With 17 months lost to industrial actions in the public university system in the country in the last two years, the seeming quietness in the ivory towers may be ruptured again, as various workers unions in the sector take on the Federal Government over their withheld salaries and union dues. After the end of the series of strikes last year, the government invoked the ‘no work, no pay’ policy and salaries ranging from five to eight months of varsity workers are being withheld. For non-teaching staff in the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, the National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT, and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Allied Institutions, NASU, their five months salaries are on hold.
For the academic staff under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, the Congress of University Academics, CONUA and the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria, MDCAN, eight months salaries are being withheld. However, efforts being made by the various unions to get their money paid is threatening to create another trouble in the system and all eyes are on the FG as how it would handle the situation.
After the universities were reopened, the first allegation of selective payment of some of the workers by the government arose from claims that members of MDCAN at the Usman Dan Fodiyo University Teaching Hospital in Sokoto were being paid some months’ salaries. It was claimed by the government that the medical lecturers showed proofs of working during the period of the strike.
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Now, there is a vociferous opposition over attempts by the government to pay members of CONUA. The Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, has expressed disappointment with the FG over the issue.
In a letter from the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, Department of
Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System, with Ref No: OAGF/IPPIS/1045/1/67, with the title: Re-Submission of University Academics (CONUA) membership list for the payment of withheld salaries and check-off dues, CONUA was directed to submit all the necessary information that would facilitate payment of the withheld salaries.
Reacting to this development, the National President of SSANU, Comrade Mohammed Ibrahim noted with dismay that the government has introduced divide and rule tactic in the university system. He said that SSANU followed the due process as prescribed by the Labour laws before embarking on the strike, adding that his union was forced as a result of the failure of government to go on strike.
Similarly, the National President of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, expressed same sentiments. According to him, the government would create trouble in the system with that kind of approach.
However, CONUA, in a statement, explained that it was ASUU that said it was on a “total, comprehensive, indefinite and suffocating” strike between February 14 and October 15, 2022.
CONUA said it was not on strike and that they continued to render their services until sometime in the second quarter of 2022 when their various “university management” and authorities locked them out, effectively preventing them from fully doing the work, which they refused to neglect. This is in line with S.43 (1b) of the Trade Dispute Act, TDA.
From whatever angle one looks at the issue, the government may have to exercise caution in handling the matter. CONUA said its members worked up until some time, while ASUU is saying there was no evidence of such, even though it is the employers that can decide that. But as a system, academic staff only cannot run the universities, while non-teaching staff cannot do so by themselves. So, the government has to find a way out that would not lead to a dislocation of the system.