The Federal Government on Wednesday lambasted the Academic Staff Union Universities for refusing to call off its six-month strike.
The Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, in an interview with The PUNCH in Abuja, said the bulk of education budget was being spent on 10,500 professors in Nigeria’s public universities.
Faulting ASUU’s request for more funds, the minister said the union should realise that no sector in the country was getting enough money.
He also said the union’s penchant for strike was driving public school students abroad and to private universities.
Following their disagreement with the Federal Government over non-implementation of 2009 agreements and opposition to the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, which government insisted all workers must adopt, the lecturers on March 23 began an indefinite strike.
On Friday, the Federal Government directed all educational institutions to resume on Monday next week as the spread of COVID-19, which necessitated the shutting down of the schools had reduced.
But on Monday, the President of ASUU, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, told The PUNCH that no member of the union would resume because they could not work on an empty stomach.
In the interview with The PUNCH, the minister of state for education said ASUU could not blame government for not running universities well, saying the institutions were run by the union members.
According to him, the bulk of the money that is being budgeted for education is paid to the 10,500 professors, out of the 71,000 lecturers in Nigeria.
He said, “Actually, there have been a lot of people asking me as minister what I think is the real intention of ASUU. If you look at it critically, what ASUU is achieving by this (strike) is driving students to private universities and out of the country.
“There is nothing that is now an issue. Even if you say universities are not well run, it is ASUU members that run them. If you say there is no enough money given to education, there is no enough money given to anything in Nigeria.
The bulk of the money that is in education is paid to these professors. There are 71,000 lecturers in Nigeria alone, with 10,500 of them as professors. There are some countries that don’t have up to 2000 (professors).”
“So, it is not enough to simply say we should bring more money; from where? The 2020 budget, underperformed as low as 62 per cent. We didn’t even collect revenue, there were no companies functioning to pay taxes.”
Although the minister said the bulk of education budget was being spent on university professors, he did not specify the amount being spent on the payment of the academics.
However, in 2018, the Federal Government budgeted N605.8bn for education, while in 2019, N620.5bn was allocated for the sector. In 2020, N671.1bn was earmarked for education.
Berating the union further, Nwajiuba said ASUU should cooperate with government and other Nigerians to fix the economy.
According to him, Nigeria is not inventing anything. He added that everybody depended on revenue from 1.5 million barrels of crude oil produced by the country.
He stated, “Not that Nigeria is inventing anything. Everybody is waiting for these 1.5 million barrels of crude oil. They sell them and they become the source of revenue for everybody; the source of dollars and the source of buying new cars.
“A country like Saudi Arabia with less than 25 million people will sell 12 million barrels of oil. Nigeria will sell 10 per cent of that with three times the population. So, it’s a management issue. People should agree to cut their coat according to their cloth. What we are trying to do in the education sector is to manage it.
“I’m not saying things can’t be better, but all of us have to work towards improving that and the way to improve is not by being on strike for six months and chopping (sic) the rest of the money for other people.”
The President of ASUU, in his response to the minister wondered if government did not want lecturers to be paid.
Ogunyemi was reacting to the minister’s statement that the bulk of education budget was being used to pay professors.
He asked, “ Is he saying that lecturers should not be paid. If he thinks education is expensive, he should try ignorance.
“I don’t know what that means. You think because you are paying lecturers, that’s where your bulk of money is going. How much are they paying those in the CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria) and the NNPC(Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation)? I don’t think it is something we should argue about.
“The truth is that everywhere you have seen innovation, invention and development, they invested in education and still investing in education. If any government official thinks that because they are investing in education, they should make life difficult for university lecturers, then they are preparing the ground for the collapse of the country.”
He stated, “You see what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. We didn’t have molecular laboratories. We didn’t have facilities that could empower Nigerian scientists to make meaningful intervention.
“In some cases, we had to use the contributions of our members to start producing hand sanitisers. Some of our branches actually used their own resources to develop sanitisers and dispensers.
“I wouldn’t understand the context which he said they were paying lecturers too much, when Nigerian lectures are actually the least paid in the whole world.”
“All over the world, the in-thing now is knowledge economy. How do you achieve knowledge economy when you don’t make facilities available to empower those that are making sacrifices to ensure that Nigeria could be counted among the leading nations in the world.”
He also berated the minister for condemning the union’s strike. He asked, “What of government’s penchant for not honouring agreements? These other places they are talking about, people will talk of Ghana and Benin Republic as abroad, are those places abroad? Members of the ruling class have made it impossible for us to achieve steady development in the education sector because they don’t have commitment.”