February 22, 2024

Withheld salaries: How varsity workers died, suffered injuries — SSANU, NASU, NAAT

Withheld salaries: How varsity workers died, suffered injuries — SSANU, NASU, NAAT

By Victor AhiumaYoung & Johnbosco Agbakwuru

THE storm has begun togather in Nigeria’s public universities over the exclusion of non-teaching staff in the payment of the four months withheld salaries which President Bola Tinubu had approved as a way of amnesty to the distressed workers. The non-teaching workers under the aegis of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, and the Non- Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, NASU, have declared their willingness to fight to the end until justice is done to their members.

Recall that the past administration under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari had invoked the “No work, no pay”, policy against the university workers who had embarked on a prolonged strike in 2022 over the inability of government to address their grievances.

While the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, started its own strike on February 14, NAAT, joined some weeks later and then SSANU and NASU. The matter was dragged to the National Industrial Court by the government for adjudication and at the end of the whole process, government got favourable judgment that approved the “No work, no pay policy.” The resolve to pay only ASUU members has been described as unacceptable by the three nonteaching staff unions and they have threatened to take their destiny in their hands to ensure that whatever perceived anomaly is corrected.

Speaking to Vanguard, the National President of SSANU, Mohammed Haruna said, “In the peak of the strike, we lost so many members. A lot of our members could not access medical facility due to the state of the economy, they cannot pay their medical bills. Those who are on life-threatening ailments like diabetes, hypertension, those who consume drugs everyday as part of their meals could not measure up because pharmacies didn’t give them drugs again. A lot of our people were sent out of their homes. Even though they didn’t die, they suffered so much embarrassment because they were ejected out of their houses, some of their children sent out of school because they could not pay school fees and a lot of embarrassment.

“The casualties we recorded should be more than any other figures given by any other unions because of our large number. We have workers who are disadvantaged and more exposed especially those in security those working in health facilities, those people suffered even more.

“Today, the situation is unbearable. It has affected members in so many different ways. economically, psychologically, security wise and even emotionally. a lot of our members who had banking facilities that they took as loans, it got to a point that for four months their salaries were not paid and you know banks cannot oblige you any additional one day. So, interest accrued more and they were embarrassed by the banks. Immediately the salaries were restored instead of them to get even the salaries that were restored, banks just kept removing their own money that was now multiplied because of the interest rate.

“So, it is a double jeopardy, it is not only of the salary that they lost for four months but subsequent salaries for another four, five months they could not also access because they are indebted to banks. So our members who have had loans from the banks also suffered loss from the loans and some of them did not survive the shock and it led to their untimely death.

“The embarrassment of people who were ejected from their homes by landlords, those of them in rented apartments, those of them whose children are also schooling and they could not pay especially those in private schools, they don’t spare you more than a month, they had their children also sent out of school. Some who had old parents that they are taking care of also had issues because those parents were also surviving on drugs like diabetes or those with high blood pressure that they need to take drugs every day, a lot of things affected us and still affecting us as a result of the poor economic situation.

“Because of the citing of universities, most universities are cited outside townships, some places you will even need to drive 20, 30 kilometres to go to work. So, if you used to fuel your car with N30,000 and before subsidy was removed you spent N15, 000 to go, now you spend like N40, N50, 000 and It will only take you one week. So, how much do you earn in a month. So, a lot of them will now have to pack their cars and be commuting on commercial buses and they are exposed to a lot of danger. Because if they stay late, they are at risk because our campuses are also porous, most of the campuses are not even properly fenced. So, there is this issue of most of our campuses not properly or adequately fenced, security is also another problem. If you return late, you get attacked, if you don’t go to work you are sacked. So those are the challenges we have faced and we are still facing.”

On his part, the President of NAAT, Ibeji Nwokoma said, “Between 2022 when that salary was withheld in the course of the strike, we have lost over 50 of our members. But in the last few months because of the present hardship, we have lost between 10 and 20 of our members to the point where some of our members up to five went as far as taking their lives because they could no longer meet up with their responsibilities.

“Just this Monday, one of our members died in Ife, he was killed by the lion he tenders because he is a veterinary official in Obafemi Awolowo University Ife, we lost our member to cold hands of death due to the fact that the lion he was tendering at the time it was supposed to eat and he was doing everything possible to calm the lion down.

“Of course you will also know that the lion could not eat and our member maybe did not come to the place on time due to the fact that there was no money to transport himself to the place. So we have lost so many of our members to the cold hands of death. Of course, somanyofourchildrenhavedropped out of school because the parents can no longer afford to pay their fees in school.”

For NASU, while cases of deaths were unknown at the time of this report, it was gathered that members suffered untoward injuries ranging from inabilities to meet obligations to family responsibilities to humiliation and emotional trauma.

According to sources, “Our members suffered untoward injuries. Many could not pay their house rents, they could not feed their families, and they could not pay for their children school fees, forcing their children to drop out of schools. To even worsen the matter, many could not afford to fund the health challenges and some resorted to borrowing. I can tell youth at many suffered humiliation, disgrace, shame and emotional trauma and dislocation. The injuries they suffered are better told than experienced.”