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ASUU dismisses FG’s N52.5bn, says strike likely soon

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ASUU President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke

The Academic Staff Union of Universities has said the N30bn Revitalisation Fund and N22.5bn Earned Academic Allowance totalling N52.5bn released by the Federal Government is not enough to deal with the challenges facing the university system.

The ASUU President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, noted in an interview with Sunday PUNCH that there was a possibility that the union would still go on strike, unless the government addressed its demands, including the 2009 agreement.

The Federal Government had said it paid lecturers N30bn Revitalisation Fund and N22.5bn Earned Academic Allowance. It noted that it had made some progress in implementing the Memorandum of Understanding the government reached with the union.

Osodeke described the fund released by the government as a token payment, adding that it was not enough for lecturers to change their minds on the suspended strike.

He, therefore, asked the Federal Government to address the issues concerning the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, which the union rejected and asked to be replaced with the University Transparency, Accountability Solution. He also said renegotiation and resuscitation of universities had not been addressed.

The union suspended its nine months strike on December 24, 2020 after its National Executive Council met over the understanding the union had with the Federal Government. The union commenced the strike over the non-payment of salaries of its members who failed to enroll into the Integrated Payroll and Personnel information system and some other agreements the union had with the government.

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The union gave deadlines and threatened that it would not hesitate to withdraw its services if the government reneged on its promises. The then President of ASUU, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, said, “What we have done is to give the government the benefit of doubt and that is why we have added the caveat. Should the government renege, our members are not tired of withdrawing their services.”

The suspended strike began in March over the non-payment of salaries of ASUU members who failed to enrol into the Federal Government’s IPPIS, a payroll software mandated for all public officials and some unmet agreements between ASUU and successive administrations. The union embarked on different strike actions since the agreement was signed in 2009.

Speaking on the N52.5bn fund, Osodeke stated, “There is an agreement and we want them to implement the agreement. The issue is not about money. There is the issue of renegotiation, there is the issue of resuscitation of the universities, and there is the issue of UTAS. So, you don’t just come and throw a little money and think the challenge has been resolved.

“This is what our political class is doing. They believe that once they throw a little money, everybody will run back. That is the problem. So, it is not about the token they have given. There are more fundamental issues.”

Osodeke stated that the planned strike in the new year was a possibility, adding that the union decided to shelve the strike earlier because the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council intervened and promised to prevail on the Federal Government to implement the agreement.

He added, “Our going on strike is a possibility. The only reason we relaxed is because a group, Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, intervened. We respect the group so much. The group told us they would intervene and they would ensure that the government implements our agreement. That is why we agreed to the benefit of the Federal Government.

“So, we decided we will give the Federal Government till the end of this year (2021) and see what it will do. Other groups also intervened. That explained why we relaxed going on strike, so that they will not say ASUU likes going on strike.

“The Federal Government should do the needful by embracing the agreement to prevent ASUU from going on strike. Nigeria as a whole will suffer the brunt of ASUU going on strike.”

But the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, said there was no justification for another strike by ASUU, adding that the Federal Government had addressed the issues raised by the union.

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He, however, explained that it might not be possible to stop any group that had made up its mind to embark on strike.

In an interview with one of our correspondents, he said, “I have always said my position is that even if you slap me, I will tell you that there is no justification for a strike. It doesn’t matter; if you like, you can kill a goat for the person, if he wants to go on strike, he would go. If you don’t kill a goat for him, and he doesn’t want to go on strike, he will not go on strike.

“Our objective is to train Nigerian children. That is the whole essence of the entire education spending. So, anything that you are in that is not in pursuant of that goal, you are losing means. The fact that you want to go on strike because there is a form of payment which is not accepted, you can decide you want to do that, nobody can beat you for doing that.

“There is no issue they (ASUU) have raised that we have not tackled. I don’t have any disagreement whatsoever with ASUU, none at all. That has always been my position. My attitude is if you want to work, you will; if you don’t want to work, you will not.”

The minister said ASUU understood the implication of its actions and the impact on the education system. He added, “The only reason we asked them to come and lecture is to deliver content for the children.

“They said you didn’t pay them; you paid them, they say it is not enough. You pay them the one they say is NEEDS assessment, they have not even finished utilising the last one, they said you must bring another one. We said okay, we agreed. They said send money for earned allowance, we sent it.

“Anything they say, we have done. But they say they don’t like the way we are doing it. So, are you going to beat somebody who does that.”

On what the Federal Government planned to do if the union goes on strike, the minister said there was no Plan B since there was no possibility of hiring lecturers from the moon.

He said, “If they go on strike, there is no Plan B. We are not going to recruit lecturers from the moon. There is no need for a strike. Nobody can tell me that a strike is needed for anything. If you don’t want to teach, say so, and not that you want to go on strike. For what? There is no basis for any strike in Nigeria.”

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An educationist, Mercy Chepaka, appealed to both the government and ASUU to let the fate of the students and their parents guide them in taking any decision on the lingering issues between them.

He added, “When two elephants fight it’s the grass that suffers. Our children bear the brunt of any strike action by the union. These students need to be in school. Education is key and there is no need for them spending more years or even months than they should over issues that can be resolved.”

An educationist at a faith-based College of Education in Enugu State, Peter Onuigbo, also urged the Federal Government to attend to the needs of the union as ‘they are the needs of the people’.

“The government needs to listen to ASUU. The money they are talking about is not for funfair; it is for education. It is for our children. The matter has lingered for so much. How can one issue be on the front burner of national discourse for over 12 years? Education is a priority and it is the only way Nigeria can overcome poverty and a dwindling economy.

“ASUU has been patient enough, but we plead with them to meet with the government again. Let them speak to themselves, come to a conclusion and let this matter end so our children can enter for a programme and be sure of when they are graduating. I know some students who have been in school since 2015 for a four-year course because of these incessant industrial actions by the union.”

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Similarly, an educational administrator, Ikechukwu Onuoha, urged the Federal Government to ‘do the needful on the matter.  He added, “I don’t want to begin to trade blames. Let the government do what is right. Any country that wants to grow must prioritise education. I also beg the union (ASUU) to sheath their swords and give the government some time to attend to their demands.”

Meanwhile, a professor of English and Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, said he had no special appeal for the government on the matter as it seemed to him the Federal Government did not value public universities.

Decrying the level of decay in the system, he said, “Is it not ridiculous that when I became a professor, my salary was N467,000; now it has been reduced to about N416,000. The minimum wage which is supposed to bring an additional N50, 000 is even what made it N416,000.

“Why is it so if not because of the obnoxious thing called IPPIS which has reduced everybody’s salary? It is surprising that what we are earning as lecturers today is what was agreed upon in 2009. Since then, the lecturers in federal universities earn a continually-decreasing salary. After the renegotiation, for which the government set up the committee, would anyone tell me that such a government does not know what it would do?”

He also knocked the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, saying he had not acted as someone who has the interest of the sector at heart.

He added, “Look at a country like Finland which has one of the best educational systems in the world; it does not have any private school. The reason is simple – the government funds all the schools and there is no payment of fees. So, the private institutions would be useless. That is a country. Take a look at Nigeria; we are headed towards the cave if this back and forth continues.

“My concern is no longer with the government but with Nigerians. Let them decide. Do they need public education? If they do, let them tell the government what to do. If not, let them stay and allow ASUU to fight alone. When ASUU stops fighting, the system will collapse and we will then realise.”

He said if the educational system collapses, it would fuel insecurity, as he appealed to Nigerians to fight for their rights to good education.

“How can the government wait till there is a strike before they can fund education? This is how you know they don’t care about the system,” he noted.

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Education

ASUU waiting for appeal court decision – Falana

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But out of court settlement possible  

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, says the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) cannot be accused of engaging in contempt of court on the recent verdict of the national industrial court.

Indeed, the ASUU lawyer, who said the union was awaiting the appeal court to determine the next line of action on the current strike by the university lecturers, declared that out of court settlement was also possible.

The industrial court on September 21 ordered ASUU to call off its protracted nationwide strike, granting the Federal Government’s application for an interlocutory injunction.

The union has filed an appeal seeking a stay of execution of the judgment.

ASUU has been on strike since February 14 to press home the demand for improved funding for universities, review of salaries for lecturers, among other issues.

Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige, at the weekend warned ASUU against the consequences of contempt of court.

Reacting to Ngige’s comments, Falana, counsel to ASUU, in a statement on Monday, said the application for the leave of the court of appeal against the injunction is the same as an appeal under the rules of the court.

He said ASUU could not be accused of contempt of court because the union is seeking to appeal and stay the execution of the judgment.

“The minister is unaware that the national industrial court lacks the jurisdictional competence to intervene in the resolution of a trade dispute that has not been determined by the industrial arbitration panel,” Falana said.

“However, contrary to the claim of the minister that the ASUU has not filed an appeal, the application for the leave of the court of appeal to appeal against the interlocutory order of injunction is deemed to be an appeal under the rules of the court of appeal.

“The application is equally accompanied by a motion for stay of execution of the said order. To that extent, the members of the ASUU cannot be accused of engaging in contempt of the order of the national industrial court in so far as they are seeking to appeal and stay the execution of the said order.

“Having exercised their constitutional right of appeal and prayed the court of appeal to stay the execution of the interlocutory order of the national industrial court pending the determination of the appeal, the members of ASUU cannot be said to have engaged in any form of contempt.

“However, instead of chasing the shadow by threatening the ASUU with contempt of court and proscription, the Federal Government should adopt urgent measures to end the strike that has paralysed academic activities in public universities for the past seven months.

“In particular, the Federal Government should take advantage of the intervention of the leadership of the House of Representatives to resolve all outstanding issues and end the strike as soon as possible.”

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Meet Eruani, youngest Nigerian to receive CFR national honours

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President Muhammadu Buhari is set to confer a national honour award of the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic on a 48-year-old medical doctor, industrialist and celebrated entrepreneur, Dr Eruani Azibapu, becoming the youngest Nigerian to receive the CFR award.

Eruani, who is the chief executive officer of Azikel Refinery, is to get the award for his immense contributions to Nigeria’s economic growth, employment and national development, according to the letter conveying the national award to him.

At 35, he had set a record, buying his first helicopter, having turned a billionaire at 34. Graduating as a medical doctor at 27, he later became the youngest commissioner for health (Bayelsa) in the country.

The CFR award, according to the letter, will be formally conferred on him at a ceremony scheduled for Tuesday, October 11, 2022, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.

Born on December 25, 1973 to the royal family of King Allwell Eruani, Aguda IX, the Obenema of Emadike Kingdom in Bayelsa State, the philanthropist obtained his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) from the University of Port Harcourt in 1999.

In preparation for business conquest, he studied at the Lagos Business School where he obtained certification in the Owner Management Programme (OMP). He also studied at the London Business School and the University of Pennsylvania and obtained the Senior Executive Programme (SEP) and Advance Management Programme (AMP) certifications respectively.

Eruani pioneered the establishment of in-country petroleum refining by setting up the first private Hydroskimming Refinery in Nigeria.

With an output of 25,000 barrels per day, Azikel Refinery brings to reality President Buhari’s Modular Refinery Regime launched in 2015.

His business interests, which started with dredging and sandfilling, include power, aviation, oil and gas and technology.

On graduation, he worked as a medical officer in the civil service and some private clinics in Port Harcourt,  and later sought further education and specialisation, starting in surgery at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, then travelled to the United States (US) and took interest in family medicine and later became a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Azibapu also worked in Bayelsa State as a medical officer. But when he became a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, he secured employment in Nigerian Agip Oil Company as an expatriate, basically providing occupational health services. He rose to the level of a deputy chief industrial doctor.

Then, there was clamour for him to come back, as the government of Bayelsa State needed some experienced doctors to revive its health sector.

The then governor, and later President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, appointed him as adviser on HIV/AIDS and Community Health and he was appointed commissioner of Health by Chief Timipre Sylvia, who took over from Jonathan.

After serving as adviser for about two years and commissioner for about five years, he went into an area that was considered not befitting, the business of sand selling.

At the outset, not many people wanted to work with him. In fact, when he told his mother that he wanted to go into selling sand, she wept, that her son and only child, a medical doctor of international repute and commissioner was going to start selling sand.

But Azibapu had always known that one could actually make a good business from what many people didn’t like. And he found encouragement in his father, who said he believed in whatever he wanted to do.

He said, “I looked at the critical drivers of that business – I needed to have land and a dredging machine. I couldn’t afford to buy a dredging machine, because it costs millions of dollars. The cheapest dredging machine as at that time was nothing less than $10 million.

“I needed to get land by the riverside. I could go to a community to get land and even if I cannot pay at once, I can pay overtime, and that was what I did. I went and discussed with the Otuogori community and they agreed. That is where my operation is based, more so, it was a vacant land then, as it was always submerged under water.”

Solving the problem of dredging machine was more challenging, as he didn’t have the money to rent a dredging machine, let alone buy one. “So, I approached someone I know has a dredging machine, who remains very famous in my history, called Akpe. I asked if he could pump some sand for me, and he agreed to do so if I was willing to pay.

“From the bill he gave me, I needed an initial deposit of about N80million. I didn’t even have up to N10million. I tried to bargain as much as I could, but it wasn’t forthcoming, so I accepted it, despite not having the money.

“But I said since he wouldn’t need the whole N80 million at once, we should have a payment plan and I proposed N80 million to dredge about 100 feet of sand and offered to pay him N5 million deposit to mobilise a dredging machine to the site.

“I was able to muster about N10 million, so while he was there, I could pay him another N5 million. So, when he pumped the sand and we quantified that it was worth N10 million, I paid another N10 million,” he recalled.”

Asked how he hit it at an early age, Azibapu explained: “It is influence, largely environmental influence. The environment is not where you grow up; it is the people that you meet, your perception and the people that are around you. When you are purposeful and you have success written around you, you are likely to succeed.”

Today, Azikel operates in Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers states. The business soon evolved into a multinational industry and there was the quest to diversify, this time into the aviation sector, starting with a small aircraft.

Other prominent Nigerians to receive the CFR national award are the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajaiamila; his predecessor, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara; Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha; Head of Service of the Federation, Dr. Folashade Yemi-Esan; former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami (retired); former CEO/Managing Director/Founder of Zenith Bank, Mr Jim Ovia; Chairman, Body of Benchers, Chief Oluwole Olanipekun SAN; economist, and philanthropist, Mr Tony Elumelu, along with a number of serving and retired military officers, Justices of the Supreme Court, business executives and traditional rulers.

-Additional report by the Guardian

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Education

Just in: NECO releases 2022 SSCE results, 60.7% candidates pass

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The National Examination Council (NECO) has released the results of the 2022 Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE) conducted nationwide in July, with over 60 per cent of the candidates scoring credit in five subjects including English and Mathmatics.

NECO Registrar and Chief Executive Officer, Prof. Dantali Wushishi, disclosed this while addressing newsmen in Minna, Niger State capital, on Thursday.

He said 1,209,703, candidates sat for the examination, with 60.74 per cent (727,864) having five credits and above including English Language and Mathematics.

He said compared to 2021 SSCE figure of 878,925 (71.64%) pass in English and Maths, there is a decrease of 10.9 per cent.

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