I greet you as our President and hope that this letter meets you well.
I am compelled once again to pen you this few words following the disturbing ultimatum handed down by your government that striking lecturers should resume classes or be sacked and your dubbing of the ongoing industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) as subversive.
When the NLC and civil society groups rose up in January 2012 to demand a reversal to pre-New Year’s Day price of N65 per litre of fuel, the Federal Government under your leadership labeled them subversive. This malicious blackmail unknown to most Nigerians brought that great spring in the nation’s history to an abrupt end without desired success. Mr President as you will recall, the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) told Nigerians that the present N97 pump price of fuel was never negotiated. It was handed down by fiat by your administration.
I must state that it is regrettable that the The Federal Government is again hiding under the canopy of this false assumption when you declared the six months old strike by ASUU as “subversive.” Subversive activities are by no means light felony in any society and one wonders why the Federal Government has refused to rise to the occasion and solve our educational hiccups once and for all instead of burying its head like an Ostrich in the sand.
The questions is, who is subverting who? Is it ASUU or the government that is subverting the mandate of the people to provide good governance, protect lives and property, stamp out corruption, provide jobs, ensure the growth and sustenance of industries, grow the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), end hunger and ensure social security for all which is the primary duty of any elected government in a democracy?
Note that President Barack Obama did not tag his recent face-off with the US Congress over proposed increase in debt ceiling as subversive. He respected the views of Congress to the extent that the White House was partially shutdown before he was able to reach a deal through negotiation. But what do we have in Nigeria today?
Under this government alone the Excess Crude Account which was put at $9trillion in January has depleted to $4trillion? Is this also the handiwork of ASUU, NLC and civil society organizations? Statistics from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) show that that our external reserves will hit an all time low of $44.1billion before end of 2013. Who is responsible
Sadly, Mr. President, the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) has become a metaphor for a wicked policy of government for wasted money and further impoverishment of the people. Why do Federal Government continue to make Nigerians pay higher for fuel when the promised deliverables from SURE-P are today a total mirage. The Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on SURE-P has consistently queried why SURE-P funds are being sunk into ongoing Federal Government projects which already have huge allocations in the 2012 and 2013 budgets. Over N500 billion of SURE-P fund is said to be missing. Why so?
I think it will pay this government more to own up to the fact that it is broke or having cash flow problems, apologies to to the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Otherwise, why should government consistently shift the goal post in its negotiation with ASUU.
Mr. President, You met with ASUU and ASUU said it will take the message to its affiliates for a consensus before taking a decision. In the process of gaining that agreement as a democratic union, government steps in and slams a one week ultimatum ending December 4 on the lecturers to either hurry back to classes of be sacked.
“What ASUU is doing is no longer trade dispute but subversive action,” Mr. President, you will recall saying while responding to pleas made by the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, to consider the demise of Professor Festus Iyayi whose burial has been fixed forDecember 4 and to allow the lecturers to pay their last respect to a departed colleague and hold their National Executive Council (NEC) meeting before haranguing them with an ultimatum to go back to classes or lose their jobs. Neither the Federal Government nor Nigerians must forget in a hurry that Professor Iyayi paid the supreme price for this struggle and that everything must be done for him not to have died in vain.
Former Military President Ibrahim Babangida did not mince words when he urged your government to thread the path of knowledge and tact as panacea to the current ASUU/FG imbroglio.
“Basically, I’ll say both Federal Government and ASUU should apply knowledge and tactfulness in resolving this issue. Issues are never settled by threat and you need to settle quarrel in a tactful way,” Babangida had cautioned.
Senate President David Mark also cautioned the Federal Government not to use a sledgehammer on the striking lecturers. He further urged the Federal Government not to carry out its sack threat on ASUU members on account of the lingering strike.Mark in a statement on Sunday warned that, “We have reached a situation where hard line positions would worsen the situation. My plea to ASUU is to resume classes while negotiation continues.”
These eminent Nigerians and others who have avowedly condemned the way the Federal Government has managed the ASUU strike so far realising that we are not under a military junta hence their plea that government should handle this impasse with the best of democratic ideals in mind. One wonders why the Federal Government has not used this “military alacrity mindset” to flush out Boko Haram from the country, stop kidnapping, fight armed robbery, end corruption, prosecute fuel subsidy thieves, police our onshore and offshore pipelines to prevent the profuse bleeding of our economy through loss of crude oil worth billions of Dollars on a daily basis and end unemployment.
This is the time for Nigerians especially the down trodden whose plight of getting qualitative education for their children as epitomised by the ASUU struggle to rise and speak with one voice. The one demand being that government should resolve the ASUU strike in the best interest of all. That government should meet ASUU’s demands or tell Nigerians that it is really broke and cannot raise the required funds now?
We cannot be in a democracy and be treated as if we are in an military regime.
The NLC and the TUC as an umbrella body of all labour unions in this country must speak up as silence on their part at this time would aversely affect their future struggle on behalf of workers and the poor masses of this country. Nigerians must use every means possible within the confines of the law to stop this rape of our democracy with impunity where dissent on issues or common disagreements between government and a section of the society is branded a subversive act.
Mr. President, using a sledgehammer on ASUU members at this time amounts to using a sledgehammer on the electorate who voted to install this government. This is presently being viewed by Nigerians as most unfair and anti-people in a democratic dispensation for the people, by the people and of the people. The noose of subversion now being tied around the neck of the lecturers would no doubt be rejected by the people. Legitimate demands and inability of government to appropriately respond to important national challenges cannot in any way amount to a subversive activity.
Permit me to urge our embattled lecturers to remain resolute in the face of this unwarranted and evil onslaught. The resilience they have gained from their long years of patient intellectual pursuit must now come to their aid. That determination imbued with long years of academic discipline must now be brought to bear in your strong resolve to better our education.
Mr. President, all lies at your table to either save our education or vanquish those at the vanguard to seek its betterment.
Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to read this short letter.
Comrade Timi Frank