By Obinna Odogwu (Awka), Tony John (Port Harcourt), Lateef Dada (Osogbo), Emmanuel Adeyemi (Lokoja), Sola Ojo (Kaduna), Rose Ejembi (Makurdi), Stanley Uzoaru (Owerri), and Chijioke Agwu (Abakaliki)
When on Monday, March 28, members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff of Universities (NASU) embarked on a two-week warning strike, following the expiration of the ultimatum the Joint Action Committee of the two bodies issued to the Federal Government, the disruption in the academic calendar of federal universities turned full circle.
In the past, it was the practice for some labour unions affiliated to the Nigeria Labour Congress to embark on strike in solidarity with particular aggrieved unions in certain situations.
This has not played out in the chapters of ASUU in state-owned universities, which have essentially left the national ASUU to carry its cross. Apart from one or two state universities which have local axes to grind with their state governments, the ASUU strike in federal universities has not received solidarity endorsement from state ASUU chapters as reports from across the country indicated.
In Anambra, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University (formerly Anambra State University), Igbariam is in session. In fact, the students completed their 2021/2022 first semester examination on Friday.
Public Relations Officer of the state university, Harrison Madubueze, who told Sunday Sun that the examination started on March 22, also affirmed that the institution was not part of the ongoing industrial action by ASUU.
Asked about the report that some lecturers joined the strike, he said: “For me as part of the management of the university, the school is in session.”
A lecturer in the university who preferred anonymity told Sunday Sun that he was supervising an examination when the reporter called in. He said that over 95 per cent of the lecturers were working and had no plans to join the strike.
Lecturers of the Rivers State-owned universities declared outrightly that they have nothing to do with the ongoing strike by the ASUU. The two tertiary institutions are Rivers State University (RSU) and Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Port Harcourt.
Some of the lecturers, who spoke to Sunday Sun on condition of anonymity, said that the things being agitated for by ASUU are fully enjoyed by lecturers in the two state-owned higher institutions.
They insisted that the administration of Governor Nyesom Wike has addressed issues that would have caused agitations by lecturers in the two state-owned universities.
According to a very reliable source, lecturers working with the two universities enjoy remunerations far higher than their counterparts at federal universities.
Sunday Sun gathered that lecturers at the Rivers State University (RSU) held meeting on Wednesday, March 23, where the ongoing ASUU strike was mentioned. But, the lecturers in unison dismissed their participation.
Further interactions with the lecturers revealed that RSU and Ignatius Ajuru University lecturers are enjoying harmonized salary scheme and other welfare packages.
Godwin (surname withheld) told Sunday Sun: “If we are enjoying all these things which ASUU members are demanding, why must we go on strike? What can we give as a reason or reasons to partake in ASUU strike? We are paid by Rivers State government, not the Federal Government. We are paid higher than our colleagues in federal universities. So, what is the moral justification to join in the strike? Is it for solidarity? Nobody can do that.
“Is it infrastructure and learning environment? You have visited RSU and you can give your assessment of the institution. We have several buildings and faculties – all credits go to Governor Wike’s administration. So, lecturers of the two state-owned universities have no reason whatsoever, to go on strike because it would amount to being ungrateful to the commitment of the Rivers State,” Godwin said.
There are also no indications that lecturers in the Osun State University (UNIOSUN) will join the strike, as Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) chapter in the university, Dr. Wende Olaosebikan, revealed that no meeting had yet been held to deliberate on the ASUU strike.
He said: “Nobody who is not a member of ASUU or who does not form leadership of our union can say whether we can join strike or not. If ASUU decides that this is the way we are going nobody has the right to stop us from going.”
He, however, declined to comment on the issues of welfare package, remuneration and infrastructural facilities. Some lecturers who spoke to Sunday Sun said that the remuneration and welfare package of lecturers in the school had improved especially since the government started payment of N30,000 minimum wage.
One of the lecturers who pleaded anonymity said: “I can tell you that I now earn more than my colleague in the Federal University with about N35,000 to N45,000 since governor Adegboyega Oyetola started payment of minimum wage.
“When Oyetola introduced the minimum wage, we didn’t know it would be extended to us. He directed the then Vice Chancellor, Prof Labo Popoola, to pay the arrears the governor was paying to civil servants and Popoola paid arrears of three months. An assistant lecturer collected about N130,000 then.
“The state government is trying because it was least expected that the N30,000 minimum wage would be extended to UNIOSUN. A professor that has reached the maximum bar in UNIOSUN must earn more than his counterpart in some of the federal universities.”
Students and lecturers at the Kogi State University, Ayingba, are not affected by the ongoing ASUU strike as the Governor Yahaya Bello administration banned all union activities in all the state tertiary institutions in 2017.
The ban of union activities was due to a prolonged face-off between the state university’s ASUU chapter and the state government over non-payment of salaries and other entitlements.
This led to mass exit of lecturers from the university, especially professors and senior academic staff who moved to other universities in the country, a situation that caused serious academic disruption to the students.
Speaking with our correspondent, a lecturer, Dr Mohammed, said that teaching and learning activities for the current second semester which began on January 30, this year, were going on without impediments.
He said that the second semester would likely end by July this year while another session would commence by the end of October.
On the welfare of the lecturers, a source disclosed that the lecturers are just suffering in silence as the state government is just doing whatever it likes since they have no union to agitate or speak for them.
“My brother, we are suffering in silence hence as the government is just treating us just as it treats it’s civil servants, there are many unpaid allowances and the foreign trainings we used to enjoy are no longer available.
“As you are aware, the February salary of civil servants in the state was not fully paid so also we lecturers were paid in percentages and we dare not complain , we only resign our fate to God,” the source added
When Sunday Sun visited the main campus of the Kaduna State University, along Tafawa Balewa Way, Angwan Rimi, Kaduna, earlier in the week, the classrooms were shut while some offices were open to attend to other students’ needs except lectures.
According to the Chairman of ASUU in Kaduna State University (KASU), Dr Peter Adamu, the branch has been active in all industrial actions directed by the union at the national level.
The chairman, who declined to give further details on certain agitations of the union which include welfare package, remuneration and payment platform and the infrastructural facilities for learning told Sunday Sun that, the branch had written to KASU Management and awaiting a response.
“The strike has been on in KASU from the four weeks rollover strike to the current eight weeks strike,” he said in a text message.
But, a senior lecturer who spoke in confidence said that it may be difficult for the strike to be strong at KASU as seen in other branches because the state government was not indebted to them.
“For now, strike here will only be in solidarity with the national body because the state government is paying our salaries. Talking about the payment platform, I’m aware the union has been working on a payment platform different from the controversial IPPIS and will make it public when done.
“As we speak, the newly admitted students have been coming around to do their registration for the academic year. As you may be aware, even when ASUU is on strike, the management is not which means the school is still running.
“However, we hope the Federal Government would be sincere enough to honour the agreement it entered into with ASUU a few years ago in the interest of the students and their parents who could not afford to send them to the private schools within or outside the country and the country at a whole,” he said.
At the Benue State University, Chairman ASUU BSU Chapter, Comrade Gwafan Tarnonogo, said that his chapter is solidly behind the national body of ASUU.
“ASUU BSU is fully with the national body, we are not pulling out. Those state universities that are pulling out have their own reasons and for us, we also have our own reasons for not pulling out. We are still there,” Tarnonogo told Sunday Sun.
He hinged the reason for ASUU BSU not pulling out from the strike on the fact that state universities also benefit from the proceeds of any strike embarked upon by the national body.
“Our reason for not pulling out from the strike is because whenever the national body embarks on strike, the local branches also benefit from what happens at the national. Issues like the revitalization, Needs Assessment Tour and this renegotiation too. We expect that when all these issues are tackled, even though we are a state university, we will also benefit from it. I cannot speak for other state universities because there are different states with different problems, so also different state universities with their different problems. But for us here, we are still with the national,” Tarnonogo said.
Lecturers at the Imo State University (IMSU), located in Owerri, the state capital, are highly charged with the angst they feel towards the state government.
The tertiary institution is beset with massive infrastructural deficits, and the situation drives the lecturers to clamour for better facilities for learning and enhanced remuneration, explains Dr Alphonsus Agbakwuru, who heads the Department of Computer Science, IMSU, noting the foregoing as the primary reasons lecturers of the institution joined in the ASUU strike.
Just like their counterparts in the federal universities the paltry remuneration which he and his colleagues receive are as so poor you want to weep for lecturers in the Ivory Tower.
“The welfare package (if it should be gloried by such description) is nothing to write home about. But that is not much why we are on strike. We are talking of the 2009 agreement with the Federal Government, which agreed and signed a written document pledging to provide facilities for public schools for learning. The facilities on ground are absolutely nothing, that is what we need to give our students proper learning,” Agbakwuru said.
Just like several other state universities, the Ebonyi State University (EBSU) Chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is not participating in the ongoing strike.
Sunday Sun gathered that all campuses of the university in Abakaliki are in session with lectures and other academic activities going on unhindered.
Chairman, Caretaker Committee of EBSU-ASUU, Dr. Chinedu Nwambeke, said that the chapter refused to honour the strike as ordered by the national body because the national leadership of ASUU had repeatedly failed to address some of the salient issues concerning the chapter.
He insisted that the chapter would continue to hold lectures and other academic activities, adding that necessary security arrangements had been made to prevent breakdown of law and order.
“We equally call on our students to remain on campus as lectures and other academic activities will continue to go on uninterrupted,” he said.
Commenting on the welfare of lecturers in the school, he explained that the government was doing its best to ensure that the welfare of lecturers and indeed all workers in the school are well met.
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