By Akanimo Sampson
Activities in public universities in Nigeria are being crippled again by non-academic workers who are battling for juicier pay package.
Last July 12, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU), embarked on a peaceful protest in their various branches to draw the attention of the Nigerian government over some unresolved matters.
Now, with effect from this Monday, the two unions are embarking on a one-week warning strike nationwide till August 23. They claimed that the strike was necessitated by the refusal of the government to attend to their demands after the expiration of a 14-day ultimatum given to the authorities
In the circular to all their branches with the title Notice of Industrial Action, jointly signed by the Chairman of their Joint Action Committee (JAC) and President of SSANU, Samson Ugwoke and the General Secretary of NASU, Peters Adeyemi, the unions lamented the nonchalant attitude of the Nigerian overnment towards addressing their grievances and obeying court ruling.
According to the circular, ‘’this is to inform you that the JAC of NASU and SSANU met on Thursday, August 1, 2019, to consider the issues which led to the nationwide protest in our various branches, viz, Payment of Earned Allowances, University Staff Schools matter, Renegotiation of 2009 FGN/Unions Agreement among others.’’
The meeting however, observed, ‘’no date has been rescheduled by the Senate President, Senator Ahmed Lawan for the meeting with the leadership of JAC. The meeting earlier scheduled by the Federal Ministry of Education with the leadership of JAC has been rescheduled for Wednesday, August 7, 2019 with no reason(s) stated.
‘’From the foregoing, JAC has resolved as follows: That a 14-day ultimatum of industrial action be given to the Federal Government of Nigeria to address the pending issues with effect from Monday, August 5, 2019. During the period of the ultimatum, all branches are hereby directed to carry out peaceful protest on Tuesday, August 6, 2019 and Thursday, August 15, 2019 respectively.
‘’At the expiration of the 14-day ultimatum, Sunday, August 18, 2019, without any positive response from the Federal Government of Nigeria, members shall proceed on a 5-day warning strike in all branches from Monday 19th to Friday, August 23, 2019, inclusive. You are therefore directed to properly mobilise our members for this action. All defaulting branches shall be sanctioned accordingly.’’
In a communiqué issued at the end of the JAC, the meeting rejected the sharing formula adopted by the Federal Ministry of Education in the allocation of the last tranche of N25 billion which allocated 80% to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and a paltry 20% to the non- teaching unions.
‘’It was noted that the procedure of allocating monies meant for staff emoluments and allowances across union lines is totally alien to best practices and is a contravention of financial processes. NEC in session observed that the sharing formula defies all logical explanation and does not reflect the proper status of payment of Earned Allowances for non- teaching staff in our universities and inter- university centres.
‘’NEC in session also observed that while the outstanding claims of Earned Allowances to ASUU may have been settled till 2012 and part- payment up to 2016 inclusive, the payment of Non- Teaching Staff between 2009 and 2012 have not been resolved, talk- less of up till 2016’’, the communiqué said.
The unions frowned at the alleged inability of the government to obey the judgment of the National Industrial Court that ordered the reinstatement of workers in the Staff Schools.
After their threat to proceed on strike, the Senate President Lawan had organised a meeting with the unions to resolve the contentious issues. But, the meeting could not hold as it was scheduled on the day members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), the Shi’ites had embarked on a protest for the release of their leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky.
Though, leaders of the union waited for the senate president for a rescheduled meeting in Abuja for many days, no information was given to them on that.
However, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Sonny Ochono, last Wednesday met with the JAC where the issues in contention were extensively discussed and decisions reached.
According to the JAC Chairman, Ugwoke, the permanent secretary who was with the ministry’s directors promised to send a draft of the decisions reached at the meeting to the unions. JAC had expressed optimism that the decisions reached will addressed the issues.
But the NASU scribe, Adeyemi had expressed reservations, claiming that he never trusted the government until the decisions were implemented going by previous encounters.
Meanwhile, after waiting for the government without any response, the non teaching varsity workers at the weekend braced up for a show down with the government. National Public Relations Officer of SSANU, Salaam Abdussobur, told journalists on Friday that the one week strike was commencing this Monday.
‘’Based on the poor response from the Federal Government, it is inevitable that a one week strike action shall be held as from Monday, August 19-23. This is following the expiration of the 14 days ultimatum given to the government.
‘’We met with the officials of the Federal Ministry of Education led by the Permanent Secretary last week. While the meeting appeared successful on its face value, the resolutions are yet to be backed up by any correspondence or digest as agreed at the meeting. This is not the first time that meetings would be held and we would take them by their words only to be disappointed by their actions.
‘’Our members, being our principals, have contended that for all decisions reached with government, there must be a level of corresponding actions that show their sincerity and commitment to those decisions. If the actions do not correspond, we must continue with our agitations. So, a five day warning, being part of the activities lined up in our agitations, have been resolved to proceed’’, he said.
After the warning strike, another review will be made that will ultimately determine the way forward.
The unions are claiming that out of the N23 billion released to the four unions in the university, ASUU allegedly took over 80 percent of the money, leaving only 20 percent for the other three unions, that the Industrial Court in 2016 had directed the government to reinstate the sacked workers of Staff Schools which has not been complied with, and the re-negotiation of the 2009 agreement.