Academic and other activities in the nation’s public universities were recently disrupted by striking members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU). During their five-day warning strike, the varsity workers also threatened that their members would commence an indefinite nationwide strike if their demands were not met.
The unions are demanding that the Federal Government should release the sum of N30 billion for the payment of earned allowances for their members. They also want a re-negotiation of the 2009 agreement with the Federal Government as well as the integration of university primary school teachers into government payroll.
No doubt, the warning strike disrupted the post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) tests of many candidates as the striking workers ensured that the examination centres were inaccessible. Similarly, academic activities were also paralysed, as students and their lecturers could not enter the lecture halls, which were locked by the striking workers.
The disruption of the academic calendar of Nigeria’s public universities is becoming embarrassing. Without doubt, such disruptions, which have become so frequent in recent times, could lower the standard of our varsity degrees. With frequent strikes, the nation’s university calendar has become so unpredictable to the extent that a 4-year degree programme can take five or six years. It may even be more in some cases. It is believed in some quarters that the strikes, more than any other factor, might have contributed to the brain drain in the sector and education tourism in the country. We believe that the habitual strikes by several unions in the varsities have negatively affected the quality of Nigerian university graduates. Unfortunately, the victims of these avoidable strikes are the varsity students. Many of them cannot be allowed to pursue post-graduate studies abroad without passing through some remedial programmes. It is disturbing that the warning strike came some months after the suspension of another protracted industrial action which crippled academic activities in the nation’s universities.
For three months, between November 2018 and February this year, members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) totally grounded the state and federal universities.
ASUU leaders had, at the commencement of the strike last year, claimed that their action was necessitated by the Federal Government’s lethargy in implementing a series of agreements over the years.
The union cited the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement, Memorandum of Understanding (MoU 2012 and 2013), Memorandum of Action (MoA, 2017) and the truncation of the renegotiation of the union’s agreements. The university teachers wanted government to address the funding for the revitalisation of public universities based on the FGN-ASUU MoU of 2012, 2013 and the MoA of 2017.
ASUU also wanted the release of the forensic audit report on Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), payments of all outstanding earned academic allowances and mainstreaming of same into salaries, beginning with the 2018 budget; payment of all arrears of shortfall in salaries to all universities that have met the verification requirements of the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA); and the release of University Pension Fund operational licence, among other demands.
The government and all stakeholders should be worried by the recurring disruptions of academic activities in the universities. Virtually every year, the university calendar is dislocated. It beggars belief that neither the university labour unions nor the authorities can find a lasting solution to the problem, which impedes the development of the nation’s university education.
In 1968, the military government passed into law the Trade Dispute (Emergency Provisions) Act, which circumscribed the workers’ rights to go on strike without going through the reviewed procedure for going on strike. Labour unions must give adequate notice of their intention to go on strike and the matter must be taken through the industrial court. Sadly, these striking unions hardly observe this injunction.
The Federal and the state authorities must do everything possible to avert the impending strike in the varsities. The five-day warning strike should not be allowed to develop into another endless industrial action. Government should engage the leadership of SSANU and NASU and ensure a permanent solution to the unending strikes in the nation’s higher education system.