Lagos - Some university lecturers on Thursday said that the Federal Government directive on the reopening of Federal Universities, which also directed other members of staff to resume by December 4 or be sacked, was a joke.
They spoke in separate telephone interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos.
NAN reports that lecturers, under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), had on July 1 started a ‘comprehensive, total and indefinite’ strike in public universities across the country.
The union members are protesting the non-implementation of some issues contained in an agreement it entered into with the Federal government in 2009.
Nyesom Wike, Supervising Minister of Education, however, earlier on Thursday, directed all Vice-Chancellors of Federal Universities to immediately reopen for academic and allied activities.
He also directed the Pro-Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors to ensure that members of staff who resumed for work were provided with the enabling environment for academic and allied activities.
The minister said that any academic staff who failed to resume on or before December 4, automatically ceased to be a staff of the institution.
In his reaction to the directive, Oghenekaro Ogbinaka, Chairman, University of Lagos branch of ASUU, told NAN that the development was strange and laughable.
He said that this was so considering the fact that the union was yet to get back to the government, after their deliberations with President Goodluck Jonathan.
“Our reaction is simple. Let us just wait for the seven days to come around.
“What government has just done shows that they were not committed in the offer they made with the union that had the Trade Union Congress President and the Minister of Labour in attendance.
“We are not going to fall to that blackmail. Now, which one is better: government acceding to our demands or issuing out threats?
“Honestly, this whole thing ought to have been easily resolved, given the approach taken by President (Goodluck) Jonathan, but it is like we want to be taken for granted after all and it is unfair,” he said.
Prof. Oyelowo Oyewo, immediate past Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, simply described the development as “a glorified joke and laughable’’.
Oyewo noted that it was funny that one of the parties which had before now been holding dialogue would try to intimidate the other.
“I see this whole thing as a joke and I dare say it is not even worth my comments. We just keep our fingers crossed and watch. I still emphasise that such ultimatum is a display of insensitivity and a huge joke.”
Also commenting on the government directive, Prof. Sat Obiyan, Head of Department of Political Science, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, said that the ultimatum was not the best approach to resolving the issue.
He, however, said that the threat might achieve some success because some lecturers would resume for fear of losing their jobs, but it would not end the crisis in the education sector.
Obiyan said however, that it was unfortunate that the strike was allowed to linger for so long.
“Nigerians are worried over the situation; the prolonged strike is not good for the education system in the country, but the Federal Government’s approach now is not the best.
“What is required is little understanding by both parties to agree on something and end the strike without aggravating it.
“It is not a new thing for the Federal Government to threaten ASUU members with sack; it was done in 1996 by the late Sani Abacha.
“For the university system to work perfectly, you need all the personnel and not few lecturers on ground to teach,“ he said.
Obiyan urged the Federal Government to have a rethink and implement the agreement reached with the union.
He also urged ASUU to give the Presidency the benefit of doubt that the agreement would be implemented, given the President’s intervention which saw him leading the government delegation at the last negotiation.
Also, Dr Yinka Ajala, Head, Department of Geography, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, said that the threat would ignite more problems in the education system.
Ajala said that threatening lecturers with sack should not be a weapon for the Federal Government.
He said that the ASUU executive was being careful with the agreement reached with the Federal Government before suspending the strike.
“What ASUU is asking for is not too much, they want government to show some commitment with the agreement.
“Government can only force few lecturers to resume but not all, even if the Vice-Chancellors open registers in the institutions.
“The sack threat is a tactic that will not work; it has been used by the military in the past, so it is not new to us.
“I do not think this is the way government should handle the strike, it will not solve the problem,“ he said.
The Coordinator of Education Right Campaign (ERC), Hassan Soweto, said that the ultimatum would only worsen the problem, noting that it was against the principle of public bargaining.
“What ASUU wants is some level of commitment from the Federal Government before it will suspend the strike.
“It is not right for the government to use force in a democracy,“ he said.
Meanwhile, Agbomeji Ibrahim, a student of Lagos State University, Ojo, urged the Federal Government not to be authoritative by giving lecturers one week to return to classes or face sack.
Ibrahim, who is a student unionist, said that there was a better approach to resolving the issue, rather than using a sack threat.
“In comradeship, we do not shift grounds due to threats.
“President Goodluck Jonathan is already on the verge of settling with the union; so, the present decision might slow down the process of the resolution,” he said.
Ibrahim urged the Federal Government to be more sensitive in its decision and pleaded that ASUU should also have a rethink as the strike was old enough to be called off.
‘’The Federal Government must be careful, logical and realistic in its decision, because of the importance of the sector.
"Both the Government and ASUU need to accommodate each other on the negotiation table because both parties cannot get all their demands and must be ready to shift grounds, “Ibrahim said.
NAN reports that the President personally led the Federal Government negotiation team at the last meeting between both parties, where some agreements were made and the ASUU was to return to the government– after consulting with its members.