Over two months after they embarked on a strike, non-teaching staff of Nigerian federal universities have vowed not to return to work until the federal government addresses their grievances.
The chairman of the the Joint Action Committee, JAC, of the workers’ unions, Samson Ugwoke, stated this position in a phone interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday.
The affected unions are the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, NASU, and National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT.
Members of the unions commenced an indefinite strike on December 4 last year, accusing the government of violating an agreement it had with them on the formula for sharing N23 billion it released to the universities as earned allowances. The unions are angry that academic staff of the universities took the lion share of the allowances.
Mr. Ugwoke said the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, complained that government has no funds to settle the unions.
“Since 19th of December, 2017 the Minister of Education said they are still looking for money and also waiting for response from the presidency, although the minister acknowledged there was a mistake in the sharing of the N23 billion released by the government for earned allowances to teaching and the non-teaching staff,” he said.
According to the chairman, the unions rejected an appeal by the minister to suspend their strike while government sourced for funds.
“We were asked to suspend our strike while they look forward to getting the money but we told him we had to consult our principals, which is the NEC of the various unions and whatever they tell us, we will get back to the federal government. But as I speak to you, the strike continues,” he said.
“We had a session with the National Assembly House Committee on Education last week where we presented our case to them: why we are on strike and the problems in Nigerian universities. But the Minister of Education did not attend and he was duly notified and acknowledged the invitation, but the Federal Ministry of Education did not give reasons for their absence and the committee said they will write to them of non-compliance,” he said.
He said the Ministry of Labour had invited the unions for a meeting on February 7 to discuss how to resolve the issues in order for the unions to suspend their strike.
“The Director of Labour Relations told us that the meeting was cancelled because the Education Ministry said we had a meeting with them last week and there is no need for meeting this week. The whole indication is that the government has nothing to offer us for now, so the strike is on and it continues,” Mr. Ugwoke said.
When contacted on Wednesday, the Federal Ministry of Labour spokesperson, Samuel Olowokere, said the meeting was cancelled because the unions had suspended the strike.
“The unions were supposed to have a meeting with us today by 3 p.m. which was the initial arrangement, but they have suspended their strike on their own since yesterday. Kindly call them and confirm from them. So they are no longer having a meeting with us again because the meeting has been overtaken by suspension of their strike,” he said.
But Abdussobur Salaam, SSANU public relations officer, said the nationwide strike was continuing.
“I don’t know what they are talking about. As I am speaking to you right now, we just finished a meeting in Ado -Ekiti reiterating the position of the strike. There is no truth in saying the strike has been suspended, it is still on and we are mobilising our members,” he said.
In reaction , the spokesperson of the Federal Ministry of Education, Chinyere Ihuoma, said the strike was receiving priority attention of government.
Some students who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said academic activities were going on campuses despite the strike by the non-teaching staff.
Jasper, a 200-level student of Engineering at Bayero University, Kano, said students were attending lectures but non-academic activities had been stalled since the commencement of the strike.
“Our hall administration said they are on strike and our hostels will not be allocated to us, till further notice,” he said.
Gloria Etuk, a 300-level student of Mass Communication at the university also said there had been constant lectures in the school and attendance being taken.
Academic activities are also going on in Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU.
A source in the institution, who requested anonymity for fear of victimisation, said the non academic staff union held a congress last week before examination commenced in the institution and agreed with the university management and the three striking unions to work together on resolving the strike in the institution.
According to the source, the unions had reached an agreement with the management.
“Each of the non-academic teaching staff was given N30,000 from the purse of the university management and everything is working fine for the students,” the source said.
Rebecca Akinremi , a 400-level student of English Department at the university, said students now have access to basic amenities on campus.
“Electricity has been restored both in academic halls and hostels, the school library now opens between 8 a.m-2 p. m. unlike before that it was closed,The health centre now operates with less staff though,” she said.
However, OAU spokesperson, Abiodun Olanrewaju, told PREMIUM TIMES on Friday that it will be an insult to the parental capability of the non-academic teaching staff to link the stipend given to them to the provision of basic amenities for students during their examination.
“We appreciate the parental gesture of the non-academic teaching staff of the university, the ongoing strike is not directed at the management of the university but is a national strike in which the local body has vowed not to do anything against the national body.
“But because the non-academic teaching staff are local parents to these students, they feel some things must be done in order not to jeopardise the future of the students, especially those that must meet NYSC deadline and those going to Law School, ” he said.
According to him, “it is not because of the stipend that we have given them but they are parents that do not want the failure of the students to be linked to their strike action.”
He said the union agreed to make the environment conducive for the students during the examination.
At the University of Nigeria, UNN, the leadership of the non-teaching staff union accused the management of enrolling students without matriculation numbers.
In a statement on Thursday signed by the chairman of the union, Samson Ugwoke, the non-teaching staff said they will embark on a protest if the matriculation scheduled for Friday takes place.
The statement however said the school authorities had threatened to attack the union members should they proceed with the planned protest.
Mr. Ugwoke said the exercise would be a scam as the students to be matriculated neither have registration numbers nor matriculation numbers because the non-teaching staff to issue the numbers are on strike.
The JAC chairman urged parents and first year students of the university to stay away from the planned matriculation on Friday.
Mr. Ugwoke said that it was the duty of the non-teaching staff to register fresh students and wondered where the students got the matriculation numbers to qualify them for the exercise.
The university’s Public Relations Officer, Okwum Omeaku, did not respond to phone calls and text messages from PREMIUM TIMES on the issue.