From Adekunle Jimoh, Ilorin
The Federal Government is conspiring with owners of private universities to de-market public universities in the country, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has said.
It said the conspiracy had led to the proliferation of private varsities and deliberate underfunding of public universities belonging to the Federal and state governments.
ASUU President Abiodun Ogunyemi said this at the weekend in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, at a town-and-gown meeting with stakeholders on the union’s current strike.
He said: “The issue is a calculated attempt to de-market public universities by the owners of private universities together with Nigerian rulers. There is also this attempt to underfund these public universities to make them surrender. Discerning minds should know that we cannot divorce the assault on public universities today from the general trend in the society (which is the slogan: ‘Government has no business doing business.’). What we are seeing today in the Education sector is a reflection of what is happening in the larger society.”
Ogunyemi stressed that ASUU’s position on the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) remained the same.
“IPPIS has created so much tension that the Nigerian government has elevated it above our main demands. We have been rejecting and still rejecting IPPIS because it violates university autonomy.
“IPPIS means that before any vice chancellor can bring in a new lecturer that a university desperately needs, the vice chancellor will go and seek clearance from the Accountant General of the Federation and possibly the Head of Service of the Federation. We think we have gone beyond taking Nigerian universities back into the ambit of civil service,” he said.
Ogunyemi added: “Our situation in Nigeria is programmed to discourage investment in public institutions, particularly the Education and Health sectors, so that the private ones can thrive.
“Today, we even hear government saying public secondary schools will be privatised. At least, we heard a junior minister say last month that unity schools that were not performing will be privatised. A minster once tried that but because of the resistance of stakeholders, including ASUU. We in ASUU stood our ground and identified with other stakeholders and insisted that to privatise unity schools will sound their death knell.
“We are challenging the Federal Government that education should be handled as an investment for the future of the country. Education, being provided by government, is not a favour but doing what is necessary. The challenge we have today in the Education sector is huge. This is because we can see the irony of our situation that private universities are almost outnumbering public universities. That is the universities owned by state and the Federal governments.
“ASUU believes that education is the greatest weapon we have to transform our society. Education is the strongest weapon to equip our youths with skills, knowledge and values that will make them useful, not just to themselves but to our society.”
“Corruption will be difficult to pin down by any government that makes access to subsidised facilities and services like public university education impossible.
“People will find ways of responding to their existential requirements: what they need to make meaningful life. We have to ask for it. Freedom is never given on a platter of gold. Freedom must be demanded for and where necessary fought for. Nothing good comes easy.”