The Independent National Electoral Commission on Thursday raised the alarm that the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities would affect its preparations for the 2019 elections.
ASUU, had on November 5, 2018 begun an indefinite strike over the failure of the Federal Government to implement three areas in the Memorandum of Action it signed with the union on September 14, 2017.
The lecturers’ grouse with the Federal Government included its failure to carry out the Forensic Audit of the earned academic allowances of the lecturers since 2017 and the payment of N20bn out of an agreed N220bn annually and underfunding of the public universities.
Briefing journalists before ASUU started the ongoing strike on November 5, its National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said all entreaties made to the Federal Government to honour the agreement with the union fell on deaf ears and they had no alternative but to begin the strike.
Ogunyemi alleged that the government was not interested in public universities as the children of the top politicians and rich men in the society patronise private universities at the detriment of public institutions.
Both sides have met four times without resolving the crisis, thus forcing students of public universities, who constitute the majority of INEC ad hoc staff during elections, to stay at home.
On Thursday, a National Commissioner for INEC and Chairman of its Information and other Education Committee, Festus Okoye, expressed concerns about the effect of the ASUU strike on the 2019 elections during the opening of a one-day seminar on media gender sensitive reporting.
The event, which was organised by INEC, was supported by the United Nations Women and the Canadian Government.
The commission said that it would deploy over one million ad hoc staff made up of lecturers in federal tertiary institutions, members of the National Youth Service Corps and students of federal tertiary institutions in the elections.
The categories of ad hoc staff to be used during next year’s elections would serve as Returning Officers, Collation Officers, Supervisory Presiding Officers, and Assistant Presiding Officers.
But Okoye expressed fear that the elections could be impacted negatively if the strike was not urgently called off.
He said, “It is next to impossibility for members of the NYSC to provide all the ad hoc staff needs and requirements of the commission, and over 70 per cent of the ad hoc staff requirement in some states of the federation are drawn from students of federal tertiary institutions.
“Hence, the lingering strike by ASUU will no doubt have serious impact on the preparations for the conduct of the 2019 elections. We therefore call on ASUU and the Federal Government of Nigeria to quickly and genuinely resolve the lingering impasse that has led to uncertainty in the education sector.
“The national interest, the interest of our democracy and the reputation of Nigeria demand the immediate resolution of the issues that led to the strike and we so urge.
“It is important that students in federal tertiary institutions should and must be in school at least a month before the February 16 Presidential and National Assembly elections. They are a critical resource and their absence will have adverse effects on the ad hoc requirements of INEC.”
According to him, INEC believes in the doctrine of not leaving any segment of the Nigerian society behind.
Okoye said the workshop was part of the deliberate policies of the commission aimed at encouraging and underpinning the equitable participation of all segments of the society in elections and providing a level playing field for all stakeholders in all stages of the electoral process.
“Therefore, any form of misrepresentation, mistake or mischief in reporting electoral matters may lead to uncertainty, constitutional crisis, and de-marketing of INEC,”he stressed.
The Chairman, Outreach and Partnership Committee in INEC, Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola, said the seminar was organised to brainstorm on new ways to use the media to promote gender equality in the electoral process.
He said INEC understood the indisputable role of the media in setting and resetting the mindset of electorate to make the 2019 elections more gender sensitive.
Ogunmola said that beyond the freedom to vote and adherence to electoral laws, a free and fair election was also about a participatory process where voters were well informed to make right choices.
He added that the media would serve this role through objective and impartial reporting of political events which help to shape public opinion and deepen democracy.
Ogunmola urged the media to plan content that would support gender in their reportage of the electoral process to ensure inclusiveness.
The representative of UN Women, Lansana Wonneh, said when politics was inclusive and allowed women participation, the results would be better.
Nigeria, he said, “leads Africa in almost everything,” except in terms of female participation in governance and politics where Nigeria is among countries with the lowest number.
“We are several weeks away from the general elections and this seminar could not be more appropriate. At UN Women, we are working with INEC to make sure that there are efforts in making elections free and fair and inclusive, especially gender inclusive,” Wonneh said.
Direct your plea to FG, ASUU tells commission
But commenting on the fear raised by INEC, ASUU president said the commission should direct its plea to the Federal Government.
Ogunyemi, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said that the electoral body should take it complaints to the Federal Government, as the ongoing strike was not about the elections.
He said students and other members of the university community were free to partake in elections, as they were not told to boycott them.
He said, “ASUU did not go on strike because of INEC, if the Federal Government does what is expected of it today, the strike will be over. To link ASUU strike with election; we have no basis to listen to INEC because we don’t have any problem with them. Students are free citizens and they can be drawn from anywhere, we never told them to boycott elections.
“So, our strike is not targeted at INEC; our strike is aimed at revamping the educational system, particularly university education, so they can see quality students and staff to draw from for the elections.
“If you don’t restore the integrity of the university system, in another few years, even our students will be a liability to INEC. Instead, they should plead with the Federal Government to address the grievances of academics so we can see quality staff to support their work. If they think the university system is useful, INEC should go to the Federal Government and tell them to address the issues, because that is when they will continue to see quality scholars from the system.
“If we adulterate the system as the Federal Government is trying to encourage us to do, in another few years we will not be proud of our universities anymore and we don’t want that to happen, that is why we have to plead with INEC not to link ASUU with election because we are not striking against INEC,” Ogunyemi said.
FG, APC not ready for elections – PDP
However, the Peoples Democratic party said the threat might fit into the alleged plan by the Federal Government and the All Progressives Congress not to conduct elections in 2019.
It added that the Federal Government believed that it would be defeated if elections were conducted and therefore was planning secretly not to have any election.
The National Chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus, stated this while reacting to the fears raised by the electoral body.
He said, “We have been saying it and we will continue to say it, the Federal Government and the APC, in connivance with INEC are planning to sabotage the elections.
“But whether they like it or not, Nigerians in their millions will vote and there will be a genuine change in this country come 2019. They (the government) should listen to the cry of these lecturers and fulfil all contractual agreements with them.
“We will not allow anyone under whatever guise, to sabotage the general elections.”
INEC is in a tight situation, election under threat – SDP
Also, the Social Democratic Party said the statement credited to INEC was an indication that the electoral body was in a tight situation and the general elections under threat.
It therefore called on the Federal Government to quickly rise up to the situation by resolving the problem it had with members of ASUU.
The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Alfa Mohammed, said this in an interview with one of our correspondents.
Mohammed said, “Since INEC has said this, it means the commission is in a very tight situation. It also means that the election is under threat.
“The right thing for a responsible government to do at this time is to quickly resolve the problem it has with ASUU.
“The government has no option but to resolve it immediately. We cannot afford to allow this election to be in jeopardy.
“We are therefore calling on the Federal Government to listen to the voice of INEC and quickly do the needful.”
We’re close to signing agreement with ASUU – FG
But the Federal Ministry of Education has revealed that its negotiation team and ASUU are close to signing an agreement and resolving the ongoing strike by the university lecturers.
The Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations, Mr Ben Goong, stated this on Thursday during a chat, noting that students would hopefully return to their universities as soon as the Yuletide season was over.
“The Federal Government and the ASUU are close to signing an agreement. I can assure you that the strike will soon be over. As soon as the Yuletide is gone, we will have our children return to the universities and our lecturers return to their classrooms,” Goong said.