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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

University Workers’ Strike: Matters Arising

The declaration of another warning strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on February 14, 2022 was a reincarnation of the incessant industrial actions and galloping academic calendar in public universities in Nigeria. No doubt, this unstable industrial relation has not only disrupted students learning, burdened parents, but diminished the quality of higher education in the country. No sooner had ASUU embarked on the warning strike, that it has rolled-over a couple of times, than the three other  unions, the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU), the Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Education Institutions (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) withdrew their services, leading to the total paralysis of most of the public universities whose staff subscribe to the Unions.

INTERESTINGLY, the strike lasted for six months before SSANU and NASU suspended the strike action for two months, while NAAT put its strike in abeyance for three months. However, ASUU initiated consultations with its members in the respective branches to decide whether to make the strike full-blown, following the policy and decision of the federal government, as announced by the minister for education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, not to pay the salaries of the striking workers for the period of the industrial dispute.

 WE like to recall that the university workers went on strike based on some demands that include the following: release of revitalisation fund for universities; release of money for the payment of earned academic allowance; release of  the reports of the visitation panels to universities; deployment of unions-designed salary payment platforms, as against the present usage of IPPIS, which has been described as inimical to the autonomy and running of the university system; and the re-negotiation of the 2009 agreement with respective unions. Some, if not all, of the issues in dispute had lingered for years, eliciting, at various times, Memorandum of Understanding,  MoUs and Memorandum of Association  between the unions and the federal government, with the latter acting in bad faith due to the claim of paucity of funds to meet the  unions’ monetary demands.

IT is noteworthy that the conciliatory meetings and engagements presided over by the Labour and Employment Minister, Chris Ngige, did not record desirable result, leading to the mandate given by the president to the Minister of Education to resolve the disputes. In the process, the federal government, who at many times called on parents to appeal to ASUU to return to work, emplaced the Nimi Briggs 2009 renegotiation committee to interface with the unions. From the case of mistrust by SSANU, which called for the disbandment of the committee at a point, to the issue of the potency of the mandate given the committee by the government, the committee successfully completed its assignment, and submitted the report to the government.

ASUU has since then been putting the blame of the protraction of the strike on the non-readiness of the government to endorse the Briggs-report until the government evoked her policy of no-work-no-pay, igniting a setback.

AS the discussions about the legality and otherwise of the withholding of the striking workers salary during strike continue, and while it is a great delight that the three supporting staff unions have returned to work tentatively, with conditions set for the government, The Hope is of the view that such cheering news is still overshadowed by the continuous strike by their academic counterparts, thereby still stalling teaching and learning. It is also instructive that members of SSANU and NASU at the University of Lagos dissociated themselves from the suspension of the strike announced by their leaders, as they threatened to continue with the strike. 

AS the nation awaits either the continuation of the strike by ASUU to press for the payment of members salary during the strike or the execution of the threat to resume and get institutions to forfeit the 2021/2022 session, we believe that the Federal Government has the responsibility to address issues leading to the strike,  ensure that this monstrous development is not allowed to rear its ugly head again, in the interest of students, parents and national development. To this end, both ASUU and government must make concessions that would produce a win-win situation, for collective good.

SIMILARLY, The Hope is of the opinion that permanent steps should be taken to resolve all contending matters, with possible participation by parents, alumni, and other critical stakeholders. While measures are taken to design funding portfolios, like the possibility of telephone call and internet data taxes suggested by ASUU, the apportioning of certain percentage of Stamp Duty tax to education, and others, we call on government to immediately stop the abuse of TETfund, an interventionist agency that is presently unnecessarily burdened with the funding of new higher institutions. Government should also cut leakages in the various revenue outlets, particularly crude oil sales, to ensure that scarce resources are no longer drained into private pockets.  

THE HOPE is encouraged by the proposition of parents to pay N10, 000 naira annually to support university education, and we are of the opinion that such collaborative efforts from critical stakeholders are desperately needed in a depressing economy, where the government alone cannot fund education.   

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