ASUU Strike: Govt’s lead negotiator, Babalakin, speaks on education bank, other concerns

Wale Babalakin
Wale Babalakin

The Chairman of the Federal Government/Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) 2009 Agreement Renegotiation Committee, Wale Babalakin, has explained areas where his committee disagrees with striking university lecturers.

Mr Babalakin on Saturday also said he believes Nigerians deserve quality education. He said this must not be compromised as a result of inadequate funding, which has been the situation in the last 30 years.

Mr Babalakin, who was speaking for the renegotiation committee, debunked allegations that his team suggested a fee hike in universities, explaining that the committee’s scope of work had nothing to do with fees payable in schools.

Stating that his team believed that no Nigerian should be deprived of university education because of his/her financial circumstance, Mr Babalakin said his team was determined to provide a lasting solution to the problems militating against quality education. He urged ASUU to call off its strike and return to the negotiation table.

The lawyer said his team and ASUU were in agreement on the need for improved education funding but differed on where the funding should come from.

He explained that while ASUU wants the government to fund education alone, his team believed funding should come from multiple sources, such as the government, private sector, education bank, student loan scheme and scholarships, among others.

Addressing journalists in Lagos on Saturday on his team’s position with ASUU, Mr Babalakin said: “Our attention has been drawn to several statements made by Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, the President of ASUU, and echoed by various zonal heads and other members of the same union. As we had stated in our previous communication on this matter, we believe that negotiations are best done on the table rather than on the pages of the newspapers, hence we have been very reluctant to respond to the campaign of our co-negotiators. Our position is that dialogue on the same table is the most effective way of resolving issues.

“Unfortunately, we are compelled to respond to the allegations by ASUU which have been made severally in the print and electronic media because some Nigerians may begin to believe the inaccurate narratives that have been consistently provided by ASUU.

“Our position as a team is that Nigerians deserve and should have quality education. This must not be compromised as a result of inadequate funding which has been the situation in the last 30 years.

“We also believe that no Nigerian should be deprived of university education because of his/her financial circumstance. This position is consistent with that of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.

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“Going by the figures provided by ASUU, Nigeria requires over N2 trillion per annum to fund university education. This figure exceeds in value the total amount of money available for all capital projects in Nigeria, including Health, Infrastructure, Security and others. There is no doubt that if the money were available for university education as ASUU has insisted it is, the government will have no difficulty in spending it on university education. However as it is, government cannot ignore all other areas of expenditure that require funding.

“The National Council of Education appreciates this position and has directed that student loan schemes be set up by the various state governments. It has also supported the idea of an Education Bank which would provide soft loans for students seeking to obtain university education.

“We do not know from where ASUU got the figures that it has been peddling around the whole country. However, the inconsistency in the figures is glaring. While Prof. Lawan Abubakar the ASUU zonal coordinator for Bauchi stated in his article published in Pulse News on 3rd October, 2018, that our Committee has proposed N500, 000.00 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira) per annum as tuition fees to be paid by university undergraduates, the ASUU zonal coordinator for Ibadan, Dr. Ade Adejumo, stated in the Punch newspaper on 3rd October, 2018, that our Committee was planning to impose tuition fees of N350, 000.00 (Three Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira). Aside from the fact that our committee has no power to impose fees on students, we are at a loss regarding the source of the said figures. However, the contradiction demonstrates clearly that the figures are incorrect and should not be countenanced by anyone.

“We urge all well-meaning Nigerians to appeal to ASUU to return to the negotiation table and resolve issues based on accurate information and verifiable data. We remain committed to a permanent resolution of the recurrent industrial disputes that have militated against the progress of the Nigerian University System. We are determined to ensure that Nigerians receive proper education.”

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