By Michael Oche, Abuja
Fresh crisis looms in the nation’s tertiary education sector over the sharing formula of the N40billion Earned Allowance recently approved by the federal government for the university unions.
LEADERSHIP recalls that the minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, had at the meeting between the federal government delegation and the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) last Friday announced the increase of the Earned Allowances to N40 billion.
The allowance is to be shared by the four university-based unions, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU), Non Academic Staff Union (NASU) and National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT).
Earlier, the ASUU President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi had explained that the union negotiated for earned allowance and that the money would be for ASUU members alone.
In 2019, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) had complained that ASUU took 80 per cent of N25billion earned allowance released to the university based unions by the federal government, while the three other non-teaching staffs were left with 20 per cent.
However, the same scenario seems to be playing out again, and it appears that the other non-teaching staff unions will have none of it this time around.
Addressing journalists in Abuja at the Weekend, President of SSANU, Comrade Mohammed Haruna Ibrahim, warned the government to ensure that the money passes through the Universities Councils which have the template for the sharing formula.
Ibrahim added that SSANU would resist introduction of any payment platform aside IPPIS, except the one being conceived by the Joint Action Committee (JAC) comprising SSANU and the NASU.
The payment platform is University General and Peculiar Payroll and Personnel System (UG3PS) was conceived.
Ibrahim said the government has no business in sharing money to unions as universities were established through statute of law adding that each university has a governing council which is the employer of all workers and the highest policy making body of each university.
He said the university administration through the registry and bursary units have the responsibility of knowing who should earn what and advised the government to channel whatever amount they are giving properly through the Councils.
He said, “The issue of Earned Allowances is a product of Collective Bargaining from the 2009 Agreement of the Federal Government with SSANU and has been in contention since the agreement
“Ideally, the Allowances should have been embedded into the salaries and implemented immediately but for Government’s procrastination. The implication was a heavy accumulation of arrears of the Earned Allowances, where repayment became a big burden.
“After five years, 2014, the first tranche of Earned Allowances was paid. In line with the Acts of the Universities, the money was paid through the Councils of the Universities.
“Given the fact that Earned Allowances are not largesse, bonanza or freebie, the managements through the registrars and bursars, being custodian of all personnel and payroll records, were available to guide the Councils in the disbursement of the funds to eligible and deserving staff who had earned the allowances.
“By 2017 however, when the second tranche was paid, N23 Billion was released on a directive from the Federal Ministry of Education which allocated its disbursement in clear breach of the laws, 89% in favour of ASUU, leaving only 11% to the three Non-Teaching Unions.
“It took the strident intervention of the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, before a supplementary (though inadequate) amount of N8 Billion was released to cater for the shortfall granted to the Non-Teaching Unions.”
He said despite their protest over the release in 2017, another release of N25 Billion was made via a memo from the Federal Ministry of Education dated June 18, 2019, wherein it was expressly stated that ASUU should be allocated 80 percent of the funds while the other three unions of NAAT, NASU and SSANU be allocated 20 percent.
He stressed that till date they have been raising concerns about the implications of what he called irregular disbursements and “sharing” of funds by the ministry of Education because it erodes the autonomy of the Universities since the payments were not done through the Councils of the Universities as required by law.
“Similarly, the allocation formula which did not abide by any known or justifiable accounting practice, was done without the inputs of the Registries and Bursaries of the Universities who are custodians of
personnel and payment records.
“Lastly, the Audit Reports of previous disbursements had not been released and as such, the N25 Billion released was not the outcome of any Audit Report.
“As a consequence of the above scenario, we had witnessed a disproportionate backlog of arrears in payments of Earned Allowances, compared with ASUU, which we had demanded for correction.
“Following a fourteen day ultimatum, we had embarked on a five day warning strike between Monday, 19th and Friday, 23rd August, 2019, to drive home our demands for the release of a minimum of N30 Billion being part payment of Earned Allowances being owed members of NASU and SSANU between 2011 and 2015.”
Ibrahim said while the government had begun discussions for the payment of arrears of Earned Allowances, the leaders of the Unions (SSANU and NASU) were being pressured by members to embark on a full blown indefinite strike.
He said the strike would have commenced at the inception of the COVID 19 pandemic but for appeals that a strike during a pandemic would have been the height of insensitivity.
“Our considered position was that the global health crises had thrown up serious challenges which a strike by SSANU and NASU would not help. Consequently, with the easing up of the pandemic, discussions had resumed with Government albeit at a slow pace, culminating in a Memorandum of Understanding last month, where it was agreed that another tranche would be released to all Universities for the payment of Earned Allowances to all deserving staff, academic and non-teaching.
“Permit me to note that this disbursement of another tranche to all deserving staff is in itself an injustice to the non-teaching unions given the partiality experience in previous tranches which had led to disproportionate backlog of arrears compared to our academic counterparts.
“We are however not unaware of the prevailing industrial unrest in the University system and if allowing them a share out of the N30 Billion promised by Government to end the industrial action is the sacrifice we can make, we would be willing to do so.
“If however, we discover any attempt to allocate the disbursement through the Ministry of Education or any other Government office and not through the Councils as prescribed by law, we shall resist such attempt with all arsenals available.
“We have had enough of illegalities, injustices and disproportionate disbursements of Earned Allowances and wish to state that enough is enough. Government must either do right and treat all unions equitably or be ready to face another round of industrial unrest in the University system.
“We are ready to take Government head on if an unjust disbursement of Earned Allowances is contemplated. Government should be ready to face the full wrath of SSANU and the outcome may be an eye opener for those who have always underestimated SSANU and assume that the welfare of the non-teaching unions can be treated with levity at the expense of other categories of staff. I wish to tell people who think that way that they may be in for a shocker!”
On IPPIS, he said that the decision of the leadership of SSANU and the Joint Action Committee of NASU and SSANU to enroll its members into the IPPIS was well intended and for national interests, in the face of the pervasive personnel and payroll indiscretions and infractions observed in the Nigerian University system.