SSANU And The Ongoing Varsity Strike: Facts And Fictions
By Anietie Atai
The current but ongoing industrial dispute between the four unions of Nigerian public universities which are: Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) with the Federal Government of Nigeria is a battle of wits, ambiguities, complexities, systemic and universal. The four unions are described in the two genres of teaching and non-teaching staff. SSANU and NASU in a clear understanding and determination for sustained labour efforts forged an alliance known as the Joint Action Congress (JAC).
It is witty as the actors of this dispute are personalities with the ability to reason and act in a supposedly fast lane for solutions but could not; hence the various months of physical inactivity in our various ivory towers. Complexities are commonplace because the solution cannot be gotten in isolation from key concerns of the four unions. It is also systemic because the dispute have grounded our much cherished tertiary education and reduce our international ranking and certification in the comity of global educational relevance.
The issue which led us to this near battle of no return is common-place and in the media space is the repudiation of the 2009 University Unions Agreement with Federal Government of Nigeria. Succeeding regimes happened to have acted in denials to the spirit, letters and content of the agreement leading to ad-hoc implementation plans known as Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Memorandum of Action (MOA). These were Federal Government’s ploys to hoodwink university unions to work and turn deaf ears upon assumption of duty. This culminated into the strike of 2020 in the midst of the global pandemic of Covid-19 and the current one which our sister union – ASUU kicked off on February 14, 2022 and ours’ in the midnight of Sunday, March 27, 2022.
As I may not hold brief for our sister unions, SSANU had the under-listed issues in contention with the Federal Government of Nigeria which necessitated this unfortunate and lingering industrial dispute:
(a)Inconsistencies of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) which started in February 2020; a calculated plan to balkanize the salaries of university workers championed by an Accountant General of the Federation who misled a somewhat lame-luck Federal Government into implementation in the guise of fighting corruption. Today, the hunter has proven the hunted and the Daniel have come to judgment! The immediate past but embattled Accountant General of the Federation is today a major Nigerian corruption story.
(b)Delay in renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement with university unions.
(c)Non-payment of minimum wage arrears, which when paid in May 2022 was haphazard in implementation, as many workers were omitted and the modus of payment shrouded with inconsistencies.
(d)Poor funding of State Universities.
(e)Non-payment of benefits to outgoing and retired members of the unions.
(f)Usurpation of the headship of non-teaching units in clear violation of conditions of service and establishment procedure, amongst others.
In the course of our struggles to better the lot of our members and the university system in particular, the present Federal Government had adopted a divide and rule tactics to weaken our resolve and efforts at the amicable resolution of the issues in dispute. This dispute would not have taken this long if the membership of the Prof. Nimi Briggs Committee for the re-negotiation of the 2019 Agreement, MOU and MOA was not skewed to favour vested interests.
On Monday, March 7, 2022, the Federal Government inaugurated a seven-member committee for the re-negotiation of the 2009 Agreement with the following members chaired by emeritus Professor Nimi Briggs, the pro-chancellor of Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ebonyi State. Others are: Lawrence Patrick Ngbale, pro-chancellor, Federal University, Birnin Kebbi, Professor Fummi Togunu – Bickersteth, Senator Chris Adighije, Professor Olu Obafemi, Prof. Zubairu Iliyasu, Mr. Matthew Seiyefa. Sadly to note is the fact that a renegotiation committee of an agreement that bother on teaching and non-teaching staff issues of federal universities did not include a serving or retired registrar or bursar who are the souls of university administration, and who also services the teaching members of the university workforce. This explains why the outcome of the above committee appears controversial and pyrrhic.
Whenever the present government makes payment or tranche of any of the backlog of allowances, the non-teaching staff aregiven ridiculous percentages to brew disaffection between the teaching and non-teaching staff. This is aimed at diverting attention from the real and cogent issues of the collective struggle into needless internal animosities.
The ongoing struggle has come with sour narratives and misconceptions as only the “ASUU struggle”. This explains the reason for the purported contemplation of 109 per cent to 185 per cent payrise for teaching staff and paltry 10 per centfor non-teaching staff. Should this skewed percentage be implemented; it would only widen the racket of hatred and senseless supremacy in our ivory towers. Yet, there is an established template in the university system when it comes to salaries which recognizes grade by grade placement and equivalence between teaching and non-teaching salaries and slightly differed by distinct allowances to concerned staff member or category.
The Prof. Briggs Committee has been confirmed to meet with our sister union, ASUU for about 12 times while meeting our union, SSANU, for only two times. This was the inaugural and the second meeting where it declined discussion on the financial component of our demands to other government agencies and categorically stated its lack of mandate from its principal to discuss issues on non-teaching payrise. It is to the chagrin of all that the same committee could conclude a skewed payrise regime to favour the teaching staff. While I commend some crop of teaching staff who respect and work harmoniously with non-teaching staff, there remain some callous, mischievous, mean, malignant and atomistic ones who does not regard non-teaching staff members as human beings and who does not deserve a decent living. Ours’ is akin to doctors versus other medical workers in the health sector known for senseless contest for supremacy and suppression.
SSANU would resist every attempt to subject the union and members as second class or second-hand personalities in the Nigerian university system by resisting every imbalance in the university staff salary structure.
The proposed protest scheduled for Tuesday, July 26, 2022 and Wednesday, July 27, 2022, by the Nigerian LabourCongress in solidarity with university workers over the Federal Government’s indifference to the vicissitudes of Nigerian university system is a welcome development. We consider the proposed action as a great move to close the chasm of university unions chauvinism. We truly need each other for an effective struggle to defeat the complacency of the Federal Government to the development of education in Nigeria.
Upon a careful analysis, a university student upon admission is received, catered for by a non-teaching staff, documented and proven fit for lectures and on graduation is certified by a non-teaching staff. Throughout the years of studentship, students are sustained by several services of non-teaching staff from gate, lecture halls, hostel access amongst others. They keep students’ records for life and the teaching staff only teach after the non-teaching staff had completed the process of pruning a former secondary school ward into a “lectureableperson”. Indeed, no union can really operate in isolation in the enormous task of grooming the manpower and future leaders of our beloved country. The preference of a union over others amounts to a dislocation of a smooth system.
I commend my boss in comradeship and national president of the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities, Comrade Mohammed Ibrahim, for his sense of direction and tenacity in the struggle, the minister of labour and employment, Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige, whose unbiased stance and other fair minded people rose to be counted among personalities of conscience to reject the skewed payrise proposal of Professor Nimi Briggs Committee. We shall continue in the struggle for liberation and always cry aloud like our former first lady that “there is God o!”.
Dr. Anietie Atai is the chairperson, SSANU, UNIUYO and chairperson, Nigeria Labour Congress Women Committee, Akwa Ibom State.
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