By Olubunmi Osoteku, Ibadan
President Muhammadu Buhari has urged the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other staff unions to be sensitive in their demands for better staff welfare and revitalisation of universities.
He pointed out that a strike-free system was essential for the desired advancement in higher education in the country.
While describing as disheartening and worrisome the intermittent strikes and threats of strikes by staff unions, he said the current administration had given appreciable priority to education and remained undeterred in investing substantially in education.
Buhari stated this on Monday while speaking as the Visitor at the 71st Foundation Day Ceremony, Award of Doctorate Degrees and Conferment of Honorary Degrees and Fellowship of the University of Ibadan, on deserving Nigerians at the International Conference Centre of the Institution, in Ibadan.
The President, who was represented by the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission, Professor Abubakar Rasheed said staff unions should bear in mind that industrial actions were inimical to the health and progress of the university system and hampered nation building efforts.
“Government is disturbed by the incessant strikes and threats of strike by various campus-based staff unions. It is particularly worrisome and disheartening to note the grievous loss in time and learning hours by our young men and women in their quest to graduate and join the nation building effort,” he stated.
Buhari appealed to the leadership and rank and file of all university-based unions to be more sensitive in their pursuit of welfare and other demands in the university system.
He said it is peace and stability that would give the government ability to consolidate on the gains and successes recorded in the advancement of higher education in the country.
Noting that his administration was aware of the challenges and constraints facing the university system, Buhari urged the staff unions not to focus only on perceived failure of government but also give equal attention to their university’s governance, inadequacies and internal management flaws to give credence and credibility to their critical stance.
“I want to challenge them to throw their searchlight on the issue of corporate governance of their various institutions. It will amount to wholesome critical posturing if their criticism is directed at the perceived failure of government alone while they look away at obvious governance inadequacies of their own institutions right under their noses,” he stated.
“It is very disheartening to hear about the increase in incidence of plagiarism, sorting, sexual harassment and other forms of academic corruption in many universities in the country. These aspects of corruption should also be of concern to ASUU and indeed the academia as a whole,” Buhari said.
According to the President, such corrupt acts continued to cast a dark shadow on universities’ claim to be citadels of character and learning, whereas they should epitomise probity, accountability, transparency, critical inquiry and democratic values.
“Let me remind all of us here that maintenance of peace and stability in our universities is not the exclusive responsibility of the staff unions. University governing councils and management must appreciate the democratic nature of the university system and operate open and consultative governance to carry along both staff and students,” he said.
Buhari asserted that his government had given appreciable priority to education since inception in 2015 and would continue to do so, saying that despite financial and other related challenges, his government had not relented in its efforts to ensure that education is revitalised to fast-track Nigeria’s transition to a knowledge-based society.
The Sultan of Sokoto and Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, appealed to staff unions to be patient with government and the university management in its resolve to honour all outstanding issues.
Pointing to the grave consequences of disruption of academic calendar as a result of industrial actions, he said it was imperative for all stakeholders in the school system to bear in mind those grave repercussions whenever issues arise and tend towards work-to-rule actions.
Also lamenting that the university’s academic calendar was usually drawn back due to incessant strike actions, Chairman, Governing Council, University of Ibadan, Nde Joshua Waklek, pleaded with the Federal government to sustain its dialogue with the unions until all pending issues were amicably resolved.
The Vice-Chancellor, University of Ibadan, Professor Idowu Olayinka, urged the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to accord the University of Ibadan special attention in form of special reconstruction and rehabilitation funds, and increased allocation, spread over a period of about 10 years.
While announcing that a total of 343 candidates were awarded Doctor of Philosophy degrees, he charged the graduands to be good ambassadors of the University.
Prominent Nigerians honoured at the event include, Chief Afe Babalola who received the Honorary Degree of Letters (D.Litt); Emeritus Professor Ayodele Falase, Fellowship of UI; Professor Folagbade Abaoba, Honorary Doctor of Science (D.Sc); Dr Alex Ezeh, Honorary Doctor of Science (D.Sc); while Professor Chukwuma Edozien received a posthumous Honorary Degree ofsScience (D.Sc).
In attendance at the event were Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde; the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi; the Olubadan of Ibadan, Oba Saliu Adetunji; the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi; General Overseer, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye and Registrar, Joint Admission Matriculations Board, Professor Ishaq Oloyede, among other personalities.