Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam, has alleged that the strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) was aimed at bringing down the government of President Goodluck Jonathan.
In an interview with THISDAY, Suswam, who is the chairman of the Federal Government’s Needs Assessment Committee for Nigerian Universities said: “ASUU’s leadership is determined that PDP government must be brought down and the easiest way to do it is ensuring that every family is affected. And so, the Nigerian family will simply say, ‘look, to keep this government in place, our children will be out of school. So it is better that we kick this government out and bring another government.’
“That is all they are doing. There is nothing to it. Otherwise, the Federal Government has touched on all the requests that led to the strike by ASUU. They have no basis rather than playing politics with the strike and then holding the nation hostage and destroying the future of this country.”
Buttressing his claim, Suswam said: “I feel that if it is not that they have introduced politics, you know people can’t say that they don’t have political leanings. ASUU’s leadership, we know where they are standing in this whole political process. They can’t deny that they are sympathising with opposition parties and they are determined to destroy the PDP government. That is what they are doing and it is nothing more than that.”
The Benue State governor, who had attended several meetings with ASUU on government side, said the nine issues raised by the academic union had been attended to, though not 100 per cent.
He said: “I think that it is unfair.
And I keep saying it that they have introduced politics into it. It’s purely political. There is no way that any person can say any other thing. It is just to portray the government in bad light so that people will say that you have a government that is not capable of keeping the children in school. That is pure politics. There is nothing more to it because if you present nine issues and all of them have been attended to, even if not attended to 100 per cent, at least you should appreciate that efforts have been made and you should say that it is okay because this has been done.
“There were a lot of issues that were presented. Constitution of governing councils has been done; they said they should help them set up pension administrator, N250 million was given to them; they said they wanted the properties of universities handed over to them, government said go and form companies and compete, we will do that. You know a couple of other things, the need assessment, an initial N100 billion has been distributed.
“The retirement age, they say they don’t want to retire at 65, it has been approved, all the academic staff in the university retire at 70. Earned allowance, out of N57 billion, N30 billion has been given.”
Suswam said the issue that had kept the universities closed were not because government could not pay salaries but the earned allowances, adding, “Academic staffs of universities collect more than civil servants in this country…. They have been paying that consistently and nobody is being owed salary. These are issues of allowance.
“This earned allowance; it is not every lecturer in the university that is entitled to it. So, why must it be a reason why you keep the children out of school? It doesn’t make sense and I am surprised most Nigerian are looking at this differently. If in a nation, the whole leaders of tomorrow are being kept out of school, then its means that in future, you can imagine the kind of leaders we would have.”
Recalling his involvement in the efforts to resolve the crisis in the Nigerian university system, Suswam said when he was invited by the President to chair the Needs Assessment part of the ASUU strike, he took the responsibility very seriously.
“Out of this three weeks, may be I spent like just four days in Benue because I was determined that we must raise money for this Needs Assessment. And within those three weeks, that committee which I chaired was able to raise the N100 billion, which has since been shared. Once we shared that money, this people (ASUU) moved to other areas; which is issue of earned allowances, which was being handled by the SGF”, he said.