The four-month old industrial action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) took the centre stage at the N25 billion fundraising for the Edwin Clark University of Technology with the Delta State Governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan and his Bayelsa State counterpart, Seriake Dickson, berating the union for the continued strike. Also, former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon and elder statesman, Edwin Clark, restated the need for dialogue in resolving the crisis facing Nigeria as a nation.
While Gowon, in his appeal, admonished politicians against overheating the polity, Clark reiterated his support for the national dialogue, stating that it would not in any way lead to the dismemberment of Nigeria as a nation.
Speaking at the N25 billion fundraising for the Edwin Clark University of Technology (ECUT), Uduaghan wondered how the state universities should join in the strike by federal universities, saying, "those of us in the states are wondering how this strike in the federal universities concerns the state universities. "We are appealing to ASUU to call off this strike and henceforth in Delta State, we shall apply the no-work-no-pay rules, as far as this ASUU strike is concerned."
Also speaking, Dickson wondered how ASUU should be on strike for an upward of four months, which he said is almost a semester. This, he said, is quite unbecoming, as Nigeria cannot be considered to be a serious nation with the tertiary education almost grounded.
Accordingly, he called on ASUU to call off the strike as he put it, "enough is enough, call off the strike in the interest o the nation".
Also, Gowon, who was the chairman of the occasion, appealed to Nigerian politicians to stop overheating the polity, urging them to sheathe their sword in the overall interest of the country.
The former Head of State, who spoke as the chairman of the fund-raising ceremony, also used the occasion to commend Clark for the defence, pain and humiliation he suffered in 1976 when his administration was overthrown by the Murtala/Obasanjo regime.
According to him, "Love your country above anything. This bickering must stop. You must replace this bickering with love, patriotism and loyalty. Shower our fatherland with love and strength. "Let us look at the future; there is greater room for all of us. There is no country we have than Nigeria. I am an apolitical soldier. I don't get involved in politics, I have the love and loyalty of all."
The former Head of State, who described Clark as a man with a great reconciliatory spirit said he played tremendous role in ensuring reconciliation of the country after the 1967/1970 civil war, explaining that it was as a result of his reconciliatory role that the Ijaw elder statesman contributed in the rebuilding of some classrooms in the University of Nigeria Nsukka and the Queens College in Enugu.
Gowon said it was because of Clark's love for education that made him to contribute in the setting up of the University of Benin, stating that he was not surprised that he was planning the setting up the Edwin Clark University of Technology.
In his comments at the fund raising, Clark said the proposed national dialogue should be seen as an opportunity for all Nigerians to sit and discuss issues as it affects them, insisting the national conference would by no way affect the unity of Nigeria as a nation.
According to him, "The Yorubas support the call for a national dialogue. It will not divide Nigeria. It is only the likes of Bola Tinubu of this world that are opposing the national conference. There is nothing wrong for us to sit down as a nation to discuss issues that affect us. This national conference will not divide us and it will not affect the unity of Nigeria".
In his speech, President Jonathan described Clark as an unrepentant patriot and a foremost educationist who believes in education as a tool for national development. The president said his administration appreciates the value of education and warned that it should not be used as a profitable venture. He said history would be kind to Clark for his quest for education for national development.
Over N910 million was realised with Arthur Eze and Jim Ovia, donating N200 million each. President Jonathan, Gowon, American Civil Right activist, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Uduaghan and Dickson with the Ministers of Petroleum, Women Affairs, Health and Special Duties attending the fund raising among other prominent Nigerians.
Meanwhile, the Vice-Chancellor of University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Professor Abdulganiyu Ambali, has appealed to the federal government and striking members of ASUU to have a change of mind by putting the interests of the students first and embrace dialogue so as to put an end to the ongoing national strike.
Ambali, who made the appeal yesterday, in his convocation address titled: "Victory at last," noted that the need to adopt dialogue became necessary because the interest of the students should always be put first. According to him, "We should always put the interest of the students first and do all things necessary to ensure that they are not left idle even for a minute."
He said: "It is said that an idle mind is a devil's workshop and it is possible that students not in school may become vulnerable to anti social thoughts and actions."
The vice-chancellor explained that there was a difference between truth and reality, "we should seek and pursue the truth and be realistic in such pursuits. It is my hope that it shall be victory at last for all the parties involved in the current challenges facing many Nigerian universities."
Ambali assured Nigerians and even beyond that the graduating students were well behaved and that he would continue to be proud of them for making excellence their watchword and shunning cultism and all other anti-social behaviour that are found elsewhere.