By Dayo Johnson, Akure
Mr Dele Durojaye, the Chairman of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), doubles as Chairman of the Joint Action Committee of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, FUTA, Chapter. He speaks on the warning strike by his union and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU, junior staff members of universities).
What exactly are your grievances?
You will recall that we entered into negotiations and signed an agreement with the Federal Government in 2009 on a number of issues which include payment of earned allowances, funding of recurrent & capital expenditures of university Staff Primary Schools, adequate funding of universities and renegotiation of the agreement every three years.
Agitations started in 2011 when the Federal Government refused to honour any part of the agreement two years down the line, which resulted in warning strikes and, eventually, a full-blown strike in 2012. The strike led to the release of part of earned allowances and intervention funds for the universities in 2012.
However, the Federal Government went to sleep on the release of the balances.
While agitations by unions continued, the Federal Government infringed on part of the agreement reached in 2009 through an obnoxious circular issued by the Planning & Budget Office in 2015 that teachers in Staff Primary Schools be removed from the payroll of universities in the 2016 budget. This created insincerity on the part of the government on the implementation of the 2009 agreement including the clause which says the agreement would be renegotiated every three years, which translates to the agreement of 2009 being reviewed in 2012 and that of 2012 is reviewed in 2015 and the one of 2015 being reviewed in 2018.
The circular became an issue when some Vice-Chancellors started to sack Staff Schools’ teachers in January 2016, leading to protests from unions and a warning strike with an ultimatum to the Federal Government for a trade dispute.
The government approached the National Industrial Court for the interpretation of the aspect of the Staff School in the 2009 agreement. On December 5, 2016, the National Industrial Court gave judgment that Staff School teachers are bonafide employees of the government. The judgment was never appealed even if the government has refused to comply with the verdict till date.
So where are we now?
In January 2017 when SSANU went on strike, the Federal Government, through the Labour Minister, Dr Chris Ngige, and his counterpart in Education Ministry, Mallam Adamu Adamu, called for a meeting and it was resolved that government should, within two months, implement the MoU but the government failed to act. Our union wrote several letters to the government without response after the expiration of the two months, leading to a full-blown strike by the three university unions, SSANU, NASU & NAAT, in September and October 2017. The strike was suspended after another agreement was signed with the government to implement the MoU. The Federal Government, on November 2017, released N22billion to the four university-based unions out of which the Permanent Secretary of the Education Ministry was said to have given N18billion to ASUU and N4billion to the three other non-teaching staff, which led to the resumption of strike on December 4, 2017. The strike went on till March 2018 when it was suspended after well-meaning Nigerians intervened and we signed another MoU with the government to be implemented within two weeks.
The government later released N8billion with a promise to factor the rest of the earned allowance into the 2018 budget but reneged on the implementation of the Industrial Court judgment of December 5, 2016, and the Babalakin Renegotiating Committee Report till date.
Recently, the Federal Government released N25billion out of which it gave 80% to ASUU and paltry 20% to the other three unions which we rejected.
In July 2019, there were protests across the country for three days by NASU & SSANU after the National Executive Council of the two unions met in Abuja.
The three days of protests were carried out across the country from July 15-17, 2019. There was another round of protests across the country on August 6-15 with a 14-day ultimatum that if the government failed to meet our grievances on or before August 19, the consequence is what we have on our hands now across the nation.
Why can’t the unions wait since a new Minister was about to be appointed? Why the rush by the unions to embark on a strike?
Governance is a continuum. Without Ministers who are political appointees as the administrative head of ministries, Permanent Secretaries do the job. Besides, the issues in contention have been lingering for years while the same MoU has been signed several times with the government on the same issues.
How long may the strike last?
This is a five-day warning strike and will last till Friday, August 23.
What happens if the government remains adamant?
The NEC of the unions will review the warning strike and chart a way forward but don’t forget that warning strike calls the attention of employers to do the needful before it becomes a full-blown, indefinite strike.
For how long can the unions be on strike?
It depends on when the issues at stake are resolved. We have seen three to six months’ strikes in the past. I am not saying we would go for two, three or six months; it depends on government attending to our grievances. Ordinarily, the issues at stake are issues the government can resolve within hours if they are sincere.
From the look of things, will the strike by the two unions not cripple activities at the ivory towers?
A bird cannot fly with one wing; it needs two wings to fly.
How many universities are participating in the strike?
All the 76 federal and state universities.
Any punitive measures for erring members of the unions?
There will be punitive measures against erring members if any but everyone wants to be counted in situations like this. The Federal Government should be alive to its responsibilities of adequately funding the universities and stop playing lip service to education. I can’t imagine any rationality in government sending a monthly overhead cost of N3.5million to a university, to do what? This is money that cannot run generators for a month not to talk of paying the electricity bill or buying stationery. The government should equally show more and serious commitments to agreements freely entered into with unions to avoid situations like this which is usually unhealthy for our educational system. The unions just have to fight for the welfare of her members and the university-based unions have been reasonable and patient enough with the government on the issues causing disaffection currently.