By Olubusuyi Adenipekun, Victor Ahiuma-Young & Ifunanya Okafor
The leadership of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and that of the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Polytechnics (SSANIP) have condemned the Federal Governmentâ€™s recourse to the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) on the on-going nationwide strike embarked upon by unions in the nationâ€™s tertiary institutions.
The National President of SSANU, Comrade Promise Adewusi said that the move will not help matters unless and until government respects and implements the agreement reached with the union, adding that government willingly entered into the agreement which took over two years to reach.
He said, â€œSneaking from behind to obtain ex parte injunctions will not help matters. And it is important that the arbitral tribunals continue to maintain their integrity, particularly in relation to an insincere government.â€
On the recent pronouncement of the Minister of Education, Dr Sam Egwu that SSANU members are not entitled to retirement age of 65 years, Comrade Adewusi said that Egwu should prepare to oversee a completely unpeaceful sector.
His words, â€œWell, Dr.Â Sam Egwu will live with the strike or sack all of us so that his children can take over our jobs. We have been patient for eight years and there will no longer be peace in the universities until all the problems are resolved holistically. If they think they can employ their usual divide and rule tactics, then I wish them luck.â€
Comrade Adewusi, who is also a deputy President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), said the strike has been very successful as there is full compliance by members nationwide, adding that the strike will continue until their demands for negotiated new salary, 65 years retirement age, university autonomy and the payment of 2003 to 2005 monetisation arrears are met.
Speaking in the same vein, the Chairman of Yabatech branch of SSANIP, Comrade Austin Okoh said the Federal Government has not shown any seriousness in meeting the unionâ€™s demands.
He said, â€œUp till now, there is nothing on ground to show that government is ready to implementÂ the Consolidated Tertiary Institutions Salary Structure (CONTISS) 15. To worsen the situation, government unilaterally approved discriminatory salary increase for academic and non-teaching staff in tertiary institutions. This is unfortunate, unjust, unfair and unacceptable. We are not inferior! Why would government treat us like second class workers within the same system.â€
Okoh further disclosed that whileÂ rectors of the nationâ€™s polytechnics are already on Salary Grade Level 15, in line with CONTISS 15, Registrars and other officers below them have not started enjoying it, adding that the strike will continue until government accedes to their demands.
Apart from the implementation of CONTISS 15, SSANIP is also demanding for the payment of the 24 months arrears of monetisation of fringe benefits and the establishment of a National Commission for Polytechnics (NCP).
Similarly striking members of the Non-Academic Staff of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) in the nationâ€™s universities, have also resolved to continue their ongoing strike, saying the industrial action is not all about emoluments, butÂ about the funding of the university system,Â failing and decaying infrastructure among other things that have made Nigeria incapable of producingÂ world class graduates any longer.
While announcing theirÂ rejection ofÂ the 20 percent salary increase awardedÂ by the Federal government, their leaders declared that the ongoing industrial action would continue until the government signed and implemented the agreement reached with NASU and government negotiating team headed byÂ Chief Gamelie Onosode.
AtÂ a meeting of leaders of NASU in the 42 federal, state universities and inter-university centres, which held at the University of Lagos,Â leaders of NASU argued that besides the fact that the 20%Â salary award was discriminatory, lower than what was awarded to other category of workers in the system, it was not a product of negotiation, the issues at stake were more than salary but about the funding of the university system, about failing and decaying infrastructure among other things.
Vanguard gathered that before the Lagos meeting, they had earlier met at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) where the 20 percent offer was debated and rejected, after which the leaders were then directed to go back to their respected institutions to present the matter to them and obtain a fresh mandate from them on the way forward.
At the meeting which took place recently, it wasÂ gathered that while 41 institutionsÂ rightly rejected the 20 percent salary increase awarded them by the government, one voted for the acceptance of the 20 percent salary increase and have the action suspended.
Addressing journalists on the out come of theÂ meeting earlier, General Secretary of NASU, Comrade Peters Adeyemi, lamented increasing government disrespect for due processes and rule of law in spite of the government so-called commitment to due process and rule of law.
He wondered whyÂ government allow a negotiating team it constituted,Â to go on for two years if it (government) knew it was not going to honour the agreement?
He posited that besides wasted public funds and time for negotiation, before the final agreement was documented the government team told us that while government had accepted some of our positions, others were rejected before the final agreement was reached.
The General Secretary pointed out that on every page of the agreement with NASU, both the government team and NASU President signed until the final page, arguing that it was strange that government was denying the agreement.
According to him: â€œWe are surprised withÂ governmentâ€™sÂ U-turn, about government new talk, on this new type of industrial relations practice while government can unilaterally award salary increase. It is unacceptable to us.
Government cannot use its will power to determine what agreement to accept and which not to accept. If government had no confidence in its team, it ought to have dissolved it. For government to give us an award of 20 percent, another set of workers, 40 percent when it knows that even if it had given everybody 100 percent there would still be disparity, is completely unacceptable to us.
Nevertheless, we have said the action is not just about salary. It is about lack of funding for the universities, decayed infrastructure, and general conditions that made the Nigerian universities no longer capable of producing world class graduates.
We want to use this opportunity to say no amount of intimidation or threat of no work no pay and other tactics of government could break our ranks. We are resolute and determined to ensure that government do the right thing.â€