The Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, has said the s decision to suspend all union activities across state-owned institutions of higher learning is not aimed at witch-hunting anyone but to protect the interest of students in the state.
The decision followed the protest by students of the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, over the lingering strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, after which the directed all cadre of staff to report to their duty posts immediately.
Obaseki, while addressing veteran labour leaders, who were on a courtesy visit at the Government House, Benin City, said the workers’ decision to down tools was not justifiable given that the state has been up and doing in meeting her financial obligations to the school and its workers.
He noted that their action amounts to injustice against the students whose peers are having unbroken academic calendar in private and other state-owned universities across the country.
Obaseki said, “We don’t play politics with education. We will not compromise education because we are who we are today because of the quality of education that we received. As a we are committed to improving education as the reforms we are putting in place are in the long-term interest of the staff of AAU.
“Our students cried to us begging us to help them go back to school, resume classes and graduate, and we approached the lecturers to go back to class, but they said no. What do you want us to do?
“If ASUU has a problem with the federal how is that our problem in Edo State? This is a deliberate effort to give private universities an edge and advantage over owned institutions. If ASUU has a problem with the federal why should we suffer in Edo?” he queried.
Obaseki added, “We have done so much in the AAU and have embarked on several reforms and wonder why a school like the AAU that is about 45 years old with over 30,000 students can’t pay their bills.
“We are ready to discuss but don’t put someone’s problems on us as we are a small state and want to build modern institutions ourselves, and expect everyone to cooperate and not to fight us for providing quality education to your child. Even some of these union leaders have their children abroad.”
The governor also appealed to the former labour leaders to intervene by reaching out to the union to reconsider their position as the state is willing to discuss and resolve any lingering issue.
He further stated, “Work with us and let us stop this confrontation. We are ready to talk, but go and appeal to them. The state is not fighting them. It’s time to sit across the table and make sacrifices to improve the educational system. Please, appeal to them; we are not the federal If they are fighting the federal they should go and do it in Abuja. We are in Edo and want to manage our resources and get the best in the interest of the students.”
Obaseki noted that his administration is labour-friendly, adding, “This is why in almost seven years, there has not been any serious labour issue in the state.”
On his part, leader of the group and a former chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress in the defunct Bendel State, Comrade Olu Aderibigbe, hailed the governor for increasing the minimum wage from N30,000 to N40,000.
He said, “No employer of labour in Africa will increase wages without negotiation but you have achieved this. Thank you for the building of the Edo State Civil Servant Secretariat, the John Odigie-Oyegun Training Academy, and the construction of Labour House.
“You are one of the most labour-friendly governors in the country,” the former labour chair added.