After nine months of a nationwide strike, the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) announced on Wednesday the 23rd of December, 2020 that its strike has be called off conditionally. However, on that same day (yesterday), the President of the Union indicated that it would resume its suspended strike in February, 2021 if the Federal Government fails to implement the agreements it signed with the Union members.
The National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, disclosed this in an exclusive interview with The PUNCH in Lagos while throwing more light on the decision of the union to suspend its nine-month strike.
Meanwhile, after ASUU ended its industrial action on Wednesday, non-academic unions in universities threatened to embark on their own strike over a N40bn earned allowance which the government had promised to release to all unions. According to them, the sharing formula for the money as unfair.
It is important to note that ASUU had on March 23rd, 2020 begun a nationwide strike over the Federal Government’s insistence that all its employees must register for the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS).
The federal government posited that the IPPIS was out to eliminate fraud and every other form of irregularities. However, the union stated that it should not be applicable to universities on the grounds that it violated their autonomy.
In the light of this, ASUU developed the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), which it said would meet the peculiarities of universities.
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting between both parties, they had disagreed over UTAS, which the FG said would only be adopted if it was in line with the IPPIS.
Apart from its opposition to the IPPIS, other demands of ASUU are; the set up of visitation panels for universities, payment of earned academic allowances and revitalisation of infrastructure in various varsities.
Ogunyemi in his interview with The PUNCH on Wednesday evening, said if the government reneged on its promises, members of the union would not hesitate to withdraw their services.
Meanwhile, at an earlier press conference in Abuja, he said the union would as from 12am on Thursday (today) suspend its strike.
The decision to suspend the strike, according to Ogunyemi, was unanimously agreed upon by the National Executive Committee of the union, after considering reports from the national secretariat and various branches.
While assuring Nigerians that ASUU would fulfil its own part of the agreements it reached with the government, Ogunyemi warned that the union would not hesitate to resume its suspended strike should the government fail to play its own part.
According to him, members of the union are willing and ready to return to the classrooms and laboratories to rekindle the aspirations of its members to encourage their students to excel.
Ogunyemi further urged parents to take prime interest in their children’s welfare, learning, better funding, better laboratories, and free development to enable them to compete with their counterparts globally.
He said, “After diligent and careful appraisal of the various reports, especially the agreements reached by ASUU with the Federal Government of Nigeria on December 22, 2020, NEC resolved as follows:
“To accept the agreements reached between ASUU and the Federal Government on December 22, 2020, to consciously and diligently monitor the implementation of the FGN-ASUU agreements of December 22, 2020 in all branches.
“To ensure that no ASUU member suffers any loss of deserved benefits as a result of participation in the strike, to pursue fervently FGN-ASUU agreements in 2009 and the MoA (memoranda of agreements) 2013.”
According to him, both sides also agreed that the earned academic allowances should be backed by a law and the amendment of the Executive Bill in respect of the National Universities Commission (NUC) Act, 2004.
He added, “Finally, NEC resolved to conditionally suspend the strike action embarked upon on March 23, 2020, with effect from 12:01am on Thursday, December 24, 2020.”
While shedding more light on ASUU’s insistence on the implementation of the 2009 agreements, Ogunyemi stated that the objectives of the agreements were found to have been made even more potent by the findings of the Federal Government Committee on the Needs Assessment of Nigerian Universities in 2012.
He stressed that the agreements, when implemented, would reverse the decay in the Nigerian university system and reposition it for greater responsibilities in national development;
Ogunyemi also stated that the implementation of the agreement would reverse the brain drain in universities and enhance the remuneration of academic staff.
According to him, university lecturers would be freed from “the encumbrances of a unified civil service wage structure.”
Later in an interview with The PUNCH on Wednesday evening, the president of ASUU said government made promises about the demands of the union.
He said government promised to release N30bn to the union before the end of the month for the revitalisation of universities.
He stated, “The Federal Government made promises about our demands and we have timelines attached to them. On the demand for revitalisation, they promised to give N30b before the end of this month.
“They promised earned academic allowances. On the visitation panel, they have told us part of the preparations. We talked about renegotiation that is going. We have had two meetings already and more meetings will continue in the New Year.”
According to him, the law on state universities and the National Universities Commission is being reviewed and sent to the National Assembly.
He also said substantial progress had been made on UTAS, adding that the union was awaiting its final adoption after its verification by the National Information Technology Development Agency.
Ogunyemi also said, “The withheld salaries are being released. So with that, we believe that normalcy should return to our universities. We made it clear, if government reneges, our members are ready to withdraw their services and we made that clear to government.
“By end of February, we are going to review the situations with the government so that with that there is a kind of monitoring mechanism.”
But as ASUU called off its strike, non-academic unions in universities on Thursday threatened strike over the sharing of the N40bn earned allowances government promised the unions.
They said they opposed the proposed sharing formula for the N40bn earned allowances which would be divided among all the unions in the public universities.
The Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, the National Association of Academic Technologists and the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities alleged that the government planned to give 75 per cent of the fund to ASUU, leaving 25 per cent for the other three unions.
Commenting on the issue on Wednesday at a press conference in Abuja, the National President of NAAT, Ibeji Nwokomma, said government should correct the alleged imbalance.
He stated, “My union is rejecting the sharing formula of the earned allowances as it is being done presently by the government. Government has allocated 75 per cent of the money to ASUU and 25 per cent to all non-teaching unions in the universities. That is grossly inadequate.
“That is robbing Peter to pay Paul and using divide and rule in the university system. No union, not even ASUU, has the monopoly of opening or closing of schools through strikes; other unions also have that capacity to ensure that the system does not work.
“Secondly, my union, ASUU and other unions negotiated with the government. So, payment of earned allowances will be based on unions. It should be on the basis of the 2009 agreements. That is where the earned allowances are derived from.
“So lumping my union with other non-teaching staff is neither here nor there and totally unacceptable to us.”
Speaking further, Nwokomma said NAAT signed a memorandum of understanding with the government on November 15, 2020, where it was clearly stated that the government would define what each union would get from the N40bn.
He said, “My union is asking that our own earned allowances should be specified, just like they did to ASUU. If nothing is done, we will close down the system until we are fairly treated.
“Government should convene a meeting immediately to settle this issue, otherwise, any wish that schools will reopen, they are just wasting their time; schools will not reopen until these issues are adequately taken care of,” he warned.
The NAAT leader said he was making serious efforts to get in touch with the director and the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education to draw their attention to the brewing crisis.
In the same vein, SSANU’s National President, Mohammed Ibrahim, said that his union would not accept what he called the lopsided sharing formula.
He said, “Honestly, I believe that this remains a rumour even though I know it could be true; I have seen 75 per cent and 25 per cent.
“But truly, if it is that, we have stated in no uncertain terms that we will not take that kind of lopsided allocation again. What is the scientific measurement used to share this money? We have stated before now that the least we can take is 50-50, they (ASUU members) are not more in numbers.”
“We will not waste time in ensuring that we mobilise our members to also fight for our own. What it means is that government will only listen to a fight. Most of us are administrators for God’s sake and that is why we don’t see strikes as fashionable, but when we are pushed to the wall, we will react.”
Meanwhile, National President, National Parents’ Association of Nigeria, Haruna Danjuma in an interview, called on government to honour the agreements it reached with ASUU.
Danjuma said by doing this, students would not be sent back home. He appealed to ASUU to jettison going on holidays in order for students to recover what they had lost academically.
He stated, “Lectures should settle down and prepare themselves so that our children can recover what they had lost in terms of learning. It has been a very unfortunate situation our children found themselves and the children too should prepare themselves after this Christmas break.
“We also want the university authorities to make special arrangements to train our children, even if it means shelving all holidays to make them get all that was lost.
“Government should honour the agreements because it will be a big surprise to Nigerians that ASUU is back on strike again if government fails to honour their demands.”
SOURCE: The PUNCH