Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, has reiterated the Federal Government’s commitment to revamp the educational system in the country.
Ngige said this during the reconvened meeting between the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASSU) and the federal government on Thursday in Abuja.
He assured the union that the federal government would not abandon the public universities in spite of dwindling resources.
“ASUU is not asking for things that are impossible. They are not asking that we give them our head or blood.
“They are interested in getting good working conditions for their members and for the public university system to be conducive for teaching and research,” he said.
Ngige said that government would be happy to concentrate its limited resources in areas that would produce good effect for the country.
According to him, “if the private sector can bring excellence to our universities, the government can as well do same. So, working hand in hand with ASUU as we are currently doing is a model we must keep.
”We will not be going to war with ASUU all the time. We can do constructive engagement. If there is something that government can do and it says it can’t, I am here to say no, you can because I am privy to some information.
“So, we will give the public university system a pride of place, so that when next global assessment is done, we will get more Nigerian universities in the first 1,000 in Africa.
“I am a firm believer in the public university system. That is why my children are there. I didn’t send them to private ones. One graduated from Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Awka, and my daughter, from UNILAG.
”My third child will also come out possibly next month from a public university again. I don’t believe that public universities are going to be abandoned.
”We cannot do so. If we abandon them, the children of not-too privileged or not-too rich will not go anywhere and education is the civilisation we need.
“If any group of government workers or public officers will be on the side of the public university system, I am the number one. I also attended a public university. I attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN).
”I didn’t go to the United States of America when my classmates were going there. so, Government will do its own side, despite lean resources,” he said.
The minister added that some of us in government may not be the Ministers of Education, but we can influence things.
”We sit at the same Federal Executive Council (FEC). I, therefore, want to reassure you that you are in very safe hands.
“If we continue this way, we will make more progress and restore faith in the university system,” he said.
The ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, commended the minister for demonstrating an uncommon faith in the university system by sending his children to Nigerian public schools.
He said that Ngige’s commitment to the growth and development of the country’s educational system should be emulated by other ministers.
“I hope other ministers will follow the same step as you. I think you are the only Minister whose children are in the country.
‘We see others standing by their children outside the country during graduation. But, we saw you standing by one of your children who graduated in Lagos, proudly.
“We hope that all others will emulate you and that government will make it mandatory that if you accept a government appointment, your children must attend universities in the country.
”The National assembly must formulate a law that if you take an appointment, your children must study here. If you know that your children cannot be here, don’t take Government appointment,” he said.
He, however, lamented the decay in public universities in the country, adding “when you hear those in government who send their children to schools abroad say that ASUU goes on strike, they should know that strike is not the problem.
”The problem is that the issues afflicting the universities; nobody is interested in tackling them. Look at the budget we have seen recently, it is exactly the same thing we have been seeing. Nothing has changed.
“And this country is paying the high price for neglecting education – the banditry you see, the kidnapping and what have you, is because people are not being taken care of.
”That is why ASUU has been struggling so that Nigerian universities will be revamped for our children to attend and stop going outside the country to study.
“Children from other countries will come here too and pay to this country in hard currency,” he said.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that at the time of filing this report, both parties were still locked in their meeting.