Strike: Varsities, students count losses

Nigerians are worried over the incessant strikes rocking the university system. To them, if not addressed once and for all, it will further bring the system to its kneels

Apparently, these are not the best of times for the Nigerian university system and especially the students. While the system is yet to recover from the disruption of academic activities as a result of the industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the ivory towers were once again faced with fresh trouble, last week. A fresh strike, declared, last week, by the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the three non-teaching staff unions in the universities; the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT); has since paralysed administrative and other allied activities in the universities.

Stakeholders, especially students and their parents are apprehensive over the negative effects of the industrial action, which has continued to take its tolls on academic and non-academic activities across campuses. To the students, it is another strike too many, as they system is yet to recover from the incessant strike by their teachers, as a result of the alleged Federal Government’s failure to implement agreements reached with the unions.

The aggrieved workers, under the aegis of JAC, had penultimate Friday rejected the sum of N4.6 billion earned allowance allocated to them out of the N23 billion recently released to the four unions in the universities by the Federal Government. The Chairman of JAC and National President of SSANU, Comrade Samson Ugwoke, who expressed dismay over the allocation’s sharing formula, said it was with intent to destabilise the university system and cause disaffection among members of the university community.

Part of their grouse include the implementation of the December 5, 2016 judgement by the National Industrial Court on University Staff School by the Federal Government; non-payment of arrears of earned allowances owed members; non-payment of arrears of salary shortfall; and inadequate funding of the university system. The workers, over the years, had been protesting the alleged disparity and lopsidedness in the disbursement of earned allowances to their unions and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

As part of efforts to address the lingering crises between the universities’ workers’ unions and the Federal Government, the latter recently released N23 billon through the Office of the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Education. Out of this, N18.4 billion was allocated to ASUU, while about N4.6 billion was allocated to the three non-teaching staff unions.

Piqued by what they described as the unfair sharing formula, the unions in a letter to all their branches nationwide, called for immediate resumption of the suspended strike. The letter, which was entitled: “Directives to immediately resume the suspended strike,” was signed by Comrade Ugwoke; Chris Ani for NASU and Sani Suleiman for NAAT, describing the N4.6 billion as pittance and unreasonable.

The JAC said in the letter: “To our consternation and utter dismay, the N23 billion has clearly been shown to be a payment for the Academic Staff Union of Universities for their so-called ‘Earned Academic Allowances,’ while the three non-teaching staff unions were allocated a paltry N4.6 billion, representing 11 per cent.“On sighting the allocation table, the obvious anomaly and lopsidedness was observed and a demand for explanation or justification of how the allocations came about was made via a letter to the Honourable Minister of Education dated November 14, 2017.

In the letter, we drew the attention of the Minister to the disproportionate and skewed allocation of the Earned Allowances and demanded explanation. We went further to immediately reject the allocations as made, except we got a convincing and satisfactory explanation and justification for what we considered to be an irrational and subjective ‘sharing of booty. “It is indeed sad that over two weeks after the said letter was delivered, there was not so much of an acknowledgement, not to talk of appropriate action to address the issues raised in the letter.” The letter also stressed:

“The allocation as presently done, has many fundamental flaws. Firstly, it is unheard of that allocations from the Federal Government to institutions would be split from the Ministry, according to unions and universities.

The standard procedure has been to send funds to universities and not unions within the universities. This is extremely strange.” However, as the strike entered its second week, there is no respite in sight, if the words of the National Public Relations Officer (PRO) of SSANU, Mr. Abdul-Sobur Abdulsalam, are anything to go by. Abdulsalam said the leadership of the unions could not attend a meeting called by the Federal Government last Thursday, because of the short notice given to the unions. Speaking to New Telegraph on phone, he said: “The Federal Government summoned a meeting with the unions last Thursday.

We conveyed our regret to the Ministry but we are yet to receive any response. but the notice was too short and we could not attend. We hope when next we are being invited to meeting, we will be given adequate notice.” But, to him, the strike would be more effective this week as more institutions have pledged to join. However, the Federal Ministry of Education, through the Director of Press and Public Relations, Mrs. Chinenye Ihuoma, said succour will soon come the way of the students and striking workers as the Federal Government is doing all within its powers to ensure the strike is called off soon.

“We are working hard to resolve all the strikes in the system,” she said in a text message sent to New Telegraph. Meanwhile, since the strike began last week, many campuses had been shut down, with students counting their losses. This is even as they express worry over the development. For instance, confronted by the challenges posed by the strike, the management of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) last week ordered the students to proceed on a forceful mid-semester break. The university’s Senate had after its emergency meeting on Tuesday, December 5, took the decision.

According to the institution’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Abiodun Olarewaju, the strike informed the decision of the university to send the students home for an “End of the Year” break. Apart from the directive that the students should proceed on forceful break, the university management also announced the postponement of its forthcoming 43rd convocation earlier scheduled for December 13 to 16, 2017, alleging the unforeseen development occasioned by the strike.

According to the release, the non-definite date for the suspension of the strike has made the suspension of the 43rd convocation an unavoidable alternative. Also, at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), the ongoing registration exercise of the fresh students had since been put on hold. With the ongoing strike, investigations by New Telegraph indicated that many other universities might take a cue from the Obafemi Awolowo University by ordering their students to vacate the campuses.

This is consequent on the fact that administrative activities in the registry, bursary, examinations and records, as well as provision and supply of utilities such as water, electricity, sewage cleaning, security, driving would be grounded, thus making life unbearable for members of the university community. Reacting to the development, a student of Philosophy Department at the University of Ibadan (UI), who simply identified himself as Kayode, told New Telegraph: “What we are experiencing is unjustifiable given the ease with which the so-called recycled leaders had acquired their education. Why has the Education Minister not done something about addressing the complaints of the unions since last week? We are tired of these shenanigans. Let them settle the problem once and for all and allow us have our peace on campus.

” It is the same story of woe at the University of Ilorin (UNILORN), where the unions after a congress of the Joint Action Committee joined the national strike, which had since paralysed activities on campus. During the congress, the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Abdulkarem Age was said to have made spirited efforts to address the workers, but was rebuffed by the workers, who claimed they were merely obeying the directive of the national body. The University of Lagos Chairman of SSANU, Comrade Adeniyi Adebisi, insisted that the strike would be total until the Federal Government implements the agreements.

He said: “After our Congress, we staged a peaceful protest on campus to create awareness about the strike among students, management and other members of the university community. Though, the second semester examinations had already been completed by the students, registration of fresh students, which supposed to commence had been put on hold. The effects of the strike will be felt more as from this week.” Though, the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) had just completed its semester examinations, the strike has continued to take its tolls on activities in the institution.

Commenting on the strike, the SSANU Chairman for Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko (AAUA) in Ondo State, Mr. Tope Famuti said the strike is total and would not be called off this time, until the government and university management did the right thing. “The effects of the strike will be total as the entire system will be completely shut down. But, I will not mention the extent of the effects, but it is to tell the government to do the needful to avoid total black-out of the system,” Famuti said.

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