The president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Abiodun Ogunyemi, in this interview by TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE speaks on why members of the union put the industrial action on hold and joined forces to fight the Corona Virus pandemic. He also reiterated the union’s rejection of the controversial Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), among other issues. Excerpts:
YOU just launched what you called intervention network against Corona Virus pandemic in the country. Why the launch in Ibadan?
We are starting with Ibadan because our members in the zone showed readiness for the project. We were in Jos last week Wednesday and the next place is Maiduguri, to be followed by other parts of the country. Our plan is to launch it at the zonal levels of our union, while the branches key into it.
But you are currently on strike; how would you get members’ involvement?
Right now, we have exempted our members from strike as regards this matter. This is a national emergency and ASUU needs to be fully involved as the Corona Virus pandemic affects everyone. We made the decision at our last meeting that since it is a situation that affects the entire world, we must register our presence too. More so, as scholars, researchers and people we have responsibilities towards humanity. Don’t forget that part of our duties is to provide community services to people where we operate.
What specific roles is ASUU playing with the network?
The roles we are playing with the network have many dimensions. We started with public awareness creation and this has to do with the distribution of sanitizers, handbills and posters that we produced ourselves among the public.
We commissioned our chemistry and pharmacy departments to produce sanitizers at our own expense and not that of the government or universities. Our plan is to distribute the items to critical groups in the society, such as drivers, market men and women, medical and healthcare personnel at centres where care is being given; teaching and general hospitals and at the isolation centres.
We are also targeting security agents, media practitioners and so forth. We think that in our own little way, we should identify with the fight against the virus. After all, we are all affected. It is a collective challenge. We have started with the awareness creation. We have developed a jingle in Yoruba Language and Pidgin to be aired repeatedly on the radio. Also, our members who are medical doctors and pharmacists are already on the field battling the disease. We have released them for the assignment. Our ongoing strike doesn’t affect them. This is a national service and emergency; they may need to work in and out of the laboratories.
However, the tragedy is that our laboratories are empty. They lack necessary equipment to work with; otherwise, we could have done more in this regards. Hence, we have to levy ourselves to be able to do the little we are doing. This is part of what we have been telling the government; to equip our hospitals as well as educational institutions.
There is no other way to economic prosperity for any country than through quality education and healthcare. They are the wealth of a nation. Is it not absurd to hear that Nigeria has less than 10 ventilators?
In the entire Southwest, I don’t think they are up to four. These are part of the things we have been saying before now; how ready are we as a country for emergencies? When you train medical doctors in this kind of situation, what do you expect from them on the field after graduation? Many of them will leave the universities and medical schools without seeing ventilators and the rest, let alone know how to handle them.
This is because they are not being trained with the equipment. It is unfortunate that we repeatedly talk about revitalisation of our public university system, with government not bothered about it at all. One could see that in the first week of Corona Virus attack; we were not ready to combat the disease as a country.
It is only now that people are donating money, resources and mobilising funds that government is thinking of emergency purchasing. We are creating isolation centres, intensive care units and so forth. Those facilities ought to have been in place all along and fully equipped with necessary facilities such as ventilators and all that. Unfortunately, we don’t have them. These are part of what we have been talking about.
What is ASUU’s current stance on the controversial Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS)?
Our stand as an association remains as it was. It is still ‘No’ to IPPIS. The reason why we have taken this position is clear; it is based on our interest for good public university education in the country.
There is no going back on our stance because as we speak, the Federal Government has denied our members of two months’ salaries. However, right now we are facing a national emergency, the Corona Virus pandemic. You see, this is a country where the government is not thinking about the people who are making sacrifices for the development of the country.
If government doesn’t care about them, ASUU does. And that is why we have put the issue of IPPIS aside for now to face the corona virus pandemic which is our collective challenge. Let us see what we can contribute to fight and defeat the virus together. Even some of our members are already affected by the virus.
For example, the chief medical director of the University College Hospital Ibadan is our member; ditto the provost of the college. So, we cannot pretend to have immunity against corona virus. We cannot also pretend to be safe when the lives of others with whom we come into regular contacts are endangered. Doing so is just playing the ostrich. Our concern for now is to see how we can fight and win the battle against corona virus. Even if government like, let them deny us more months’ salaries; we will come back to that at the appropriate time.
Does it mean you won’t care if your members are not paid salaries even for six months?
Let them try it first; that is the worst they can do. But you see you can take away people’s food but not their fighting spirits; you can’t kill them. For those who say hunger is the best weapon to fight the war against lecturers, we shall all reap the consequences.
But many among the public believe that there is no money that government can use to meet ASUU’s demands, how do you react to that?
The issue is not about meeting the demands of ASUU but about meaningful engagement of government with ASUU.
What that means is that, it is proper in any engagement that if you made a promise and you could not fulfill it, you should come back to the table with the other party(ies) for a new resolution; that for this and that reason you could not meet up with the initial agreement, so, we are going to reschedule this or that and as part of the rescheduling, you are doing this and that.
That is the point ASUU believes in, not that because you don’t have the money, you just ignore the other party. That is not done. And to make matters worse, you also denied them of their little income because you think everybody in the university is corrupt. ASUU does not in any way support corruption and it always emphasises that. There are better ways of fighting corruption; even the instrument they are using for the IPPIS is corruption.
The auditor-general of the federation has already proven that to the whole world. So, government cannot fool us by wanting to fight corruption with a corrupt instrument.