SSANU threatens showdown over N23b earned academic allowance

Education Minister, Malam Adamu Adamu

The ongoing faceoff between the academic and non-academic staff of universities over the sharing formula for the N23billion earned academic allowance is indeed worrisome. While the former claims it is simply being its brother’s keeper by giving out the tiny percentage, the latter alleges sabotage. Ujunwa Atueyi writes on the sad development.

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

The above biblical quotation is often likened to political leaders and the so-called corrupt members of the society. But with the ongoing fuss between the academic staff union of universities (ASUU) and non-academic staff of universities over the sharing formula of the N23b earned academic allowance it seems to have gradually permeated into the country’s ivory towers.

Though some stakeholders believed that the present fight is not really over money but over principle. The principle that “all animals are equal” and all must be treated equally without any group being declared as more equal than others, others while acknowledging that there is nothing wrong in fighting for what is yours, wondered why the group should fight for a privilege, instead of a right.

Since money is involved, the university teachers and workers they argued should have shown some understanding so as not to be misconstrued by the public. They also frowned at the adverse effect of their dispute on students in federal government universities.

The non-academic group particularly they said should rather than see ASUU as an enemy confront the Federal Government (FG) for the implementation of their own demands. They therefore urged the FG and the warring parties to urgently resolve the impasse by going back to the negotiation table with a view to ending the crisis.

While Nigerians were looking forward to peaceful resolution of the conflict the national office of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) on Monday, issued a directive to its members urging full compliance from all branches of the federal universities.

National Public Relations Officer of SSANU, Salaam Abdussobur in the statement charged all members to reinforce their actions and ensure university managements do not coerce them into rendering any form of services.

Abdussobur advised members to withdraw all concessions earlier granted out of compassion for the system, accusing vice chancellors of being unconcern to the union’s plight.

According to the statement, “On the directive of the National President SSANU and Chairman of the Joint Action Committee of NAAT, NASU and SSANU, Comrade Samson Ugwoke fcpa, I hereby remind you that the strike action embarked upon by the JAC of the three non teaching unions is still ongoing.

“We are not unaware of the antics of many vice chancellors and managements to create a semblance of normalcy by announcing resumption of students and other activities, while also seizing every medium to blackmail our branch leaders into ensuring that the strike action is broken. While Managements have rights to announce resumption of activities, our members also have a right to deny the system of their services till their rights are respected and honoured.

“You are therefore directed to ensure that there is full compliance in your branch. Concessions earlier granted out of compassion and sympathy for the system should hereby be withdrawn. While the strike action was not targeted at any individual university management, the attitudes of many vice- chancellors have shown an unprecedented immaturity and irresponsibility that makes them complicit in the ongoing strike action.

It continued, “We have made the strike action too comfortable for these vice chancellors and as such, you are hereby directed to ensure that all services at your disposal are withdrawn.

Drivers attached to vice chancellors and other principal officers should be withdrawn. All units including VC’s office, works and services, health centre, bursary, registry, ICT, MIS, audit and others, should be closed down and non of our members are to be found within the vicinity of their offices.

“You are please directed to ensure that no management, Dean or Head of Department coerces SSANU members to render any services and where an attempt is made to bring people (either staff or external) to perform official function of our members, the attempt must be resisted with all legitimate forces at your disposal,” the statement read in parts.

The spokesman who ended the write up with the slogan “No retreat, No surrender! Aluta continua! Victoria Ascerta!” warned that the importance and reasons for this strike cannot be overstated.

The conflict
Recall that the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) and National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) on Monday, December 4, 2017 directed all their branches nationwide to resume indefinite strike.

The letter signed by Samson Chijioke Ugwoke (SSANU), Chris Ani (NASU) and Sani Suleiman (NAAT), explained that the action was as a result of the inability of the Federal Government to clarify the criteria for the disbursement of the N23 billion it released to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), while only pittance was allocated to the three non-teaching staff unions.

The unions claimed that what they got was too meager compared to what ASUU received, complaining that the government failed to explain how the N23bn Earned Allowance was shared between ASUU and the non-academic staff. 

ASUU’s position
Meanwhile, the President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, has stated that the non-teaching workers have no stake in the N23bn earned allowance released by the FG. According to him, the academic union was only being brotherly when it gave a teeny slice of the money to the non-academic unions.

Ogunyemi maintained the money was for ASUU only and that the union decided to give a slice of it to the non-academic unions following the FG’s plea in that direction.

“We sat back to review what we were supposed to give our members. We had to cut down part of our members’ claims to give a portion to the non-teaching staff because the government requested us (to do so). They (non-teaching unions) too can make their demands known to the government. But they should not vent their anger on our union; that would be anti-labour,” the ASUU president said.

Stakeholders view
Former Vice Chancellor of Bells University of Technology, Prof. Isaac Adeyemi said the genesis of the faceoff dates back to the time of President Goodluck Jonathan, when ASUU went on strike for over six months to press for the approval of what was termed ‘Earned Academic Allowance (EAA ).

Some components of the EAA according to him include postgraduate supervision allowance; teaching practical/industrial supervision/field trip allowances; postgraduate study grant; responsibility allowance and excess workload allowance.

“After series of presentations, justifications and a prolonged negotiation, the demands of the ASUU were approved to span over a certain period which ended in 2012. The components of the demand which were quantified in monetary terms are the various academic activities outside the normal teaching responsibilities.

“After due consideration, the FG saw merit and approved the demands of the union. Thereafter, administrative machinery was set up which included submission of claims by each staff, verification and approval, and collation at university level before submission to the FG. May I mention that only academic staff on ground benefitted from this payment. In essence, the process was painstaking. In all these, the non-teaching staff were not included and did not challenge openly their exclusion from the list prepared by each federal university. The silence at that time, from my own opinion, would appear to be responsible for the present scenario, Adeyemi said.                                                         

Going forward he advised that outcomes of negotiations with each union should be well spelt out without lumping all unions together. “Collective bargaining should not be encouraged. Although, this is not the case in this matter. Furthermore, details of outcome of negotiations should be well publicized with implementation plans well documented and agreed to by all the concerned parties.

“In a situation where government cannot fully implement the approved agreements, all the affected parties should not be kept in the dark; a re-evaluation based on the prevailing circumstances should be done and agreed to by all. More importantly, government should itemize and clarify in the approval documents, those items approved for each union to be implemented by the respective council,” he said.
 
A Lagos-based Political Analyst and Independent Political Strategist Olalekan Waheed Adigun, advised members of the non-teaching staff to stop joining issues with ASUU.

“If NASU and other unions have issues with the agreement they voluntarily signed with the FG in September 2017, they should negotiate separately their entitlement with government and stop joining it to ASUU’s position. Though both are registered unions, they have separate different job descriptions. Government reserves the right to give or not to give based on presentation. People tend to forget about signed job mandate and entitlements when money is at the centre of an issue. I am for NASU receiving her entitlement but let it not be conjoined with ASUU’s position.

“Secondly, the contentious issue is that ASUU fought for “Earned Academic Allowance”, and won it in its dialogue with the government. Government pleaded with ASUU, said a percentage should be given to the non-academic unions, and ASUU agreed. All that these non-academic staff unions can do now is to make their positions known to the government in line with their demands.  

On the justification for the fight, Adigun said, “There is nothing wrong in fighting for what is yours. But what I find confusing is that I am yet to see any justification in fighting for a privilege, instead of a right. And this is Nigeria where people don’t get punished for their (in) actions. In Nigeria, people go on strike and still get paid for not working because they claim they are on strike. That sounds absurd to me. My submission on the issue is for the non-academic staff to appeal to the government to reason with them rather than resort to the “bully” tactic. This does not make any sense at all.”
 
Chairman of SSANU, Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, branch, Oseni Adewale Saheed, who dismissed ASUU’s claim that non-teaching staffs were not part of the negotiation, vowed that they would prove to ASUU that all components of university system are critical.

“What our national body states on that matter suffice. If ASUU is claiming we don’t have a share in the money, is the university system meant for ASUU alone? What is the rationale behind the money? Does it mean that money is only good in the pocket of ASUU members alone? Does it mean that non-teaching staff did not acquire similar degree like the ASUU people?

“Everybody is doing its own job in its own capacity as stipulated in terms of employment. So they are not doing anything special from what majority of members of the nonteaching staff are doing. They can’t come up with such assertions. They are simply being economical with the truth. We are in it already; this time around we will let them know that a university is a system, which encompasses a combination of every member of staff, teaching or non-teaching,” Saheed said.

As the unions rage, there is an urgent need for the FG to put an end to the contentious issues as the dust the dispute will raise might remain and hurt the system.

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