The Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Monday raised an alarm, saying that she was unnecessarily being demonised over the Academic Staff Union of Universities’, ASUU, strike and other issues stemming from it.
The Minister, speaking through her Special Adviser on Media, Paul Nwabuikwu, said that rather than embrace dialogue and work towards an amicable resolution of the crisis, some members of ASUU were now making her the issue.
A statement issued by Mr. Nwabuikwu on Monday said that the ASUU members were claiming that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala instigated the Federal Government to adopt a take-it-or-leave-it approach in its negotiations with the union.
The statement emphasised that, contrary to reports, the Federal government’s approach to resolving the crisis was focused on positive engagement and achieving sustainable solutions to the challenges facing higher education in the country.
The statement made reference to President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent appeal to ASUU, during the commissioning of the Engineering College of Afe Babalola University (ABUA) in Ekiti on Saturday; where he called on the union to call off the strike in the interest of suffering students and parents.
The Minister, in the statement, alleged that, despite the President’s best intentions, some members of ASUU had for several days been distributing pamphlets and flyers, containing abusive and inflammatory messages against her, in mosques and other religious places of worship in the Northern part of the country.
She described the messages as callous and unsympathetic to the plight of students and parents.
“This is taking academic unionism to a new low and infusing it with unnecessary politics. I am sure majority of ASUU members are not in support of this,” she said.
“Dr Okonjo-Iweala is the daughter of two retired professors, and her father is presently a member of ASUU’s Board of Trustees and has been one for a long time. She speaks with her father everyday on the issue. So, how can she be insensitive to issues concerning the sad state of tertiary education in the country?” the statement said.
“She understands and sympathises with the plight of both students and lecturers. She wants our children back in school as soon as possible. Remember she is a mother and two of her young relatives are sitting at home due to the strike.”
The Minister said the plight of the suffering students and their parents was the main reason the Federal Government was working hard to seek practical and sustainable solutions to the challenges facing higher education in Nigeria.
She disclosed that the President has since made available N100 billion a year in the first instance to repair hostels, laboratories and classrooms and other facilities.
She also said that an offer of N30 billion has also been made to ASUU towards their earned allowances, adding that negotiations have gone further than the various offers in a rare display of commitment to resolve the issue.
”This is the first time, in years of negotiating with government, that significant sums of money have been put on the table for ASUU and universities on this particular set of issues. ASUU elements who want the strike to continue should have a heart and rethink their current take-it-or-leave-it approach to negotiation.
“Government has demonstrated its commitment to improving the university system. And it is even ready to do much more going forward. ASUU should listen to the voice of reason and the yearnings of Nigerians on this issue,” the minister pleaded.
However, ASUU has continued to insist on the Federal Government keeping faith with the two parties’ 2009 agreement, willingly entered after a long and difficult negotiation.
She pointed out that if government truly believed in the future of the country, no sacrifice was too much for it to make, including mobilising all available resources to save the country’s education system.
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