Tackling over-unionisation in Nigerian varsities

6 months ago 295

As the battle between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) rages on, critics are of the view that the university system has been ‘ over-unionised’, causing incessant disruption, confrontations and lowering of standards of education in the country, reports DAMOLA KOLA-DARE

THE Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have continued to lock horns in what has been a long-running battle since March.

The union wants government  to intervene on major issues — renegotiation of the 2009 agreement, payment of  earned academic allowances, establishment of visitation panels in universities, revitalisation of infrastructure and stoppage of  proliferation of universities.

However, the strike intensified following the union’s grouse about the Federal Government’s insistence on the implementation of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) in the payment of university lecturers’ salaries and allowances. ASUU then developed a home-grown payment platform, the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) which they believe guarantees autonomy of universities. The union would not call off the strike because it is waiting for the government to conduct an integrity test on UTAS.

ASUU President Prof Biodun Ogunyemi said the government needed to give approval to the National Information Technology Development Agency to conduct integrity test on UTAS.

In a statement by ASUU  Coordinator Lagos Zone, Prof Olusiji Sowande, the union noted that the lackadaisical attitude of government towards funding education would make the strike linger.

The union also noted that government was yet to pay salaries in all federal universities since July.

He said: “The reason for our ongoing  strike is mainly on issues bordering on the survival of public universities in Nigeria and the  sustenance of university autonomy.  Essentially, the issues involved include government’s reluctance to fulfil the 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement bordering on provision of funds for revitalization of dilapidating infrastructure (hostel accommodation, befitting lecture theatres,  state-of-the-art laboratories, good working environment for lecturers, etc), payment of Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), setting up of Visitation Panels for the purpose of accountability and good governance of our public universities, arresting the trend of proliferation of universities at both Federal and State levels while neglecting the funding of existing ones and the renegotiation of 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement.

“The issue of enrolment into the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) was deliberately introduced by government to draw away the attention of the public from the insincerity, lack of interest and disregard for the education of the teeming Nigerian youths especially university students. In addition, it is in the course of the strike and the lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic that the salaries of our members in Federal Universities were withheld by government under the guise that members did not enrol on IPPIS.  It is disheartening that a government that should uphold the truth, fairness and justice has become repressive, oppressive and blackmailer of its own citizens.

“Government does not see education of its citizens as public good but rather unfortunately,  as a business. While government is committed to using public funds to bail out banks, electricity distribution companies, and airline operators, which are their private investments, the excuse of unavailability of fund for revitalization of our public universities is not acceptable to our union.”

The union maintained that strike remained the only way to  rescue and preserve the soul of public university education in the country.

“The ongoing strike is about the only obvious way to rescue and preserve the soul of public university education from the stranglehold of Nigeria’s kleptocrats.

“To this end, the government will need more than the worn-out tactics of “keep them talking” and time-wasting to distract, blackmail, or wear us out from our resolve to getting funds for the revitalisation of public universities, renegotiation of 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement, payment of illegally withheld salaries and check-off, payment of EAA, constitution of Visitation Panels and stoppage of proliferation of universities,” the statement added.

It called on the general public and well-meaning Nigerians to urge government to do the needful in ending the seven months old strike.

However, the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE), Prof Kayode Soremekun, believes universities are ‘over-unionised’, noting that it was distracting university administrations from discharging their duties.

Soremekun also identified poor funding as the cause of what he termed ‘militant unionism’ in universities. He said it had been hard for the country to meet up with the huge demands of university staff because of the incongruous nature of income generated and expenditure.

He said: “Nigerian universities are over-unionised and this is distracting the administrations of the institutions.This is because Nigeria is poor and our income is struggling to meet up with huge expenditure. There is a mismatch between income and expenditure. The macro environment needs to change to favour the system and only then will militant unionism end.”

In September, the  Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non Academic Staff Union of Universities shutdown Lagos State University, (LASU) on the day of resumption as workers protested the non-implementaion of the minimum wage, among other issues.

The LASU SSANU Chairman, Comrade Oseni Saheed said: “We have shut down the school because of non-implementation of the minimum wage, among other issues like the Consequential Adjustment which has been on for close to two years.”

Saheed added that there was no activity whatsoever in the school, saying it was  a ‘total shutdown’ by all the unions.

Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, however, pledged to pay the new minimum wage and consequential adjustments to workers of state-owned tertiary institutions. That was enough to restore normalcy to the school.

As a result of its modus operandi, ASUU  has continued to attract critics. When about five universities, under the aegis of Congress of University Academics (CONUA), engineered a split from the 41-year-old  union, Dr. Niyi Sunmonu of the OAU had disclosed that the new union would institute a new and different way of running academic staff union in universities. He said CONUA would  be different and eschew  the seemingly confrontational and intransigent modus operandi of ASUU. According to him, the group is on a mission to redefine unionism and create a stable academic atmosphere in the country.

Reacting to the ‘over-unionisation’ of universities, ASUU Chairman, University of Lagos Chapter, Dr Dele Ashiru, explained  that trade unions were established to defend the interest of workers.

He lamented that people were blaming the union for the ongoing strike.

“Trade unions are established to defend the interest and welfare of workers in a pseudo-liberal economy as ours. The talk about over-unionisation is an attempt to continue to inflict unjust and very anti-people policies on workers. Concerning the ongoing strike I am surprised that people are beginning to blame the victims of the sins of an oppressor.”

Former ASUU Chairman, University of Ilorin (UNILORIN),Dr Taiwo Oloruntoba-Oju noted that unions are gatekeepers who keep government in check. He said that perennial  underfunding would only result in ‘hyperactive unionism.’

He said: “Academics are major stakeholders in the university system – their unions serve as gatekeepers to the system, with a responsibility to ensure that appropriate policies and practices are in place in order to attain the internationalist goals and standards of the university, and to ensure equitable rewards and job satisfaction for its members. When the system is underfunded, when members of the academia are perpetually underpaid, and government over-politicises universities through undue interference and support for tyranny on the part of administrators, the only response that you can get is hyperactive unionism in the academia.”

He, however, urged students to be at the forefront of the agitation for an improved system.

“It is always a pity when students are caught in the crossfire. However, the situation is so bad that students themselves should actually be in the forefront of agitation for an improved system,” he said.

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