The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has said it would not yield to the decision by the Nigerian government to “starve” its members over the ongoing prolonged strike.
It described the decision as ill-advised, and said rather than forcing its members to back down, it would complicate matters.
ASUU President, Emmanuel Osodeke, reiterated this on Monday in a statement issued to announce the extension of the three-month-old strike by additional three months.
He decried the failure of the government to accede to its request, and accused the elected and appointed government officials of showing no concern because their children and wards allegedly school abroad.
The statement reads in part; “Government’s resort to the use of starvation as a weapon for breaking the collective resolve of ASUU members and undermine our patriotic struggle to reposition public universities in Nigeria is ill-advised and may prove counterproductive”
The labour and employment minister, Chris Ngige, has never hesitated to state the government’s capacity to invoke Section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act, which he noted empowers an employer to refuse to pay a worker who may embark on strike, “especially those on essential services.”
PREMIUM TIMES is aware that the government has since March stopped the payment of salaries for the striking ASUU members.
Rush for Presidential forms
The union also condemned the rush for the purchase of the ruling All Progress Congress (APC) N100 million presidential nomination forms by politicians. It accused the labour and employment minister, Mr Nigige, and the minister of state for education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba of insensitivity.
ASUU said they have turned a blind eye to the closure of the universities and focused on the next election.
ASUU said: “NEC was shocked that public universities have remained closed for about three months while members of the political class were busy purchasing expression of interest and nomination forms worth several millions of naira in preparations for 2023 elections.
“Those in power turned their back on our degraded universities as they shuttle between Europe and America to celebrate the graduation of their children and wards from world class universities. This speaks volumes on the level of depravity, insensitivity, and irresponsibility of Nigeria’s opportunistic and parasitic political class.”
ASUU also linked the security situation in the country to the “criminal neglect of education and gross mismanagement of the nation’s collective resources.”
“This is evident in the collapse of the security architecture of our nation. Insecurity is getting worse by the day and spreading like the harmattan inferno in hitherto peaceful and secured parts of Nigeria, including university campuses.
“ASUU warns, once more, that unless something drastic is done to reverse these ugly trends, the country may be headed for a state of anarchy.”
ASUU condemned what it described as “provocative statements of some government functionaries” and commended the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), and those it called patriotic students’ groups and civil society organisations, “who have taken steps towards resolving the current labour dispute with the Nigeria government.”
Why strike extension?
ASUU listed parts of the reasons for the extension of the strike to include the failure of the three-man committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to resolve the crisis.
Mr Buhari had in February mandated the trio of his chief of staff, Ibrahim Gambari, a professor, and ministers of education, and labour and employment, Chris Ngige and Adamu Adamu, respectively, to jointly address the disagreement between ASUU and the government.
But ASUU said the committee has not held a single meeting since February 1 when it was constituted.
ASUU also emphasised its preference for the adoption of the May 2021 drafted agreement on the ASUU-Federal government renegotiation of the 2009 agreement which was drafted by the defunct Munzali Jibril-led renegotiation committee.
Nimi Briggs committee
Meanwhile, contrary to the public belief that the leadership of ASUU failed to meet with a new committee for the renegotiation of the ASUU-FGN 2009 agreement, Mr Osodeke said the union’s representatives met with the committee.
He, however, noted that the union was disappointed that the meeting with the committee “did not reflect the expected level of understanding, preparation and clarity that undergird collective bargaining going by the committee’s confession of going about consulting stakeholders.”
The union said: “Unless urgent steps are taken to redirect the committee on concluding a draft agreement that has been pending since May 2021, its activities may end up as another wild goose chase.”
ASUU condemned the government’s lack of resolve to end the industrial action by implementing the Memorandum of Action it signed in December 2020 on issues bordering on its welfare through the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement and the ditching of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and its replacement with the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).
Other issues raised by the union include its “earned academic allowances (EAA), funding for revitalisation of public universities (both federal and states), proliferation and governance issues in state universities, promotion arrears, withheld salaries (owed for over 20 months in some cases), and non-emittance of third-party deductions”.
Vice chancellor’s spouses
Meanwhile, ASUU has also joined other Nigerians to condemn the planned trip to Turkey by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities’ Spouses (CVCNUS).
The Committee had announced the trip through a leaked memo which stated that the trip was for the purpose of a fellowship induction for spouses of vice-chancellors in Africa, as well as women in academics and higher education on the continent.
But ASUU described the trip as “despicable and condemnable.”
It said it is a “waste of scarce resources of our universities; it is insensitive and provocative, particularly at a time like this when lecturers are denied their salaries for daring to struggle to improve the lot of our public universities.”