After three months of staying away from work, non-teaching workers of Nigerian universities on Thursday gathered in Abuja for a protest march that ended with a rally at the National Assembly.
The workers are protesting the refusal of government to address the issues over which they had been on strike since December 4.
The workers are angry over the sharing formula adopted by federal universities for the N23 billion released to them last year by government as earned allowances for their workers. They said their colleagues in the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) took for themselves the bulk of the money and left the non-teaching staff with “pittance.”
The workers, who are members of three staff unions in the universities, are also asking government to intervene in alleged large-scale corruption in Nigerian tertiary institutions.
Their protest on Thursday commenced at 8:50 a.m at the Unity Fountain in the Central Business District of Abuja and featured the workers march to the Federal Ministry of Education and the National Assembly before dispersing at 12:15p.m.
During the procession, the workers waved placards with inscriptions such as ‘Government must respect agreements’, ‘Pay us our salaries and allowances’, ‘Allowances are our right. Pay us our right’, and ‘Our universities need urgent intervention now.’
Involved int the protest were members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions(NASU), and the National Association of Academic Technologists, (NAAT) from federal universities across the country and the Federal Capital Territory.
Also at the event in solidarity were the president of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba, and members of Education Rights Campaign.
Speaking during the protest, the National Chairman of the Joint Action Committee of the three unions, Samson Ugwoke, said the protest was to sensitise the public on the strike and remind them that government is yet to do the needful.
He said their three months old strike was due to non-implementation of agreement by the government.
“Balance of earned allowances, implementation of NIC judgement regarding staff schools in Nigerian universities, shortfalls in salaries, impunity in the university system, injustices and corruption in the system are among our grievances,” Mr. Ugwoke said.
“Government has refused to release the reports of the panels that investigated the ways money are spent in the system. Something must be done about the impunity in the universities in order to secure the future of our youths”, he said.
The chairman said he was aware the Federal Executive Council meeting yesterday took a decision on the strike but the unions will would not know the outcome until a meeting later on Thursday with the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige.
The NLC president, Mr. Wabba, said the issues in the education sector had lingered for too long.
He lamented that the system and students have been suffering since the inception of the strike.
“The fact that there was a collective bargaining agreement which was not implemented is one of the reasons for this awareness rally. Education is too important to be toyed with.”
Mr. Wabba said the social partners must find a way to address the issues as the sector is not doing well because the government had not paid adequate attention.
One of the protesters decried the absence of the education ministers and permanent secretary at the rally.
“How can we have a Minister of Education, a Minister of State for Education, Permanent Secretary and none of them could come out and address us despite informing them officially?”, the protester said.
Joel Ojo, the director of Tertiary Education at the Federal Ministry of Education, however, assured the protesters that the federal government was committed to bringing issues in the strike to closure.
“Our interaction at the Ministry of Labour on Tuesday is an example of effort being put in place to ensure the needful is done,” he said. “Just give us the benefit of doubt , I assure you it will be resolved,” Mr Ojo said.
Some of the protesters who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said the conflicts in the universities were caused by the teaching staff because they are at the helm of affairs and connive with ministry official to cheat the non-teaching staff.
Confidence Okafor from Nnamdi Azikiwe University alleged that the Committee of Vice-Chancellors was responsible for disparities among university workers.
He said the committee gave the federal government the impression that non-teaching staff are irrelevant and the university can function without them.
“The federal government released money through a particular union, it has never happened in the university. We suspect fraud and we are insisting that government should look into it”, Wale Akinremi from University of Ibadan said.
He said the non-implementation of the court judgement on staff schools is an attempt to weaken the primary education system.
“We are not just fighting about money but the issues affecting the education system. For quite three months that we have been on strike, students are losing scholarships, losing job opportunities and cannot go for service, lots of things are happening,” Mr Akinremi said.
Addressing the protesters, senator representing Kaduna Central District, Shehu Sani, said the demands of the workers were legitimate
“As representative of the people, we have the constitutional, political and moral responsibility to advance, defend and protect the demands of the people. I am not making an empty promise. But right now when i step into the chamber, i will raise the issue and pursue it,” he said.
The unions began an indefinite strike on December 4, accusing government of violating an earlier agreement.