The Academic Staff Union of Universities, ahead of its Friday’s meeting with the Independent National Electoral Commission, has said that its ongoing seven-week strike is in the national interest.
The National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, who stated this in an interview with The PUNCH in response to the call on the union to call off the strike, said nobody had the monopoly of national interest.
He added that the strike would not be called off until the Federal Government acceded to the lecturers’ demands.
There have been calls on ASUU to end the strike in the interest of the nation and to enable university students and the National Youth Service Corps members to work as ad hoc electoral officers during the February and March general elections.
As a result of the strike, many public universities have not rounded off the 2018/2019 session, thus their final year students have not gone for the NYSC.
The calls for the suspension of the strike became heightened last week when INEC raised the alarm that the face-off between the Federal Government and ASUU constituted a serious threat to the 2019 general elections.
The INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, had pleaded with ASUU to suspend the strike in national interest and for the sake of democracy.
He had in an interview with The PUNCH said the commission had convened a consultative meeting involving its Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, national commissioners and ASUU leadership on January 4 (Friday) concerning the ongoing strike.
According to him, the meeting would focus principally on the issue of the role and involvement of ASUU members in the 2019 general elections.
Okoye said, “The national interest, the interest of our democracy and the reputation of Nigeria demand the immediate resolution of the issues that led to the strike and we so urge. It is next to impossibility for members of the NYSC to provide all the ad hoc staff needs and requirements of the commission and over 70 per cent of the ad hoc staff requirement in some states of the federation is drawn from students of federal tertiary institutions.
“Hence, the lingering strike by ASUU will no doubt have serious impacts on the preparations for the conduct of the 2019 elections. We therefore call on ASUU and the Federal Government of Nigeria to quickly and genuinely resolve the lingering impasse that has led to uncertainty in the education sector.”
But while confirming the invitation of INEC to the meeting, Ogunyemi said ASUU did not declare the strike with INEC, adding, “It is what they (INEC) will tell us that will inform our response.”
He said, “Well, INEC has requested for a meeting. The INEC chairman has contacted us and we are willing to oblige them. So our own procedure is that since they have requested for a meeting, we will listen to them. It is what they will tell us that will inform our response. First of all, we didn’t declare the strike with INEC.”
On the call that ASUU should end the strike in the national interest, Ogunyemi asked, “Did you know that our strike is also in the national interest because we want to produce better graduates that can serve INEC better and serve Nigeria better? We want them to have better citizens that can understand the electoral process better. We want to give quality education that would curb all electoral malpractices.”
The ASUU president explained that all the goals he mentioned could only be achieved through the provision of qualitative education, which he said, informed the union’s strike.
He stated, “So, it is only by insisting on the best quality of education that we can achieve all those things. Nobody has the monopoly of national interest. ASUU has national interest at heart in going on this strike. It is not about national interest sentiment. It is about what we are willing to do about our demands.
“I’m sure the demand to call off the strike in the national interest cannot be the only grounds for the meeting and I don’t want to preempt the meeting. It is when we listen to INEC that we will know what to tell them. If I preempt that meeting, it will seem as if I am not a patriot.”
Ogunyemi, who described ASUU members as patriots, said, “We have national interest at heart in doing what we are doing and INEC also appreciates that. We appreciate INEC as much as INEC appreciates us. We will meet them and rub minds, whatever the two parties will need to do, we shall do.”
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