What we’ve in varsities is graveyard peace –SSANU
It’s illegal to continue to withhold ASUU’s 8-month salaries –Don
Again, the relative peace and stability in the Nigerian public universities is under threat, as fresh strike looms. The university staff unions, comprising the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and and Non-Academic Staff of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) are threatening a fresh showdown with the Federal Government over members withheld salaries. While the Academic Staff Union of Universities is owed eight-month salary arrears, SSANU and NASU are owed four months’ salary arrears by the Federal Government, without any deliberate plans to pay.
The university workers, under their various unions, had over the years been at a loggerheads with the Federal Government over non-implementation of the numerous agreement reached with the government, which are aimed at addressing the age-long neglect and rot in the university system, enhanced the welfare of staff and reposition the system for enhanced productivity. The face-off resulting from the government’s posture to resolve the problems led to a series of strikes in the public university system for several months for which the students were at home. For over eight months last year, ASUU embarked on prolonged strike which resulted in total disruption of academic activities and closure of the Nigerian University System (NUS), while the Joint Action Committee of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Non-Academic Staff of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) also shutdown administrative and other allied activities at the university for four months. Following the strikes, the Federal Government applied the “No Work, No Pay” rule, insisting that the striking workers would not be paid for the period of their strikes. Based on the agreement reached and assurance given to the unions by the Federal Government and other intervening authorities/individuals that all the unions’ withheld salaries would be paid, the unions suspended their strikes. But, the refusal of the government to implement the agreements and pay the outstanding salaries, have continued to generate ill-feelings among the unions, blaming the government for reneging on its promises. To further complicate the face-off, after the issuance or presentation of Certificate of Registration and Recognition to the Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA), a factional or breakaway group from ASUU in 2018 after some disagreements two years earlier by the Federal Government, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige had directed the Congress to submit their members details to the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation for the payment of their withheld salaries. This was contained in a letter dated January 13, 2023, and signed by the Director of Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) Department, Charles Wali and addressed to the CONUA President, Dr. Nyi Sunmonu of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) chapter. According to CONUA, since members of the union did not embark on strike, there should be no reason or justification for the government to withhold their salaries. This is as the Federal Government refused to pay the salaries of Nigerian lecturers for the eight months that ASUU was on strike and four months of SSANU and NASU strike.
ASUU and the joint committee of SSANU and NASU have expressed displeasure over the attitude of the government towards the implementation of the various agreements, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Memorandum of Action (MoA), particularly its refusal to pay their withheld salaries as agreed, leading to the suspension of their strikes, in the first instance. Piqued by the continued withholding of their eight-month salaries, the National President of ASUU, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, who recently said that despite all consultations and refusal of the government to pay the outstanding salaries, the union is holding emergency Congresses with local/ branches of the union on the next line of action. ASUU, according to its counsel, Femi Falana (SAN), Nigerian university lecturers might drag the Federal Government to Court over the eight-month withheld salaries, if the government should go ahead to pay members of the Congress of Nigerian University Academics. Falana once said on the issue: “We want them to pay the (CONUA) money. That is why we have not reacted. The payment will form the legal basis for the government to now pay ASUU. We will now have the legal grounds to challenge them in a court of law. Through that, ASUU will be paid. They won’t have a choice. Let them go ahead.” The withholding of the members of the unions’ salaries, SSANU threatened, is a sore which would precipitate the next round of industrial unrest in the university system in no distant time. The Vice President (South- West), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Abdussobor Salaam, however, described the current peace in the university as that of graveyard or a latent peace, threatening that by the time that graveyard peace would transform into crisis, it would be volcanic. “As a union, we are only bidding time and exhausting all avenues to have been seen to be explored,” he noted.
Speaking with New Telegraph, the Chairman of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko (AAUA) chapter of ASUU, Prof. Simon Erhiabi, said discussions are still ongoing with the Federal Government on the issue, as well as at the level of the union with the branch congresses on the next line of action to be taken by the union. To SSANU National President, Mr Ibrahim Mohammed, the idea of separating some groups would not be accepted, regretting that failed negotiations and renegotiations resulted in the strike. Rather than withholding their salaries but to do the needful, he said: “We went on strike because the government failed to follow through on all of the agreements we reached with them 12 years ago. Our members are not happy about our four months’ salaries being withheld. We have told the Federal Government to passionately look at the situation in the country.” Meanwhile, the Vice President (South-West) for SSANU, while recalling that the Joint Action Committee of SSANU and NASU embarked on strike in March 2022, told New Telegraph that this strike was avoidable if the government had lived up to its legal and moral duty to be bound by agreements entered into with the unions. Again, Salaam added that the culpability of the government due to its failure to respect “Collective Bargaining Agreements” led to the strike, regretting that this happened despite copious reminders, appeals and agitations for the implementation of the agreements.
Condemning the government for withholding the workers’ salaries, he noted: “A month after the commencement of the strike the salaries of our members were stopped. As a union, we dispute the legality and morality of the decision because if the government had lived up to its honour over previous agreements, the strike would never have taken place.” The union leader added: “As we speak now, members of NASU and SSANU are being owed four months arrears of salaries. The legal culpability of the government lies in the basic legal principle – “Pacta sunt servanda”, agreements entered into must be respected. “Following interventions from various quarters and negotiations between the two unions and the Federal Government represented by our employer, the Ministry of Education, the Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu, the strike was suspended in August 2022 after a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed.” The MoU, he stated, has eight issues over which the unions and the Minister agreed would be implemented within two months. Salaam listed these items to include, among others, conclusion of the Renegotiation of FGN/SSANU & NASU 2009 Agreements; payment of arrears of Earned Allowances being owed SSANU and NASU members; resolution of the issue of University Staff Schools in line with the National Industrial Court judgement of 2016; release of White Papers on Visitation Panel Reports in line with extant laws; stoppage of usurpation of Headship of Non-teaching Units by academics which are violation of extant Schemes of Service; and continued neglect of state universities by their proprietors. Unfortunately, he expressed regrets that the agreement, as we speak, has started transforming from a Memorandum of Agreement/Understanding to a “Memorandum of Deceit.” Implementing the agreement, he stated that “I think it is a matter of honour not only for the government as an institution, and also for Mallam Adamu Adamu, as an individual and the Minister supervising the sector.” “Our decision to bring good faith into the negotiations was our perception of Mallam Adamu Adamu as a man of honour, and while our perception of the man has not changed, we however observe that if six months after the MoU was signed, no aspect of the agreement has been implemented, it calls to question, the sincerity of the Federal Government and individuals who signed the agreement from the onset,” Salaam said. To further compound the matter; he insisted that the withholding of the members of the unions’ salaries is a sore which would likely precipitate the next round of industrial unrest in the university system. “You do not beat a child and expect it not to cry. Yes, the unions are not on strike at the moment, but is there peace on our campuses? The answer is no,” he stated.
Criticizing the continued withholding of ASUU eightmonth salaries, a former Dean of Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan (UI) and a retired don of the university, Prof Ademola Dasylva, took a swipe at the Federal Government, saying the current Federal Government is irredeemably recalcitrant, and likely to be suffering from power intoxication. Otherwise, he pointed out that it is illegal to continue to withhold the unpaid eight-month salaries of lecturers without any plan and commitment to pay.
He said: “Again, I observed a trend that must be checked. The university system has its structure, and semi-autonomy that ought to be respected, unfortunately the Federal Government would have none of that. For example, most recently, the National Universities Commission’s (NUC) directive on the closure of universities on account of the coming election, is clearly stepping out of its statutory functions.”
The retired don, who said it is unwise to embark on any strike this time in the university system, insisted that the best advice for Nigerians is to vote wisely in the forthcoming election, and not on the already spent primordial religious and ethnic sentiments. The incoming government should know that the payment of all unpaid salaries arrears of lecturers is a priority of its regime if it must avoid the pitfalls of courting failure like the outgoing President Buhari’s administration/government.
“They should use their votes wisely to make a choice between a notoriously bad, irresponsible and unresponsive government, and a fresh government led by a clear-headed, visionary and Godfearing leadership that is capable of giving the deserved attention to our education system, and in particular, restore both the lost glory of our universities and the damaged morale of the academics in the universities,” Dasylva said. On the closure of universities for election, he stated further that regardless of the logic of the directive, it is the function of the Senate of each university to do that, even as the Professor of African Literature and Poetry insisted that all that NUC could have done is to write the university Governing Councils drawing their attention to, and persuading them as appropriate.
He said: “It is the function of the university to determine academic programmes, holidays, and emergency closure such as is suggested by the directive. But for the ministry or Commission to give orders just like that with a military fiat, is an aberration. “This Federal Governmentled by President Muhammadu Buhari is notorious for the fire-brigade and clearly uncoordinated approach on critical issues, particularly education. The cashless policy and the current fuel scarcity are fallout of the characteristic uncoordinated approach of President Buhari’s administration.”