Achieving peace on our university campuses

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The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), on December 23, 2020, “conditionally” suspended the strike it embarked on in March  2020 over the backlog of grievances resulting from the failure of the Federal Government to implement the terms of agreements between its members and the government.

The suspension of the nine-month strike, the longest strike in the universities since 1999, returned life to the university campuses, with students excited about a return to academic work.

Concerned stakeholders in the universities hoped that the Federal Government would meet the terms of the agreement reached during the difficult months of negotiations to ensure that the conditionally suspended strike would remain suspended.

However, the relief created by the suspended strike was soon lost to the warning strike declared by the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the non-teaching staff unions.

These unions,  Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities, (SSANU); Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT), after the warning strike, have carried out a referendum to determine whether to embark on total and indefinite strike. 

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The ongoing activities of these unions show clearly that industrial peace is yet to return to the universities. Indeed, if the disagreements between the government and JAC are not quickly addressed, activities in the universities will not return to normalcy. The pains and drawbacks the universities have suffered during the protracted ASUU strike will be re-enacted to the dismay of stakeholders in the public universities.

The impending strike by JAC is linked to the agreement the Federal Government reached with ASUU on earned allowances.  There has been disquiet within the JAC unions over the sharing formula for the disbursement of the funds the government has dedicated to the universities for the payment of the earned allowances between the teaching and non-teaching staff.

Members of JAC consider the share allocated to them as unfair and unjustifiable. According to the national president of NAAT: “My union is rejecting the sharing formula of the Earned Allowances as it is being done by the government. Government has allocated 75 percent to ASUU and 25 percent to all other non-teaching unions in the universities. This is grossly inadequate.

That is robbing Peter to pay Paul and using divide and rule in the university system. No union, not even ASUU, has the monopoly of opening or closing of schools through strike. Other unions also have that capacity to ensure that the system does not work.”

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Clearly, the current threat to the industrial peace on the country’s public university campuses could have been avoided if the government had involved all unions in the negotiations to address the issue of earned allowances. We call on the government to integrate all unions in future negotiations to avoid such outcomes. 

The government must recognise that peace in the universities demands that all unions within the public university system are given their due through the negotiation process. They all must be carried along, such that the output from the negotiations would cover all unions.

Negotiating with ASUU alone over an issue that concerns teaching and non-teaching staff is bound to generate a feeling of relegation among the non-teaching staff, whatever the nature of the agreement reached. 

This should be avoided. It is more fruitful to carry all unions along in such negotiations. We call on the Federal Government and the unions to return to the negotiating table to avoid the impending indefinite strike by JAC members.

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Tribune Online Editorial

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Chila Andrew Aondofa

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