As the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, suspended its nine-month old strike, yesterday, hope of normalcy returning to the ivory towers, may have been dashed, as non-teaching staff in the universities have vowed not to go back to work if the Federal Government does not correct the alleged imbalance in the sharing formula of the about N40 billion earned allowances.
The non-teaching staff in universities yesterday alleged that the government gave ASUU about 75 percent of the earned allowances leaving 25 percent for the other three unions — the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities, SSANU, Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, NASU and the National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT to share.
ASUU embarked on strike on March 23, to press home its demands which included funding for the revitalisation of public universities, payment of earned academic allowances, resolving salary shortfalls and state universities’ problems.
Others bordered on visitation panels, re-constitution of the 2009 FGN-ASUU re-negotiation committee, University Transparency and Accountability Solution, UTAS, withheld salaries and non-remittance of check-off dues.
ASUU suspends strike
ASUU President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, who led other National Executive Committee members of the union to brief newsmen made the announcement, explaining that the suspension takes effect from 12:01 am, December 24, 2020.
The decision to suspend the action, according to him, was unanimously reached by NEC, after considering reports from ASUU’s National Secretariat and various branches.
Assuring that the union will fulfill its own part of the bargain, Ogunyemi however, warned that ASUU will not hesitate to resume its suspended strike if government fails to reciprocate the gesture.
Ogunyemi urged parents to take prime interest in their children’s welfare, learning, better funding, better laboratories, and free development to enable them be at par and compete with their counterparts globally.
He said: “After diligent and careful appraisal of the various reports, especially the agreements reached by ASUU with the Federal Government of Nigeria on December 22, 2020, NEC resolved as follows:
“To accept the Agreements reached between ASUU and the Federal Government on December 22, 2020, to consciously and diligently monitor the implementation of the FGN-ASUU Agreements of December 22, 2020, in all branches.
“To ensure that no ASUU member suffers any loss of deserved benefits as a result of participation in the strike, to pursue fervently the areas in the FGN-ASUU Agreement on 2009 and the MoA 2013 that require legislation such as the mainstreaming of EAA into the annual budget and the amendment of the Executive Bill in respect of the National Universities Commission, NUC Act, 2004.
“Finally, NEC resolved to conditionally suspend the strike action embarked upon on March 23, 2020, with effect from 12:01am on December 24, 2020.”
Speaking further on the union’s insistence on implementation of the 2009 agreement entered with government, Ogunyemi noted that the objectives of the agreement were found to have been made even more potent by findings of the Federal Government Committee on the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities in 2012.
He said the agreement when implemented would “reverse the decay in the Nigerian University System, NUS, in order to reposition it for greater responsibilities in national development.”
Why ASUU called of strike
A source, told Vanguard that ASUU called off its nine-month-old strike, yesterday, when it dawned on the leadership of the union that the poor economic situation in the country may not allow the government meet some of its demands.
Vanguard gathered that after meeting various stakeholders, including the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF and leadership of the National Assembly among others, the ASUU leadership was told of the dire economic constraints government is facing, which made the union mellow down.
Some of the demands by the union that required financial commitment include Earned Academic Allowances, revitalisation of the university system, upgrade of facilities among others.
A source said in order not to be blackmailed by the government , ASUU had to pipe down.
“You can see that the Federal Government has been trying to portray the union in bad light by saying they have met all the demands of the union. Despite the fact that the demands of the union were not fully met, the government kept saying they have met those demands.
“If it was the way and manner the government’s delegation negotiated, it is nothing to write home about. Some concerned parties also stepped in and given the fact that the economy is in bad shape, the union has to make some concession,” a source said.
We won’t resume until FG corrects imbalance in earned allowances —SSANU, NAAT
Reacting to the sharing formula, National President of NAAT, Mr Ibeji Nwokomma said anyone thinking that non-teaching staff unions in the universities will resume with the recent development is day-dreaming, except the government corrects the imbalance.
His words: “My union is rejecting the sharing formula of the Earned Allowances as it is being done presently by the government. Government has allocated 75 per cent of the money to ASUU and 25 per cent to all other non-teaching unions in the universities. That is grossly inadequate.
“That is robbing Peter to pay Paul and using divide and rule in the university system. No union, not even ASUU has the monopoly of opening or closing of schools through strike, other unions also have the capacity to ensure that the system does not work.
“Secondly, NAAT, ASUU and other unions negotiated with government, so payment of earned allowances will be based on unions, it should be on the basis of the 2009 Agreement; that is where the Earned Allowances is derived from.
“So, lumping my union with other non-teaching staff is neither here nor there and totally unacceptable to us.
“We had an MoU with government, just signed on November 15, 2020, which says that government should clearly define what is supposed to go to each union and government agreed that it was going to do that and today they just shared the money anyhow they wanted without adhering to the MoU we had with government.
“My union is asking that our own earned allowances should be specified; whatever it is should be specified just like they did to ASUU.
“If nothing is done, we will close down the system until we are fairly treated.
“Government should convene a meeting immediately to settle this issue; otherwise, anyone thinking that schools will reopen, is just wasting his/her time, schools will not reopen until these issues are adequately taken care of.”
He said that he is making efforts to get in touch with the Director and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education to draw the attention of government to the brewing crisis.
Also speaking, National President of SSANU, Mohammed Ibrahim said that his union would not take the lopsided sharing formula.
He said: “Honestly, I believe that this remains a rumour even though I know it could be true, I have seen 75 per cent and 25 per cent.
“But if it is true, we have stated in no uncertain terms that we will not take this kind of lopsided allocations again. What is the scientific measurement used to give out this money? We have stated before now that the least we can take is 50-50, they are not more in numbers.
“Even if they want to do something like that, maybe this is my own personal opinion now, I may not insist on 50-50 but at least something reasonable. We have the numbers.
“If they give, for example 60-40, do you think the noise will be there? Government does not want peace. If it is giving 75 per cent to only one union and giving 25 per cent to three unions, does it make sense?
“Certainly, my members are more than willing to down tools if this becomes a reality.”
Wasted strike — NANS
Meanwhile, critical stakeholders in the sector, namely National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, and National Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria, NAPTAN, have faulted the strike, saying it made no sense in the end as nothing positive came out of it.
NANS, which spoke through the South-West Coordinator, Mr Kappo Samuel, said the return on the strike was zero.
“To me, the nine months could be said to have been wasted. What are the demands they made that were met? Students just stayed at home for nine months doing nothing. Have we gained anything as a nation or that the education sector has been left better off?
“There is nothing we can say is the return on the strike. We hope that the nation will one day jettison these waste-of-time exercises. A whole year has been needlessly lost,” he said.
Govt shied away from its responsibility — NAPTAN
National President of NAPTAN, Haruna Danjuma, while expressing satisfaction that students can now go back to school, blamed government for shying away from its responsibility.
“Nobody has gained anything from the strike. Even the lecturers are frustrated. Some of them were idle for months too. Our students are worse off. Some of them may not even remember anything they have been taught. We must not allow a repeat of such waste of time,” he said
NANS clamours for students’ involvement in future negotiations
Speaking further, NANS, through its National President, Mr Sunday Asefon has, meanwhile, commended the Federal Government and ASUU, for reaching an agreement to end the union’s nine-month-old strike.
Asefon stated that students’ involvement in future negotiations between the Federal Government and ASUU would bring a sense of urgency to the table during such negotiations.
He said students’ involvement would also compel government and ASUU to understand the need for prompt settlement of disputes.
“I welcome this development with nostalgia. I feel very concerned that our students had to stay for nine months at home before the FG and ASUU could resolve this impasse.
“At the same time, I feel elated that the ugly days are finally over for the Nigerian students, and we can all return to our different campuses.
“Going forward, government and ASUU must find a progressive ground and alternative conflict resolution process in resolving their differences on labour actions.
“Students who seek education must not be allowed to bear the brunt of labour related issues.
“Never again should we have a repeat of this strike and stakeholders must make commitment to ensure that this ugly scenario does not repeat itself.
“Government must be committed to fulfilling its agreement with ASUU at all times, while ASUU must be wary to go on strike.
“ASUU must seek to exhaust every window of alternative dispute resolution before deciding on strike,” he said.
Asefon pledged the association’s commitment to do everything possible, to ensure that the nine-month strike would be the last in the country’s tertiary education sector.
He called on ASUU to facilitate reinstatement of suspended students and their leaders, whose offences centred on dissent with management and government or expression of privately-held opinions across campuses.
He commended Nigerian students for maintaining peace, maturity and restraint while the strike was on.
Meanwhile some students have also reacted to the development ahead of its final resolution.
Miss Eneh Edoh, a 300-level student of the Benue University, commended the efforts of both parties, saying that this had shown that government had the interest of Nigerian youths at heart.
“The nine months strike has been a long one and I have been waiting for this day for a very long time.
“I was shocked when I heard the news this morning, because it was like this day would never come.
“I had similar hope before, but it got shattered because I never believed it would last this long.
“Now I am happy that very soon, I will again be in the classroom. Now, I also know that government has the interest of young adults and students in mind.”
Miss Favour Rotimi, a student of Mass Communication, Federal University Oye-Ekiti, noted that some of her friends in private universities that gained admission same time with her were now in their second year of study.
Rotimi said she was now full of joy and only hoped that this would be the last ASUU strike before the completion of her academic programme.
Similarly, Mr Ayomide Adeyemi, a 200 level student of Political Science, Federal University, Maiduguri, praised government and the leadership of ASUU for reaching a compromise to end the strike.
Adeyemi, however, pleaded with the labour union to always put the interest of the students at heart, to forestall future recurrence.