By Tor Shiekuma Felix
On 9th March 2015 Benue State University lecturers dropped their board pens after peremptory instructions issued by Benue chapter of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU. The inability of state government to shelled out their pay cheque and allowances for months informed their irrevocable resolution. Thereafter, the unalterable decision taken by the union dragooned students to vacate both the premises and purlieu of the university, to their various abodes. This materialized at the twilight of the previous administration. However, heretofore students are hustling and bustling at home with their parents.
The union agreed to approach the table of negotiation only if their arrears of past several months are settled. Personally this was a beautiful sin quo non, because workers ought to reap the fruit of their arduous labour. Moreover, the Bible admonishes that a husband man must be the first partaker of his fruit. This connotes that a worker deserves to receive his pay at the end of the month. However, no commitment was recorded from the past leadership concerning the issue.
Immediately governor Ortom scrambled up the corridor of power, BSU strike was the first pressing issue to be tackled. This was more so because education is typically perceived as the warp and woof of every nation. To this end, he verbally beseeched them to return to classes but no rejoinder was made to that effect. His request was not expressed in monetary terms because he inherited an empty coffer.
The first loan Gov. Ortom procured following State House of Assembly imprimatur was used to clear their one month arrears. Subsequently, another month was settled, amounting to two months of cleared salaries; that was May and June respectively. This is a pellucid indication that the current administration is ever ready to lift education to an uncommon pinnacle. It is obvious because no other sector had received the attention seen in the education sector, since the current leadership was honorably installed.
Meanwhile, other state workers are grumbling because it is yet to rain on their own side; there is no bank alert yet. To be specific, local government staffs are not smiling, rather they are scowling their countenance because paycheck is yet to be remitted to them. The SURE-P workers are also found muttering on the same issue.
However, Benue State University lecturers who received the ultimate regards from the current administration are still striking like the thunder. If I may quiz: What of other state workers who have not been remunerated at all? Are they not workers? I therefore penciled this piece to challenge their decisions; to fearlessly inform them that enough is enough of their lingered and poppycock strike.
Recently, Gov. Ortom publicly annunciated that he had met all of their labour conditions and they are expected to shift ground as soon as possible; to return to classrooms. However, the only come back message exuded from them was that they must be paid for additional two months (March and April) from the bailout fund allocated to the state purse ere they will go hither a classroom. This scoop oozed from the BSU chapter of ASUU chairman, Dr. David Okoni, via his conversation with the BENUE.COM.NG. Eesh! As if the bailout fund is meant for them only.
“At the time (the federal) government had not given them bail out money to pay salary arrears. Now government has given them money to pay salary arrears. So we are waiting for him to pay our March and April with that bail out money”, said Dr. David Ikoni
It is typically acceptable that the unscrupulous actions of politicians against academicians constrained them to stand their ground. They have a bad track record with them. However, responsible and visionary teachers do not completely sacrifice their students’ future on the altar of salaries and allowances. The promising future of the younger generation must be ranked before stipends. This is because the knowledge imparted to students can never be proportionately recompensed, but the ecstasy of teachers should be that posterity will live to acknowledge them via their students. Similarly, only God alone can reward teachers.
The unalterable decision of ASUU is indirectly portending transfer of aggression. Obviously, Gov. Ortom was not the one who withheld their salaries and allowances for several months. It was only bequeathed to him. So handcuffing him to shell out their accumulated arrears at a time is an unfair action. This will be at the expense of other workers. The two months stipend disbursed to them by the current leadership supposed to lure to them to shift their ground. The despot who withheld their salaries is residing oversea, they should go and catch him over there.
All the tertiary institutions in Benue state are on session except the only state owned university. Does it mean lecturers in state polytechnics and colleges of education received all of their monthly pay and allowances? Not at all! This overtly means that their joy of shaping lives for better tomorrow is more important than the peanut remitted to them at the finis of the month. So why is this issue of BSU lecturers exceptional? The only elucidation for that is that their personal welfare supplants that of students’ destiny.
Every individual who is mentally sound will fall in line with me that the economy of Benue state is currently sick. People are whirling in lagoon of poverty; in fact others quietly accept pessimism as their last option. So bringing a self-centered and wicked agenda by selected few, which is harmful to others, is the highest form of glutton and piggish in nature. Nobody is enjoying the state of affairs in Benue state because of the slender and shallow rooted economy, so if ASUU does not want to sympathize with other people and the government, they should collateralize the university and obtain money for their salaries and allowances.
All the state workers are beneficiaries of that bailout fund; not only BSU lecturers. But all other workers are patiently offering their services for the benefit of the state. So does it mean other workers do not know their rights? Or don’t they know that the bailout fund has been remitted to Benue State?
The prudent and informed decision I anticipated to record from BSU ASUU was for them to accept to return to classes after two months emolument, pending when the state strongbox will snap back. Immediately the economy is healed of it injuries then they will get their arrears utterly settled. Half bread is better than none. However, my expectation fetched disappointment for me.
The recent display of coffin on the entrance of the university shows their readiness of burying the destiny of students. This is quite an imbecilic behaviour exuding from people who claimed to be role models. Most of them are alumni of that university, so it has been buried, as they proposed, could they have gotten the opportunity to acquire the knowledge that made them relevant today? What of their children at the elementary level of education, will that institution not be of use to them? If they can objectively react to these questions then they’ll understand how they are cursing the future of Benue state.
Students spent unproductive four months at home with their parents, who are mostly living from hand-to-mouth because of unpaid salaries. Some students have even devised dishonorable means of livelihood, chiefly arm robbery and thuggery. If they really believe in the future of these students, why must they turn blind eyes on these students to this very extent? Even if two months’ salary is mingy before them, they would have relaxed their position because of these innocent students.
I therefore advice BSU ASUU to stop spoiling students’ destinies; they should come back and wait for the settlement of two months arrears in classes, because no plunder will steal the money.
Tor Shiekuma Felix is a columnist on Benue.com.ng