also have the responsibility of equipping our universities with adequate equipment so our children can learn properly. I just hope Adamu will take this recent call by the President seriously and play his role to make this strike come to an end. Even though he is not an educationist, he has been an educational administrator long before he assumed office. He used to advocate for quality education in Nigeria. He used to run a column in a Nigerian daily. I do not want to talk about the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige, who has bastardised this struggle with his words and actions. This has made the amicable settlement of this crisis to be farfetched. Ngige thinks he can do this all by himself. He thinks the issue of handling academics is like other unions in other sectors. What ASUU is asking for is for our own good – revitalising our universities and making sure that all the equipment needed is in place. That is why they asked some stakeholders led by Prof Nimi Briggs to go to the public universities and assess the facilities themselves on the ground. They have done that and they submitted their findings and their recommendations. It is now left for Ngige to take that report and meet with Mr President and explain in detail what to touch, what to do and not to do, but he has not done so till now. This is why the President had to reassign Adamu, who is at the helm of affairs in education ministry, to take over the matter and deliver it in two weeks. It is such a shame! The issues of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System and University Transparency and Accountability Solution, are things that we ought to sit down and talk about and come to an agreement on. As parents, we are surprised that this has taken so long. It is something that an employer and the employee are supposed to sit together and talk about and reason together. With what is happening now, I just hope Adamu will intervene and things will return to normalcy.
Speaking of the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, he has not been on the scene for quite a while, leaving much of the negotiations in the hands of a former Minister of State for Education, Dr Emeka Nwajuiba, and Ngige. Why do you think this ‘new’ intervention would be any different?
If one is in the government, one cannot just go and do what one has not been assigned to do even though your ideas are the best and you are very versed and have experience. Once a boss assigns someone else to oversee or resolve an issue, there is nothing one can do. Now that Mr President has mandated Adamu to take over the matter and deal with the issue, he can do that now because he has the right to put in his best. At the early stage, there was very little he could do because he was not a member of the committee assigned to meet with ASUU. The deliberations have taken place already and there is a report, too. All he has to do is to take the document to meet with Mr President and advise him on what to do. Adamu also needs to invite ASUU leadership for another roundtable discussion for a possible resolution of the dispute. It is not about starting from the beginning again because the bulk of the work has been done. If one is not fully involved from the beginning, one cannot just go and meet Ngige and ask him what is going on. He was not the one who assigned Ngige to do the job. It was Buhari who did so. Even the second committee led by the Chief of Staff, did you hear if Adamu was invited to be part of the committee? We are expecting that Adamu will use this opportunity to make the whole nation know that the matter is now with someone who understands the issues. Anything less than that, Adamu will find things difficult going forward.
How has Ngige’s intervention helped this struggle?
No, no, no. Ngige has failed. He handled things too arrogantly. He thought the matter was something he could toss about the way he wants. Issues bothering education affect the life of the country and should be treated with urgent care. We are talking about the lives of future leaders, who we don’t want to deviate from the right track. This is the reason we have the issue of banditry and terrorism everywhere. Now, we have our children at home and Ngige and his cohorts are insisting that there is no money because his children do not attend school in Nigeria. He does not care about education in Nigeria; that is why he feels he can do and undo it. In fact, Ngige is sabotaging the government’s effort to end this strike. It is only by sabotage that his government is being brought to a level that makes the citizen unhappy with the government. We are now expecting Adamu Adamu to change this narrative and prove to Mr President that he is the right person to handle this issue.
The Minister of State for Labour and Employment. Mr Festus Keyamo (SAN), urged parents to beg ASUU to resume classes. Have you picked a date to beg the striking lecturers as recommended?
(Laughs) Keyamo misinterpreted the whole matter. He looked at the whole thing from the perspective of a lawyer, maybe. What he has forgotten is that the PTA did not employ lecturers. They did not establish universities. We don’t own universities. We don’t own the lecturers. We were only asked to send our children to school which we have done. It is surprising for him to ask us to go and beg the lecturers. We can have a meeting with ASUU, FG’s representatives and NAPTAN’s representatives for us to witness the whole deliberations to see where we can come in and contribute. But, if Keyamo wants us to kneel and beg ASUU and the FG, we will do that for all this to end. From the beginning, we were not invited to come and witness any proceedings. We will keep appealing to both the FG and ASUU to come to an agreement so our children can go back to school. We cannot do anything more than that. If we are then invited as observers to the meetings, then, we can contribute. We will tell them why we need our children back in school and why we need to revitalise our universities with modern facilities and equipment. This is why most politicians take their children overseas, even to neighbouring countries to go to school. I am sure those politicians sending their kids abroad attended school in Nigeria themselves. That is why up till now, we have not heard their voices on this critical issue concerning our children. We have not heard that a motion has been moved by either the House of Reps or Senate about this issue. It is even a good thing to hear from the elders – the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities – and other stakeholders who have made an appeal to the FG and showed concern.
I will not fail to also thank the media for the kind of support they have shown. We have to team up to tell the government to meet ASUU’s demands and be honest about what it can do and what it cannot do. The back-and-forth is too much, and it is getting nauseating. ASUU should not expect that it will get all that it requested; that will be them being childish. It said it wanted A, B, C and D. If the government says, “We can do A and B to an acceptable level,” ASUU should succumb to the government and negotiate further even concerning its rights. But, if you see the way Ngige treats these professors, you will marvel. He treats them like they are his children, and that is so unfair. How far can we tolerate this impunity?
Between December 2021 and February 2022, a Central Bank report showed that Nigerians spent over $221m on foreign education without significant reciprocity from inflows from foreign sources to the local educational sector. What is your reaction to this?
This is very sad. Who are those whose kids are abroad? Politicians. That is the issue. That is why they are not showing any interest whatsoever because that money is not from the right source. They spend it anyhow. Ask them, “How many of them studied abroad?” Most of them studied in Nigeria. Some attended the University College, Ibadan (now University of Ibadan, Oyo State). Others attended Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna state; University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State; Bayero University, Kano, Kano State; and the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun state). I know some of them. But now, they are taking the same system for granted because they are in a place of power. Do they think sending their kids abroad makes them acquire more knowledge than the locally-trained graduates? Time will tell.
We know who we are. As I am talking, I am a father of 13 children. I have nine graduates. All of them attended public primary, secondary and universities. At a time, I had seven undergraduates among them at the same time. They are all graduated now. Call them and they will show you who they are through their performance. I have a PhD holder in Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering and Communications Engineering among my children. I have a biochemist and a political scientist, all pursuing their master’s in Nigerian universities now. I have the ability to send them to foreign universities but I refused and decided to stay here. We need to support education in Nigeria. That is why we have our medical doctors leave here and go abroad and emerge the best in exams and performances. Many Americans prefer Nigerian doctors to work with them because of their level of excellence and professionalism. What is wrong with the system? We have failed to focus our attention on education in our Nigerian universities. I know how much the government budgets for education but our number one problem is the state governors. They do not take education seriously. That is why we have issues. That is why the governors have teamed up to say they do not want people above 60 years to be retired. Do they know what they are saying? They don’t contribute anything to education except when they decide to build schools so they would make huge benefits for their personal purses. This is why these politicians are sabotaging education in Nigeria, allowing the masses who voted them into power to suffer.
Despite having 49 federal universities, 57 state universities and 111 private ones, the National Assembly proposed recently to build additional universities. What is your response to this?
It is laughable. The ones that we have are not being funded, yet they want to build more to add to the already existing ones. This is a misplaced priority. They should be talking about building more polytechnics because that is what brings developments in China, India and South Korea. We need skilled graduates, not paper qualifications. Why can’t we be proactive in this country? Why can’t we expand the existing polytechnics? Let us engage the qualified lecturers; train and retrain them to give our children the best and forget about this political funfair of building more universities. They took one to Buhari’s hometown, Daura, Katsina State, because they wanted to please Mr President. Why can’t they improve on the ones that we have, add more faculties, and more teachers? Why can’t they secure the universities that we have?
What do you think can be done about the brain drain in the educational sector, where most universities do not have enough professors to cater to the needs of the students because the available ones are retiring while the ones eligible to be promoted are moving abroad in search of greener pastures?
It is all because of the negligence the government has on the educational system. There are no facilities and this frustrates our lecturers. They want the latest equipment, a system that works; that is why they are travelling. People are running away from Nigeria because many have lost faith in the country. We need a turnaround in the educational sector. No matter the amount of money spent on education, it will not be enough. If the government is doing its best, the lecturers will stay. If they all run away, who will stay back and train the ones here whose parents cannot afford foreign education? My son was given an appointment to work in a hospital in Saudi Arabia. I said no to it. He is a father of three, and he had decided to carry them along but I resisted, noting that he got his knowledge here in Nigeria. And should help build the system. He is still in Nigeria, and he is a medical consultant.
What do you think about the no-way, no-pay policy of the government against the striking lecturers?
The government is joking. They think that restricting the payment of the lecturers’ salaries will suffocate them and make them back down on their demands. They don’t know lecturers. The best thing is to meet with the lecturers and dialogue with them. Show them they are important to the system. The government needs to do more to show respect to our lecturers and send our children back to school.