ASUU GEARS UP FOR ANOTHER SHOWDOWN WITH FG OVER UNFULFILLED PROMISES

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ASUU GEARS UP FOR ANOTHER SHOWDOWN WITH FG OVER UNFULFILLED PROMISES

There are fears that the nation’s university workers under the umbrella of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, are gearing up for another confrontation with the federal government over issues bordering on members’ welfare, working conditions, among others.

This is even as the university workers have expressed disappointment over President Bola Tinubu’s failure to fulfil promises to release their withheld eight months’ salaries resulting from the 2022 industrial action, the six-month N35,000 wage award and upward salary review.

The union is now saying it is tired of the federal government’s unfaithfulness to promises made to the union, lamenting that it has yet to implement all its agreements with the organised labour, particularly ASUU, since the administration came in.

DAILY POST reports that the current administration has taken no significant visible action to address the grievances by ASUU despite Tinubu’s assurance and promise that his administration would take all necessary actions to ensure universities do not embark on strike again.

Tinubu, who spoke at the 33rd convocation ceremony of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, had expressed hope that the cooperation of the unions with the federal government would ensure the needed educational development in the country.

He promised that his administration would tackle all challenges confronting the education sector and reposition it, adding that the federal government was willing to establish synergy with all the academic unions within universities in the country and exhaust all avenues for dialogue before any strike.

“I would like to enjoin all the unions in our universities to cooperate with the government in order to deliver the needed development by ensuring an atmosphere of peace and tranquility on our campuses.

“On our part, we will ensure that motivational activities are put in place to ensure improved productivity. Reciprocative actions would be expected from our universities as the government works hard to raise the bar of a conducive teaching and learning environment.

“To whom much is given, much is expected. Dialogue, patience, and positive engagements are better means of achieving results than strike actions. Industrial disharmony does nothing but disrupt life, waste time and elongate the academic calendar.

“Therefore, all avenues for dialogue must be explored and exhausted before strike actions are considered, and as a last resort,” Tinubu said.

It is now almost four months after Tinubu approved the partial waiver of the ‘No Work, No Pay’ order instituted against striking ASUU members in 2022 under former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

Recall that ASUU members had embarked on an eight-month industrial action, which began on February 14, 2022, and lasted until October 17, 2022, but the federal government insisted on implementing the ‘No Work, No Pay’ policy for the period the university workers were away from their duty posts.

However, nearly sixteen months after the academic staff members returned to work, they have continued to lament the unyielding response of the government to their withheld salaries.

Tinubu in November last year, directed the grant of an exceptional last waiver of the ‘No Work, No Pay’ order on ASUU, which would pave the way for members of ASUU to receive four months of salary accruals out of the eight months withheld during the strike.

According to the President, the move, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, was in line with his administration’s determination to mitigate the difficulties in the face of the implementation of key economic reforms in the country.

Tinubu also added that he recognised the faithful implementation of terms agreed upon during the fruitful deliberations between ASUU and the federal government.

Not happy about the development, ASUU has embarked on a nationwide consultation with members over the non-implementation of agreements by the Federal Government.

ASUU said it was regrettable that despite the gentlemen’s agreement between the union and the federal government, no dime had been paid to its members, creating unnecessary hardship for their families.

Apart from the withheld eight months’ salaries, the university workers said they were yet to be removed from the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System, IPPIS, as directed by the President.

The Federal Executive Council, FEC, recently approved the removal of university staff from the IPPIS.

The minister of education, Mamman Tahir, who disclosed the development while briefing State House correspondents after the weekly FEC meeting presided over by Tinubu at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said the President also directed the Vice Chancellors to be removed from taking permissions from the office of the Head of Service of the Federation, HOSF, before they could engage staff for their institutions.

According to the President, “they (Vice Chancellors) do not have to go to the Head of Service for approvals to engage the service of new workers anymore. They will now be paying their own staff directly.”

Before now, ASUU had called on the government to abolish IPPIS and embrace its own creation, the University Transparency Account System, UTAS.

The union argued that UTAS would better take care of the weaknesses inherent in IPPIS, telling the government to consider the peculiarities of universities.

Similarly, in October 2023, the administration ordered the immediate implementation of a new wage award of N35,000 to each federal civil servant as a palliative to cushion the harsh effects of the removal of fuel subsidy.

However, findings showed that the government managed to pay two months out of the six months it promised.

Also, in September 2023, the government announced an upward review of the salaries of tertiary institution workers by 35 per cent, which was backdated to January 2023 but was yet to be paid.

Speaking recently in an interactive session with journalists during the week at the Gidan Kwano Main Campus of the Federal University of Technology (FUT) Minna, the Niger State capital, the National President of ASUU, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, declared that the government has not implemented all the agreements it reached with the organized labour, particularly between ASUU, since the administration of President Bola Tinubu began.

Osodeke stated that members of the National Executive Council, NEC, were currently in a nationwide consultation with the branches of the union to decide on the next line of action after the NEC meeting later this month.

“Well, none has been implemented. On the issue of wage awards and the issue of seven-and-a-half salary arrears, I can tell you that nothing has been implemented. In fact, as I am talking to you now, none of our members has been paid,” Osodeke declared.

The ASUU leader stated that the association would present all the suggestions gathered during its nationwide consultations at the NEC meeting before taking the necessary action to press home their demands.

“That is why we have come to see our members, and we are seeking their views about the next line of action which we are taking to our NEC meeting in February (this month). And at the NEC meeting, we are going to make a decision”, Osodeke said.

Speaking about the matter, the ASUU UNN branch chairman, Comrade Nobert Oyibo Eze lamented that things have become extremely difficult for the union members as their salary was no longer capable of meeting their needs.

Eze said it was sad that the government would always rush to the press and say all kinds of things but would not fulfil what it announced.

He stated that President Tinubu, who promised to resolve most of the union’s demands if elected, has not lived up to his words despite his repeated assurances.

He said, ‘‘It is extremely difficult for everyone in the university now; very very difficult because not only that the salary is not commensurate anymore, remember that this salary started in 2009, about 16 years now. It has not improved.

“Not only has it not improved, the exchange rate has messed it up completely. Around 2011, a professor was receiving almost $2,700 equivalent.

“Today, the equivalent of what a professor is getting is $255. This is what someone in the UK can use to pick some groceries in a grocery shop; that is what a professor in the Nigerian academic system is receiving.

“Yet, in spite of the fact that it has not improved, they withheld our seven-and-a-half months salary on account of our last strike.

‘‘Why wouldn’t we say that what they are paying us is no longer commensurate? Is it a crime to agitate? Throughout the countries of the world, workers do go on strike; the other time French workers went on strike. As long as the government is not doing what they are supposed to be doing, with respect to labour laws there will continue to be strikes.

“Anybody thinking that withholding our salary will make us stop going on strike is not serious because you cannot beat a child and ask him not to cry.

‘‘It is only in Nigeria that the government will be making money in millions and refuse to pay workers. It is not the health sector that they have fixed or the education sector that they have fixed.

“They want to remove their hands from discharging any responsibility. Yet they don’t want to embark on true federalism where the people will ask questions, manage the resources available and use it to develop their universities.

“They want everything to go to Abuja and they are not doing what they are supposed to do.

So, right in the university, it is extremely difficult for everybody.

‘‘The government of this country is…I don’t know how to describe it. People have already known their tactics. They go to the press and say all kinds of things but since Tinubu took over the government, he has not paid anything.

“You know last year, they gave some wage award but nothing has been paid. No arrears of salary have been paid. Even the four months they made noise about in the press, nothing has been paid.

‘‘For some time now, the national executive of ASUU have met some of the government functionaries, especially the minister of education and many others. Everything they owe us has been articulated and sent to them.

“The only thing, out of the reasons we went on strike – the IPPIS, which has been handled in the press – that they are taking us out of the IPPIS. I want to tell you that IPPIS paid December salary, IPPIS is going to pay January salary. I heard somewhere that IPPIS has asked the Bursars of the universities to send vouchers for January salary, which means we have not been out of IPPIS practically.

“Since that announcement last year, the last salary that could have been paid using IPPIS is the December salary. As I am talking to you now, we have not received our January salary.”

While throwing more light on the salaries paid to the university lecturers, Eze said: ‘‘Let me give an example with myself, as an associate professor, I am going home with N332,000.00.

“If you want me to send you my payslip, I can do so. Are they not the one paying us? A professor on the bar is receiving N400,000. Those who were just appointed professors two years ago are still within N300,000. What can you buy with N300,000?

‘‘The other time I read that people were demonstrating in Minna because of the current hardship. The reality is that it is not just about the academic staff in the public universities, it is about the entire workforce in the country.

“It is people who are generating the money, which they are stealing, they are doing whatever they like. Look at what is happening in the Central Bank, that is why they want their children to work in the Central Bank. Can you imagine that in the Central Bank they have over 5,000 workers at the headquarters alone? What are they doing there?”

On the next step the union will take to press home its demand, he continued, ‘‘It is not for me to speak but I think all the branches are angry. You see politicians, they can say all sorts of things during electioneering campaigns.

“Bola Tinubu who is now president said that if he becomes the Nigerian president, he will stop the strike in the universities. Very soon, he will experience one. He has not even addressed why we went on strike in the first place.

“So withholding our salary is just playing to the gallery because we did not embark on strike because they are not paying us salary. We embarked on strike because our take home pay can no longer take us home. And nobody has raised the reason why we embarked on strike, and he knows it.

“He told the public that if he becomes president he will solve all the issues that can push us to go on strike.

‘‘Now all the issues that emanated from the last strike, which one has he addressed? He has not addressed anything. As I am talking to you, there are workers in the universities who are not earning up to N100,000.00.

“The truth is that people are hungry, and they say that ‘a hungry man is an angry man’.‘‘We will be going to a national executive council meeting soon, whatever we decide during that meeting will be made public; people will hear it. If we decide to embark on another strike, they would not say we have not given them enough time.”

About Dons Eze

DONS EZE, PhD, Political Philosopher and Journalist of over four decades standing, worked in several newspaper houses across the country, and rose to the positions of Editor and General Manager. A UNESCO Fellow in Journalism, Dr. Dons Eze, a prolific writer and author of many books, attended several courses on Journalism and Communication in both Nigeria and overseas, including a Postgraduate Course on Journalism at Warsaw, Poland; Strategic Communication and Practical Communication Approach at RIPA International, London, the United Kingdom, among others.

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