The Congress of University Academics, CONUA, is hoping to be registered as another trade union for academic staff in universities in the country.
In this interview, the National Coordinator, Dr Niyi Sunmonu, speaks on how to curb incessant strikes in the ivory towers among other issues.
By Adesina Wahab
What is your opinion about unions resorting to strike every now and then to press home their demands?
I can only talk about the modus operandi of my own union. We have observed over the years that there are problems in the universities and there is no organisation or society without its own challenges. But as researchers, the method being deployed over time, which is industrial action, has done some good but it has done more harm than good to the system. Incessant disruptions to academic calendar because of strikes will not make our universities compare and compete with others globally..
What are you now advocating?
There is no one cap fits all solution to the problem..if you deploy a method to tackling a problem and the variables change, you too have to change your method. It takes two to tango. Government too has not done well with respect to honouring agreements. The solution I will proffer is that when we see a problem, we should first interrogate it and look at how to tackle it. As we all know, there is no confrontation that won’t be resolved at a round table peace meeting. In essence, parties to a face-off must continue to dialogue. However, government has a trust deficit. In a situation that the government has been reneging on agreements that it willingly entered into, it has to show now that any matter it agrees to must be implemented..
We can also ensure that our legal instruments are tested in such instances. We can pass such agreements through legal framework that would make them binding on all parties. It could be through the National Assembly or any legal framework we have on ground, at least we have been running a democratic government since 1999.
Also, I don’t think we have a National Policy on University Education. Before independence, the universities we had then had purposes for which they were set up. They were to produce technical and other manpower needed to drive the new nation. Since then, there has not been any cogent reasons for setting up universities A, B, C and D. I studied abroad and I know that universities have their areas of specialisation and people know where to go when they need a particular thing. We can only achieve that when we have the policy I talked about. Without that kind of road map, we will be operating in circles.
Also, what stops the unions and the government from going to court? The unions can sue the government for reneging on the agreement entered into. We have the Industrial Court and other courts too. The matter can even get to the Supreme Court, though it would take some time, because there is a long road to justice. We don’t need to run away from that. We need to enhance our fledgling democracy.
What is your take on ASUU’s agitation?
Unions are set up for the improvement of the welfare of members. So, all unions fight for the welfare of their members. That is sacrosanct.
What is your opinion about the use of IPPIS as the payment system in universities?
University workers were being paid through other means before the coming of IPPIS. A financial and payment software that is meant to pay salary and is operated by human beings it can never be perfect, but it can be adjusted to accommodate peculiarities and other things. if a software finds itself in the hands of a good person, it will generally improve the system. Conversely, if a software finds itself in the hands of a bad person, it will be negatively used no matter how good the software is. We have seen a number of public officers being accused of corruption, those who circumvented the system to their advantage. We all know the case of the former Accountant-General of the Federation who is facing corruption charges on account of the IPPIS..
Are universities adequately funded and workers well paid?
University workers are poorly paid. They have remained stagnant on the same salary since 2009. The government needs not be told that as inflation rises, remuneration of workers should rise too in equal measure to inflation. When workers are unhappy, they won’t be productive. As for funding, there are fundamental problems. I would suggest that the government should come out clearly instead of throwing figures around that they have injected so so amount into universities. The universities should also retire the funds given to them and make same public too. Them we would know where and how we can do more funding.
Government seems to be confused about making education a social service or charge adequate fees in schools, what is the way out?
Government should call a meeting of all stakeholders and put all the cards on the table. Let everybody know how much is generated and how much is spent and also block all leakages. The unions, especially the academic staff should let us know how much it takes to train a student throughout his course period. Then it will be clear whether to raise the tuition fee or reduce it or even cancel it completely. There are some countries that don’t collect tuition fees from students, how do they do it? We can do what is called thinking globally and acting locally and evolve what is suitable and peculiar to us.
How can we make our varsities attractive to foreigners
We must first get rid of disruption of academic calendars. People want to go to where they can plan their time. If we achieve that, it would be a major boost. The University of Ilorin from 2001 and until a few years ago, did not experience strike and people rushed there and it has since then become the most subscribed university in the country in the UTME. We must also be proactive and not wait until unpleasant things happen before we start reacting. We must be deliberate and determined regarding funding too. Imagine a situation that you as a lecturer has a collaboration with a foreign colleague, with strike how do you do that? There cannot be too much engagement..
What is your view about promises from the government to university staff unions?.
It has to redeem its battered image by fulfilling whatever it has promised. If they don’t do that, they are setting us back the more.
Will your union accept any promise from government?
I cannot comment on that because unions are not run by fiat and the way unions work is that you consult your members before decisions are arrived at.