No party’ll hold primaries in Abuja – NANS president, Asefon vows to shock PDP, APC, others

The National President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, Sunday Asefon, speaks to SOLOMON ODENIYI about the association’s threat for a showdown in Abuja if the government fails to resolve the protracted strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities

You threatened that primary elections of political parties would not hold in Abuja if the protracted strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, which has kept students out of school, is not resolved. Why did NANS resort to such a threat?

In 2020, we were at home for more than nine months. ASUU strike started before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. We were still on ASUU strike when Federal Government relaxed its lockdown. For students to be at home for nine months means a whole session has been lost, all the activities for the year gone! In 2021, university managements tried to stablise our academic calendar, academic activities were being rushed with the hope that by 2022, everything will become balanced. It’s so unfortunate that the strike came in February when serious academic activities were in full and it’s very sad that up till now, there’s no clue as to the date ASUU will call off the strike.

The (threat) statement was issued on May 1st, a day met to celebrate workers all over the world, including our lecturers, who have been on strike since February 14. What were they celebrating when Nigerian students had been at home? We are also aware that May is a very critical month to determine what happens in the 2023 elections. We said to ourselves: if Nigerian students should keep mute in the month of May, automatically once these political parties are done with their primaries, their interests and concern will be on the general elections in February/March 2023.

Between ASUU and the FG, who do you think should shift ground?

It is sad no one is willing to. The Federal Government is threatening “No work, no pay;” ASUU is saying this and that. In all of this, students are the ones bearing the brunt. These two elephants are making us, the grass, to suffer.

Many of us already have our mind on the days we are to graduate from school; some people have a personal timetable for their lives; that has been shattered now. The Federal Government and ASUU have succeeded in toying with students’ plans and lives.

The most painful thing to us is that nobody is talking about ASUU again. What they are all talking about is 2023 elections. It is totally wrong to forget us and concentrate on 2023 when a large population of the youth has been shut out of school. You cannot be talking about elections when our future is at stake.

Go and look at the population of students in the country, also check the statistics of INEC, it shows that students make up 45-50 per cent of the population of those who will determine who becomes governor in our various states as well as the president of the country.

It is this same youths you are neglecting; it is the same youths you have been toying with their future. You don’t care about them and you know education is the future of everyone of us.

For us who are form poor background and our parents have no money to send us to private universities, you don’t want us to have a future. The education that you claim is free, some of us still pay a lot to acquire it. As a postgraduate student today, I have paid close to N350, 000 in a public university that I attend but if I were to opt for a private university, I can still get one within the range of N700 000 and I would have graduated and forgotten about studies.

In public universities, four years will turn to seven years, the extra years nobody is paying you for it. This is getting out of hand; it is high time we,  Nigerian students, took our destinies into our hands and act. Sadly we are in a country where democracy is a government of a few ruling everyone. The upper class has been the one ruling and that is why they want to mortgage our future; and that’s why we felt if adequate action is not taken and ASUU does not call off its strike, they should expect something bigger from the Nigerian students.

You threatened to disrupt the primaries of the ruling APC and PDP but some have faulted the inclusion of the opposition party. Don’t you think they should be exempted?

I don’t believe that; they are the two main political parties in this country. The PDP handed over power to the APC at the federal level and if you look at the governors and National Assembly members, they are largely APC and PDP members. They are friends and colleagues. The governors, in both the APC  and the PDP, have forums where they meet and talk. Senators have various committees where they converse. What are they doing about our issue? Apart from this, ASUU always makes to the agreement  entered during the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration and we believe that government is a continuum and in this case, it’s between the two of the APC and the PDP. Also, some state universities with governors under the PDP platform are on strike as well. We are not politicians. What matters to us is our lives and education.

Disrupting the presidential primaries of the two main political parties comes with grave implications for the nation; don’t you think NANS would be seen as doing the bidding of some fifth columnists?

A lot of people are making proposals that the 2023 elections should not hold; we are not joining them. Ours, as students, is not about elections. As the president of NANS, I’m charged with protecting the interests and welfare of Nigerian students. If it will affect 2023 elections, who have these politicians helped? Do you know the number of Nigerians with PVC (Permanent Voter Cards) who aren’t ready to vote? The politicians and the elections you’re talking about, isn’t it for their own selfish interest? What have you benefited from them? The education we should all be benefiting from them, is it not in shambles? Even those of us who are graduating have no hope of gainful employment and you’re talking about elections, when they have bastardised the lives of millions of Nigerians.

See, we are students of history; we know their plans and the minds of the burgeons and the capitalists. The oppressors must always find a way to keep oppressing the oppressed. So, we know their interest is to be oppressing us.

Have you considered that the APC and the PDP primaries that you plan to disrupt always have heavy security presence to forestall any security threat? Do you think such a venture would be too risky as it could lead to loss of lives?

It’s quite unfortunate to see police officers and other security agents who are not properly placed to disrupt the protests of Nigerian students, forgetting that their children are also in the same shoe because they earn poorly and cannot afford big school fee for their children like their bosses who send them after us.  But they are mandated to obey the last order, which will make them obey their superiors. In any case, we are ready. Let them kill us. They would kill students and get tired. This could even be the second phase of #EndSARS. The only thing that can prevent this from happening is for the strike to be called off before their primaries.

Are you not worried some of your members might be compromised to sabotage this plan?

We know that any moment from now, they will go and hire some students’ leaders, saying they are not a part of it. They have done it in the past and we are not moved.  I can assure you, every one of these concerns has been taken care of.

Since you issued that threat, has any of APC or PDP reached out to NANS?

They will not call us because they don’t believe we are serious about it. They already publicised the date of their primaries and we know what to do. It will shock them.

You earlier said political activities have taken attention away from the protracted ASUUstrike; can you elaborate on this?

It is saddening and unexpected from a minister in charge of our education to come out to declare his ambition when government-owned institutions under his care have been locked up for more than three months and he is yet to find a solution to the problem. In a sane society, that minister would have resigned for failing the students, the masses and entire country, for not being able to resolve the issue in his ministry. Mind you, it not only ASUU he is having issues with; NASU, SSANU and even ASUP are all also agitating for one thing or the other. This is the reason he is there as a minister.

Having the effrontery to say he is contesting for president is uncalled for. He must be a joker. The issue of presidency in this country has turned to a child’s play; everyone wants to become the president. How on earth will a Minister of State purchase N100m forms to show his interest; how did they get the money? Let’s assume a professor earns N420,000, that N100m is going to pay the salary of a professor for 24 years and the  highest you can serve as a professor is 15 years. That huge amount of money was paid to obtain a form in a particular political party, yet the Federal Government claims it has no money! People in this same government claiming there is no money are paying this huge amount to buy form to pursue their political ambitions!

But some groups procured the forms for these politicians.

We are not babies, who will believe that groups bought forms anybody. How much are these artisans or people in those groups earning to pool such amount of money to buy such forms? Aside from being the NANS President, I belong to quite a number of organisations and I know how these politicians come to give people money to buy forms and present to them as a gift. So who are they deceiving? These are the people the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) should be going after but they are only after those who are poor or not in the game. The EFCC is only after the Yahoo boys rather than the political leaders looting our treasury.

Have you met with the minister after he staged a walkout on you the other day?

Our leadership is quite different from the ones that have been trained to speak to people in town. We are not appointed by governors or anybody but elected by students. They said our utterances were too harsh. Someone who refused to meet us when we officially wrote to him! He then came informally when we got on the streets; what do you think will happen? We are not part of those who will know the truth and keep quiet. He walked out on us when he couldn’t answer our questions. After much persuasion from some quarters, we met again and  if you see the way they were talking that day, you would think few days after, the ASUU strike would have been a thing of the past. And that’s why ASUU will not believe them; they were talking so they could dismiss us and we would leave them so they could do other things. Up till now nothing has been done.

How do you feel seeing some of the children of top politicians schooling aboard while you have been home for three months?

Since I became the President of NANS, I have been saying that this people are doing this thing intentionally. They have been able to bastardise the primary and secondary education in this country. The tertiary institution we are seeing as the hope of common man in the country is what they are trying to kill next. As I speak to you today, can you send your children to public primary and secondary schools? We are now in a county where artisans, the poor of the poorest strive to send their children to private primary and secondary schools. This is what is being attempted with our tertiary institution. Anyone who does not have the money to attend private universities or travel out of the country would go back to the farm. They want us to be slaves under them and their children, after our poor parents have served them. Never!

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