By Ishola Akindele Salami
THIS piece will be highly offensive to many public university workers in Nigeria but since there is nothing more bitter than the truth, it has to be told. All I want to achieve with this, frankly speaking, is for public university staff to see how they have always been instrumental to the break out of strike actions that last several months without significant achievement afterwards.
For this to be clear, I have the following facts from the literature:
- Public university employers’ arbitrariness and over-zealousness led to the staff vibrancy and active unionism in order to protect their jobs, improved conditions of service, protection and defence of basic rights, promotion of common objectives, needs and aspirations of members.
- Unionism became vibrant and active in Nigeria in 1970s.
- In 1978, with the issue of decrees which recognised the existence of trade unions, Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU; Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research and Affiliated Institutions, SSAUTHRAI; Non-Academic Staff Union, NASU; emerged and played significant and remarkable roles as the major unions representing staff in the universities.
- At certain times, they have worked together and evolved common strategies and programmes to advance collective goals. A good example is the struggle during SAP in 1986. •Other times, specificity of goals and context of struggles dictated distinct separate roles and struggles.
What I want you to notice in the literature cited above is that the four unions in the public universities are just to represent the entire staff and that they are expected to struggle together for common goals, while they struggle separately when the goals are context-based.
May I call the attention of the national and branch executives of ASUU, NAAT, NASU and SSANU that if truly public university system is what you are defending; if truly the interest of their members (university staff) is what they are fighting for, then they must end ‘divide and rule’ tactics among the unions. So I say, #EndDivideandRuleNow.
I know many of the staff will find this difficult to digest for many reasons. But do you ever think about the thoughts of the society when:
- ASUU is on strike asking for only earned academic allowances, EAA, knowing fully well that hazard allowance, overtime allowance, travelling allowance and so on for other unions on campus were not paid? •ASUU is the only union that added ‘university revitalisation’ to their demand as if other university staff do not feel the rot of the university system.
- ASUU says no to IPPIS while NAAT, NASU and SSANU embraced it only for them to embark on strike against IPPIS after some months of their enrolment in it. •
- SSANU claims they will never allow the government to pay them with UTAS because they have developed their own platform even when UTAS was designed to capture all the peculiarities of the university system. NAAT dissociates self from Joint Action Council and stand separately from whatever struggle NASU and SSANU engaged in.
aIt is extremely difficult for anyone to take the university workers serious with this ‘me-and-my-union-alone’ attitude. Besides, it is a shameful thing to defend them in public. It is time we synergised on how university staff will be able to speak with one voice on common issues.
This is not, in any way, to say that the four unions should be made one but there must be a time of meeting on common issues. For instance, when the issue of IPPIS came up, had it been that all the four unions rejected it and nobody enrolled in it, government might have been guided to take a second look and possibly jettison it. Which means the ongoing strike might not have been started at all.
I recently raised this argument in my university and some elders argued for, while some were against it. One of those who supported this argued that the four unions were just parts of a single system. When any of the parts malfunctions, the whole system suffers for it, hence we need to see ourselves as partners in progress.
One of the arguments against the coming together of the unions to fight a common enemy is that it was tried in the past but failed. But I quickly asked if its failure in the past is enough reason why it should not be tried again. I mean, failure is part of learning. All we need to do is to research on why it failed and work around the reasons.
I am sure we all know where disunity of the public university staff is heading to by now. If you are in doubt, let me quote some pronouncements from the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, who has been fighting the public universities for the Federal Government:
- “There are other unions in the university system that are saying they will develop their own system, and that they are not going to go on to UTAS – Senior Staff Association of Universities, SSANU; Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities, NASU; National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT. ASUU is not the only union in the university,”
- “If we ignore those people and what they are saying, even if ASUU calls off the strike, they will close the lecture halls, they will close the laboratories, they will close even the gates. It has happened before entry gates into the universities; we don’t want that to happen.
- That is why we are taking them holistically and going in measured steps to be sure that we carry everybody along.
- “Out of the eight demands of ASUU, … government has solved five. We have made N50 billion available. A total sum of N20 billion for the revitalisation of the universities and N30billion for Earned Academic Allowances, EAA.
- The union agreed and went back to their members, only to return and say that the money for EAA should be for ASUU members alone, excluding other unions, namely, SSANU, NASU, and NAAT.
- “They said that university autonomy is being eroded. Autonomy cannot work when the government is paying the lecturers. It can work only when the governing council generates its own resources to pay workers.”
I hope you know what it means for university governing council to generate its own resources to pay workers – heavy tuition fees to be paid by the students.
To sum up, I want all university workers to realise that we are all labourers in the system with different but significant roles to play. We also have common enemies, the public university administration and the government. These two stakeholders have something to gain when the staff members are suffering.
While the principal officers in the university enrich themselves by exploiting the other workers, the government officials majority of who have private institutions gain more patronage in their glorified-secondary-schools called universities.
Besides, the destruction of public universities limits the number of children of common Nigerians to compete with their children for power and in labour market. Therefore, for us to have our universities, for the children of Nigerian masses to have university education, ASUU, NAAT, NASU and SSANU must #EndDivideandRuleNow.
Dr Salami is of the Department of Early Childhood and Educational Foundations, University of Ibadan