Minister of State for Education, Nyesom Wike, on Sunday faulted critics of First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, over the honorary doctorate degree conferred on her by a University in South Korea.
The minister, who spoke in Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, said that the criticism was “not only out of place, but also bereft of common sense.’’
Wike was in Ado-Ekiti for the inauguration of the College of Technology building in Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD) named after President Goodluck Jonathan.
It will be recalled that some Nigerians, including the opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC), had condemned the decision by Mrs Jonathan to receive the award.
The critics had said that it was ill-timed for the First Lady to receive the award, when universities in the country were shut down because of the strike action by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Wike said that there was nothing wrong with the action of the First Lady as long as it was the university that decided to extend such rewarding gesture to her. He said that the award was in recognition of the First Lady’s humanitarian services and in particular, her efforts in fighting cybercrimes. “One will not necessarily bother himself because most of these critics do not understand how government operates. “The mere fact that ASUU is not on campus, does not mean all activities of government will be grounded. “It does not also mean that other staff of the universities are not working. They are working; the only thing is that academic activities are not taking place. “So, if other institutions all over the world want to honour the First Lady for her contribution to mankind, I do not see anything wrong with that. “That ASUU is on strike does not mean all universities are on strike. “University of Illorin is a public university but they are not on strike.
“There are also other private universities in this country. So, to me such criticism is completely out of place; it does not make any sense,’’ he said. The minister stressed that the honorary doctorate degree conferred on the First Lady was in recognition of the support she had been giving to the underprivileged. Wike appealed to ASUU members to shift ground on their demands, just like the way government had done to end the four-month strike. He called the attention of the striking workers to the fact that the demands they were seeking from government had been there for over 20 years. Wike added that it was impossible for government to fully fund tertiary institutions and therefore advocated for financial autonomy for the universities. “We agree; ASUU is making some demands that would have improved on what we have in the universities. “But, government is saying that in as much as we agree with you, these problems that had been there for over 20 years cannot be solved within two to three years.
“It is not possible and they should appreciate what government has done. Mind you, the fund that government is releasing has nothing to do with the TETFUND fund. “So, if you put all together, you will find out that government is now spending at least N200 billion to N300 billion every year, apart from the normal federal budget. “So, people should appreciate this; let nobody begin to play politics with it,’’ he said. Wike also debunked a media report that ASUU had rejected the new offer by the Federal Government on the union demand. He expressed hope that there would be positive result after meeting with the union at the weekend. “ASUU has not told us they have rejected anything. Sometimes, some of these are paper speculations. “I think that we have hoped that sooner or later, this strike would be called off. “I do not want to go into details because it is not necessary. ASUU has not told us that they have rejected whatever we have offered,’’ he said.
Wike reiterated the Federal Government commitment to improving on infrastructural development in the universities. He said that Mr President on his own volition set up the NEEDS assessment to address the shortcomings. “It is not only the universities; we are also going to face polytechnics; we are also going to face Colleges of Education. “So, people should know that it is Mr President’s brainchild that NEEDS assessment committee was set up,’’ he said. The minister also commended the President for personally attending the inauguration of the College of Technology building in ABUAD. He noted that by the singular act, the president had demonstrated that he encouraged and supported development of infrastructure and education in the country.