At least two zones of the Academic Staff Union of Universities have asked Nigerians to hold the Federal Government responsible if the body of university lecturers embarks on another strike.
The Abuja and Bauchi zones of the union said this on Tuesday while accusing the government of not implementing the agreement it signed with the lecturers in December 2020.
In March 2020, ASUU embarked on a strike as a result of its disagreement with the Federal Government on the funding of universities, the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, implementation of the University Transparency Accountability Solution, funding and revitalisation of public universities, earned academic allowances, promotion arrears and renegotiation of the 2009 agreement.
ASUU held several meetings with the Federal Government on the UTAS and the other issues, which were approved by the government, with a promise of prompt implementation.
The government’s assurance of implementation, which was accompanied by the signing of a Memorandum of Action, led to the calling off of the strike on December 24, 2020, after the Federal Government also agreed to exclude ASUU members from the IPPIS.
However, ASUU for some weeks now has been urging the government to fulfil the agreements contained in the Memorandum of Action, which it signed with the union.
As a result, the Abuja zone of the union, at its congress on Tuesday, accused the Federal Government of reneging on its promises and warned that such an action could lead to a fresh industrial action in the nation’s universities.
The zone comprises the Federal University of Lafia, Nasarawa State; Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State; Nasarawa State University, Keffi; Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai, Niger State; and the University of Abuja.
The union said it could no longer guarantee industrial harmony in public universities due to the attitude of the government to the agreements.
The zonal coordinator, Dr Salahu Lawal, disclosed this at a press conference in Abuja.
Lawal urged Nigerians and parents with children in public universities to hold the government responsible for the consequences that might arise from the non-implementation of the MoA.
He said, “Recall that our union signed a Memorandum of Action with the government, leading to the suspension of the 2020 strike action in February 2021, but almost nine months on, ASUU is again calling on the government to honour its promises to the Nigerian people on the immediate deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution.
“The government, as it has always done, again reneged on its promises to the union and the nation, a development that can lead to another industrial action in the universities.
“We, therefore, demand the implementation of all outstanding provisions in the February 7, 2021 FGN/ASUU Memorandum of Action; the immediate deployment of ASUU’s innovation of a more robust system of human resources management and compensation called the UTAS; and the immediate payment of outstanding earned academic allowances to our members.
“We also demand the full implementation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement as renegotiated in 2021 based on the ILO’s collective bargaining principle; immediate action on the report of the presidential visitation panels to federal universities without delay; and immediate action on the recommendations of the committee on state universities.
“We urge all Nigerians to hold the Federal Government responsible if the union decides to embark on another industrial action following the non-implementation of the MoA.”
Lawal added that signing into law the draft renegotiated 2009 agreement and the release of revitalisation funds to public universities would address the deplorable conditions under which students live and learn.
He stated, “ASUU has for long laid bare to both the government and Nigerians the decrepit state of infrastructure on our campuses, which has been the bane of research activities in our universities.
“Our call for urgent intervention in this respect has been acknowledged by the government.”
95 lecturers owed up to 13 months’ salaries – ASUU, Bauchi zone
On its part, the Bauchi zone of the union lamented that 95 of its members in three institutions had not been paid their salaries for up to 13 months.
The Zonal Coordinator, ASUU, Bauchi Zone, Prof Lawan Abubakar, who disclosed this during a press conference at the union’s secretariat in the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, said since they were “forced” into the IPPIS, the affected lecturers had continuously been omitted from the payment of salaries every month.
He said, “The inconsistencies observed in the application of the IPPIS in the payment of salaries and remittances of third-party deductions have continued in all the federal universities. Since the introduction of the IPPIS in February 2020, our members have continued to be omitted from the payment of salaries on a monthly basis.
“This is the situation across all the federal universities in the country. Every month when salary is paid, different sets of staff members will have their names omitted from the payment for that particular month.
“As we speak now, about 61 lecturers from the University of Jos are being owed salaries for two to 13 months; it is the same situation at the ATBU, Bauchi, which has 16 lecturers; and the Federal University of Kashere with 18 lecturers.
“This is deliberate and amounts to victimisation of ASUU members by the IPPIS office as a ploy to force them to enrol, thereby frustrating the implementation of the UTAS as agreed before the strike was suspended in 2020.”
He wondered if some individuals were “feeding fat” on the high cost of maintenance and consultancy fees on the IPPIS as against the freely developed and more efficient UTAS that had taken care of the universities’ peculiarities and in line with extant laws, adding, “Could this be the reason for the foot-dragging by the Federal Government to deploy the UTAS in the universities?”
Abubakar said another disturbing trend was that professors and readers (associate professors), who were supposed to retire at the age of 70, were being forcefully retired by the IPPIS through the abrupt stoppage of their salaries in violation of the Universities Miscellaneous Act of 2012.
He noted that the salaries paid to the union members were not commensurate with their ranks based on the prevailing salary table, wondering where the “unauthorised” deductions were going to.
He said, “What we have been suffering is a theft of our salaries. At the end of every month, no one can say for certain what his/her exact salary will be as a result of unauthorised deductions; one must just do with what the IPPIS throws at you.
“When the UTAS is deployed, we will ask for the running of our salaries from January 2020 to see clearly what we were supposed to get and what we got; then, we will demand that the government pays us the backlog of our salaries it has been deducting. There will be trouble; it is imminent.”
The zonal coordinator accused the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, and the Accountant-General of the Federation of not being willing to solve the problems.
“It’s either he (Ngige) is not willing to solve these problems or he’s simply incompetent to address them. The AGF has been evading us, because we know he is a problem. We know how they are eating fat on the IPPIS and we know how they have held our various university administrations to ransom on the issue of employment,” he added.
Abubakar accused the Federal Government of “only being interested in provoking another strike because since the suspension of the strike in December 2020, the Federal Government has simply gone to sleep over the implementation of most items agreed upon as contained in the Memorandum of Action.”
When asked if he thought the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was concerned about solving the issues that ASUU had with the government, he said, “I cannot say if any politician is concerned about Nigeria. They are only concerned about their families.
“We cannot engage in a dialogue with the government forever. The dialogue with this government is not fruitful. I am sure the government can resolve all the issues in one day, because we have been discussing with it over the years.”
He said members of ASUU in the Bauchi zone had been stretched beyond their elastic limit and could not continue to wait for the government and its agents displaying all manners of antics, which amounted to delay tactics.
Abubakar added, “Our patience has been taken for granted. We the leaders of this union in the various branches, zones and at the national level cannot continue to manage our members. Our members are not happy with us because they have waited this long with the timelines expiring more than eight months ago and we have not called them back.
“Anytime from now, the union will conclude the process. We have already started the process of going back and when we exhaust our procedures, then, we will announce the date for the strike.
“We are pained to bring these issues to the public, because more than nine months after suspending the 2020 strike, the government has again reneged on the MoA. The public, in this circumstance, should not hold our union responsible for any disruption of academic activities in Nigerian public universities.”