By G9ija

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) yesterday accused the Federal Government of “dehumanising” its members by withholding their salaries while on strike.

It said the non-payment of salaries have reduced the country’s intellectuals to “beggars and nonentities”.

The union said the government has not addressed any of its demands to a “logical conclusion.”

ASUU President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, said in an interview with The Nation: “What we are doing is a patriotic duty to this country because we know that in every society that has ever experienced development, universities have been used as the incubation centres.

“It is like we are missing it in Nigeria and the ruling class are not demonstrating sufficient knowledge of what we are missing.

“They are toying with the intellectual aspect of Nigeria. Yet we say we want to compete in a knowledge economy of the 21 century. You can’t have a knowledge economy without having a knowledge society.

“Every knowledge society is driven by intellectuals, but see what they are doing with intellectuals in Nigeria, reducing them to beggars, reducing them to nonentities.

“When you seize somebody’s salary for eight months or six months or five months, what are you trying to do? You are dehumanising them and you want them to love this country?”

Ogunyemi faulted comments by Labour and Employment Minister, Chris Ngige, that the government had met most of ASUU’s demands, except the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) implementation.

At a meeting between ASUU and Federal Government representatives on October 21, the union asked for N110 billion for the revitalisation of universities.

The union also asked that the N30 billion promised by the government for Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) be paid to only ASUU members.

It demanded the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement, the inauguration of visitation panels to universities, among others.

But, the government said it could only afford N20 billion for the revitalisation, and that the N30 billion EAA was for all university unions.

Ogunyemi said government has not invited ASUU to any meeting towards calling off the strike.

He said: “If government didn’t invite us to any meeting and they are saying they want to end the strike, we wait and see how they will end the strike.”

The ASUU president accused the government of owing salaries, not paying the promised EAA and not inaugurating a negotiating team and the visitation panels.

“I think the government has not created the ground for the quick resolution of the strike.

“Even the revitalisation they are talking about, we came down from N220 billion to N110 billion and the government is talking about the N20 billion. That is a nonstarter.

“These are the issues; we have not seen any of them addressed to its logical conclusion because our members are saying they are tired of promises.

“Anytime they tell you that they have addressed the demands of ASUU, ask them to tell you which one they addressed to its logical conclusion.

“Have they paid people’s salaries they withheld? This time around, our members want concrete action.

“If the government had addressed the education emergency before COVID-19, our universities would have been able to respond effectively. We would have had the molecular laboratories and oxygen concentrator facilities.

“We would have been able to produce basic sanitisers; all those basic things that could address emergencies created by COVID-19 response. We could have contributed meaningfully.”