By DEBORAH COKER
BENIN- Veteran trade unionist Peter Esele has warned the Federal Government that the pervading insecurity in the country will never end unless public universities are re-opened.
Mr Esele, a former President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) of Nigeria, gave the warning while commenting on the solidarity protest embarked upon by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
He was speaking in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Thursday in Benin.
The NLC called up the protest on July 26, to show solidarity with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which has been on strike for over five months.
The academic body has been at odds with the Federal Government over the years for the apparent inability of the government to meet the terms of its agreements with the union.
According to Esele, the NLC ought to have staged the protest a long time ago to show its displeasure but “better late than never.’’
He pointed out that the current strike could hurt the upcoming general elections, advising government to take steps to resolve the issues with ASUU, to save the future of democracy in the country.
The former TUC chief noted that the latest ASUU strike could have been avoided if the Federal Government had kept faith and respected the terms of agreements reached with ASUU.
“If you ask why ASUU is on strike right now, it is because they had negotiation with the Federal Government in 2009 and there was an agreement.
“That agreement was supposed to have been implemented by the government but they didn’t implement it.
“In 2014, government paid N200 billion out of the N1.2 trillion ASUU demanded and in 2019, government paid only N20 billion.
“So when government has gone ahead not to fulfil the terms of agreements reached, what you have naturally is for ASUU to go on strike to press its demands.”
Esele said that the solidarity protest by the NLC nationwide was to make everybody know that the continuous closure of public universities in the country was dangerous for the nation and the education sector in particular.
He pointed out that from 1999 till date, the nation’s universities had been shut cumulatively for about six years.
“Yet, we express surprise over the current insecurity. You have millions of Nigerian youths sitting at home and doing nothing.
“More so, infrastructure in the universities are decaying because nobody is there to manage them. You have an economy around universities, right now that economy is nil.
He said: “workers in that environment, real estate and even parents in the universities’ environment are all at home, so why are you surprised about insecurity.
“An idle mind, they say, is the devil’s workshop.”
Esele stressed that if government had been committed to honouring agreements reached with ASUU and paying N200 billion yearly since the agreement was reached, it would have long completed the payment and forestalled the strikes by ASUU. (NAN)