Education

Strikes ensnare varsity education

…SSANU, NASU threaten to cripple system

Govt should release N30bn for earned allowances – JAC

STRIKE

While the anxiety among stakeholders over the one-month strike by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is yet to subside, the nonteaching staff unions (NASU and SSANU) have, again, threatened to cripple the university system

 

Again, the nation’s public university education is in the throes of crisis, threatening the relative peace in the system. The fresh threat is coming barely two weeks, when the dust raised by the continued four-week industrial action declared by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that has totally paralysed academic activities in the ivory towers is yet to settle. Universities’ non-academic staff unions, comprising the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non- Academic Staff Union of Education and Associated Institutions (NASU), under the Joint Action Committee of NASU and SSANU had last week raised another anxiety in a statement, tagged: “Red Alert of Industrial Unrest in the University System,” to shut down the nation’s university education sub-sector.

 

Apart from academic activities already paralysed by ASUU, the unions’ regime of strike will totally deactivate administrative and other allied services such as students’ registration, municipal services, registry, bursary and hostel services in the system.

The unions, like ASUU have been at loggerheads with the Federal Government over nonimplementation of the various Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and agreements reached with the government. JAC is in a fresh face-off with the government following the review of the status of the MoU reached with the Federal Government entered into due to its two-month strike between January and February 2021. It said the industrial action was preceded by a MoU in October 2020, which contained among others

issues, the inconsistent in the Integrated Payment Personnel Information System (IPPIS) payment platform; Nonpayment of Earned Allowances; Delay in Renegotiation of FGN/NASU and SSANU Agreement; and Non-payment of Arrears of National Minimum Wage.

 

JAC, in the release signed by its General Secretary (NASU), Peters Adeyemi and National President (SSANU), Mohammed Ibrahim respectively, also listed other demands in the MoU to include Usurpation of Headship of Non-Teaching Unit in clear violation of Conditions of Service and Establishment Procedures; Neglect and Poor Funding of State Universities; Non-Payment of Recruitment Benefits to Outgoing Members; and Non- Constitution of Visitation Panel to Universities.

Rising from its Congress, last week, JAC regretted that except for the constitution of Visitation Panels, which the white papers were yet to see the light of the day, the Federal Government has reneged on the implementation of other agreements of October 2020 and February 2021 Memorandum of Action (MoA).

The union, which is already spoiling for a war, said: “Having waited on whole year for the consummation of the MoU and MoA, and despite all peaceful entreaties, we wish to notify all stakeholders in the Nigerian University System and Inter-University Centres; and indeed all Nigerians of the possible breakdown of industrial peace in the university system borne out of disrespect for Collective Bargaining Agreements reached with NASU and SSANU by the government. “Given the situation, as at today, and the agitation of our members, we can no longer guarantee industrial peace in our  university system.

With this release, we place all Nigerians on red alert of possibility of an industrial action by the non-teaching staff unions of NASU and SSAN, as we can no longer watch as agreements freely entered into by the Federal Government with the unions are not respected.”

JAC, which insisted that the problem of IPPIS has remained unabated as members are still being paid salaries haphazardly, lamented that the disorganized payment of staff salaries is further compounded by unpredictable remittance of Third Party deductions of Union Check Off Dues, Cooperative Societies, Welfare Scheme, and Bank Loans, among others.

 

According to the union, despite moves to develop a software – the Universities Peculiar Personnel Payroll System (U3PS) – nothing has been done till date for the Federal Government to invite the unions for a meeting to present the software or accrediting it with relevant government agencies. Describing this as the height of insensitivity and contempt for the non-teaching staff unions, JAC said N30 billion as agreed should be made available for the payment of arrears of Earned Allowances for the three non-teaching unions.

 

It said: “We had an embarrassing situation where only 25 per cent of the sum of N21 billion was paid to the non-teaching staff in a disbursement made in December 2021, which only caused further confusion and dissatisfaction in the university system. Also, the arrears of National Minimum Wage owed our members is yet to be paid despite all entreaties.”

On the Renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement, the non-teaching staff unions (SSANU and NASU) had not been invited for any meeting for almost two years, saying this was against the assurance by the government of a Conciliation Meeting where the Renegotiation exercise would be concluded within six weeks or latest December 31, 2021. The unions, which also added that their members in many state universities are owed salaries with arrears running into several months, insisting:

“We wish to place on record that even the constitution of Governing Councils of universities has only been partially done, as the Universities of Agriculture till date remain without Governing Councils.”

Worried by the ASUU strike, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) vowed to stage a protest yesterday (Monday) for which the students would block all federal roads nationwide, should the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government fail to reach a compromise. ASUU had on Monday, February 14, commenced a four week warning strike over government’s failure to fulfill agreements reached with the union, based on the 2009 MoU and 2020 MoA.

According to NANS President, Asefon Sunday, the decision to embark on the blockade of federal roads was reached at the association’s Congress held in Sokoto State, where it was resolved that they should act decisively to rescue their future and  the entire tertiary education system from total collapse.

“Nigerian students can’t continue to pay for sins we never committed, as we are paying for our education, we strongly believe we deserve the best. At the end of every industrial action, ASUU members are paid their salaries, likewise the government officials in charge of education supervision get their salaries,” he lamented.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government, led by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, after its Wednesday, February 23 reconciliation meeting with ASUU ended in a deadlock, the government promised to again meet the union on Monday, February 28 (yesterday), with an assurance that the ongoing four-week strike will be suspended.

But, the National President of ASUU, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, who frown over the action of the minister that the strike is illegal since the union failed to give the government 14-day notice in line with the Labour Law, said: “There is nothing illegal about its action, since ASUU did not embark on any new strike but only resumed an action it suspended in 2020.”

He added: “The nine-month prolonged strike that was suspended in 2020 was only suspended conditionally. And the condition was that the government would implement the agreements we both signed, but that if they did not, we would resume the action without informing anyone.”

Part of ASUU’s grouses include the Federal government’s failure to meet its promises over funding for the revitalisation of public universities, Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), inconsistencies on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), and non-implementation of renegotiation of the 2009 FG/ ASUU Agreement, non-adoption of the Universities Transparency Accountability System (UTAS) developed by the union to replace the IPPIS. Piqued by the incessant strikes by university staff unions, some stakeholders, including parents and students have continued to berate the unions for what they described “as determination by unions to kill university system” in the country.

To them, the incessant strikes by the staff unions over the years has not only crippled the system, but also negatively affected the nation’s university education within and outside the country.

They particularly condemned NASU and SSANU for threatening to embark on another industrial action now that ASUU is on strike, as if they are waiting for the academic staff to cripple the system. But, while reacting to such insinuation, the SSANU Vice President (West), Abdussobor Salaam, said it is “very myopic and jaundiced” for the so-called stakeholders to assume that SSANU and NASU have no right to threaten strike because ASUU is on strike.

He noted: “If they are truly stakeholders and were not jaundiced, they would know that the university is a system and whatever affects a part would definitely affect the whole. While we are separate entities, we still operate within the same system and it would be delusional for anyone to assume that we are not affected most of the time in the same way.

“We do not need ASUU to go on strike before we embark on our strike. Can the university system run without the nonteaching staff ? As lowly and inconsequential a cleaner is assumed to be, can a university survive 24 hours without cleaning of classrooms, laboratories and toilets?

The fact is, SSANU and NASU have concerns with the government and rather than address these concerns, we are being diversionary about the issues and chasing shadows. “If we go on strike when ASUU is not on strike, there would be criticism. If we go on strike after ASUU has just concluded its strike, we would be said to have taken the baton after ASUU concluded its strike and questioned why we didn’t go on strike when ASUU was on strike.

So, because ASUU is on strike, we don’t have any right to consider a strike? It is simply jaundiced and diversionary. In any case, and without any intention to undermine ASUU, if people criticise us for threatening strike because ASUU is on strike, please when is ASUU never on strike? Is it the little breaks in between one ASUU strike and the other?

“Whether ASUU strike, SSANU strike or NASU strike, what sincere stakeholders should do is to demand from the government to respect all workers in the university system, either academic or nonteaching, and honor agreements and ensure industrial harmony in the system.”

“As stakeholders, they should prevail on the government to honour its agreement with SSANU and NASU rather than this diversionary approach. Again, we expect stakeholders to address the numerous agreements as none of our demands as earlier listed above has been implemented by the government despite our repeated appeals.”

However, when contacted over the reactions of the Federal Ministry of Education to the fresh strike threat by JAC of SSANU and NASU, or whether there were moves by the ministry to avert the impending strike, the spokesman, Mr. Ben Gong neither replied nor responded to the WhatsApp message sent to his phone, as at the time of filing the report.

NANS, however expressed dismay that the extension of the students’ stay on campus did not only affect their academic journey, but also destabilise their life plans, as many graduates missed their NYSC mobilisation due to age limit and loss of job opportunities arising from age factors, said many students ended up becoming exposed to risks and crimes following the avoidable idleness mode the strike action imposed on Nigerian students.

 

NANS, therefore, declared yesterday, Monday, February 28, as National Action Day against ASUU incessant strike action, tagged: ASUUStrikePermanentlyNow.”

 

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