By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
IN what appears to be an attempt to break the ranks of the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, the Federal Government has approved the registration of a rival group, the Congress of University Academics, CONUA.
This is as the government has directed them to resume work immediately.
The new university based academic union was on Tuesday presented with a Certificate of Registration at the Conference Room of the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
The group has opposed the union’s on-going strike which began on February 14 and has been battling to gain recognition from Federal Government for years now.
Also registered as a trade union is the Nigerian Association of Medical and Dental Academics, NAMDA.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, who presented the letters and copies of the Trade Union Act to the groups at his office in Abuja said “The Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment in the discharge of her mandate in the management of Employment Relationships and the Administration of Trade Unions to ensure harmonious industrial relations system in the nation has decided to approve the registration of two (2) more Trade Unions in the Nigerian University Academic Sub Sector.
He said the two unions would operate along with ASUU.
According to the Minister, “The University Sub-Sector is a major development plank of any Nation’s Socio Economic growth. Knowledge they say is Power.
“It may be noted that Section 3(2) of the Trade Unions Act, CAP. T14, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004 gives the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment powers to regroup an existing Trade Union of Workers or Employers. The Section under reference states
“No Combination of workers or employers shall be registered as a Trade Union save with the approval of the Minister on his being satisfied that it is expedient to register the Union either by regrouping existing Trade Union. registering a new Trade Union or otherwise howsoever….
“In view of the above, I Senator (Dr.) Chris Nwabueze Ngige, in the exercise of the power conferred on me as the Honourable Minister of Labour & Employment, do hereby approve the registration of Congress of Nigeria University Academics (CONUA), and Nigeria Association of Medical & Dental Lecturers in Academics (NAMDA)
“These Associations will exist side by side with ASUU in the Nigerian Universities in the spirit and tenets of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Core Convention nos. 87 & 98 which are respectively on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining; as well as the enthronement”
The Minister decried that classrooms in the nation’s Public Universities have been shut and students kept at home by the strike action of ASUU despite series of engagements to resolve the trade dispute by the Federal Government.
He said, “In line with the provisions of the Trade Disputes Act, CAP. TS, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, this Strike was apprehended & Conciliations were done in this Ministry on February 22, 2022, and March 1, 2022.
“However, all efforts at conciliation failed resulting in the transmission of the trade dispute to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) for adjudication in line with the statutory trade dispute resolution processes.
“At the NICN, an Interlocutory Injunction Order was obtained asking the Union to get back to work while the substantive suit is being heard; an order ASUU leadership and members refused to obey. Interestingly, a lot of university teachers in the public universities had indicated their willingness to get back to work while negotiations continue”
Ngige said the two unions applied for registration since 2018 due to irreconcilable differences as they do not believe in recurring strikes as the solution to every welfare agitation.
“They also accused the ASUU executive of non rendition of account of Incomes and Expenditure for years. The Ministry of Labour and Employment set up a committee to look into the merit of their application. The committee saw merit in the application and recommended approval for the registration of the Association by the Registrar of Trade Unions (RTU) since 2020. But for the advent of COVID-19 pandemic and the recurring ASUU Strike, this would have been done.
“NAMDA, Like their colleagues in CONUA, they had applied for Registration as Medical Teachers in the University system under various groups.
“They include those Medical Doctors doing Pre- clinical teaching of basic medical courses and Honorary Consultants teaching clinical students in.”
Ngige disclosed that the new unions will be entitled to all rights and privileges accruing to such academic associations including but not limited to receiving check off dues of their members in accordance with Section 17 of the Trade Unions Act, membership in the Nigerian University Pension Management Company Limited (NUPEMCO) and being on CONUAS Salary Structure/Scheme.
“They are equally entitled to Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) and all other allowances attached thereto.”
While receiving the letter of approval on behalf of the union, CONUA National Cordinator, Dr. ‘Niyi Sunmonu described the registration of the body as historic.
Dr. Sunmonu in a statement said, “The registration of the Congress of University Academics (CONUA), as a Trade Union in the Nigerian university system, is monumentally historic.
“The hurdles we have faced to get here, since 2018 when we submitted our application for registration, have been seemingly insurmountable. The registration is therefore the validation of the power of the human will. It asserts the value of courage, initiative, focus, tenacity, patience, forbearance and persistent positive thinking.
“We are immensely grateful to the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, and his team of diligent staff for insisting on merit, due process and thoroughness all through the processing of our application for the registration of CONUA.
“The very strict and dispassionate review of our application brought out the best in the membership of the Union.
“We regard the registration of CONUA as a sacred trust, and pledge to reciprocate by devoting ourselves unceasingly to the advancement of university education in this country. We would make the details of our programmes available to the public in due course.”
He further said, “We are also deeply grateful to the numerous personalities and well-wishers whose good counsel and concrete actions have facilitated the success we have witnessed today. We believe in the saying that to whom much is given, much is expected. We would therefore constantly strive to make them all proud of CONUA.
“We appreciate the entire membership of the Union for believing in the righteousness of the CONUA cause and for believing in the leadership of the Union, and thereby remaining salutarily steadfast, even when disconcerting and demoralising situations arose.
“In this journey, the invaluable role of the media cannot be discounted. We are truly grateful to the media, and look forward to further mutually beneficial interactions as we strive for the development of this nation.”
He gave the assurance that they would work to ensure that the nation is not traumatised again by academic union dislocations in the country’s public universities.
“Above all, we are absolutely grateful to Almighty God for granting us this grace.”
Recall that public Universities in the country have been shut down since February,14, ASUU proceeded on one month warning strike.