The leaders of the major unions of university staff have given different reasons for the current crisis rocking the institutions.
The crisis stemmed from the sharing formula employed in allocating the funds between members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, and the Joint Action Committee, JAC, comprising the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities, NASU, and the National Association of Academic Technologists.
The non-academic staff believe they have been short-changed hence the latest round of crisis. They, on Thursday, announced commencement of a nationwide strike over the matter beginning from Monday.
PREMIUM TIMES had earlier reported how the non- teaching staff protested at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife and the University of Ibadan in November over the sharing formula.
The federal government about two months ago, approved N23 billion for the universities to settle earned allowances arrears.
The cash was part of the N220 billion it pledged to the schools, which was part of a resolution reached to address the last strike embarked on by unions over the non-implementation of previous agreements.
Reacting to the conflict over the sharing formula, however, leaders of the university unions expressed diverse reactions to PREMIUM TIMES.
The ASUU President, Biodun Ogunyemi, said his union, ”presented a comprehensive demand to the federal government and it released N23 billion to address part of the earned academic allowances claims of its members.”
“ASUU went on strike to demand for the implementation of the 2009 agreement with the federal government in which we had also gone on a warning strike in November. After discussing with the federal government, they offered us N1.5 billion monthly, which we rejected and we told them to do their forensic audit for six month so they will be able to determine how much they are owing lecturers. We said at the end of six months, come up with a formula for paying, but 10 months after, the government had not conducted the forensic audit and that led to one of the issues we demanded for in the last strike in September.”
He said ASUU could not have negotiated on behalf of the other unions adding that the N23 billion was meant for ASUU members ‘ab-initio’ but that the government appealed to the union to ‘accommodate’ the non-teaching staff in the payments.
“But as we were concluding the arrangement to pay the money, the other unions went on strike and they latched (their grievances) on ”earned academic allowances” which they called ”earned allowances.”
According to him, the plea by the federal government for ASUU to accommodate other unions gave rise to allocating part of the N23 billion to the non-teaching staff.
”It was done with the understanding that our members (ASUU) will have to remove a certain percentage from their claim believing that the balance, with other outstanding arrears would be paid after the completion of forensic audit which will be concluded soon by the federal government.
“We only worked with a framework that was presented to the federal government so if anybody is saying they were marginalised, that cannot be correct because we did not embark on our action with the intention of defending their (non-academic unions) agreement because we did not see their agreement with the government. We do not have any issue with any union and we cannot claim what is due to them”, he said.
He also explained what he thinks is the main grouse of their colleagues.
“What I suspect is causing the confrontation is that ASUU frowns at a repeat of what happened in 2013. In 2013, many of the universities shared what was given to them as earned allowance without the involvement of ASUU. We were on strike in 2013 when the government released the instalment of N30 billion and without any concrete framework. Some vice chancellors distributed the money the way they wanted without any framework. It was like an award, even institutions that were not in existence in 2009 benefitted from the money such as (the school) in Oye-Ekiti and those that was established in 2011 and 2012″, he said.
He said the formula for paying the current N23 billion was clearly outlined and strictly followed.
In a response, the national public relations officer of SSANU, Abdussobur Salaam, said the crisis is “a reaction to the imbalance and disproportionate (sharing) of earned allowances that was released by the federal government.”
He said the Joint Action Committee of ASUU, SSANU and NAAT is witnessing a situation where, ”a union (obviously referring to ASUU) determines what other unions are paid.”
“There was an agreement that was signed in 2009 by the four unions about certain allowances and they were called earned allowances”, he said.
According to him, this “earned academic allowance” is just to create a dichotomy between one group of workers and others in the same system.
He said ASUU was represented on the committee that was set up in 2013 to decide how the N30 billion should be distributed.
“In 2013, N30 billion was released by the federal government for earned allowances and payments were made to individual universities and the governing councils of the universities were told to set up committees. In 2017, ASUU started the strike before other unions. That does not mean they were fighting for a separate thing.”
According to Mr. Salaam, ”all the three unions signed an MOU with the federal government that the N23 billion released belonged to the four unions.”
“In 2007/2008, the non-teaching unions of NAAT, NASU and SSANU singlehandedly fought for the payment of arrears of monetisation allowances and at the end of the day, we did not personalise the struggle and ASUU benefited. In 2013, we fought for the first tranche of earned allowances totalling N30 billion. Not only did ASUU benefit, but on the altar of equity, they got the lion share. However, this time around, they decided to monopolise the payment, What makes this second tranche different from the first tranche? Why did they benefit from the first tranche and make it appear as if they did not? These are questions begging answers”, he said.
He said the SSANU is appalled by the situation and demands that the government investigates the anomaly.
“We are convinced that there is a conspiracy between some government officials to undermine and destabilise the present government by causing disaffection in the university system.”
He said this anomaly will lead to the continuation of the suspended strike.
Similarly, the national president of NAAT said the federal government is yet to implement any of the agreements that were signed with the unions on September 20, 2017.
“To worsen the situation, the permanent secretary of the federal ministry of education, Sunny Echono, wrote a letter to all vice chancellors early November, allocating money to the unions”, he said.
According to him, the ministry shared the money in a ratio of ”89 per cent for ASUU and 11 per cent for the other unions and we rejected it.”
“We wrote the minister of education to give an explanation on the criteria that was used for the allocation. We told our branches not to meet with any university committee to share, discuss or disburse the money and we hope the authority will be fair enough and give everyone a sense of belonging”, he said.
Effort to speak with the general secretary of NASU, Peters Adeyemi, was unsuccessful as he did not respond to calls and text messages.
When contacted, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC president, Ayuba Wabba, said he is out of the country on an official assignment.
An effort to get a reaction from the ministry of education was not successful as its spokesperson, Chinyere Ihuoma, did not respond to phone calls and text messages put across to her on Thursday and Friday.