March 1, 2018

Varsity Non-Teaching Staff strike: How FG cripples academic activities

Varsity Non-Teaching Staff strike: How FG cripples academic activities


By Johnbosco Agbakwuru

NON-Teaching Staff of Nigeria Universities have been on strike for over two months now as a result of the unresolved issues with the Federal Government. The bone of contention presently is the N23 billion Earned Allowances which the Federal Government released to the four university-based unions after reconciliatory meeting midwifed by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige.

Although, it was expected that after the release of the fund by the government following the agreements entered into with the unions, there should be relative stability in academic programmes, it was not the case; instead, there have been allegations of the Federal Government favouring one union over the other three.

Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige

Sharing formula

Specifically, the non- teaching staff unions in the universities under the umbrella of Joint Action Committee, JAC, rejected the sum of N4.6 billion given to them from the N23 billion released to the four unions in the universities.

The three unions under JAC comprising the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, NASU and National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT, described the N4.6 billion allocated to them as pittance and, therefore, directed all their members nationwide to resume strike.

The sharing formula which generated ripples, according to the non-teaching staff, was supervised by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Architect Sonny Echono. ASUU, the non- teaching staff claimed, was given the lion share of over N18 billion.

More worrisome in the present situation is that even as three out of four unions in the universities still remained on strike, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige who mediated between government and the unions during the strike period, appear not to be in a hurry to resolve the problem, despite its consequences on the academic environment.

In a statement directing all branches to resume strike, the JAC of NAAT, NASU and SSANU accused the Federal Government of not implementing the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, they entered into on September 20, 2017.

Chairman of JAC and National President of SSANU, Comrade Samson Chijioke Ugwoke, while briefing newsmen, had claimed that it appeared to the three non-teaching staff unions that “the allocation as presently done is laced with motive of destabilising the university system and causing disaffection among members of the university community.

“We make bold to say that the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Architect Sonny Echono is complicit in this regard. We see the recent development as a deliberate attempt to destabilise the Muhammadu Buhari administration and we call on the Federal Government to investigate this anomalous action by the Federal Ministry of Education, under Echono’s watch.

“If not, why did the Federal Ministry of Education decide to calculate the payments for each university and union in the university? Why didn’t they go through the Governing Councils of the Universities in allocating the monies instead of a vague and blanket directive to vice-chancellors, sharing the money into two parts – ASUU and non-teaching? We see corruption written in bold and capital letters and we demand for an investigation.”

JAC of NAAT, NASU and SSANU said it was not begrudging ASUU in any way, but it was afraid that staff that worked for the approved Earned Allowance who have either retired or died may be excluded from the payment, while some teaching staff who had not joined the services of the respective benefiting universities as at the time it was approved, could even reap the fruit of other people’s labour.

Comrade Ugwoke explained that there was an understanding reached between the unions and the Federal Government during the conciliatory meeting that N23 billion earmarked from Earned Allowances was for the payment of the second tranche of arrears of Earned Allowances for both teaching and non teaching staff in the university system.

According to him, “As people of honour and considering that a document was signed to that effect, we had no reason to doubt the authenticity of their written commitment.

“Unfortunately, however, events have proven that we over assumed the sense of honour of these government officials, particularly, Architect Sonny Echono, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, as the outcome of their outcomes proved contrary to the understanding that was reached with the government through them.

“To our consternation and utter dismay, the N23 billion has clearly been shown to be a payment for the Academic Staff Union of Universities five their so called ‘Earned Academic Allowances’,   while the three (3) non teaching staff unions were allocated a paltry N4.6billion (11%).

“On sighting the allocation table, the obvious anomaly and lopsidedness was observed and a demand for expiation or justification of how the allocations came about was made via a letter to the Honourable Minister of Education dated 14th November 2017.

“In the letter,   we drew the attention of the Honourable 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 explanations and justification for what we consider to be an irrational and subjective ‘sharing of booty. “

JAC in a letter to all branch Chairmen with the title,   “Directives to immediately resume the suspended strike” signed by Comrades Samson Chijioke Ugwoke, SSANU, Chris Ani,   NASU and Sani Suleiman, NAAT said the decision was necessitated as a result of the inability of the Federal Government to clarify the criteria for the disbursement of the N23 billion released by the government to the university unions which SSANU,   NASU and NAAT claimed was meant for the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU while only “pittance” was allocated to the three non teaching staff unions.

In what appeared to be solidarity to the striking non teaching staff of the nation’s universities, the National Association of Nigerian Universities, NANS, threatened on the 29th  January, 2018, to shut down academic activities if the Federal Government failed to resolve the lingering strike and even gave a two-week ultimatum to the government to carry out all reconciliations.

NANS said if the government refused to heed to their advice to ensure that the strike by non teaching staff was called off, the union would be left with no other option than to be confrontational with the government.

National President of NANS, Comrade Aruna Kadiri flanked by the union’s Vice President, Comrade Felix Attah, said the strike had truncated academic activities in the universities.

He listed some of the harms the strike had caused to include the inability of students that have been mobilised for the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC in some universities to get their testimonials to report to camp and the inability of students to access healthcare services in various campuses.

NANS also claimed that the Security of students and their property was no longer guaranteed as a result of non presence of security personnel in the security division of the campus and that accessing social amenities in the hostels had become impossible.

According to Kadiri, “Students are becoming idle at home due to some universities that are totally shutdown. They indulge in all sorts of social vices at home.”

However, the Federal Government appeared not disturbed over the situation, instead, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Ngige threatened to invoke Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act of the labour law against the striking three non teaching staff.

The Section 43 of Trade Dispute Act has recommended what it called “no work, no pay” although both the labour law and the International Labour Organisation, ILO, Convention make provisions for labour union to use embark on strike to demand for their rights.

Speaking exclusively to Vanguard on the lingering strike action embarked by the non teaching staff in the universities, Ngige stated that the strike was illegal, claiming that the unions went contrary to the agreement reached by the two parties.

According to him, “They are on strike and it is an illegal strike because you go on a strike, reach a Collective Bargaining Agreement and then you were not quick in accessing the money and the other union, ASUU accessed plenty of it about 70 percent or 80 percent of it I don’t know and then you return and say you are doing strike,   it is illegal.

“We don’t want to bring hardship to homes but I am inviting them to come back because if they don’t come back, I will invoke Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act,   but I don’t want them to be the first group of unions that I will invoke that because if I do so, the story will not be palatable.”

On the allegation that ASUU was empowering through a letter from the Ministry of Education to take huge chunk of the N23 billion the Federal Government released to the unions, Ngige said, “There was no letter as per my conciliation. My conciliation says people should submit their template and take their template to access the fund. They should send their template to the Ministry of Education.

“So the Ministry of Education and the Accountant General’s office did what is called pay as you come. So first come, first serve, that was what happened.”

Even as it appears that the Federal Government is not making frantic efforts towards resolving the crisis, it is the students that bear the brunt of the actions of the workers and government. It is expected that a government that is serious with the education of the citizenry, should expedite action towards resolving whatever the differences are. After all, this is where the future leaders of the country are molded.