Nigerian: The first day of the NLC nationwide protest was observed across many states and will be followed by a national protest in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on Wednesday.
Across many Nigerian states on Tuesday workers were joined by students and parents in their thousands to protest the continued shutdown of the nation’s public universities over unresolved conflicts between the university-based workers’ unions and the government.
From Kaduna to Plateau, Edo to Akwa-Ibom, Lagos, Ogun, Jigawa, Benue to Kwara, among other states of the federation, the protesting workers handed their list of demands to the state governors for onward delivery to President Muhammadu Buhari.
They condemned the prolonged closure of the universities, blaming the development on the failure of the government.
Led by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), umbrella body of many workers’ union in Nigeria, the protesters also included leaders of human rights groups and civil societies including human rights lawyer, Femi Falana.
Also, members of the state chapters of the striking university-based workers’ unions- the Academic Staff of Nigerian Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Allied Institutions (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT), trooped out en masse to participate in the protest.
But the national leadership said the first day of the two-day protest would only take place across the states while a national protest would hold at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, on Wednesday.
The NLC’s Head of Information, Benson Upah, told PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter in his office on Tuesday that the Wednesday protest would be peaceful but that the message would be very loud.
In Enugu, the protesters gathered at the state’s office of the NLC, near New Market, Enugu North Local Government Area of the state before moving through the streets to converge on the government secretariat.
Meanwhile, heavily armed police operatives guarded the protesters without molestation but the mass movement caused gridlock within the Enugu metropolis.
The protest was led by the Chairperson of NLC in the state, Virginus Nwobodo, who handed the request of the union to the Secretary to the State Government, Simon Ortuanya, who represented Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.
Mr Nwobodo told the governor that they were at the secretariat to appeal to him to deliver their concerns to President Muhammadu Buhari, over the ongoing industrial action across the federal government-owned universities.
The labour leader said it was unfortunate that the Nigerian government had failed to prioritise education in the country, saying; “Some of the Nigerian youths kept out of school have turned to kidnappers.”
“As I speak to you, ASUU members are hungry. A lot of ASUU members have been thrown out of their houses because they can no longer pay their rents and their utility bills,” he said.
Responding, Mr Ugwuanyi assured the protesters that he would convey their message to the President.
He noted that the state government has always acknowledged education as the bedrock for national development.
He also commended the protesters for their peaceful conduct, noting that; “Our job, just as you have pointed out, is to continue to engage the federal government to ensure that there is a peaceful and amicable resolution of all the contending issues.”
NANS, others join protest in Ogun
The protesters, who moved through various roads in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital, disrupted commercial activities in the city as they set up barricades.
The protesters carried placards with various inscriptions such as; “Can’t you see our sufferings”; “Must we be wiped off as a people before you decide to be reasonable?”; “Refine the refineries”; “Nigeria at 60 years of independence, more hunger in the land than ever.”
The protesters trekked from Oke-Mosan, the government secretariat before converging on the NLC Secretariat on Abiola Way, in the state capital at about 1:22 p.m.
Speaking during the protest, the NLC Chairman in the state, Emmanuel Bankole, said if the government refuses to honour the agreement it signed with the striking unions, workers would not hesitate to shut down the country.
He also accused the Federal Government of a systematic attempt to destroy university education in the country “just as they destroyed public primary and secondary schools across the country.”
“Never again shall we allow a charlatan to govern us or be in charge of the education sector in Nigeria,” he said.
Also at the protest was the leadership of the state chapter of the Joint Campus Committee (JCC) of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).
In Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State capital, the protesters were received by the Secretary to the State Government, Foluso Daramola, and the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Funminiyi Afuye.
According to the chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE), Akinyemi Omonijo, the protesters conducted themselves in a peaceful manner and appealed to the government officials.
The protesters, according to Mr Omonijo, appealed to the government officials to intervene and ensure that demands of the striking workers are acceded to by the Federal Government.
In Jos, the Plateau State capital, the leadership of ASUU said salaries of university lecturers in the country have not been reviewed in the last 11 years.
The News Agency of Nigeria reported that the Chairman of the University of Jos chapter of the union, Lazarus Maigoro, addressed the protesters in Jos on Tuesday.
Mr Maigoro said the strike was to push for their demands and to enable the government address the lingering issues.
He said; “It is not that we derive pleasure in going on strike, but it has become our last option and this is simply to salvage the decaying state of university education in Nigeria.
”We entered an agreement with the Federal Government in 2009, till date this agreement has not been honoured by the government.
”For instance, in the last 11 years, the salaries of university lecturers have not been reviewed. Where in the world is this done?
”Committees were set up to look into our demands, but the government refused to consider the recommendations of these committees.”
He accused the government of paying lip service toward the growth of university education, insisting that education remains the bedrock of development in any society.
Falana joins in Lagos
Meanwhile, Mr Falana was among the teeming crowd of participants at Tuesday’s protest rally in Lagos.
PREMIUM TIMES earlier reported how the human rights lawyer insisted that the administration of Mr Buhari has seen the worst of development indices in the country.
Mr Falana said Nigerians are suffering under the current administration while the president is “junketing” the world.
“Buhari must go,” he said, adding that the fight was for quality education.
He also requested the President to reclaim Nigeria’s stolen wealth to pay the striking workers, even as he mocked the much touted fight against corruption by the incumbent administration.
Earlier, the chairperson NLC in Lagos, Funmi Sessi, announced a two-week ultimatum for the Nigerian government to resolve the conflict with the striking workers’ unions and reopen the universities.
She said the two-day demonstration is to prepare ground for further actions should the government fail to act, saying the “ENDSARS protest will be a child’s play.”
She said; “Our statement is simple. This is just a warning action. If the government fails to conclude all the negotiation and agreement within all the workers in our tertiary education within the frame of two weeks that they have promised to conclude it.
“They will witness more protests and rallies all over the country, they will also witness the annoyance, anger, and frustration of Nigerians. This government has pushed so many Nigerians into depression. We say enough is enough, we can no longer bear this hardship again.”
ASUU, other unions’ demands
Nigerian university workers under their various unions including the Academic Staff of Nigerian Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Allied Institutions (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT), had embarked on strike to protest what they termed poor funding of universities and poor welfare conditions.
ASUU, which commenced its nationwide industrial action on February 14, has continued to roll it over for more than five months.
The union had rejected the introduction of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) as a payment platform for the workers as introduced by the government and sought its replacement with University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).
The Joint Action Committee (JAC) of both SSANU and NASU has also rejected IPPIS, even as it presented an alternative said to have also been developed by its members to the government.
Buhari wades in
President Muhammadu Buhari last week ordered the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, to step down from negotiation with the striking workers to allow his Education Ministry counterpart, Adamu Adamu, to take over.
Mr Adamu, during the joint presentation of negotiation progress report to President Buhari, had explained the reason for his aloofness since the workers’ strike commenced and pledged to fast-track the process of the resolution.
SOURCE: PREMIUM TIME