By Adebayo Obajemu
Irked by the government’s lackadaisical attitude to the plight of students whose future are at stake, many unions and students bodies have decided join the strike in sympathy with ASUU from this week, which may lead to a total shut down of their operations, an action capable of exacerbating the precarious economic situation in the country.
A welter of unions including the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP) and the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) have indicated their intentions to shut down airports in solidarity with the striking ASUU.
This is coming even as the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE) stated last week that it would shut all financial institutions to join the NLC in its solidarity strike over the lingering ASUU strike. ANAP in a statement by its General secretary, Comrade AbdulrasaqSaidu, called on President MohammaduBuhari to end the strike without further delay.
Recall that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had penultimate week given notice to its members to embark on a nationwide protest on July 26 and 27 in solidarity with ASUU.
Comrade Saidu had earlier stated that the protracted strike had led to an unprecedented upsurge in social vices by students and in the process, led to a ridiculing of Nigeria’s educational system, making it a laughing stock.
“ASUU, NASU, SAUTHRIAI, NAAT had been on strike for more than four months due to the apparent failure of government to sign the re-negotiated 2009 agreement with ASUU, failure to honour the terms reached in the May 2022 MoU signed with ASUU, and habitual failure of government to respect collective bargaining agreements willingly signed with labour unions.
“Our children are using eight years to read courses of four years with resources being wasted. We cannot continue this way.”
On the same note NUBIFIE in a release by its national president, Anthony Abakpa, and Mohammed Sheikh, General secretary, said “if, after the one-day protest by NLC on this issue nothing is done, the union will have no other option than to call out all our members in banks, insurance and other financial institutions in solidarity with ASUU.”
Also, NAAPE in a statement by its deputy General secretary, UmohOfonime, said the refusal of the federal government to honour the agreement signed with the union since 2009 “is very disturbing considering the negative impact the prolonged strike will create in the life of these children.
The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) had earlier threatened to join the nationwide strike if the ASUU crisis was not immediately resolved.
The union while expressing worry and concern over the prolonged strikes by university unions, condemned what it called the “lackadaisical attitude” of the federal government towards finding a lasting solution to the crisis.
President of NUPENG, Williams Akporeha, and the General Secretary, AfolabiOlawale, said the strikes by ASUU, Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) had paralysed universities for months.
The union asked the federal government to “immediately address and resolve all demands of ASUU, NASU and SSANU without any further delay to avert national solidarity actions from our members across the country.
“The rank-and-file members of NUPENG align with the NLC’s position on protest against unfortunate situation in the tertiary education sector and will not hesitate to join in the proposed nationwide strike on the matter,” the union added.
Meanwhile, Business Hallmark gathered that the federal government is making surreptitious moves to break the ranks of the academic union.
The move to decimate their ranks appears to be yielding minimal result as already a breakaway faction of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)- Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA), has dissociated itself from the ongoing strike in Nigerian universities.
In a press release authenticated by its national coordinator, ‘NiyiSunmonu, and the national publicity secretary, Ernest Nwoke, CONUA noted that it is not part of its decision to embark on the ongoing strike by ASUU.
The release read in part: “The Congress of University Academics (CONUA) would like to seize this opportunity to announce its independence as a union of academic staff in Nigeria’s public universities. Being a separate and independent union, it has never been part of the decision to embark on the industrial action which has paralysed academic activities in our universities for five months now”.
CONUA said it is of the view that strikes will have a negative effect on the Nigerian university system. It added that the negative effects of the strikes have always been greater than their positive outcomes.
The union stated : “Our strongly-held view is that strikes wreak great havoc on the university system, and the concessions that are earned after every strike, over the decades, have amounted to pyrrhic victories when weighed against the systematic destruction of the local and global image of university education in Nigeria.
“Our preferred alternatives to strikes in resolving industrial disputes, therefore, include constructive engagement and constant dialogue with all stakeholders.”
“As CONUA, we are of the strong belief that strikes should never be a strategy of first recourse. Their deployment should be contemplated only when all other options have failed, and they should not appear to be motivated by a desire to cause maximum damage.”
The union noted that its members continued with academic activities at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife and Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma after the strike declared by ASUU.
“In fact, before the incident which caused the students to be asked to vacate the campus, most of our members had concluded their lectures. Since it wasn’t our members who declared a strike, lumping us together with those who are on strike is therefore patently unfair,” it said.
When the federal government knew that the attempt to break the ranks of ASUU was not yielding needed results it resorted to continue the negotiation but ASUU was not impressed.
In view of this, two weeks ago, President Buhari ordered Chris Ngige, the Minister of Labour who has been leading the negotiations with ASUU to step down from ongoing negotiation with the body .
ASUU has on its part has repeatedly blamed Dr. Ngige for allegedly constituting clog in the wheel of the progress of the negotiation towards addressing the crisis.
Buhari gave the directive during a briefing by the heads of the various concerned ministries, departments and agencies of government penultimate Tuesday in Abuja. He also agreed to the suggestion by the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to take over the negotiations.
Mr. Adamu was said to have cleared the air on the protracted crisis, as he made it known to the gathering the reason behind his prolonged silence on the matter, adding that his labour and employment counterpart had since 2016 argued “that only the labour ministry has the mandate to negotiate with striking workers unions in Nigeria.”
ASUU has also blamed Ngige for allegedly complicating the crisis and making resolution difficult.
Business Hallmark learnt that
an earlier reports that President Buhari ordered the education minister to address the ASUU crisis within two weeks is inaccurate.
According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke with Business Hallmark “The President never directed the education minister to end the strike in two or three weeks. It was the minister himself who hinted of a possibility of an end to the crisis between two and three weeks.
“But the education minister said he distanced himself from the negotiations following the position taken sometime in 2016 or thereabouts when a similar issue arose and the labour minister said it was his duty to take over negotiation and quoted some ILO provisions.”
It was learnt that Adamu expressed surprise that when his Labour counterpart made the argument at a cabinet meeting at the time, none of the cabinet members contradicted him and that the President maintained silence.
“So the education minister saw the President’s silence as an approval of Ngige’s position at the time,” the source added.
Commenting on the matter, Prof. Adeagbo Moritiwon, a political scientist said, “the long-standing crisis between ASUU and the federal government would have been resolved but for the arrogance and lackadaisical attitude of Ngige and the President’s disregard for education.”
He warned that as long as Ngige is in charge of the negotiations the crisis will continue.
Dr. Olufemi Omoyele, director of Entrepreneurship at Redeemers University, told Business Hallmark that ” the demands of ASUU is legitimate, it is to save the country’s tertiary education from collapse but because our elites in power do not have a dog in the fight they are unconcerned. Their children are schooling overseas.
ASUU has been on strike since February to protest the federal government’s refusal to fulfill the agreements with the union since 2009.
Parts of the demand include the replacement of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) with the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS); the release of the reports of visitation panels to federal universities; and improved funding for the revitalisation of public universities and others.