By Cross Udo and Ben Adoga
It was the turn of Abuja, the nation’s capital, to feel the heat of the anti-ASUU strike protest, yesterday.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) made good its threat to ground the Federal Capital City (FCT) by staging a mega rally in solidarity with the striking university-based unions.
The workers took the protest to the National Assembly Complex to protest the plight of students who have been at home for over five months without learning.
This came just as the NLC said it is criminal for the Federal Government to stop workers’ salaries over the alleged ‘no work, no pay’ policy.
Besides, Labour said that Nigerians, especially workers, were tired of the government’s excuses and lamentations on the reasons for the lingering university teachers’ strike, stressing that, if after the solidarity protest, the government remained adamant in addressing the demands of the striking university unions, the next phase would be a three-day national strike.
The unions, in large numbers, hit the streets of Abuja to continue the two-day protest which had earlier been held in various states of the federation to push the Federal government toward ending the month-long strike in the university system.
The rally led to heavy gridlock on the roads leading to the National Assembly. The protesters later presented their letter to members of the National Assembly.
Recall that the four university-based unions, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Allied Institutions (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) have been on strike for over months.
The rally, which began from the Unity Fountain at about 9:30am, was led by the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba; former Senator and activist, Shehu Sani, Country Director of ActionAid Nigeria, Ene Obi, rights activist, Omoyele Sowore, as well as current and past leaders of the affiliate unions.
It also witnessed a huge security presence of the police, personnel of the Department of State Services (DSS), and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), to monitor things.
The crowd chanted angrily while holding placards and banners with different inscriptions such as: ‘The Arrears of Our Earned Allowances are Our Rights’; ‘Pay Us, Stop Making Universities’ Constituency Projects’, amongst several others.
Addressing workers at the mega rally, the President of the NLC, Wabba, regretted that some of the government officials that have condemned the ongoing strike by university workers had protested with labour during the previous administration.
On the stoppage of striking workers’ salary by the Federal Government, Wabba said, “It’s criminal to stop the salary of a worker whose only fault is insisting that an agreement signed must be obeyed.
“Nowhere in the world, even the International Labour Organisation (ILO), that we have such a draconian law of no work, no pay.”
On the next action by the labour after the solidarity rally, the NLC president said, “The next phase will be a three-day national strike. I hope the government will be reasonable.”
He criticised the Federal Government for paying lip service to education and the welfare of workers in tertiary institutions.
He said that most of those at the helm of affairs currently were beneficiaries of a thriving education sector in the past as they enjoyed free and quality education.
According to him, “Most of them holding office today enjoyed free education. They benefited from the bursary scheme. Shame on them!”
Wabba also wrote off insinuations by the Federal Government that the rally would lead to civil disturbances, saying, on the contrary, the actions of the government were fuelling social disturbances.
He said nowhere in the world that protesters are denied their right to protest except in Nigeria.
The NLC president said Nigerians, especially the workers, are facing hardship and that only the political elite are insulated.
“This is a patriotic call, we don’t want the country to collapse on us. Education is collapsing, and we must address this adequately.”
While submitting the unions’ demands list to the lawmakers, the NLC president condemned the Federal Government for paying lip service to education and the welfare of workers in tertiary institutions and warned that further delay could attract a shutdown of the Labour force in strike action.
*Wabba decries the state of over 10 million students idling at home
The protesting workers decried the level of hardship and the spate of insecurity in the country. Their leader, Wabba, warned that depriving children of poor access to quality education would only fuel the insecurity situation of the country
He further said Nigerian professors are the lowest paid in Africa, and that the about N1.6trn spent by the elite to send their children to school outside the country, is enough to rehabilitate education in the country.
He said, “The reason we are here today cooperates is well known to every Nigerian. The children of the working class 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, whereas the children of the elites are graduating from private universities and the ones abroad. And they dare to post them on social media so that we can see them.
“Comrades, we must be angry because this is not what we bargained for. We bargained for a good government that will listen to us because democracy is all about the people, and you cannot talk of people without quality education. So that is why we are here. We will continue from here.
“And all of you must be ready to salvage the country and salvage the education sector at all levels. Because all the unions, including the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, colleges of education of universities, of non-academic have senior staff, all of them have issues, and those issues are straightforward.
“But yet, our leaders cannot listen to fix those issues. It has been promised upon promises and those promises of robbing caps. We are tired, we are tired of their antics. Those antics cannot fly again. We must take our destinies into our own hands.”
Also speaking, the National President of SSANU, Mohammed Ibrahim, said “Agreements must be respected. Universities must take a universal look. We must have the best of our brains. We must have our teachers, lecturers, members of staff, non-academic, junior, and senior security, everybody is important, and, therefore, the government must rise to the occasion.
“The issue of IPPS is no longer news to you. IPPIS has made everybody in the university community poorer.
“Registrars are paid salaries of cleaners and so forth. What you get today you don’t know what you get tomorrow. And that is why we are challenged. We have come up with our solutions. The U3PPS is there. The UTAS is there.
“We are ready to work together. We will give them the best, our students should go back to classrooms.
“Our hospitals should look decent. Gentleman, the security has become something else. Our people, teachers, everybody, no one is safe in the university community.”
On his side, ASUU president, Emmanuel Osodeke, said the national universities bemoaned the ratio of students to lecturers in tertiary institutions, which he said, was part of the factors eroding the quality of education in the system.
He said, “In the university today, there is one teacher to over 1,000 students. That’s what brought the earned academic allowance that they did not pay.
“So, we need to let them know that they don’t dominate us. Universities are universal. Our universities used to have foreign students. You are a child of a governor, you sit and learn with the child of a driver. Eat in the cafeteria together. Stay in the same hostel. Today, it is not like that”.
Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, who was represented by Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Robert Borrofice, while addressing the aggrieved workers, promised that the National Assembly would intensify efforts to ensure the issue is addressed.
He said, “The Senate is here with you today. We believe in your struggles and that is why on several occasions we held meetings with the leadership of ASUU and the federal executives.
“There is no country in the world where children of universities will be away from the classroom for five months. So, we are with you. I confirm the receipt of this letter from the NLC ok in respect of your struggles.”
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, represented by Mohammad Wudil, assured that he would ensure that ministers of finance, labour, employment, education, as well as all relevant stakeholders, are brought together immediately to resolve the contentious issues.