Avert ASUU, SSANU, NASU strike


By Gabriel Dike, Ibe Munachiso, From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa, Scholastica Hir Makurdi, From Fred Ezeh, Abuja, Ifemefuna Ikem, Enugu



All is not well with the Nigerian University System (NUS) as staff in the public universities are agitated over the failure of the Federal Government to pay their withheld salaries and  meet their demands since 2009 .



There is no doubt that tension is mounting in the federal and state universities.  Teaching and non-teaching staff are at war with the government due to non-implementation of their demands which date back to 15 years ago.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) last month concluded the mobilisation of members and the engagement of the general public aon the plight of the union.   Their grouse revolves arounf the  inability of government to renegotiate the 2009 signed agreement and the payment of the withheld salaries of members.

The one week warning strike in March by the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities SSANU, Non Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the National Association of Academic of Technologists (NAAT) over non-payment of the withheld salaries and failure to start the renegotiation of the signed agreement are signs of imminent industrial unrest in the public universities.

ASUU did not embark on a warning strike but the National Executive Council (NEC) sent officials to mobilise members in the various branches. The non-teaching staff after the warning strike said the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of SSANU and NASU would meet to take decision on the next line of action while placing their members on notice for a full blown strike.

Following agitations on campuses, Daily Sun sought the views of students, who are usually the victims of any strike by the teaching and non-teaching staff in public universities.

NANS President, Comrade Lucky Emonefe, expressed deep concerns about the imminent industrial action that might cripple academic and non-academic programmes in the tertiary institutions.

He said: “What I have is an appeal to the unions to choose dialogue as an alternative to the nationwide strike which often does no good to both parties (workers and FG). Dialogue remains the best and easiest way to solve the problem if only all the parties would abide by the signed agreements.

“We have a listening President, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, who is determined to ensure academic stability in the institutions as well as the welfare of the lecturers and the students. So, it will be unfair for university-based unions to choose the path of strike instead of dialogue, which promote peace.

“I got calls from University of Calabar and other institutions few days ago about the effect of the strike by SSANU and NASU members on warning strike over unpaid entitlements two weeks ago. ASUU is planning to join them. If that is done, it will be disastrous for the university system. In all these, students are the biggest losers. Aside academic time loss, their days in the school are extended.

“As President of NANS, I appeal to the aggrieved university-based unions to ‘shield their sword’ and return to negotiation table. Government, on their own part should fulfill their promises and agreements signed with the workers. Such a sincere approach will persuade the workers to drop their agitations and embrace the peace path. That’s far better than shutting down the institutions for whatever reason.”

Kachi Onyemelum, a 200 level student of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, said him and his fellow students are concerned about the development, adding, “when we thought we have achieved academic stability in the university system, SSANU and NASU members came with warning strike. We just wish this won’t extend beyond, and there could be permanent solution to this challenge.

“We have not had it easy with the recent warning strike by SSANU and NASU. Experiences in the campuses are unpleasant. Imagine if ASUU joins the strike, that won’t be palatable at all. We pray it doesn’t get to that point.”

Mariam Plangnan, a student of Federal University, Lafiya, Nasarawa State, said the news of imminent strike sent shocks down the spine of her fellow students when they heard the information.

She said: “We have had disruptions when non-academic staff in universities embarked on warning strike. They had accused the government to neglecting their welfare. That shouldn’t be. Times are hard, and the economy is not friendly to anyone. So, people should be treated fairly. Otherwise could result in something else, and that’s what we are seeing.

“The news of ASUU warning up to join the strike filtered in few days ago, and since then, students has been seriously concerned about having the horrible experience of extended time in the school.”

She appealed to the President Bola Tinubu, to attend to the needs of the lecturers in order to avert breakdown of industrial peace and harmony in the tertiary institutions.

Reacting to the situation, students at the Joseph Sarwuan Tarka University, Makurdi, (JOSTUM) former Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, (FUAM) called on the federal government to look into the demands and agreements it entered into with the various unions with a view to meeting their part of the bargain so as to avert the strikes.

Speaking to our Correspondent in Makurdi, a 500 level student in the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, JOSTUM and Speaker of the Student Supreme Court, Students Union, Nyiekaa Ephraim Kumasughun said, “The problem of strikes arises as a result of government reneging of the signed agreements with the unions. If they fulfill their part of the bargain, pay them what they agreed to pay to them, we won’t have issues of warning strikes or full strikes again.

“So I suggest the government should look into their demands with a human face and solve the matter once and for all.

Also speaking, the acting President of the Students Union at JOSTUM, Rt. Comrade George Bamaiyi Henry called on the federal government to implement the 2009 Agreement saying “This is one of the issues giving birth to strikes. They should do the needful and stop punishing us the students indirectly because we are the end receivers.

“When it comes to the education sector, you discover that the salaries of these people are poor but ministers and senators are collecting close to 100 times their salaries and these are the places they graduated from. They were taught and groomed by these same lecturers. So why is the education sector, teachers and non-teaching staff neglected?

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“The government should do the needful and pay them their monies so there won’t be another strike. It is wrong to give people work and after working, you won’t pay them.

“These strikes is affecting the students seriously, as I speak to you now, in my school, the students are passing through a lot. We don’t have water and thanks to the Dean of Students’ Affairs, Prof. Simon Ejembi has been coming down to town to supply water to the school hostels.

Ken Ugwu, a final year student of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka expressed dissatisfaction with the current state of things in the nation’s university system.

Ugwu, who lamented that his academic journey has been greatly affected called on the federal government to hasten every form of negotiation and pay ASUU, SSANU and other unions in the university whatever demands they are asking, adding that education is priceless.

“We are not happy, for instance, I am supposed to have graduated but due to the last strike that took almost academic session, we have been further forced to stay more days in the school.

“You find out that a four-year course is almost becoming five to six years. So, we are asking the federal government to hasten whatever negotiations and pay SSANU and NASU whatever they had agreed.

“If this strike is allowed to commence, it will further aggravate the level of hardship in the country whereby parents find it difficult to feed their children and those who are supposed to begin school are also forced to come home and stay idle, thereby increasing mouths to be fed and added responsibility in the home,” Ugwu said.

Two students of the Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State. Inere Abel and Clinton Okromah also weighed in on the impending industrial action by the university workers.

According to them such strike would be disastrous for the students and the university community at this time. According to Inere, the students are the ones holding the short end of the stick and so should be considered before the unions embark on another strike.

“My opinion on another strike by ASUU may vary, people may see it as a necessary step to fight for improved working conditions, funding, and quality education in Nigerian universities. However, I view it as disruptive to students’ education and believe that it would be more effective for ASUU and the government to find alternative ways to address their grievances without resorting to strikes, because the students will suffer for it academically and psychologically. Students are the ones paying the price, so they should look for other alternatives rather than strike’’.

Clinton Okoromah while noting that ASUU, SSANU, NASU and others have a right to demand for improved working conditions, he noted that there should be alternative means to resolve industrial dispute other than strike.

‘’My view on another strike in Nigeria is certainly a hot-button issue. On one hand, ASUU has the right to demand better working conditions for its members and to advocate for the improvement of Nigeria’s educational system. On the other hand, the strikes have an important impact on students and the country’s economy. Though it may deprive the students from going school and making them spend longer years in school. Ultimately, I think it’s important for both sides to come to a compromise that is fair and benefits all parties involved,’’

At University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), students want the federal government to immediately negotiate with both the academic and non-academic unions in public universities and reach a common ground to forestall the looming strike. They lamented that any full-blown industrial action under the current economic hardship in the country would be devastating to students and their guidance.

Maryann Ekeh, 400-Level, Mass Communication Department said, “There is an urgent need for the government to address and resolve the issues that have led to the warning strikes and mobilization of ASUU members. Government should prioritise education and ensure that public universities have adequate funding and facilities to support teaching and learning.

“Secondly, there is a need for all parties involved to engage in constructive dialogue and negotiations, to reach a resolution that benefits everyone, including the students. All parties involved must be willing to make compromises and take steps towards a resolution,” she said.

Tobias Owukaeme, 200-level, Electrical Engineering Department, said, “The only way to avert the impending strike is to immediately pay university workers their withheld salaries. I believe that once all the withheld salaries and backlogs of earned allowance are paid to SSANU, NASU, and ASUU, it will eliminate the incessant strike action in public universities.

“Again, the government should also meet and dialogue with the leaderships of SSANU and NASU because the warning strike they embarked upon crippled academic activities in universities, and when this happens students are always at the receiving end,” he said.

For Jessica Chukwudum, final year, English and Literary Studies Department said, “government should take proactive measures such as timely negotiation with unions, addressing the grievances raised by staff, and prioritising education funding can help avert strikes. They should also engage in long-term strategies to improve the overall educational system and adopt sustainable funding methods.

“Any full-blown strike this point in time in the country will further cripple the already unhealthy economy of the country, and expose the students to societal ills,” she said potent danger

Some University of Benin (UNIBEN) students expressed their concern about the impending strike as their 2nd semester exams for the 2023/2024 session approached alongside the SSANU and NASU warning strike, which ended two weeks ago.

According to Edegbe Osasenega, a 500 level student of the Department of Nursing Science “The past few days has been frustrating for students as we have not been able to access necessary services, nor receive timely information, the faculty library was under lock and key during the strike.

She also explained that if ASUU embark on strike, it would disrupt the smooth flow of her final exams and possibly her pre-qualifying public health nursing exams. Which will result in a delay in graduation and waste of time.

“I’ve been in school for seven years. There was strike when I was writing exams in 100 level, another strike after COVID-19 in 2020, another eight months strike in 2022. I literally spent two years in 300 level. Our school calendar is finally getting balanced; ASUU, other unions and the government should please not disrupt it.”

She further said “The government can avert the strike by reaching a compromise with ASUU and other unions on their demands. The economy is declining drastically everyday and it is only fair that their wages are increased, their earned academic allowances are paid and teaching and learning facilities are provided.”

Oge -Ameh Favour, a 300 level student of the Department of Mass Communication said, “I and my colleagues have an expectation that we will be graduating in December. If ASUU embarks on strike it will disrupt the academic calendar, which will prolong our expectations.

He also begged the federal government, ASUU and other sister unions to come to an understanding where they will establish a system that works for them and keep to it.

ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osokede had in February 2024 after its last NEC meeting used the opportunity to draw the attention of Nigerians to the insensitivity of the government with respect to agreements and welfare of lecturers in public universities.

Osodeke added that despite the good intentions of Nigerian academics to make our universities globally competitive, government has continued to unleash hardship on the lecturers and students.

According him, the NEC meeting was alarmed; going by the reports it received, on the failed promises of the Tinubu-led administration toward addressing the lingering issues that forced the union to embark on the nationwide strike of February–October 2022.

SSANU Vice President, West, Abdussobor Salaam recently told Daily Sun that the reasons why NASU and SSANU embarked on strike in 2022 have not been addressed.

He stressed that as long as the fundamental issues that led to the strike have not been addressed, “we would only be scratching the surface.”