There is a simmering threat to the reopening of universities as the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the Non-Academic Staff of Universities (NASU), the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) flex muscles against the federal government. They accuse the authorities of neglect and discrimination against their members. For this reason, they are threatening to go on strike, a move that might cripple the university system soon after an earlier one by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
To make good their threat, the university workers have issued a 14-day notice of their intention to embark on an industrial action to persuade the government to address issues contained in the Memorandum of Understanding ( MoU) signed by all the parties in October last year.
The unions are protesting the disparity in sharing of the N40 billion earned allowance released to the four university-based unions, which include the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian University (SSANU), the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) and NAAT. Other grievances of the Unions are irregularities in the Integrated Payroll Personal System (IPPIS), non-payment of earned allowance, non-payment of arrears and new minimum wage among others.
Already, both SSANU and NAAT have not only rejected the sharing formula but threatened to embark on an indefinite strike if the federal government continued to give the largest chunk of the money to ASUU at the expense of the three other non-teaching unions.
We are concerned that this planned strike is coming weeks after the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) suspended its own strike which lasted nine months. Curiously, while JAC is arguing that the sharing formula does not favour them, ASUU, on the other hand, is insisting that it (JAC) was not a party to the negotiations for the earned allowances and does not even have a system through which their claims can be verified.
In our opinion, this is beginning to seem like a vicious arm-twisting strategy with the intention to blackmail the government into submission. Is it the responsibility of unions to determine or compute what is to be paid to their members? We had thought that there are mechanisms in place in the public service to handle issues of that nature.
Sadly, in our view, like other unions, NAAT is also demanding the release of 50 per cent of the N71 billion accrued allowance being owed its members from the 2009 agreement reached between the government and the union. To give verve to what we consider as unwholesome demand especially in view of the not-too-buoyant economic situation in the country, the unions had embarked on a nationwide protest in preparation of their planned strike.
Much as this newspaper disagrees with government’s near insensitivity towards the welfare of staff of Nigerians generally, we do not think that crippling the tertiary education system will add any value to whatever it is the unions are angling for.
It is, indeed, a regrettable scenario that both the government and the university workers, academic and non-academic, consumed by pecuniary interests, are careless about the rot in the system designed to groom and nurture future leaders who are the actual victims of what is, without doubt a mindless, if not meaningless shadow boxing.
Elsewhere, including most developing countries, University staff hardly go on strike for mundane issues such as salaries and allowances. It is also unheard of that university workers in those other countries demand money for grades or sale lecture materials.
We are compelled to remind both parties that disagreements that lead to strike truncate continuity in the learning process of these future leaders thereby delaying their time of graduation and the contributions they are expected to make to national development.
It is pertinent to caution that exercising restraint when justifiably mistreated is a sign of maturity. Also digging in for a fight is not only cowardly but also a pointer to the fact that those indulging in the act, that is to say, the government and the unions, are not sufficiently mindful of their societal expectations.
We are convinced that this is the proper time for Nigerians and, parents in particular, to warn politicians and the unionists, majority of whose children attend schools abroad, that enough is enough. They have no right to use students as pawns on their chessboard of impish self-interest.
However, we view as plausible government’s argument that resources to meet the demands of the unions are not readily available given the multiplicity of other societal needs. It is from this standpoint that we posit that the unions and their members are enlightened enough to appreciate this situation and ease off the pressure on the system. Earlier, on this page, we had canvassed the opinion that strike by university workers, as a bargaining chip, has lost its allure. As a way of making a case, it is old fashioned and counter-productive. As an instrument of blackmail, it is primitive and condemnable.