Abdussobur Salaam is the National Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Senior Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (SSANU). In this interview with KAYODE OLANREWAJU, he speaks about the Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System (IPPIS), government’s breach of the MoU signed with the union, and the impending strike, among other issues
While is the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) insisting that its members would not enroll for IPPIS, SSANU has endorsed the policy. Why is this so?
Based on experiences, it is true that the Federal Government cannot be trusted on any issue. We have experienced many breaches of agreements and Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) in the past, which should ordinarily give us reasons to take any government policy like IPPIS with a pinch of salt.
However, our decision to endorse IPPIS does not make the union government apologist. But, any resistance we would have shown would simply be based on our disappointment with how the government has treated past issues. Therefore, we decided to go beyond emotion to consider the bigger issues for the good of the nation.
Hence, our position on IPPIS has been driven by patriotism and love for the country; a country which is being brought to its knees due to waste, mismanagement and corruption from which the university system is not immune. We are witnesses to many cases of corruption in our universities such as multiple salaries without approval.
Are you sure then that the new system would take care of SSANU’s concerns, and especially those peculiar matters raised by the other unions?
Well, at an interactive meeting between the university-based workers’ unions including ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT and government representatives held in July 2019 at the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, we resolved that a technical committee should be constituted to work with the developers of the IPPIS platform so that a template that would capture all the peculiarities of the university system would be developed.
We have been engaging government in order to ensure that the issues peculiar to the university system such as earned allowances, hazard allowances and all other allowances in line with the subsisting agreements between government and the unions are accommodated in the template.
Similarly, we have demanded and ensured that the issue of 65 years retirement age for non-teaching staff and 70-years for professors are captured; as well as the issue of sabbatical leave, and visiting lecturers or part-time staff. All issues related to payment of arrears of salaries on promotion and accumulated salaries arrears were also presented and with the assurances that they would be captured.
For SSANU, we maintain that we cannot continue with the present wasteful system, which the universities are not insulated from. So, from the standpoint of patriotism, we agreed to support the IPPIS system. We know that the introduction of IPPIS would come with its own challenges and we expect that there would be teething problems which do not necessarily imply that the policy is bad.
We, however, believe also that with time, these challenges would be overcome and the entire university system would be better for it. However, going by what is before us today, it would be wrong of SSANU not to give its support and key into the IPPIS project and our National Executive Council has so decided.
But many people are attributing your position on IPPIS to the assumed rivalry between ASUU and the non-teaching staff unions in the system. What is your view?
The issue of rivalry is a misconception. As far as I know, there is no rivalry between SSANU and ASUU and there is no reason for rivalry. Firstly, it must be made clear that the two unions have different membership, aims and objectives.
It is to that extent that there must naturally be frictions and clashes. However, there are areas where we have mutual interests. For instance, both unions are united in the need for our universities to be repositioned for the greater good of the society.
Of course, the issues of poor funding and proliferation of universities is a terrible and misguided development. But, if you ask me, I would say that ASUU is our brother union and we must give credit to the union for its various contributions and interventions towards the growth of the university system. We must acknowledge that they are at the frontline of advocacy for an improved education system.
There is, however, a pristine value or ideology of the labour activism that many activists are fast losing and that has to do with the egalitarian nature of the struggle. This is a value that is gradually being lost in labour activism in Nigeria and is greatly affecting the university system and perhaps other sectors, where there is more than one unions operating.
The pristine value of the labour movement assumes that you are all workers and no worker or group of workers are more superior to the other or should assume such superiority, as they are all relevant and playing their separate, but symbiotic roles in the labour chain and subsequently being exploited by their employers.
Frictions occur when one group assumes or holds a form of superiority over the others and by this the real value of the labour solidarity and the movement is lost.
For SSANU, we believe that it is in our interest for all unions in the university system to unite in the interest of the system. We may be individual unions with individual peculiarities, but when matters that jointly affect us needed to be addressed, we need to come together to do so.
In fact, this can only happen when there is mutual respect among the unions. ASUU must never see itself as superior to SSANU, while SSANU must also never see itself as superior to NASU or NAAT.
Any indoctrination that presumes one union and its membership as superior to another union has breached the basic ideology of the trade union movement. As unionists, we should never lose sight of the fact that our common enemy is our employers, which seeks to short-change us at every opportunity.
The unions’ struggle does not recognise class. What it recognises is the solidarity and unity of the workers beyond professional calling, qualifications or status. Michael Imoudu was not spectacularly educated, but he is today renowned as the champion of workers’ struggles in Nigeria.
Unions need to move from creating class or status dichotomies among workers. It is not healthy and controverts the basic principle of labour activism. Workers are workers.
To that extent, therefore, there is no rivalry with ASUU. It is diversionary and removes from the real value of our unionism. It was Karl Marx, who said that “workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose, but your chains.” We are one with ASUU where our interests, perceptions and values coincide.
But, why did SSANU direct its members not to enrol for the Nigeria University Pension Company (NUPEMCO)?
The issue of NUPEMCO is very simple. SSANU was never invited or co-opted to participate in the conceptualisation and actualisation of NUPEMCO. When we noticed this, even though it was not our idea, we complained and lamented to the drivers of the company to carry us along so that we could all own it and mobilise our members to key into the policy.
But, they decided not to. Under the circumstance, we could not have encouraged our members to place their future and pension funds in a company simply because it bears the name of Nigerian University Pension Company.
If we were not carried along, we cannot possibly guarantee its sustainability and encourage our members to join. It would have been irresponsible of us to do so. We do not want to gamble with the lives of our members.
Last year the union embarked on strike before it was suspended. But there is rumour now that SSANU is planning to resume the industrial action. How true is this?
Well, as things are today, we had an understanding following our protests in July 2019, that by October 2019, government would respond favourably towards ensuring the rectification of the short payment we witnessed in the disbursement of N25 billion that I referred to earlier.
Till this moment, nothing has been done. As at today, our members are becoming restive and there is a limit to their endurance. This interview may also be an opportunity to remind the government that its non-responsiveness is an invitation to an industrial action and we see it looming.
It is a sad situation, but it can’t be helped because of the insensitivity and lack of commitment on the part of the government to implement the agreements freely entered with SSANU and NASU. We are already collating signatures and referendum towards the strike. In a matter of weeks, we shall be concluding the process and a final decision will be made.
By with KAYODE OLANREWAJU, Source: newtelegraphng.com