Thursday, 23 November 2017
Items filtered by date: August 2017

While Jose Mourinho is pleased with Manchester United's impressive start to the Premier League season, he wants to see how his side react to going behind.

United have enjoyed an excellent start to the campaign, picking up maximum points from their opening two games after repeat 4-0 wins over West Ham and Swansea.

United currently sit top of the table as a result, but Mourinho would like his side to fall behind in the upcoming weeks to discover if they can handle adversity.

"The thing I want to happen is for the team to be losing," Mourinho is quoted as saying by Sky Sports. "So I can see the way we react emotionally.

"At this moment, everything is going in our favour, but it is not always going to be a motorway. You can always find difficult journeys and road blocks, and we have to be ready for that.

"It has not happened so far but going a goal behind will be a different challenge and I want to see how these players try to change a result.

"Let's see how we are when we are in difficulties, when we need the last minutes to win matches."

Mourinho also said that he is not getting carried away by United's start, given they also picked up two wins from their opening two league games last season yet ended up finishing sixth.

"Of course I am happy with the way we have started the season," he added. "And the quality of our performances has given me even more confidence.

"But I don't forget that we started last season with six points from our first two matches and still finished sixth. That is not a lesson, it's the reality of football. Two wins are not paradise, just as two defeats are not the end of the world."

Published in Sports

Renowned banker and politician, Dr. Alex Otti, speaks to TOFARATI IGE, about his banking and political career

Why did you leave banking for politics?

There comes a time when one looks beyond one’s personal comfort and interest in taking decisions. For me, that time was in 2014. I had spent over 25 years in the banking industry rising from a graduate trainee in 1988 when I finished from the university, to become CEO in 2011, after serving a six- year tenure as Executive Director in First Bank of Nigeria. I may not have completed my tenure as CEO of Diamond Bank, but I had achieved most of what my team and I set out to do in the bank in a shorter time than we set for it. Meanwhile, I come from a state where things were going bad owing to inept and incompetent leadership. I thought it was a good time to go and serve a lot more people than I was serving in the bank.

I was not interested in politics ordinarily, even though like it is said, man is a political animal. So, I always find it difficult to refer to myself as a politician. I do, however, know that the kind of changes that I wanted to make in the society can only be achieved in politics.

I have always been involved in what you call politics from my younger days and even in school, having been part of student union activities. I am also familiar with the words of Plato, which says, “One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

Was vying for the governorship of Abia State your first taste of politics?

I will say yes, if what one did in school is relevant to your question. Otherwise, this was my first attempt in the larger society.

Why did you choose to start at governorship level and not the Senate or perhaps the House of Representatives?

Governorship was where I thought I would make my greatest impact. Like I had said earlier, mine was not driven by the need to hold an office but to deliver service to my people. Legislative functions, even though important was not going to cut it for me. Again, I was gainfully engaged and was really not looking for a career in politics. Mine was more of an intervention than anything else.

What were some of the profound lessons you learnt in politics?

Many lessons that can take up the entire paper. I will highlight a few of them. The first is that people are more discerning than governments give them credit. In spite of the propaganda of the government of the day, when people want change, they want change. I was the subject of all sorts of propaganda, prejudices and blackmail, but the people still voted massively for me even though the mandate was stolen. The second one is that many people who call themselves career politicians are actually jobless and many of them are anything but honest. Again, the real power is in the hands of the people, not necessarily those that parade themselves as leaders. It was shocking to see that people can tell the kind of barefaced lies that you will never imagine. It still happens till today. You owe someone five months’ salaries and you take a space in the media and swear you are up-to-date in salary payments. Finally, treachery is fair game in politics.

How did you make the transition from banking to politics?

Those who call themselves politicians do not possess anything that a professional does not have. It is on the other hand more difficult for them to transit to professionalism. As one who had always related with people, it was not that difficult. I had a clear message for the people which the people bought into and followed.

Do you regret quitting Diamond Bank for politics?

If I had any regrets, it would be that I should have done this earlier. I completed my assignment in the bank before leaving. I remain proud of the modest achievements my team and I made in the bank. I am glad that I have led the way for a lot of young people to follow. Many people who had avoided politics like a plague told me that they were encouraged by what I did and would participate in the next election. That is how changes happen. Someone must make the required sacrifice for change to happen. It is impossible to make omelettes without breaking eggs.

Did losing at the poll come as a blow?

First of all, I did not lose at the poll. I won overwhelmingly to the extent that my opponents who were in power then had to manufacture figures to counter their defeat. The records are there to show. Rather than dealing me a blow, I was very proud of my team for their efforts and for dealing a seating government a big blow and forcing them into desperation. You will recall that the Court of Appeal revalidated our victory based on valid votes cast in that election. The Supreme Court reversed it based on technicalities and not facts of the election. Like we have said earlier, we have since moved on.

Were you not bothered about committing so much money into your political campaign even when you weren’t sure of victory?

Everything is about planning. I had a clear plan of what was needed to be spent and where the funds were going to come from. So, there was no anxiety. Besides, I had a lot of support from friends and Abia people who wanted change in the state. Everything in life is a risk, including the risk of going to bed and not waking up. If you get worried about that risk, you may decide not go to bed to mitigate that risk. Avoiding risks is more dangerous than managing them. Once you get involved in a venture, the chances that it would not work are always there. So, we factored in the risk of not winning and even the risk of winning and it being stolen like it happened in this case.

Were you born with a silver spoon?

Wooden spoon you mean? Not at all. I was born into a modest but contented family. There were many of us and the resources were very lean. It was management all the way. My dad would always give us what he thought was enough to sustain us in school while our mum would, out of her meagre resources, augment. Our dad must not know that our mum was augmenting otherwise; he would reduce what he would give us. In spite of apparent lack, there was dignity and happiness.

Growing up, did you have any vices that usually got you into trouble?

I was a very good child and didn’t have such vices.

What is that one unique/quirky thing about you?

Simple; uncomplicated, straightforward; what you see is what you get.

Who were some of your friends and contemporaries?

A lot of them. However, in the university, two of them that stand out are Rotimi Amaechi and Nyesom Wike. While Amaechi was one year ahead of me, I was a year ahead of Wike. So I’m literally caught in the middle. I’m sure you don’t envy me. They both remain my friends.

Considering that they are your friends, have you tried to broker peace between Rotimi Amaechi and Nyesom Wike?

 That is work in progress.

You studied Economics at the University of Port Harcourt; had you at that time began to eye a career in banking?

Banking was obviously one of the options given what I read. But I was also open to other things.

Graduating with a first-class degree is a rare feat. How did you achieve it?

I must first of all, attribute that feat to God. It was not my feat at all because I cannot say that I worked harder than others nor was I more brilliant than others. The thing about first-class degree is that you must be consistent both in character and in learning. If you miss it at the initial stage, it would be difficult to correct later.

One must have thought having graduated with a first-class degree, you would have pursued a career in the academics. Was it something you considered?

I not only considered it, I was given the opportunity by my alma mater after graduation. I turned it down because I thought I needed a job that would pay well at that time so I could support my parents with my seven younger ones, being the first born.

Can you recollect your experiences on your first job upon graduation?

There are many of them. One that stuck is my experience with the personal computer. I had not seen one before. It was my first day at work. My boss then, Mr. Kole Olowofoyeku, handed me a handwritten document and wanted me to produce it on the PC and return to him in five minutes. I had no idea how to turn on the PC not to talk of using it to produce a document. Well, I had to enlist the help of one my more experienced colleagues then, to get the job done. The second one was the kind of training that one had in the bank. Hard work was natural in the bank and I can still remember that on a couple of occasions we could not close from work until the next morning. You would just go home in the morning to freshen up and come back to work.

Did it in any way impact your career afterwards?

Yes. One is that it helped prepare me for surprises. The second is that hard work has become second nature to me.

Who are your role models?

My two role models are no more. They were my dad who passed on in 1994 and my teacher, Prof. Claude Ake, who departed in 1996.

What particular event shaped your life?

I am not sure there is one particular event but a complex set of events which includes the circumstances of my upbringing, education and work.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt in life?

I have learnt so many things that it would be difficult to isolate one as the most important. One of them may just be the one my late mother used to teach. She used to say that you cannot lose anything by working hard, rather, that you had all to gain. That was her way of imbibing the culture of hard work in all of us. The other one is that excellence will always dwarf mediocrity.

While in school, you served as the editor of some publications; did you at any point consider a career in journalism?

Not really. It was just an interest that I had and that is why I still write up till this moment. I maintain a fortnightly column in Thisday and I am completing my second book.

You took a course at Harvard University; how exactly did that impact on your business and professional acumen?

Harvard was one of the most important places that I trained. Interestingly, the course prepared me for the CEO role and exposed me to a lot of new things. The nine-week Advance Management Programme was a life-changing one which I will recommend to anyone who has the opportunity.

What would you regard as the highlights of your banking career?

From 1996 when I joined UBA, I had been part of a transformation team. I guess the successes we recorded must have made First Bank to headhunt me where I also joined a transformation team. The subsequent results by the team must also have informed that call by KPMG in 2010 that led to my resumption as MD/CEO of Diamond Bank. Again in Diamond Bank, it was also transformation all the way which yielded many positive changes. I must say I was very lucky to have assembled an excellent team who worked tirelessly to change the bank. The results came quickly. The bank grew rapidly by assets, profitability and efficiency ratios. It wore a new look as we rebranded the bank, relocated a lot that were not properly located and opened several new branches. It became a preferred place to work as our compensation package became one of the best in the industry. We established a presence in the UK and expanded to more African countries. The Central Bank of Nigeria recognised us as one of the eight “Systemically Important Banks” in the country. This recognition simply meant that because of the size of the bank, it became “too big to fail”. Our information technology systems were upgraded to become one of the most efficient in the country. We rolled out several platforms for service including our agency banking and financial inclusion products. We made the environment such that people were looking forward to coming to the bank and staff loved their jobs.

What were your toughest moments as a banker?

Interestingly, the highpoint of my career as a CEO was also the toughest moment. If I managed to find four hours of sleep in a day, that was a great day. I was everywhere and was involved in everything, juggling them for balance. I was always thinking about the next thing to do to achieve the targets that we had set for ourselves as a team. Thank God, they all paid off.

What professional and personal qualities helped you rise to the pinnacle of your banking career?

Again, I must say that at the centre of it all is God. I believe He enabled me to be focused on what is important. As a leader, you must devote a lot of attention to assembling your team and guiding them. An institution cannot be better than its people. If you want the best institution, you must have the best people. I had a knack for attracting and retaining the best people. I also lead from the front and not the rear. I would not ask you to do what I cannot do. There are very many others that I may not be able to list here.

What were some of the challenges you faced as the CEO of Diamond Bank?

I must say that I was very lucky with my board. I had a very experienced and supportive board so that helped to reduce the pressure. The major challenge beyond the ones I had mentioned earlier was how to deal with the transformation given serious regulatory headwinds. The effect of the global economic crises of 2008/2009 was still being felt in the bank when we came on board. We had to clean up the books of the bank by writing off some toxic assets but we also maintained a minimum capital adequacy ratio as prescribed by CBN. Because the bank was in a transformation mode, additional capital could not easily be raised, otherwise, you would destroy value for shareholders and sell cheap. We, however, found our way round it by raising what is called tier 2 capital. It was not until when we stabilised the bank in 2014 that we went to the market to raise capital by way of a rights issue which was very successful as it was fully subscribed.

What professional/personal goals have you yet to accomplish?

I always set new goals when I accomplish set goals. Right now, my goal is to impact many more people than I had done in the past and the best way to do this is through public service. You can only do so much as a player in the private sector.

In the course of your career, you worked in oil & gas and energy business; in what ways do you think money from the oil industry can be used to ensure meaningful lives for the general populace?

 The major problem we have is government. We run a very large and expensive government that we end up using over 70 per cent of the annual budget to pay salaries. That leaves us with less than 30 per cent for the rest of the people. Meanwhile oil accounts for over 90 per cent of our foreign exchange earnings and more than 70 per cent of our revenues. I believe we must do something about reducing the size of government for the populace to enjoy meaningful development. Some call it restructuring. Whatever name you want to call it, we must discuss how to spend more on infrastructure and social amenities than we are currently doing.

You are on the board of some Nigerian universities, how can the educational sector be revamped?

We need to start from the most rudimentary level. Primary education by law is under the local governments. We all know that most states do not allow the local governments to function. So, funding is a challenge at that and other levels and unfortunately, that is the foundation. Once the foundation is faulty, what can anyone do? We also need to pay attention to the quality, number, compensation and welfare of teachers. Then we must ensure that merit is the basis of everything in the educational sector, be it admission or recruitment of teaching and non teaching staff. We must also pay attention to the curricular. What are we teaching our students? The world has moved. In the world of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, our teachers cannot continue to teach nonsense, apologies to Fela.

What personal qualities have helped you to stand out?

I can only guess. I believe the fear of God is number one. People say I am committed and dedicated. They also say I work very hard and that I am always focused on what is important. Of course, those people may be wrong.

What legacy would you like to leave behind?

I always like to leave a place better than I met it. That is one of the major reasons I went to contest elections in the first place.

Apart from banking and politics, what other activities do you engage in?

I read and write. That takes a lot of my time. I also love the hospitality business. This is out of my passion to serve. So I do get involved in a hospitality business my wife and I set up. I am also involved in a small real estate business.

How often do you get to spend time with your family?

If you asked this question when I was in the bank, the answer would have been different. Right now, I do spend a lot of time with my family and it feels very good to be able to do those things that I was unable to do in the last quarter of a century.

How did you meet your wife?

My wife and I met in 1991 and got married in 1993. I moved into the neighbourhood a year earlier and ran into her where I had gone to pick up my clothes from the nearby drycleaner which was next to her house. We got talking and like they say, the rest became history. She has been very supportive particularly filling in for me when I was virtually an absentee father and husband owing to my schedules. She was the pillar of the campaign and was at the forefront organising women and youth. She has always been there for me and I thank God for blessing me with such a wonderful wife.

What lessons have you learnt in marriage?

Marriage is a great teacher. One of the lessons it teaches you is patience. Because the two of you are coming from different backgrounds, you must be tolerant of each other and also forgiving of each other’s shortcomings. You must also be considerate of your partner in every decision you make. Marriage compels accountability and responsibility. As a single person you could do anything you want without answering to anybody, but the moment you get married, that must change otherwise, the marriage may be in danger.

What romantic things do you say and do to her?

I am not sure I do a lot of romantic things, but I am confident she understands.

How do you unwind?

I unwind by listening to music. I love music. My reading acts as form of relaxation for me, particularly when it is not serious stuff. I use the gym every other day and hang out occasionally with friends. I used to play squash a lot until a few years ago when my wife took me off it, insisting that it was too high impact. I still do quite some travelling.

What kind of music do you listen to?

I listen to all sorts of music. I like Nigerian music and have supported and continue to support it. I also like Jazz and other soft music.

What kind of attire are you most comfortable in?

It depends on the occasion and the mood. I wear whatever works for the occasion. These days, I tend to wear traditional attires a lot. I guess having worn suit and tie for such a long time, I consider less formal wears, a welcome relief.

What advice can you give to young people as regards business?

The first thing is that they should aim to identify a need or gap and think of filling it. That is the fundamental principle for the success of a business. I see a lot of people start from what they want to do. You may do what you want to do but there may not be a market for it. So you must start from the market. A lot of businesses have failed because the business owner did not know how to separate the business from himself. You must understand that the money for the business is not for you. You should pay yourself salaries just like any other worker and let the business run as a business. Then you must continue to reinvent the business. How can you simplify processes? Are there better and more cost-effective and efficient ways to deliver the service? You must also rein in your cost otherwise; you may soon go out of business. Have your eye on technology and ensure that technological disruptions do not send you out of business. Think of our oil and gas today and how electric cars would send a lot of people out of business between 2025 and 2040. That is a perfect example. As it is, some businesses and countries may just be caught napping in spite of the warning signals that had been there in the last few years.

You survived an assassination attempt. Looking back now, would you still want to remain in politics and probably contest the governorship again?

The assassins and their sponsors were just wasting their time because they do not know God. I strongly believe that nothing can touch me except if God allows it. And if He allows it, then it is time. That is why He removed me from that house before the attackers came. Like I had said, we are all in politics one way or the other, so the question of remaining in politics does not arise. As 2019 approaches, I will make consultations and at the appropriate time, I shall make my decision about contesting, public.

What keeps you busy these days?

I am now unemployed like some people have reported in the papers. I find that I am still busy, even if not as busy as when I was in the bank. I set up a financial and investment services company in addition to all the other businesses I had itemised earlier. We are happy that we are able to create jobs. We have about 170 people in our pay roll who work in the hospitality, real estate, technology/communications and financial advisory parts of our business. I oversee the holding company with offices in different parts of the country.

PUNCH

Published in Politics

Gunmen early hours of Sunday broke into the residence of the Principal Special Assistant on Knowledge Economy and Investments to Benue State Governor, Dr Tavershima Adyorororough and killed him.

According to sources, the unknown gunmen around 12.30am on Sunday stormed his residence at Nyinma layout in Makurdi, Benue state capital where they shot at the man and his wife.

The deceased and family were said to have retired to bed when the assailants invaded the house and shot him dead while his wife was rushed to an undisclosed hospital where she is receiving treatment.

The state governor, Samuel Ortom has demanded for the arrest and prosecution of the killer of his aide.

In a press statement issued and signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Terver Akase and made available to our correspondent on Sunday, confirmed that Dr Adyororough was shot and killed by gunmen who invaded his residence.

Governor Ortom described the killing as unacceptable and condemnable, requesting security agencies to swing into action immediately so as to arrest those responsible for the dastardly act.

He described the deceased as a competent and dependable aide who delivered on assignments with dedication and honesty.

He sympathized with the immediate family of the deceased, the government and people of the state on the loss and pledges that he would support security agencies in apprehending the culprits.

He urged those with useful information that can lead to the arrest to make same available.

It will be recalled that the Senior Special Assistant to the governor on security matters was gruesomely murdered in 2016 at his residence along Mobile Barracks, Makurdi.

Efforts to get the reaction of police are not successful as Benue command Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Moses Yamu did not pick the call put across to his line.

Published in News & Stories

Two Nigerian residents of the United States, Messrs Temilade Adekunle and Abdulrasheed Yusuf, have been arrested on suspicion of forgery, ID theft and communications fraud.

Their victims are American couple, Steve and Andrea Voss. The money allegedly stolen from them was their retirement fund.

According to Mrs. Andrea Voss, one of her lifelong goals was to see different parts of the country, including Hawaii. “That’s been my one dream,” she said. “I really want to go there.”

Andrea and her husband, Steve Voss, are a year and a half into their retirement, local TV station, KSL, reports.

 
Victims: Steve and Andrea Voss.

Last week, they took a trip to Yellowstone, but when they got back on Friday, August 11, they noticed there was a serious issue with the money they’ve saved for retirement.

“I was curious because the market was doing well this past week and I said, ‘What’s that at?’” Steve Voss said. “And I logged into my account and it’s a zero-dollar balance.”

Added Andrea Voss, “He told me and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. This can’t happen to me. This happens to other people.’”

Steve Voss says someone had used his personal details to liquidate their account. The check had already gone out.

“The package has been sent but redirected from my home for pickup somewhere else,” he said.

Unified police said the package hadn’t been picked up yet, so they set up a plan to be there when someone came to get it.

Eventually, police said two men showed up to get the package. Police said they followed the two and pulled them over. They said the men had fake out-of-state IDs and a separate 401(k) check from another person.

A 401(k) is a retirement savings plan sponsored by an employer. It lets workers save and invest a piece of their paycheck before taxes are taken out. Taxes aren’t paid until the money is withdrawn from the account.

Unified police detective Shawn Fausett said all credit is due to the Vosses for checking their account.

“In reality, this whole case is hinged upon Mr. Voss checking his balance,” Fausett said. “If he wouldn’t have checked his balance until (Monday) morning at 9 a.m., it would have been too late because the suspects would have been gone.”

Police identified the two suspects as Temilade Adekunle and Abdulrasheed Yusuf.

They arrested the two for investigation of forgery, ID theft and communications fraud.

Police believe the two had flown into Salt Lake City to pick up the checks. Officials believe the men were getting ready to leave town again.

Police are also looking into whether or not other people in the area may have had similar experience.

The total amount between these two checks, police say, was around $120,000.

“That money would have gone to the suspects,” Fausett said, “but the victims actually are losing more because the 401(k)s were cashed out early, and they had penalty taxes and so forth, so the victims themselves are probably out $150,000 if the checks are actually cashed.”

Now, the Vosses are extra careful and they hope others will keep an eye out as well.

“People typically don’t check their 401(k)s until they get a statement in the mail,” Steve Voss said. “Get online and check your 401(k) at least once a week.”

(KSL)

Published in Business and Economy

Manchester United maintained their 100 percent start to the new season with a 4-0 win at Swansea to remain top of the Premier League.

Eric Bailly opened the scoring and his United account on the stroke of half-time, nudging the ball over the line after Lukasz Fabianski had diverted it onto the underside of the crossbar from Paul Pogba's powerful header.

Swansea CitySwansea City
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United then burst into life as the game entered the 80th minute, doubling their advantage when Henrikh Mkhitaryan played in Romelu Lukaku, who made it three goals in two Premier League appearances following his summer move from Everton.

Mkhitaryan produced another fine assist moments later, racing down the right before slipping in Pogba, who flicked the ball over Fabianski, before substitute Anthony Martial then rounded off the scoring in the 84th minute with an excellent solo effort, doubling his tally for the season.

Jese scored the lone goal of the game on his Stoke City debut to help the Potters hold off Arsenal at home.

Jese Rodriguez scored on his debut as Stoke beat Arsenal 1-0 at the bet365 Stadium to claim their first Premier League points of the season.

Stoke took the lead two minutes into the second half, with Paris Saint-Germain loanee Jese netting on his debut, slotting past Petr Cech after being played in by Saido Berahino.

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Arsenal piled on the pressure as they went in search of an equaliser, with Hector Bellerin, Danny Welbeck, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil all going close.

They thought they had found it in the 73rd minute when Alexandre Lacazette fired into the top corner of the net following substitute Olivier Giroud's flick, but the goal was disallowed for offside, with Stoke holding on for victory.

After knocking at Crystal Palace's door all game, Sadio Mane finally found a way through at Anfield.

Sadio Mane was on target for Liverpool with his second-half winner securing a 1-0 victory against Crystal Palace at Anfield and his side's first league victory of the season.

After a tight first half, Liverpool almost went ahead nine minutes into the second when Daniel Sturridge volleyed at goal from 25 yards out, only for Wayne Hennessey to deny him with the save.

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Crystal PalaceCrystal Palace
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The home side had another chance to open the scoring just a few minutes later as Roberto Firmino curled one from the edge of the box, but his strike went inches wide.

Jurgen Klopp brought on Mohamed Salah and Dominic Solanke as time wore on, and Liverpool eventually found a breakthrough in the 72nd minute with Mane stabbing the ball past Hennessey after Palace's defence had failed to clear the danger.

Charlie Austin converted from the spot late in stoppage time to sink a spirited 10-man effort from West Ham.

Charlie Austin netted a last-minute penalty to secure Southampton a dramatic 3-2 win against 10-man West Ham at St Mary's.

Southampton went ahead in the 11th minute through Manolo Gabbiadini, who fired past Joe Hart after being played in by Nathan Redmond to net the club's first league goal at home since April 5.

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West Ham UnitedWest Ham United
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West Ham were then dealt a further blow in the 33rd minute when Marko Arnautovic picked up a straight red card after catching Jack Stephens with his elbow, and things got even worse five minutes later when Jose Fonte conceded a penalty and Dusan Tadic stepped up to convert from the spot.

West Ham pulled one back on the stroke of half-time when Javier Hernandez slotted home after Fraser Forster had saved Michail Antonio's effort, and the Mexico international was on the scene once again in the 73rd minute to convert after Diafra Sakho had headed against the bar.

But Southampton had the final say after winning a penalty deep into stoppage time, with Austin firing home to secure the three points for the Saints.

Leicester blanked Premier League newcomers 2-0 courtesy of goals from Shinji Okazaki and Harry Maguire.

Leicester recorded their first win of the season with a 2-0 victory over Brighton at the King Power Stadium.

Shinji Okazaki opened the scoring for Brighton inside the first minute, converting the rebound after Riyad Mahrez's shot had been parried into his path by Maty Ryan.

Leicester CityLeicester City
Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton & Hove Albion
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Brighton had the ball in the back of the net through Glenn Murray, but the goal was disallowed due to offside, and Leicester then doubled their lead 10 minutes after the restart through Harry Maguire, who arrived at the far post to head home Mahrez's corner.

A debut goal from Richarlison and stunner from Etienne Capoue led Watford past Bournemouth at Dean Court.

Watford saw off Bournemouth 2-0 at the Vitality Stadium with Richarlison and Etienne Capoue getting the goals.

AFC BournemouthAFC Bournemouth
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Watford had a chance to open the scoring just before half-time when Richarlison cut the ball back to Andre Gray, but the striker sent his effort over the bar.

They made no mistake in the 72nd minute, however, with Richarlison touching the ball over the line after Gray had done well down the right, before Capoue doubled their lead with a strike from 25 yards out four minutes from the end.

Hal Robson-Kanu's lone goal of the game outweighed his late red card as West Brom held on for the narrow win at Burnley.

West Brom made it two wins out of two with a 1-0 victory over Burnley at Turf Moor, though match-winner Hal Robson-Kanu also received a red card.

West Brom thought they had found the breakthrough shortly after the restart when Jake Livermore had the ball in the back of the net but the flag went up for offside on Jay Rodriguez.

BurnleyBurnley
West Bromwich AlbionWest Bromwich Albion
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They did manage to move ahead 20 minutes from time, with Robson-Kanu shrugging off a defender and striking a low hit past Tom Heaton.

West Brom were reduced to 10 men seven minutes from time when Robson-Kanu was sent off for an apparent elbow on Matthew Lowton, but the visitors manged to hold on for the victory.

Published in Sports

Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said the return of the country’s president from a months-long medical vacation in London is symbolic for the West African country’s economy.

“The recovery of Mr President, in some senses, is symbolic of the recovery of Nigeria,” Osinbajo said on Saturday.

The president left Nigeria on May 7 for London for the second round of treatment for an undisclosed ailment, transferring power to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to lead the most populous African country. 

His absence in Nigeria since May 7 has birthed rounds of protests and calls for him to resume or resign. There is also a growing level of disenchantment with his government which came to power in May 2015 on the wings of promises to reposition the country by fighting corruption, improving security and remodelling the economy.

While appreciable progress has been recorded in the fight against insurgency in northeast Nigeria and corruption, the country’s economy is in the throes of a stubborn recession that has led to the death of many businesses while inflation continues to journey upwards.

But Osinbajo, who stood in for recuperating Buhari, insisted that the country’s economy would rebound, noting that the government is working to “ensure economic recovery.”

“Our country is on the right path,” Osinbajo said, adding that “we are going to make it as a nation.”

Published in News & Stories
The death toll from a mudslide and flooding that struck Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown has reached 441, the government said on Saturday. 

“Four hundred and forty-one corpses (were) buried as at yesterday,” the deputy minister of information and communication, Cornelius Deveaux, told AFP, adding that the number of missing was “still being calculated.”

A tally of deaths, issued on Friday by the Red Cross, had stood at more than 400, with around 600 others listed as missing.

At Connaught Hospital, morgue worker Mohamed Sinneh Kamara gave a slightly higher toll than the minister’s.

“We buried 50 more bodies on Friday. We have so far buried 450 corpses,” he told AFP. “Most of the bodies were found decomposed and families were not allowed to identify (them).”

He added: “We’re receiving calls from disaster-hit communities every three to four hours about a corpse found in a drainage or under a collapsed building.”

Three more bodies were found in a search for survivors in the Regent district, where the side of a hill collapsed, the emergency services said.

The disaster struck on Monday after Freetown, home to 1.2 million people and the capital of one of the world’s poorest countries, had been pounded for three days by torrential rain.

According to the charity Save the Children, the disaster killed 122 children and left 123 orphaned.

The Red Cross has issued an emergency funding appeal. Britain, the former colonial power in Sierra Leone, has pledged £5 million ($6.45 million, 5.45 million euros), while China has pledged $1 million (850,000 euros) and Togo $500,000.

Water-borne diseases such as cholera and malaria are a major fear.

“This is a potential health hazard. That’s why we need to continue the operations to ensure that we remove as much dead bodies as possible,” said Colonel Abu Bakarr Sidique Bah of the Sierra Leone armed forces.

But the search for victims has been arduous, especially in the Regent neighbourhood.

“It is actually thousands of tonnes of rubble that have fallen… (down) the hill… And the inclement weather, the rain, has also made it very difficult for equipment to move within the affected area,” he said.

Flooding is an annual menace in Sierra Leone, where ramshackle homes are regularly swept away by seasonal rains. In 2015, floods killed 10 people and left thousands homeless.

Published in Business and Economy

Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari has returned to the country after more than 100 days in the United Kingdom, where he received treatment for an undisclosed ailment.

The presidential jet that brought him touched down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, where he was received by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, some state governors, police boss Ibrahim Idris and his chief of staff Abba Kyari.

The governors at the airport included Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano, Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara, Muhammed Abubakar of Bauchi, Abubakar Bello of Niger, Neysom Wike of Rivers, Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State

The president is expected to speak to “Nigerians in a broadcast by 7 am on Monday, August 21, 2017,” his media adviser Femi Adesina said in a statement on Saturday.

The president left Nigeria on May 7 for London for a second of treatment for an undisclosed ailment, transferring power to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to lead the most populous African country.

He had earlier left Nigeria on January 19 for London to “undergo routine medical check-ups” during a short holiday. He only returned on March 10 after an extended period of medical treatment.

He tacitly acknowledged that he was very ill, telling his cabinet members that “I couldn’t recall being so sick since I was a young man.” He also said he had “blood transfusions, going to the laboratories and so on and so forth”.

His absence in Nigeria since May 7 has birthed rounds of protests and calls for him to resign. But much like his aides, Buhari has consistently said he would only return to Nigeria on the instruction of his doctors.

Published in Headliners
The President, Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof. Abiodun Ogunyemi, in this interview with ADELANI ADEPEGBA, explains reasons for the ongoing strike by members of the union

Strike has been a recurring problem with successive governments in Nigeria. Do you think the government has been deliberate or helpless in the way it has handled the education sector?

The issue of strike actions being incessant is a reflection of the insensitivity of the political class. You don’t see reasonable unions like the Academic Staff Union of Universities just going on strike without making its case very clear. At every point that we have had to go on strike, we would have written several letters. We would have made consultations, held meetings and sometimes, we would have published paid adverts to put our matter in the court of public opinion. But because the political class does not see education as a priority, they would always ignore us. It doesn’t matter which group among the political class is in power, it has been a consistent thing, especially because they have lost interest in education. Look at the history of Nigeria, there was a time when public primary and secondary schools were the toast of everybody. Consider the 1960s, 1970s, private schools were few and far between. Most of us you see today attended public schools, but it became expedient for us, almost everybody in my generation, to start patronising private schools when it became evident that the political leaders over the time have neglected public primary and secondary schools. What we see from the way Nigeria is going is that the political class in government is determined to destroy public universities and that is why ASUU is insisting that appropriate attention must be given to the public universities. Each time we say that, it doesn’t mean we are not sensitive, it only means government should address the drift that may take public universities to the same level public primary and secondary schools have got to. I don’t believe the government is helpless. Some people would ask: is this the appropriate time to go on strike? There would never be an appropriate time. When the economy was doing well in 2013, 2014 and even up to 2015, government didn’t implement the memorandum of understanding it reached with us. It was only when we insisted that enough was enough that they attempted to do what was proper.

In plain terms, what is the strike all about? 

The strike is about seven issues: We demanded funds for revitalisation of our universities and it was agreed in 2013 when we went on the strike that culminated in about 13-hour meeting with the Presidency. We signed the MoU on December 11, 2013. That was when we agreed that government would inject the total sum of N1.3tn into the university education system and that it would be released over a period of six years. The first year, government was to release N200bn, which it did, but it took a long time for us to access it. But since that release in 2013, no single kobo has been released thereafter. For 2014, N220bn was not released. Again 2015 and 2016, nothing was released up to the third quarter of 2017. In all, we can estimate the outstanding amount to be about N825bn for revitalisation of our universities. When government doubted that our universities were rotting away, it set up a national committee in 2012, which went to all public universities and came back with the NEEDS Assessment Report, which showed that we didn’t have anything close to a university in terms of quality facilities. The importance of that is that as lecturers, our conscience is pricked when we work in an environment that cannot compare to other universities elsewhere, particularly in Africa. That was the essence of the revitalisation fund and we are still insisting that it is a major demand of the union. On the issue of earned allowances: the government released N30bn and promised to pay the balance after completing the forensic audit, but nine months after, it is not looking in our direction, so our members are unhappy. The government has refused to take the necessary steps on registration of the Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company as we agreed during a meeting at the National Assembly. The government has also failed to provide support for universities’ staff schools in violation of our agreement and a judgment of the National Industrial Court on the matter. The fifth issue is the payment of fractional salaries to lecturers in federal universities since December 2015. See how long it had taken us to take up these issues.

 

What are the other demands?

In many state universities, their governors have stopped subventions and so they are finding it difficult to pay salaries. The case of Ladoke Akintola University, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, eloquently attests to this. We also have governors establishing new universities when they could not adequately fund the old ones. Ondo State is perhaps leading the pack: the state has three universities, and the one in Okitipupa is moribund. We have just 55 lecturers there, and the government is not paying any attention to it. For months, workers are not paid. Even the first university in the state, Adekunke Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, has met the same fate, but the government went ahead to establish a third university. You would be surprised that this same government is thinking of establishing the fourth university. Is that what we need? Instead of proliferating universities, why can’t they consolidate? We see the same problem in Edo, Bayelsa, and Ogun, where the governor is going ahead to establish the third university without funding the older ones. Then the issue of our retiring professors; the Pension Reform Act stipulates that once you serve in the university for at least 20 years and you rise to the position of a professor, you should retire with your salaries, but the government is not implementing that. The (National) Pension Commission is supposed to issue the originating circular that would give strength to the legal provision.

But people feel that the step taken by ASUU is insensitive, that strike should be the last resort.

Well, people have been saying that over and over that strike should not be a weapon for insisting on what we think is proper; but honestly speaking, we have not seen those criticising us for going on strike suggesting alternatives. Before we got to this stage, we must have explored all the options they talked about. They talked about dialogue, writing letters, running paid adverts, consultations, meeting opinion leaders and those we think can talk to people in power, but at the end of the day, we would have met a brick wall. We see those saying that as blackmailing us, it appears they deliberately want to close their eyes to the efforts we have made.

 In this case, how many opinion leaders did you approach and what efforts did they make to avert the strike?

In November last year, ASUU went on a warning strike. Before we got to that stage, we had written not less than five letters to the appropriate authorities. Now we observed they (government) were not observing the registration of appropriate pension contributions for universities, which we call Nigerian University Pension Management Committee. They were not talking about the earned allowances for our members, which they agreed to pay or support for staff primary schools; they were not talking about the fund for revitalisation of public universities, which are in decadence and despicable state. You are not talking about the Pension Act as it affects the salaries of retiring professors at state and federal levels, you are also not talking about the proliferation of universities and sudden resort to fractional salaries for our colleagues in federal universities and the non-payment of salaries in state universities. So we brought up these seven, eight issues and as of then, we had brought up the 2009 agreement, which was due for renegotiation in 2012. We brought up these issues in the memorandum of understanding we reached with the last administration in 2013. When we went on strike on that note, we wrote to the National Assembly, ministers, and appropriate agencies, and the Senate President subsequently summoned a meeting. He invited the relevant government agencies and we met twice on this matter. The first time, we tabled all the issues and the government gave its response. During the second meeting, government made some offers which we said were not acceptable and at the end of the day, we arrived at some positions. Those positions were communicated to the ministers, the National Assembly leadership, and other stakeholders just to ensure there would be follow-up.

What did you agree to at the second meeting?

We agreed that they should carry out a forensic audit because the government said it wanted a forensic audit on the funds it earlier gave to the governing councils in respect of the N30bn it gave for the earned allowances. It said this would be done within six months and we did not object. That was in November last year and it is well over eight months now. We didn’t hear from them, so it became a problem. When we raised the issue of staff schools, the government pulled out its support for staff schools. The National Assembly pleaded with us to await the judgment of the National Industrial Court on the matter, which was to come up on December 5, 2016. Though we didn’t take the government to court, another party did and they dragged us into it, and we agreed to wait for the outcome. However, whatever the outcome is, it would not be strong enough to repudiate our agreement and that was what happened. The court told the government that it didn’t have the right to stop supporting the staff schools; it was an agreement that was binding. From December 5 till date when the judgment was given, the government has not issued a circular that would restore its support to the staff schools. On the issue of NUPEMCO, government offered to ensure that it would be registered and given licence in the shortest possible time. We perceived some surreptitious moves to frustrate ASUU. We started our application for registration of NUPEMCO when the registration fee was N150m. They later increased it to N250m and again, N500m, but we still met the requirement, finally they made it N1bn. We met the N1bn requirement over a year before we went on the last warning strike, but it wasn’t registered.

What steps did you take before embarking on strike?

You can see the letters we wrote to the National Assembly, and the ministry and we conveyed the position of our union on the discussions at the National Assembly and also our position at the meeting we convened at Bayero University, Kano. We told them our NEC agreed to participate at the renegotiation, which is ongoing like I mentioned and then our members insisted on payment of all outstanding arrears of earned academic allowance at the end of the Ministry of Finance forensic audit, not later than July, 2017. That is the crux of the matter. This letter was conveyed to the government in January, we didn’t hear anything from its officials. We met with the education minister and he said they had written (to the Presidency) and were waiting for a response. We met with him again and he still promised. We wrote to the labour minister, no response. The letter we wrote was copied to the Acting President, Senate President, Speaker, Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions and Tertiary Education Trust Fund, Minister of Labour and Employment and also to the chairman of the renegotiation team, just to put him on notice. If he had power to stop it, he should have done so. We also wrote to the Minister of Finance and the Nigeria Labour Congress President and that is why he said he was in support of the strike action. You can see the level of consultations and contacts we made before this action started.

 The media aide to the President, Garba Shehu, said it appeared ASUU wants everything at a time. Is that true?

Let them tell us what they have done at a time before you can say that ASUU wants everything at a time. They should tell us what they have given ASUU. You can’t say negotiations would address shortfall in salaries, or the issue of staff schools. You said we should wait for court judgment but you didn’t implement it. You can’t say we should also wait for arrears of allowances, which you said you needed six months to verify. After verification, what else is left? Implementation! So, let him tell us what they have given ASUU from the list of what we demanded last November apart from negotiation, and negotiation is not part of what we are asking for.

 So, you think government is not sincere about strengthening the education system?

I mentioned earlier that it is about the kind of ideology that drives a government; it appears as if our people in power don’t have a clear vision about the role of education in development. We in the university system are clear about what education can do; it should serve as catalyst for development. If you talk about transforming the economy, education can drive it. Talk about invention, creativity, education should drive these processes, including security and the health system from the simplest thing to the most complex, including nuclear science, which is about the most complex operation. We believe education should be at the forefront. Nigeria is aspiring to greatness, but she is not giving attention to education. In the last two years, what has been allocated to education in the budget is between six and seven per cent. Even in countries where they have experienced wars like Rwanda and Sudan, they are allocating well above 20 per cent to education. Our citizens are rushing to Ghana, most universities there are public universities. Consistently in the last 10 years, they (Ghana) have been giving not less than 20 per cent to education, whereas in the past, other African nationals flooded Nigerian universities. What we are asking for is reversal of that experience. We lose over N500m annually to education tourism within Africa. It has been estimated that over 30,000 Nigerians are undergoing one form of education or the other in Europe. So, we see these statistics, though most of those going abroad are mostly children of the ruling class. We need to use education to drive our development and that is why you can see ASUU being vociferous, we are so passionate about it. It’s as if our lives depend on it.

 Some people believe that officials of government and ASUU have both killed the university system by not sending their children to public universities anymore. Why is that?

Let me correct that impression: As I talk to you, two of my children are in public universities. So, when they say ASUU officials, my predecessor in office has two children in public universities. We have our children in public universities, but if you talk of the political class, they can afford to advertise their children who are graduating from foreign universities on Facebook and other social media platforms. Where would I get money to send my children to Cambridge or Oxford University? That is the question. Is it now that the government is paying fractions of salaries that lecturers would afford to send their children to foreign universities? The truth is that our focus should be on the ruling class, they are making everybody poor in order to continue to dominate us. The children of the rich get the best quality education to come back and dominate the children of the poor who are struggling to attend our underfunded, under-equipped, under-prepared educational institutions. So, we have to break that cycle.

 Do you honestly think the government can fund and implement the 2009 agreement considering that we are in recession?

Again, it is about priority. I told you about countries that experienced wars and that are still paying attention to education. The Nigerian ruling class have not really sat down to look at what roles education could play in the development of the country and they won’t do that because they have the World Bank and International Monetary Fund advising them that Nigeria, like other African countries, does not need university education. They said what we need is basic technical education and with that the children of the poor will remain peasants and hewers of wood for the children of the rich. They would even complain that artisans are no longer available, but who are the artisans, the children of the poor. How best do we equip our universities to make them competitive, to stop the drift? Those children they take abroad at young ages do not think Nigeria when they return to the country, if they come back at all. They have dual citizenship with dual personalities. We need to sit back and define the kind of society we want and the roles of education in it.  Julius Nyerere did it in Tanzania and today, it is one of the most organised societies in Africa. You will see the passion with which the leadership is driving education in that country and they are getting results. It is because they took time to define the country they wanted and design education that would address the issues. That was what Nyerere preached in the early 60s. Nigeria needs to emulate that.

 Some people believe that most ASUU stikes are about better pay, that ASUU is only interested in negotiating better salaries, allowances and so on for its members and only use better infrastructure in schools to cover up. How would you respond to this?

It doesn’t work that way, there is no time we go on strike that we don’t justify our action based on the environment in which we are working. Even if you talk of better pay, is it that we don’t have alternatives? It is for the love we have for this country. The love we have for this country has made many of our members to remain here, so don’t think they don’t have alternatives because they insisted that the government must make the environment conducive. If you see a medical doctor that is committed to his job, pay him the highest salaries in the world, he wouldn’t want to work in a clinic without the basic facilities to perform his operations. That means it is the love for the job that is driving the doctor as against his income. If not for the love, we would have gone on strike since our members were being paid 60-70 per cent of their salaries for the last two years. But each time, we say you need to attract and retain the best brains. But beyond that, you need to provide the enabling environment, so they go together. You need the enabling environment and the correct mental frame of mind to drive the process of giving quality education.  

What is the least the government can do to end this strike?

The least has been defined. In November last year, when we went to the National Assembly, the issues were itemised, seven, eight of them. Government was expected to have followed that pathway, to follow what I would call the action plan for resolving the matter, but for deviating from the action plan, government exposed itself to suspicion that it didn’t mean well. If it means well, it must go back to that plan and from there, we address the issues. Government has defined the process for addressing the problem; it just needs to go back to it. It is because it didn’t act on the understanding, that is why we are back to where we are. This action was needless; it is like we were forced into it. Implementation must commence and the implementation we are talking about is not the issue of renegotiation, this is a separate thing and that is why we didn’t have problems with Dr. Wale Babalakin.

 What roles has the Ministry of Education played so far?

Let’s give it to the ministry, it has attempted on a number of occasions to assure us that it has taken some steps. It has written to the Minister of Finance and met with the Accountant-General of the Federation. The ministry has taken concrete steps that we believe should yield the expected results, but where decisions about finance were to be taken, maybe it met a brick wall. We don’t isolate government agencies, it is government that has still not delivered.

 Do you think the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari may have contributed to the delay in implementing the agreement?

No, we don’t want to go to that area because government is a continuum, there is no vacuum in the Presidency. I showed you the letter drawing the attention of the Acting President to the issues. It’s not as if we didn’t bring him into the picture and when they are holding Federal Executive Council meetings, you would see them allocating money to projects. If they believe university education is important, they would have deployed the means to address these issues.

Are you disappointed in the Acting President?

We don’t reduce matters to personalities, that is why I said I won’t talk about President Buhari. The issue is not about him, we don’t engage in personality attack. The issue we have on the table is yet to be addressed. Who do we expect to address the issues? It is the government, whether at the centre or state.

Do you think education should be under the Federal government or is it better under states?

That is a constitutional matter.

But we are talking of restructuring now and ASUU can also contribute to it.

We don’t want to be dragged into the restructuring debate, we need the people’s constitution, what they are doing now is patching up. What we need is to break down the whole process; that is ASUU’s position. So we will not contribute to this issue of add-on. They are cosmetic, we want fundamental restructuring. We are yet to define the kind of society we want, the last time we tried it was under Ibrahim Babangida (a former military head of state) and the people said they wanted socialism but the political class did not want that, they truncated it. If you look at Chapter 2 of the constitution, you would see elements that show that Nigeria should be moving towards a socialist, welfarist state, but the ruling class said the provisions there are not justifiable. Talk of free education at all levels, is any governor talking about it? This means that they have repudiated that aspect of the constitution. Look at Section 18 of the constitution; you would see our educational objectives clearly laid out. Look at the economic objectives which state clearly that the commanding height of the economy must not be in private hands. What is happening, they are privatising, commercialising (everything), including education. If you ask people in government their ideas of how to generate funds, they will say, charging school fees. ASUU will fight that; maybe that is the next level of our engagement. You want to introduce school fees in a country where over 70 per cent cannot earn two dollars per day, where poverty is widespread, and where illiteracy level is about 60 per cent. What is the maternal and child mortality rate? When you look at all of these indices of human development, they are negative in Nigeria. The catalyst is education and government must fund it.

There have been views that universities should be able to generate funds internally, but our universities are not doing that. Does that not amount to laziness?

You have raised a very important question but let me draw your attention to the 2009 agreement again. In that agreement, it was spelt out that ministries, departments and agencies should give consultancy in areas of competence to universities. I have not seen that happening except for the recent oil exploration by University of Maiduguri lecturers in Borno State, which was truncated by Boko Haram. We have not seen that happening in many cases. That should have been one primary source of fund generation for universities, but government, whether at the state or the federal, has not been doing that. The other revenue source they talked about is research and we cannot do that without requisite facilities and you can see the connection. You can’t be a good researcher when you don’t have facilities and you cannot be a good teacher without being a good researcher. Even the quality of instruction would be hampered without effectively equipping the laboratories and library. These things are inter-connected and you can’t separate them. For a lecturer to effectively carry out a research, he must have the correct state of mind and that is why we have been having problems getting quality research from our universities. So it is not about laziness, it is about an enabling environment and motivation and support from government.

 When will this strike end?

It will end when government is ready to do the right thing as we spelt out during our engagement with the government at the National Assembly in November last year.

LAUTECH, a member of ASUU has been closed for over a year, but the union seems to have been silent on it.

ASUU is not silent. In fact, two weeks ago, we wrote a letter to the National Universities Commission and we made our position clear; LAUTECH should be given to a state to manage, this issue of dual ownership is meaningless. Go and look at our adverts on June 9, it was placed in two newspapers. We specifically devoted a section to LAUTECH matters and brought it out clearly that a game of deception is going on in that university. The state governors are not committed to funding the university and they have gone ahead to establish their own, which means they want to abandon the school. We would resist that.

PUNCH

Published in Headliners
The President, Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof. Abiodun Ogunyemi, in this interview with ADELANI ADEPEGBA, explains reasons for the ongoing strike by members of the union

Strike has been a recurring problem with successive governments in Nigeria. Do you think the government has been deliberate or helpless in the way it has handled the education sector?

The issue of strike actions being incessant is a reflection of the insensitivity of the political class. You don’t see reasonable unions like the Academic Staff Union of Universities just going on strike without making its case very clear. At every point that we have had to go on strike, we would have written several letters. We would have made consultations, held meetings and sometimes, we would have published paid adverts to put our matter in the court of public opinion. But because the political class does not see education as a priority, they would always ignore us. It doesn’t matter which group among the political class is in power, it has been a consistent thing, especially because they have lost interest in education. Look at the history of Nigeria, there was a time when public primary and secondary schools were the toast of everybody. Consider the 1960s, 1970s, private schools were few and far between. Most of us you see today attended public schools, but it became expedient for us, almost everybody in my generation, to start patronising private schools when it became evident that the political leaders over the time have neglected public primary and secondary schools. What we see from the way Nigeria is going is that the political class in government is determined to destroy public universities and that is why ASUU is insisting that appropriate attention must be given to the public universities. Each time we say that, it doesn’t mean we are not sensitive, it only means government should address the drift that may take public universities to the same level public primary and secondary schools have got to. I don’t believe the government is helpless. Some people would ask: is this the appropriate time to go on strike? There would never be an appropriate time. When the economy was doing well in 2013, 2014 and even up to 2015, government didn’t implement the memorandum of understanding it reached with us. It was only when we insisted that enough was enough that they attempted to do what was proper.

In plain terms, what is the strike all about? 

The strike is about seven issues: We demanded funds for revitalisation of our universities and it was agreed in 2013 when we went on the strike that culminated in about 13-hour meeting with the Presidency. We signed the MoU on December 11, 2013. That was when we agreed that government would inject the total sum of N1.3tn into the university education system and that it would be released over a period of six years. The first year, government was to release N200bn, which it did, but it took a long time for us to access it. But since that release in 2013, no single kobo has been released thereafter. For 2014, N220bn was not released. Again 2015 and 2016, nothing was released up to the third quarter of 2017. In all, we can estimate the outstanding amount to be about N825bn for revitalisation of our universities. When government doubted that our universities were rotting away, it set up a national committee in 2012, which went to all public universities and came back with the NEEDS Assessment Report, which showed that we didn’t have anything close to a university in terms of quality facilities. The importance of that is that as lecturers, our conscience is pricked when we work in an environment that cannot compare to other universities elsewhere, particularly in Africa. That was the essence of the revitalisation fund and we are still insisting that it is a major demand of the union. On the issue of earned allowances: the government released N30bn and promised to pay the balance after completing the forensic audit, but nine months after, it is not looking in our direction, so our members are unhappy. The government has refused to take the necessary steps on registration of the Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company as we agreed during a meeting at the National Assembly. The government has also failed to provide support for universities’ staff schools in violation of our agreement and a judgment of the National Industrial Court on the matter. The fifth issue is the payment of fractional salaries to lecturers in federal universities since December 2015. See how long it had taken us to take up these issues.

 

What are the other demands?

In many state universities, their governors have stopped subventions and so they are finding it difficult to pay salaries. The case of Ladoke Akintola University, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, eloquently attests to this. We also have governors establishing new universities when they could not adequately fund the old ones. Ondo State is perhaps leading the pack: the state has three universities, and the one in Okitipupa is moribund. We have just 55 lecturers there, and the government is not paying any attention to it. For months, workers are not paid. Even the first university in the state, Adekunke Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, has met the same fate, but the government went ahead to establish a third university. You would be surprised that this same government is thinking of establishing the fourth university. Is that what we need? Instead of proliferating universities, why can’t they consolidate? We see the same problem in Edo, Bayelsa, and Ogun, where the governor is going ahead to establish the third university without funding the older ones. Then the issue of our retiring professors; the Pension Reform Act stipulates that once you serve in the university for at least 20 years and you rise to the position of a professor, you should retire with your salaries, but the government is not implementing that. The (National) Pension Commission is supposed to issue the originating circular that would give strength to the legal provision.

But people feel that the step taken by ASUU is insensitive, that strike should be the last resort.

Well, people have been saying that over and over that strike should not be a weapon for insisting on what we think is proper; but honestly speaking, we have not seen those criticising us for going on strike suggesting alternatives. Before we got to this stage, we must have explored all the options they talked about. They talked about dialogue, writing letters, running paid adverts, consultations, meeting opinion leaders and those we think can talk to people in power, but at the end of the day, we would have met a brick wall. We see those saying that as blackmailing us, it appears they deliberately want to close their eyes to the efforts we have made.

 In this case, how many opinion leaders did you approach and what efforts did they make to avert the strike?

In November last year, ASUU went on a warning strike. Before we got to that stage, we had written not less than five letters to the appropriate authorities. Now we observed they (government) were not observing the registration of appropriate pension contributions for universities, which we call Nigerian University Pension Management Committee. They were not talking about the earned allowances for our members, which they agreed to pay or support for staff primary schools; they were not talking about the fund for revitalisation of public universities, which are in decadence and despicable state. You are not talking about the Pension Act as it affects the salaries of retiring professors at state and federal levels, you are also not talking about the proliferation of universities and sudden resort to fractional salaries for our colleagues in federal universities and the non-payment of salaries in state universities. So we brought up these seven, eight issues and as of then, we had brought up the 2009 agreement, which was due for renegotiation in 2012. We brought up these issues in the memorandum of understanding we reached with the last administration in 2013. When we went on strike on that note, we wrote to the National Assembly, ministers, and appropriate agencies, and the Senate President subsequently summoned a meeting. He invited the relevant government agencies and we met twice on this matter. The first time, we tabled all the issues and the government gave its response. During the second meeting, government made some offers which we said were not acceptable and at the end of the day, we arrived at some positions. Those positions were communicated to the ministers, the National Assembly leadership, and other stakeholders just to ensure there would be follow-up.

What did you agree to at the second meeting?

We agreed that they should carry out a forensic audit because the government said it wanted a forensic audit on the funds it earlier gave to the governing councils in respect of the N30bn it gave for the earned allowances. It said this would be done within six months and we did not object. That was in November last year and it is well over eight months now. We didn’t hear from them, so it became a problem. When we raised the issue of staff schools, the government pulled out its support for staff schools. The National Assembly pleaded with us to await the judgment of the National Industrial Court on the matter, which was to come up on December 5, 2016. Though we didn’t take the government to court, another party did and they dragged us into it, and we agreed to wait for the outcome. However, whatever the outcome is, it would not be strong enough to repudiate our agreement and that was what happened. The court told the government that it didn’t have the right to stop supporting the staff schools; it was an agreement that was binding. From December 5 till date when the judgment was given, the government has not issued a circular that would restore its support to the staff schools. On the issue of NUPEMCO, government offered to ensure that it would be registered and given licence in the shortest possible time. We perceived some surreptitious moves to frustrate ASUU. We started our application for registration of NUPEMCO when the registration fee was N150m. They later increased it to N250m and again, N500m, but we still met the requirement, finally they made it N1bn. We met the N1bn requirement over a year before we went on the last warning strike, but it wasn’t registered.

What steps did you take before embarking on strike?

You can see the letters we wrote to the National Assembly, and the ministry and we conveyed the position of our union on the discussions at the National Assembly and also our position at the meeting we convened at Bayero University, Kano. We told them our NEC agreed to participate at the renegotiation, which is ongoing like I mentioned and then our members insisted on payment of all outstanding arrears of earned academic allowance at the end of the Ministry of Finance forensic audit, not later than July, 2017. That is the crux of the matter. This letter was conveyed to the government in January, we didn’t hear anything from its officials. We met with the education minister and he said they had written (to the Presidency) and were waiting for a response. We met with him again and he still promised. We wrote to the labour minister, no response. The letter we wrote was copied to the Acting President, Senate President, Speaker, Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions and Tertiary Education Trust Fund, Minister of Labour and Employment and also to the chairman of the renegotiation team, just to put him on notice. If he had power to stop it, he should have done so. We also wrote to the Minister of Finance and the Nigeria Labour Congress President and that is why he said he was in support of the strike action. You can see the level of consultations and contacts we made before this action started.

 The media aide to the President, Garba Shehu, said it appeared ASUU wants everything at a time. Is that true?

Let them tell us what they have done at a time before you can say that ASUU wants everything at a time. They should tell us what they have given ASUU. You can’t say negotiations would address shortfall in salaries, or the issue of staff schools. You said we should wait for court judgment but you didn’t implement it. You can’t say we should also wait for arrears of allowances, which you said you needed six months to verify. After verification, what else is left? Implementation! So, let him tell us what they have given ASUU from the list of what we demanded last November apart from negotiation, and negotiation is not part of what we are asking for.

 So, you think government is not sincere about strengthening the education system?

I mentioned earlier that it is about the kind of ideology that drives a government; it appears as if our people in power don’t have a clear vision about the role of education in development. We in the university system are clear about what education can do; it should serve as catalyst for development. If you talk about transforming the economy, education can drive it. Talk about invention, creativity, education should drive these processes, including security and the health system from the simplest thing to the most complex, including nuclear science, which is about the most complex operation. We believe education should be at the forefront. Nigeria is aspiring to greatness, but she is not giving attention to education. In the last two years, what has been allocated to education in the budget is between six and seven per cent. Even in countries where they have experienced wars like Rwanda and Sudan, they are allocating well above 20 per cent to education. Our citizens are rushing to Ghana, most universities there are public universities. Consistently in the last 10 years, they (Ghana) have been giving not less than 20 per cent to education, whereas in the past, other African nationals flooded Nigerian universities. What we are asking for is reversal of that experience. We lose over N500m annually to education tourism within Africa. It has been estimated that over 30,000 Nigerians are undergoing one form of education or the other in Europe. So, we see these statistics, though most of those going abroad are mostly children of the ruling class. We need to use education to drive our development and that is why you can see ASUU being vociferous, we are so passionate about it. It’s as if our lives depend on it.

 Some people believe that officials of government and ASUU have both killed the university system by not sending their children to public universities anymore. Why is that?

Let me correct that impression: As I talk to you, two of my children are in public universities. So, when they say ASUU officials, my predecessor in office has two children in public universities. We have our children in public universities, but if you talk of the political class, they can afford to advertise their children who are graduating from foreign universities on Facebook and other social media platforms. Where would I get money to send my children to Cambridge or Oxford University? That is the question. Is it now that the government is paying fractions of salaries that lecturers would afford to send their children to foreign universities? The truth is that our focus should be on the ruling class, they are making everybody poor in order to continue to dominate us. The children of the rich get the best quality education to come back and dominate the children of the poor who are struggling to attend our underfunded, under-equipped, under-prepared educational institutions. So, we have to break that cycle.

 Do you honestly think the government can fund and implement the 2009 agreement considering that we are in recession?

Again, it is about priority. I told you about countries that experienced wars and that are still paying attention to education. The Nigerian ruling class have not really sat down to look at what roles education could play in the development of the country and they won’t do that because they have the World Bank and International Monetary Fund advising them that Nigeria, like other African countries, does not need university education. They said what we need is basic technical education and with that the children of the poor will remain peasants and hewers of wood for the children of the rich. They would even complain that artisans are no longer available, but who are the artisans, the children of the poor. How best do we equip our universities to make them competitive, to stop the drift? Those children they take abroad at young ages do not think Nigeria when they return to the country, if they come back at all. They have dual citizenship with dual personalities. We need to sit back and define the kind of society we want and the roles of education in it.  Julius Nyerere did it in Tanzania and today, it is one of the most organised societies in Africa. You will see the passion with which the leadership is driving education in that country and they are getting results. It is because they took time to define the country they wanted and design education that would address the issues. That was what Nyerere preached in the early 60s. Nigeria needs to emulate that.

 Some people believe that most ASUU stikes are about better pay, that ASUU is only interested in negotiating better salaries, allowances and so on for its members and only use better infrastructure in schools to cover up. How would you respond to this?

It doesn’t work that way, there is no time we go on strike that we don’t justify our action based on the environment in which we are working. Even if you talk of better pay, is it that we don’t have alternatives? It is for the love we have for this country. The love we have for this country has made many of our members to remain here, so don’t think they don’t have alternatives because they insisted that the government must make the environment conducive. If you see a medical doctor that is committed to his job, pay him the highest salaries in the world, he wouldn’t want to work in a clinic without the basic facilities to perform his operations. That means it is the love for the job that is driving the doctor as against his income. If not for the love, we would have gone on strike since our members were being paid 60-70 per cent of their salaries for the last two years. But each time, we say you need to attract and retain the best brains. But beyond that, you need to provide the enabling environment, so they go together. You need the enabling environment and the correct mental frame of mind to drive the process of giving quality education.  

What is the least the government can do to end this strike?

The least has been defined. In November last year, when we went to the National Assembly, the issues were itemised, seven, eight of them. Government was expected to have followed that pathway, to follow what I would call the action plan for resolving the matter, but for deviating from the action plan, government exposed itself to suspicion that it didn’t mean well. If it means well, it must go back to that plan and from there, we address the issues. Government has defined the process for addressing the problem; it just needs to go back to it. It is because it didn’t act on the understanding, that is why we are back to where we are. This action was needless; it is like we were forced into it. Implementation must commence and the implementation we are talking about is not the issue of renegotiation, this is a separate thing and that is why we didn’t have problems with Dr. Wale Babalakin.

 What roles has the Ministry of Education played so far?

Let’s give it to the ministry, it has attempted on a number of occasions to assure us that it has taken some steps. It has written to the Minister of Finance and met with the Accountant-General of the Federation. The ministry has taken concrete steps that we believe should yield the expected results, but where decisions about finance were to be taken, maybe it met a brick wall. We don’t isolate government agencies, it is government that has still not delivered.

 Do you think the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari may have contributed to the delay in implementing the agreement?

No, we don’t want to go to that area because government is a continuum, there is no vacuum in the Presidency. I showed you the letter drawing the attention of the Acting President to the issues. It’s not as if we didn’t bring him into the picture and when they are holding Federal Executive Council meetings, you would see them allocating money to projects. If they believe university education is important, they would have deployed the means to address these issues.

Are you disappointed in the Acting President?

We don’t reduce matters to personalities, that is why I said I won’t talk about President Buhari. The issue is not about him, we don’t engage in personality attack. The issue we have on the table is yet to be addressed. Who do we expect to address the issues? It is the government, whether at the centre or state.

Do you think education should be under the Federal government or is it better under states?

That is a constitutional matter.

But we are talking of restructuring now and ASUU can also contribute to it.

We don’t want to be dragged into the restructuring debate, we need the people’s constitution, what they are doing now is patching up. What we need is to break down the whole process; that is ASUU’s position. So we will not contribute to this issue of add-on. They are cosmetic, we want fundamental restructuring. We are yet to define the kind of society we want, the last time we tried it was under Ibrahim Babangida (a former military head of state) and the people said they wanted socialism but the political class did not want that, they truncated it. If you look at Chapter 2 of the constitution, you would see elements that show that Nigeria should be moving towards a socialist, welfarist state, but the ruling class said the provisions there are not justifiable. Talk of free education at all levels, is any governor talking about it? This means that they have repudiated that aspect of the constitution. Look at Section 18 of the constitution; you would see our educational objectives clearly laid out. Look at the economic objectives which state clearly that the commanding height of the economy must not be in private hands. What is happening, they are privatising, commercialising (everything), including education. If you ask people in government their ideas of how to generate funds, they will say, charging school fees. ASUU will fight that; maybe that is the next level of our engagement. You want to introduce school fees in a country where over 70 per cent cannot earn two dollars per day, where poverty is widespread, and where illiteracy level is about 60 per cent. What is the maternal and child mortality rate? When you look at all of these indices of human development, they are negative in Nigeria. The catalyst is education and government must fund it.

There have been views that universities should be able to generate funds internally, but our universities are not doing that. Does that not amount to laziness?

You have raised a very important question but let me draw your attention to the 2009 agreement again. In that agreement, it was spelt out that ministries, departments and agencies should give consultancy in areas of competence to universities. I have not seen that happening except for the recent oil exploration by University of Maiduguri lecturers in Borno State, which was truncated by Boko Haram. We have not seen that happening in many cases. That should have been one primary source of fund generation for universities, but government, whether at the state or the federal, has not been doing that. The other revenue source they talked about is research and we cannot do that without requisite facilities and you can see the connection. You can’t be a good researcher when you don’t have facilities and you cannot be a good teacher without being a good researcher. Even the quality of instruction would be hampered without effectively equipping the laboratories and library. These things are inter-connected and you can’t separate them. For a lecturer to effectively carry out a research, he must have the correct state of mind and that is why we have been having problems getting quality research from our universities. So it is not about laziness, it is about an enabling environment and motivation and support from government.

 When will this strike end?

It will end when government is ready to do the right thing as we spelt out during our engagement with the government at the National Assembly in November last year.

LAUTECH, a member of ASUU has been closed for over a year, but the union seems to have been silent on it.

ASUU is not silent. In fact, two weeks ago, we wrote a letter to the National Universities Commission and we made our position clear; LAUTECH should be given to a state to manage, this issue of dual ownership is meaningless. Go and look at our adverts on June 9, it was placed in two newspapers. We specifically devoted a section to LAUTECH matters and brought it out clearly that a game of deception is going on in that university. The state governors are not committed to funding the university and they have gone ahead to establish their own, which means they want to abandon the school. We would resist that.

PUNCH

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