A year after the death of a former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof. Festus Iyayi, some of the issues he fought for resurrect, ALEXANDER OKERE and SODIQ OYELEKE report
For the family of the late former Academic Staff Union of the Universities, Festus Iyayi, there remains a big gap created by his demise. But while life for members of the family may never be the same again, Omole Iyayi, the third child of the activist, says they have no regrets as they believe he died for a worthy cause – that of ASUU and nation’s education.
“He is no longer there for us. We no longer spend good time together with him at the weekends and favourite spots in Benin metropolis. Yet, we have no regrets. It was part of what made (him) Festus Iyayi. I have no regrets at all and nobody in my family has any,” Omole, a first class degree holder and lecturer at the University of Benin, told our correspondent on the commemoration of the one-year anniversary of his father’s death.
Iyayi, a former ASUU President, died on November 12, 2014, in an accident involving a vehicle in the convoy of the Kogi State Governor, Captain Idris Wada (retd). He was travelling to Kano in company with some national officers of ASUU to deliberate on the strike by the union when the accident happened. The circumstance had fuelled suspicion that he might have been assassinated.
According to Omole, the late ASUU leader was the perfect adviser of the entire family who always urged them to keep their cool even in the face of persecution. He was a loving father and a faithful husband.
Even as a lecturer, Omole said, he enjoyed his father’s academic guidance, especially with regard to research; a privilege he admitted had since disappeared with his death.
He added, “He was always the person who was enquiring about publications. But that voice in my ear is no longer there. It has been strange but we are managing it. He is no longer there. You cannot call him or chat with him. Every weekend, I expected him to send a text message to change my plans. But all those things don’t happen again. It is strange somehow. Everybody, including my mother, has come to terms with what happened.”
But Omole stressed that his father died a good cause even when there were unresolved issues in the nation’s education sector.
He declared, “The struggle to improve education is an ongoing one. I still believe there are things that the government needs to do to improve the education sector generally. The battle is still ongoing; I will not say it has been won or lost yet.
“One thing that causes much annoyance is the failure to honour agreement because whether it’s autonomy or funding, if the government does not honour the agreement, then it is pointless. I think that one thing the government needs to do is to improve the trust between it and the union. Honour your agreement because when that trust is not there, no matter what areas they say they are going to improve, nothing will change.”
On the public lecture organised by the UNIBEN ASUU in honour of his father, Omole said the family appreciated the gesture.
“It was really wonderful that most of the branches across Nigeria did something to honour him and remember him. The one held at the University of Benin, for instance, dwelt on issues that I could imagine him appreciating. He belonged to the academic staff union. He was not a member of government. So, it is the academic staff union that would do what it takes to immortalise one of their own, not the Federal Government,” Omole noted.
Also from across the country, many chapters of the union last week gathered to honour the late professor of Business Administration and Head of the Department of Business Administration, University of Benin, who died at 66.
At the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, ASUU members held a lecture in honour of the activist. It was titled “Festus Iyayi and the Struggle for the Development of Education in Nigeria.”
The occasion discussed challenges in the sector and the way to reposition it for the 21st century, with many lecturers wondering why the government is not showing enough commitment to the sector.
One of the speakers, Prof. Amos Akingohungbe, lamented that poor knowledge of what should constitute the university system contributed to the shaky education sector in the country.
The professor, who narrated the history and emergence of ASUU, said poor funding and unqualified personnel contributed to the failure of the sector.
He said, “The people that established the universities initially did not have an in-depth knowledge of what they were going into and that led to a situation where universities were not properly developed. The result of that poor foundation is that things have gone wrong now. Today, there are no sufficient lecturers and infrastructure, among other things, on campuses.
“But despite the poor condition of the existing ones, our governments are still establishing more universities. Education is facing the challenges of unqualified personnel. Many states cannot pay teachers’ salaries. It is unfortunate that it is in the midst of these challenges that Iyayi died. He died at a point when people of his calibre are mostly needed.”
He accused the Federal Government of misappropriation, arguing that the objectives of the TETFund project initiated to aid universities growth had been misplaced.
He said, “Funding was not a problem until around the 1970s when the issue became one of the serious things that ASUU had to fight. There was also the issue of having to expand the university system because most of the institutions then ran like secondary schools and there was the need for specialists to take over them.
“It was after a while that ASUU suggested that the government should introduce a research and development fund to rescue the situation. It is now disheartening to see how Tertiary Education Trust Fund that is for research and university development is being used to sponsor something else. TETFund is not for the sponsorship of Al-Majiri’s schools. It is a misappropriation. Even using TETFUND to start a university is also misappropriation because the government should be responsible for that.”
Another speaker, Prof. Idowu Awopetu, criticised the government for making the country lose her pride of place in education. He said, “ASUU has for long been fighting against poor salary and condition of service. Nigeria is a nation with an increase in the number of universities but decrease in quality. Generally, at all levels, the number of institutions is increasing but the growth is retarded.”
The OAU Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Bamitale Omole, urged ASUU members to emulate Iyayi’s virtues, adding that they must contribute to the development of the university system.
Omole, represented by his deputy, Prof. Ayobami Salami, said, “Today is very significant because of the personality that it is associated with. The life of Iyayi, particularly his emergence as the ASUU president, has taught us many lessons. As academics, our concern should be to think beyond our monthly pay. People like Iyayi have done their bit; we must also contribute our quota. The university system would have been worse if not for the likes of Iyayi, who persisted in the ASUU struggles. Whatever we are getting or enjoying today in the university system is a result of the struggle.”
Chairperson of the occasion, Prof. Adebayo Lamikanra, said Nigeria education would not grow if members of ASUU were not ready to sacrifice. Urging them not to relent in their struggle, Lamikanra particularly implored the OAU chapter of the union to renew its doggedness in fight against oppression.
He said, “Today brings back the memory of how we tried to struggle with the university management and the role of ASUU, Ife branch now OAU. Ife has always been at the centre of actions against oppression and that is why we have the responsibility to act. We need to develop a new vision that will take us back to where we were. Iyayi is one of those that battled to give ASUU the prominence it deserves and we need to retain that.
“We must all ensure that our members maintain the core values of the union. The attitudes of civilian leaders have been shocking towards education. It is in our interest to defend the dreams of those that built a standard university like this. You can imagine the shame in having a state government house that is more expensive than a university.
“Iyayi really deserved to be celebrated for his dedication to service and especially because he emerged as ASUU President at a National Executive Meeting here in OAU. As a strong and fearless comrade, he fought with the then military dictator, Ibrahim Babaginda, the ‘dribbler’, who could not trick ASUU.”