Education

FG moves to avert strike in varsities

No going back if govt fails, says ASUU President

 

˜SSANU: Sharing formula provocative, divisive

˜Stakeholders: There’s need to break strike jinx in varsity system

 

STRIKE

Stakeholders have condemned impending strikes in the nation’s university system, calling on the Federal Government to implement all agreements reached with ASUU and other unions in order to avert crisis

 

Again, these are difficult times for the nation’s public university system. This is as another strike looms in the system following a fresh threat by lecturers, under their umbrella union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to declare an indefinite nationwide job boycott over non-implementation of agreement signed with the Federal Government.

 

But stakeholders have called on the government at all levels to do everything within their powers to avoid any fresh strike in the system, saying such would not be palatable for the country. ASUU led by its National President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, and other union leaders had at a press conference in Abuja on November 15, 2021 issued a threeweek ultimatum to the Federal Government to address all issues in the December 2020 Agreement.

 

While ASUU is spoiling to embark on a strike, the university non-teaching staff including the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Education and Associated Institutions (NAAT), which already are at loggerheads with ASUU and the Federal Government over the sharing formula of the N22.1 billion Earned Allowance released to the university staff.

 

The unions, which condemned the sharing formula allegedly skewed in favour of ASUU on 75 per cent to 25 per cent, are also threatening to  embark on strike if the government failed to reverse the distribution of the fund.

 

Meanwhile, ASUU has vowed that the union might be compelled to declare another nationwide strike should the government fail to implement the Memorandum of Action (MoA) signed with the union prior to the suspension of its last industrial action.

 

The union, which berated the Federal Government for always reneging on its promises and agreements, claimed that all the issues, including those of unpaid Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) and the University Revitalisation Fund had not been addressed almost one year after the agreement was reached.

 

ASUU is also contending forceful implementation of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) rejected ab initio by the union; the release of N30 billion as part of the first tranche of the Universities Revitalisation Fund; release of N22.12 billion Earned Allowances, as well as the implementation of the University Transparency Accountability Solutions (UTAS) and a re-negotiation of the 2009 Agreement between the union and the Federal Government.

 

Intervention Following the three-week warning strike declared by ASUU, the Federal Government promised to address the union’s basic demands within seven days as part of moves to avert any fresh crisis in the system.

 

The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed at a tripartite meeting convened by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila with Federal Government officials and ASUU leaders, said that the process to meet the demands of the union had commenced and that the monies would be paid before the end of next week.

 

The Minister, however, noted that the efficiency of UTAS was still being verified by the relevant agencies and would be implemented when concluded, even as she said that the process for the commencement of the re-negotiations of the agreement between the Federal Government and ASUU had started.

 

Gbajabiamila, however, said that the meeting was convened so that the issues of strike would be addressed once and for all, noting that the consequences of interrupting the education process were enormous and that the unintended consequences were more deadly.

 

“We cannot sit here as leaders and watch things fall apart; education is very important and no amount of money put into it is too much. This cannot be a perennial exercise, strike cannot be a tool we use all the time; it should be the last resort after all other efforts have failed. We need to resolve this issue once and for all,” he said.

 

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, hinted that the strike threatened by ASUU would not take place, saying funds are available for universities.

 

“The strike will not happen. For one, I know that the funds to pay are there and the Ministry of Education has assured me that they would send letters to make sure that the disbursement reaches the accounts of the various universities. We are not paying the unions directly so it will get to the universities’ account,” he had said.

 

However, ASUU’s National President insisted that the industrial action became necessary due to the failure of the Federal Government to implement the Memorandum of Action it signed with the union upon which the last strike action was suspended. In a telephone chat with New Telegraph on Sunday, Osodeke said nothing had been done by the Federal Government, saying the union would be left with no option than to declare a strike after the three-week ultimatum, if nothing is done by the government. Sharing formula crisis

 

As part of demands by the unions, the Federal Government had pledged the release of N22.1 billion Earned Allowance to ASUU, SSANU, NAAT and NASU, which is to be shared on a ratio of 75 to 25 per cent in favour of ASUU.

 

Given the sharing formula of 75 per cent to ASUU and 25 per cent of the fund to other unions, SSANU, NAAT and NASU had not only kicked against and vehemently rejected the sharing formula, but also at loggerheads with ASUU and Federal Government.

 

The unions last week declared a three-day nationwide protest to oppose the sharing method, and called for a reversal of the formula. However, the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, has said it was impossible for the unions to share the N22.1 billion Earned Allowances to be released to university workers by the Federal Government equally.

 

Nwajiuba added: “In the university system, we have Professors, one of the highest ranks, we have Associate Professors and we have Readers. Now, ASUU has many professors and senior lecturers.

The rates for these people are much higher. “When we talk about SSANU and NASU, you talk of the librarians and the laboratory workers. They do not have professors in their unions. That is why it seems as if ASUU is getting a higher percentage. No one is sidelining SSANU and NASU.

 

“They are both important in the system, but you can’t pay a union with a great number of higher ranks the same percentage with others. It is not possible and that is why we wanted to pay directly to individual accounts.”

 

Reacting to the sharing formula, SSANU at its Zonal Executive Meeting of the Western Zone of association which was held at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) on Thursday, November 18, 2021, said there was no doubt that there is wide-spread tension and agitation in virtually all public universities in the country over the provocative, divisive and highly iniquitous sharing formula of the Earned Allowances between ASUU and other unions as being proposed by the Federal Government.

 

The release by the Federal Government, according to the association, indicated that about-to-be-released sum of N22.7 billion should be shared between ASUU and other three unions in the Nigerian public universities at the ratio of 75 and 25 per cent respectively.

 

A statement signed by SSANU Western Zone said: “SSANU considers this as unjust and a veritable recipe for disharmony on our campuses. We will recall that in 2019, when similar scenario played out, the Joint Action Committee of SSANU and NASU had to rise to condemn in strong terms the skewed sharing formula which necessitated an agreement with the Federal Government through its proxies that the balance/ remainder of what was due to us (N20 billion) would be included in the 2021 Supplementary Budget.

 

“Having waited for so long on this promise and expectation, it is most bothersome that the Federal Government could be so insensible to have released the money using this skewed sharing formula. It is our strong contention that this N22 billion in the pipeline for release was the original money meant for SSANU and NASU as agreed upon in February, this year, and now being shared using a satanic sharing formula of 75 to 25 per cent, against the original owners of the funds.”

 

SSANU, therefore, is seeking, among other things, immediate payment of N20 billion to SSANU and NASU as agreed in the negotiations of January and February 2021; immediate payment of arrears of the National Minimum Wage without further delay; immediate implementation of the National Industrial Court judgement in respect of the University Staff School, as well as payment of their arrears.

 

Ending strikes in university system Worried by incessant strikes by the unions in the system, stakeholders have condemned the development, saying it is high time the government at all levels did the needful to address the needs of the universities.

 

Appraising the development, a don at the University of Ibadan (UI) and former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Prof. Demola Dasylva, said no responsible academic staff member ever liked going on strike because of the multi-dimensional collateral damage such would have on students, parents and morale of the striking lecturers.

 

The don, who regretted that the government does not understand any other language except strike before they act, explained: “I never liked ASUU going on strike unfortunately, in my over 30 years in the system I have witnessed several strikes. But tell me if there is any other language that the government both at state and federal level understands, other than strike.

 

Everything you can point to, or point at, as development, achievements and breakthroughs in our universities was earned through ASUU’s struggles over the years.

“The idea of VAT and TETFund are the brainchild of ASUU, as means of sourcing funds when the Federal Government lamented that it had no funds. Each strike, I am aware, has been a sacrifice and has come with a battered morale of the striking academic staff.

 

“As parents, our children are also affected, and they are part of the collateral victims. The government’s persistent demonstration of irresponsibility in failing to implement agreements theyconsentedtoandsignedfor, has been foundational to the perennial crisis in our universities.”

 

While insisting that some officials in government should be held responsible as causative agents of the crisis in our universities and not ASUU, he noted that a responsive and responsible government would never allow things to degenerate to the level of academic staff going on strike, before addressing the necessities in the system.

 

The show of indifference and insensitivity of successive governments that have had issues with ASUU on matters relating to the welfare of staff, and on improved infrastructure for learning and teaching, indicates lack of understanding of what governance is all about.

 

He, therefore, called on stakeholders such as students, parents and the public that rather than be onlookers each time, they should join hands with ASUU in the struggle to rescue the university system from the apparent current funding haemorrhage deliberately caused by a rather uncaring government. “Our warped national psyche needs an urgent retrieval.

 

Those in government cannot continue to carry on the way they do, the way they treat the universities, starve them with funds, and play darts with the lives of our students. It is an admission of a failed system that people in government would rather patronise or send their wards to foreign institutions, or go for regular medical treatments abroad instead of equipping our universities and hospitals with the right tools and equipment through adequate funding,” Dasylva said.

The don insisted that the strike notice given could still be averted if the government does the needful, instead of playing “hide-and-seek” or “hard-to-get” stuff.

 

The don, who pointed out that the future of the youth are being toying with, said the government should be counseled on the need to wake up to its responsibility and be more committed, at least, this time of the university development.

A former Dean of School of Transport at the Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Samuel Odewumi also bemoaned what he described as “unending strikes” in the university system, regretting that this has brought untold hardship, monumental disruption and instability to the university academic calendar.

 

“We have travelled down this road many times, but the key point is that the Federal Government does not keep faith with agreement. So, for the jinx of strike to be broken, the Federal Government must keep their side of the bargain in any agreement,” he said.

 

The reality, Odewumi reiterated, is that there was an urgent need to renegotiate the 2009 Agreement and 2020 Memorandum of Action so that the Federal Government would be able to come clean on what it cannot meet before it signed the obligation. “Let the two parties have the minimum irreducible limit that should be respected. By the letters of the 2009 agreement, there ought to be another negotiated agreement by now,” the don added.

 

A legal practitioner, Mr. Oluwola Dada, who frowned at and condemned disruption to the system, wondered why the government should sign agreement with unions and renege of such, saying it shows lack of seriousness on the part of the government. He noted that the deliberate action to kill the public universities for the private ones to thrive would set the country backward, since not all parents could afford to send their wards to private universities.

 

Dada lamented that some of his child’s classmates who secured admission into private university had completed the 100-Level programme, while her child who secured admission into one of the federal universities is still at home waiting for the institution to resume.

 

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