Hope of a possible suspension of the ongoing strike by university teachers this week dimmed on Tuesday as a former National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof. Festus Iyayi, died in an accident involving a vehicle in the convoy of the Kogi State Governor, Captain Idris Wada (retd.).
Iyayi, a professor of Business Administration and Head of the Department of Business Administration, University of Benin, died at 66.
His death made ASUU to postpone its National Executive Committee meeting scheduled for the Bayero University, Kano to discuss the position of its over 50 branches on the offer made to the union by the Federal Government.
Iyayi, a member of the negotiating team of ASUU, was travelling to Kano in company with the Benin Zonal Coordinator of the union, Dr. Sunny Iyalo; the National Welfare Officer, Dr. Ngozi Ilo, and the University of Benin Chairman of ASUU, Dr. Anthony Monye-Emina, for the NEC meeting when the accident happened.
Eyewitnesses told one of our correspondents that the accident happened at Banda, a village about three kilometres to Lokoja.
He said the last police vehicle in the convoy of the governor lost control and hit the ASUU leaders’ vehicle, thus setting it on a fatal somersault.
When the dust raised by the impact settled, Iyayi had died while Ilo was badly injured. Iyalo and Monye-Emina, were however lucky as they escaped with minor wounds.
Ilo was rushed to the Lokoja General Hospital.
The survivors were said to have called the ASUU leaders from Ibadan Zone who were some kilometres behind them for help.
The Chairman, Lagos State University branch of the union, Dr. Fikayo Idris, who was in the Ibadan Zone team’s vehicle with the National Vice-President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, and others, expressed sadness over the incident and the uncaring attitude of those in the convoy.
He said no vehicle in the governor’s convoy waited to see what had happened to the ASUU chiefs.
“The accident happened around 11am on Tuesday but you won’t believe that the convoy did not stop. All the vehicles just zoomed off only for them to come back later for their injured persons in the police vehicle.
Idris added that they had to wait for an ambulance from the UNIBEN Teaching Hospital to take the remains of Iyayi to Benin.”
Also, Prof. Friday Okonofua of UNIBEN accused Wada of causing the professor’s death.
He said, “It is the governor’s reckless convoy that killed one of our most distinguished academics, who has won laurels all over the world.”
But the Special Adviser, Media and Strategy to the Kogi State Governor, Mr. Jacob Edi, denied the accusation.
He claimed that he did not only stop at the scene of the accident, he also ordered the medical personnel in the ambulance in the convoy to attend to the victims.
In a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, Edi said the accident occurred when the vehicle conveying the ASUU officials was trying to avoid a trailer and in the process rammed into the last vehicle in Wada’s convoy.
He said, “We know that when a human life is lost, it will not be fair to play politics. Truly, there was an accident. The bus which was conveying the ASUU members was trying to avoid a trailer and in the process collided with the last escort vehicle in the governor’s convoy.
“The Lokoja-Abuja Expressway right now is under construction. That road is very narrow. It is unfortunate that we have to exchange words on an issue like this. But when the collision occurred, the governor stopped and directed the medical team in the ambulance which was part of the convoy to attend to the victims.
“As soon as the governor got to Lokoja and was fully briefed on the situation, he quickly went to the Federal Medical Centre where the ASUU victims were hospitalised to sympathise with them and take care of their welfare.”
The special adviser also said, “The governor has also ordered an investigation into the immediate and remote causes of the accident because he is very bitter and pained by this development.”
He added, “No human being will be happy with the loss of the life of a fellow human being.
The governor was never indifferent to their plight. If he was indifferent, he would not have gone to the FMC to check on the survivors.”
When Idris was told that the governor’s aide had denied his claim, Idris replied, “We are still in Lokoja now (6.33pm) waiting for an ambulance from Benin to convey the remains of Prof. Iyayi home. That is careless talk by him.”
He, however, said that the NEC meeting would not hold on Wednesday (today) again because “we need to honour one of our committed leaders.”
Meanwhile, the National President of ASUU, Dr. Nasir Fagge, and the Chairman, University of Abuja chapter, Mr. Clement Chup, have described Iyayi’s death as unfortunate.
They reacted in separate telephone interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria in Abuja.
President Goodluck Jonathan commiserated with the leadership and members of ASUU on Iyayi’s death.
Jonathan, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, said he was particularly dismayed by the fact that Iyayi died while going to contribute to efforts to finally resolve the current ASUU strike.
The statement reads, “On behalf of himself and the Federal Government, President Jonathan commiserates with the leadership and members of ASUU on the tragic death today of former ASUU President, Dr. Iyayi.
“President Jonathan also extends sincere condolences to the Iyayi family as well as his colleagues, friends and associates across the country and beyond.
Also, the Senate President, David Mark , lamented the death of Iyayi, saying Nigeria had lost an academic giant.
Mark, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Paul Mumeh, said the untimely death of the activist was pathetic.
Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, however, expressed deep shock at the death of Iyayi and called on players in the education sector, including the Federal Government and the striking lecturers to rededicate themselves to the pursuit of excellence at the tertiary level in honour of the deceased.
The governor, in a statement by his Press Secretary, Felix Ofou, said the highest honour that Iyayi deserved was the return to the pursuit of academic excellence in our universities and other higher institutions.