AT a time that university students and their parents are about to feel a sense of relief after the call-off of a nine-month-old strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over nonpayment of overdue academic allowances and funds for revitalisation of the country’s federal universities, there is a fear of another long strike by three non-academic unions: Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), National Association of Academic Technologists (NATT), and Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU).
The grievance this time is over failure of the government to indicate specific percentage of the N40bn the Federal Government had promised ASUU as partial payment for academic allowance to each of the other three unions that are also due to receive academic allowance.
In response to the announcement of an impending strike by the non-academic unions, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, said: “I have not seen their notice of strike. When we see it, we will call the attention of their employers, which is the Federal Ministry of Education and the NUC…It is the NUC and FMoE that will determine what each union will get from the N40 billion because they also have the template as submitted by the various universities for those earned allowances.”
But a Joint Action Committee comprising NASU and SSANU indeed began a three-day warning strike from January 12 to 14, to protest the Federal Government’s failure to address any of the issues contained in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) both parties had reached and signed with the government back in October, 2020.
Coming a few weeks after nine months of negotiation between ASUU and the Federal Government during which the public universities were closed because of strike by the academic staff, the threat of another strike by three non-academic staff unions over similar grievances with the same government is unsettling and puzzling. Unsettling because of poor attention to important details of all parties relevant to growth of education in a country that is already punching below its weight in too many areas that provision of good education can guarantee.
It is puzzling that a commonsensical issue, such as determining the sharing formula of N40 billion funds for academic allowance to all categories of workers in the university evaded consideration for the nine months of negotiation between government and ASUU. In addition, the latest complaint from NASU and SSANU about failure of the government to respect agreements, like the complaints of ASUU earlier, could have been prevented if the Federal Government/ASUU negotiation for the past one academic year had been handled more strategically, especially by the government. If the Federal Ministry of Education and the NUC are the agencies responsible for sharing academic allowances among four unions in the country’s university system, as the Minister of Labour has observed, why was the Minister of Education not a part of the nine-month negotiation for release of the fund, or why have the non-academic unions not requested for inclusion in a matter of interest to them, when such inclusion could have prevented a new strike? Or, do both government and unions in our universities revel in crisis?
It is not an exaggeration to say that Nigerians are tired of the uncertainties that have surrounded university education in the country, particularly in the last 10 months. Citizens cannot continue to be destabilised for sending their children and wards to universities to, among other goals, provide fitting manpower to drive national development. We, therefore, call on first-line stakeholders (because all Nigerians are stakeholders): the four unions in the universities, labour ministry, education ministry, and the NUC to synergise efforts to avoid another prolonged strike in the universities, by addressing the new threats by the non-academic staff unions urgently.
All the stakeholders must realise the need for fairness in sharing the money, as universities cannot function properly if some sections decide to withdraw their services, rather than continuing to relish in what looks like a relay race of strikes.