By Olubusuyi Adenipekun & Victor Ahiuma-Young
FOLLOWING Monday’s commencement of a seven-day warning strike by members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), which has worsened crisis in the universities as result of ongoing industrial action by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), university authorities have directed the students to vacate the campuses until the crisis is resolved.

This directives is coming just as the Senate Committee on Education summoned the Minister of Education Dr. Sam Egwu to a meeting with ASUU on Tuesday towards resolving the ongoing strike by university lecturers.

Comrade Promise Adewusi, SSANU President; Dr Sam Egwu Minister of Education and President Umaru Yar'Adua
Comrade Promise Adewusi, SSANU President; Dr Sam Egwu Minister of Education and President Umaru Yar'Adua

Vanguard investigation revealed that because of the ongoing strike by the two unions, essential services on campuses, such as water and electricity supply have become erratic especially because of SSANU’s strike which enters the fourth day today.

However, some students, especially those in their final year, are capitalising on the resumption of work by NASU to stay on campus as they are determined to use the opportunity of the strike to bring their final year projects to a logical conclusion.

At the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, the University of Ibadan, University of Calabar and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, majority of the students have left campus with only a few still around.

However, students are still on campus at the University of Port Harcourt as the university’s unions have not officially declared strike there in order not to disrupt the matriculation ceremony of the institution and the Universities Matriculation Examinations which respectively held on Friday and Saturday last week.

Similarly, students are still on campus at the University of Ado-Ekiti even though the ASUU and SSANU of the institution have commenced strike action.

The students are thinking that since the school just resumed from a three-week forced holiday, their lecturers might go ahead to conduct the semester examinations in spite of the on-going strike.

But the relief from NASU may be ephemeral afterall as the leadership of the union is likely to declare a full scale strike very soon.

According to Alfred Adefemi, Deputy President of NASU in-charge of Universities, a meeting is to hold soon to deliberate on the possibility of embarking on another round of strike if their demands, over which they went on a warning strike last week, are not met.

While drawing back from preempting the lecturers, the Chairman of the Senate committee on Education, Senator Joy Emodi nevertheless gave hope of increased funding of the universities through a bill to restrict the focus of the Education Trust Fund (ETF) to tertiary institutions.

This  is definitely not the best of times for the nation’s university education system as all academic activities and other operations have been grounded by aggrieved workers who are protesting among other things, deteriorating university education in the country and improved welfare.

While the strike by members of the  Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is in the second week, that of its Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), began onMonday this week.

To worsen the situation, there are strong indications that the third union in the sector, the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational  and Related Institutions (NASU), which last week ended a warning strike, could any moment from now go on strike too as the union also has series of unresolved grievances with government.

ASUU is on an indefinite strike over alleged refusal of government to sign and implement the agreement reached between FGN-ASUU negotiating teams, while SSANU is on a seven-day warning strike, with a strong threat to declare a full scale total and indefinite industrial should government fail to address its demands for new salary negotiation, 65 years retirement age, the university autonomy and the payment of 2003 to 2005 monetisation arrears.

Speaking with Education Weekly on SSANU’s seven-day warning strike, its President,  Comrade Promise Adewusi, warned that after the warning strike, if government remains recalcitrant, a total and indefinite strike would be declared Comrade Adewusi who is also a deputy President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), decried government attitude to the nation’s tertiary educational system and welfare of its workers and declared that in line with last week decision of the National Executive Council (NEC) of SSANU a total and full scale   seven day warning strike would soon commence if government fails to accede to their demands in all the nation’s university system.

Recalling what, according to him, pushed them to the wall, the SSANU President said: “At the last meeting, we had with him, he (Minister of Education) told us that government has finally set up an inter ministerial committee. We had earlier kicked against this before now in his own ministry.

What he did was to set up internal committee to harmonize all the agreement by the four unions, but now government had gone ahead to set up an inter-ministerial committee to review unilaterally the product of collected agreement and for us it is against all the conventions of International Labour Organisation (ILO) on collective bargaining because once a product comes as a result of a collective bargaining, then its became binding on the two parties except all the parties comes together to take a look at it, but non of these things were put into consideration before taking their decision..

Even though that is not our desire, all we are doing now is to attract the attention of the government. May be Mr. President does not know of this development even though it is the Federal Executive Council that constitutes this committee.

But let me also believe that he did not have all the information that he needs to have before taking that decision and so what we are doing now is to draw his attention and other right thinking Nigerians to this anomalies.

We want to put on record that government must create the enabling environment to salvage this country and the system, it must streamline the universities operation, administration and the system itself. We have gave them time in which the government have to put its house together and make this things work, but within this time nothing seem to have happen beyond having two meetings with the minister if Education and these meetings did not produce any positive result in as much as we understand and appreciate stands of the minister who seems to be doing all he can to remedy the situation, we cannot say so to other governmental officials and there is a limit to which he can do as a person.”

“We learnt the committees have two months to make available the outcome of the findings. The committee terms of reference are the issue of the new salary negotiated, the issue of 65 years retirement age and the university autonomy.

All of these were not acceptable to us because the issue of the 65 years retirement age has gone beyond what you want to review because this was the product of our agreement since 2001 but up to now government is still foot dragging. The last negotiation that was headed by Onosode almost revalidated those 2001 agreements.

As government keeps dragging its foot, a lot of our members have been retired at 60 years and these are some of the hands that we have in the university that government have invested so much and trained, because before you become a university registrar one must have been up to the age of 58 and above while at 60 they would be forced to retire.

Government is complaining that the standard of education, which is also hinged on the administration of the system, is fallen but still they are letting these people who they have invested so much on to go.

For us, we say no and the issue has been agreed upon since 1995, because for most of us our appointment letters say that our service will terminate after 65 years, so for them to call for review now is totally unacceptable.

On the issue of salary, whatever salary that was agreed upon was not particularly agreeable to us but because of the fact that we want the system to work and in the spirit of collective bargaining we allow that to stand.”

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