December 4, 2020

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Group appeals to Nigerian govt to save public universities

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A rights advocacy group, Network for Democracy and Development (NDD), has appealed to the federal and state governments to save public universities from avoidable collapse.

The non-profit organisation also pleaded with both the government and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to ”show courage by working out mutually-benefiting compromises in the overall interest of the students, the education sector and the nation.”

ASUU has been on a nationwide strike since March 23 to demand their revitalisation allowance, Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), renegotiation of the 2009 agreement, visitation panels, among others.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how ASUU asked the federal government to discard the payment platform, IPPIS, as a condition to call off the eight- month-old strike in the country.

The union also said that what has stalled the discussion is the government insisting that payment of the withheld salaries and other entitlements of lecturers would only be effected through IPPIS.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige, on November 4, said the federal government’s representatives in the meeting will ASUU will reconvene to agree on the government’s final position.

The government is yet to make its decision public.

In a statement signed by its National Coordinator, Tajudeen Alabede, and Director of Public Affairs, Abdul-Wasi Moshood, the NDD Monday night said academic activities remain suspended in public universities due to the inability of the federal government and ASUU to reach an amicable resolution of their differences.

“COVID-19 pandemic can no longer be an alibi as virtual learning has now become a mainstream method of learning. NDD, therefore, urges the leadership of ASUU to look at the bigger picture and, as a first step, agree to resume academic activities. We believe that negotiations and resumption of work are not mutually exclusive realities,” the statement reads.

The advocacy group also advised the federal government to make it a duty to honour its commitments arising from negotiations.

“The legal principle of _pacta sunt servanda_ (“agreements must be kept”) should be held sacrosanct at all times.

“Governments and university administrators should take steps to make learning, both offline and online, a pleasant reality for the students,” the statement reads.

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National president of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi in an interview with Premium Times
National president of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi.

Politicisation of VC’s appointment

According to the organisation, one issue that has had a debilitating effect on the public university system in Nigeria is the undue politicisation of the appointment of vice-chancellors.

“We are now witnessing increased and louder interference by various interest groups in the choice of VCs. Thus, public universities and many other public institutions are gradually becoming agencies for assuaging such provincial interests,” the statement reads.

NDD said the extant selection process of vice-chancellors should be reviewed in a way that would guarantee more peaceful succession in the administration of our public universities.

“We should not allow politics to kill the sublime idea and ideals of the university. A case in point is the process leading to the appointment of a new vice-chancellor for the nation’s premier university, University of Ibadan. We are astonished by how the choice of the VC of just one university has become a major national issue with contending forces trying to commandeer the process,” a part of the statement read.

The group said a display of power and influence by forces from within and outside of the university played out at the University of Lagos.

“There is no winner in a situation where probity, accountability and public integrity are on sabbatical. The recent drama at the University of Lagos is a matter of great concern. The direction and the end of the recent interventions by the Federal Government are not difficult to decipher. What we see playing out is the same,” the group said

NDD said it was calling on appropriate authorities to act, without any further delay, on the substantive issue of allegations of corruption and abuse of office.

“They are too important to be ignored or negotiated away. The university system needs to set a good example of ethical leadership and good governance for the larger society. In addition to the all-important campaign for greater autonomy, more funding and better quality of teaching and research, NDD expect ASUU to also play a leading role in the fight against corruption in the university system,” the group said.

The organisation said it was worried about the springing of more private universities.

“NDD is worried that more and more private universities are springing up at a time when the public university system is facing grave challenges. The fact that many well-to-do citizens and organisations that should have played a part in strengthening public universities are behind the establishment of these private universities calls for reflection,” the statement concluded.

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