Akin Akande, Abuja
Worried by the protracted strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), a group of market women, numbering over two hundred took to the streets in the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT) on Monday protesting the against the industrial dispute between the union and federal government.
The protesters, who matched straight to the Federal Ministry of Education to register their grievances, were received by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, MacJohn Nwabiala.
The protest, which started at about 11.a.m, was coordinated by the President of National Association of Market Women, Felicia Sani.
She blamed the striking lecturers for making what she described as outrageous demands on the Federal Government.
The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) also recently blamed the university lecturers for making what it termed self-serving demands look like a struggle to improve the tertiary education sector.
She said it was unfair for state owned universities to earn equal salaries with their federal counterpart, adding that such measures would cripple the economy.
According to Sani, ASUU’s latest strike has further exposed corruption within the university system, adding that the union’s agitation was politically motivated, rather than addressing the challenging and real issues within the academic system.
Her words: “We have seen their secret, how can state universities be demanding equal salaries with federal universities, they want to close Nigeria down, if we protest they say America, America is over 360 years since it gained independence, we are just 53.
“The President has grown grey hair overnight due to incessant strikes, the way it stands no undergraduate can pass through the university in four years with this type of strikes, the idea is that our children should go to the university and pass out in four years then come and take care of us in our old age, such is no more the case.
“ASUU said they want states and federal universities to pay the same salaries, that is impossible, we know the corruption that plays out in the system, they produce hand outs and sell to students and pocket the money, some are engaged in other activities.
“If they are not willing to teach, they should leave the system for fresh people to be employed, these educated people are the ones even more corrupt and giving the government headaches,” she said.
The Permanent Secretary, Nwaobiala, however, assured the protesting women that the strike would soon be suspended, saying, “the concern by the Market Women was not a surprise in view of their position as mothers to the students who have been with them at home for nearly four months now”.
He urged the Women to be patient with Government and calm their wards to do same, expressing optimism that the issues would soon be resolved.
While the protest lasted at the Federal Secretariat, an educational group, Eduwatch Consult and Research Centre, Abuja urged the feuding parties, (ASUU and FG) to return to the negotiating table to forestall a total collapse of the education sector.
The group’s National Coordinator, Abayomi Ogunnowo, said at a press conference that public opinion by Nigerians should not be tilted to favour any particular party in the crisis, rather the President, Goodluck Jonathan by virtue of being an academician should intervene directly by calling ASUU to a round table for discussion.
He argued that the lasted strike by ASUU no doubt is anchored on trust on the part of government, especially when the union considers government’s inability to fully implement the 2009 agreement.
According to Ogunnowo, since government has shown commitment by releasing N130billion into the system, ASUU should reciprocate by shifting ground.
“Without doubts, strike has done more harm than good to Nigeria and its people, while it remains a potent for drawing government and cooperation’s attention to the welfare conditions of workers the world over, it appears we see it as tool for slowing down development,” he said.
He also stated: “We cannot continue in this direction, we urge the Federal Government and ASUU to resolve the ongoing strike in order to prevent university students from taking to vices, ASUU should make some sacrifices based on what the federal government has offered.
“We would like to see a situation where the President, being an academician himself invite ASUU officials to a round table, rather than delegating a proxy to discuss with them,” he said.