Members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on Wednesday took their protest in solidarity with the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities) ASUU) to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
They called on the Federal Government not to deny the children of the less privileged quality education in the country.
The NLC had declared a two-day protest in solidarity with ASUU, and other sister unions whose continued industrial action had grounded activities in the Nigerian tertiary institutions.
Workers in various states of the Federation began the protest on Tuesday, warning the Federal Government to accede to the demands of ASUU in order for the academic union to reopen Nigerian universities that have been closed down for over five months.
The Abuja protesters were led by the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba; ASUU President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke; his predecessor, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi; the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, Omoyele Sowore; an activist and ex-lawmaker, Senator Shehu Sani, among others.
They converged on the Unity Fountain and thereafter marched to the National Assembly as operatives of the Nigeria Police Force, the Department of State Services, and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps joined the protesters to ensure their safety.
The protesters displayed placards with inscriptions such as, “Pay our salaries according to the impact we make on the system,” “IPPIS incompatible with university operations,” “When enough is not enough,” “Students are our assets,” and “Your children can’t be schooling abroad while ours are sitting idle in our homes,” among several others.
Wabba, while presenting a letter of complaint to the leadership of the National Assembly, said there was no reason for children of the working class and the poor to be at home while children of politicians are graduating from private universities within the country and abroad.
Wabba said, “The reason we are here today is to let the Federal Government know that the children of the working class and the less privileged 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 their children are graduating from Nigerian private universities and abroad. They have the audacity to post them on social media so that we can see.”
He said the Federal Government must do the needful to respond effectively and promptly to resolve the issues affecting the education system.
The NLC president noted that over 10 million children in public institutions, including three sets, were waiting for their admission to be sorted out.
The National Association of Nigerian Students’ President, Mr. Sunday Asefon, lamented that there had been several promises made to resolve the issue but none had been kept.
Similarly, the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities’ President, Mr. Mohammed Ibrahim, said ,”the government should respect and honour the collective bargaining agreement that they freely and mutually reached with the unions and also fast-track the renegotiation of the 2009 agreements.”
Addressing the workers, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, who was represented by the Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Robert Boroffice, assured the labour leaders that the National Assembly would work hard to ensure the issue was resolved.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, who was represented by Mohammad Wudil, promised to ensure that all relevant stakeholders are brought together as soon as possible to address the problem.
ASUU, SSANU speak
Meanwhile, ASUU and SSANU have said the Federal Government is insensitive to the state of education in Nigeria.
Speaking to The PUNCH after the protest, Osodeke, said, “We have not heard from the government. No invitation, nothing from them. We will let Nigerians assess the people they elected and draw their own conclusions about them. We will take action because the government is not bothered.”
In a separate interview, SSANU President, Mr. Ibrahim Mohammed, said, “This has been the trademark to ignore us and this has not changed the last agreement we had since 13 years ago. They should understand that democracy is for the people.
“Nigerians must wake up and hold their leaders accountable, from the ward level to the state level to the federal level; we must ask our leaders what they are doing. The governors are also quiet. Nothing is being done. The minister in the education ministry is also collecting salaries. All institutions are closed. They are also trying to use the divide and rule method against the unions.”
Education ministry reacts
The spokesman of the Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Goong, told The PUNCH that the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, is working to ensure a smooth delivery of the president’s directive on the strike.
“There are so many meetings to be held. The minister is doing all of that as we speak, and when we get to the point of calling ASUU, I can assure you that they will reach out to ASUU before the final submission to Mr President,” he said.