There are worries that university employees across the country, united under the Academic Staff Union of Universities, or ASUU, are preparing for a potential conflict with the federal government over matters about their welfare and working conditions, among other things.

The university staff has voiced dissatisfaction with President Bola Tinubu’s inability to honor agreements on releasing their eight months’ worth of salaries that were delayed due to the 2022 industrial action, the six-month N35,000 wage award, and the upward salary review.

Since the administration took office, The union has complained that it has yet to see through all its agreements with organized labor, especially ASUU. It is sick and weary of the federal government not keeping its word.

Despite Tinubu’s guarantee and pledge that his administration will take all necessary steps to ensure universities do not go on strike again, ZINGTIE reports that the current administration still needs to take notable, visible steps to resolve the issues raised by ASUU.

Speaking at the Federal University of Technology, Akure’s 33rd convocation event, Tinubu expressed optimism that union cooperation with the federal government will guarantee the nation’s need for educational progress.

He pledged that his administration would restructure the education system and address its problems. He also stated that the federal government was prepared to collaborate with the nation’s university academic unions and explore peaceful resolution options before any labor strike.

“I would like to enjoin all the unions in our universities to cooperate with the government in order to deliver the needed development by ensuring an atmosphere of peace and tranquility on our campuses.

“On our part, we will ensure that motivational activities are put in place to ensure improved productivity. Reciprocative actions would be expected from our universities as the government works hard to raise the bar of a conducive teaching and learning environment.

“To whom much is given, much is expected. Dialogue, patience, and positive engagements are better means of achieving results than strike actions. Industrial disharmony does nothing but disrupt life, waste time and elongate the academic calendar.

“Therefore, all avenues for dialogue must be explored and exhausted before strike actions are considered, and as a last resort,” Tinubu said.

According to ZINGTIE, Tinubu granted the partial remission of the “No Work, No Pay” order that was put in place against ASUU members who went on strike in 2022 during the government of previous President Muhammadu Buhari. This approval occurred almost four months ago.

Remember that on February 14, 2022, ASUU members began an eight-month industrial action that ended on October 17, 2022. During that time, the federal government insisted on enforcing the “No Work, No Pay” policy, which prevented university employees from reporting for duty.

But even now, some sixteen months after returning to work, the academic staff members still complain about the government’s uncompromising response to their salaries being withheld.

According to ZINGTIE, Tinubu ordered in November last year to issue an unusual previous waiver of the ASUU’s “No Work, No Pay” edict. This would allow ASUU members to collect four months’ worth of accrued income instead of the eight months withheld during the strike.

In a statement, the President’s Special Advisor on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, said that the action was in keeping with his administration’s resolve to lessen the challenges associated with enacting significant economic reforms in the nation.

In addition, Tinubu acknowledged that the parameters reached during the productive discussions between ASUU and the federal government were being faithfully implemented.

ASUU, unhappy about the development, has started a national consultation process with its members regarding the Federal Government’s non-implementation of agreements.

ASUU expressed sadness that, despite the gentlemen’s agreement between the union and the federal government, its members had not received a single dollar, causing needless suffering for their families.

In addition to having their salaries withheld for eight months, the university employees claimed that, under the President’s directive, they still needed to be deleted from the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System, or IPPIS.

ZINGTIE reminds us that university employees were recently removed from the IPPIS with the Federal Executive Council’s FEC approval.

After Tinubu chaired the weekly FEC meeting at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, the Minister of Education, Mamman Tahir, briefed State House correspondents on the development. He said the President also instructed the Vice Chancellors to stop obtaining permissions from the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, or HOSF, before hiring staff for their institutions.

According to the President, “they (Vice Chancellors) do not have to go to the Head of Service for approvals to engage the service of new workers anymore. They will now be paying their own staff directly.”

ASUU had previously demanded that the government abandon IPPIS and adopt UTAS, the University Transparency Account System it created.

The union encouraged the government to consider universities’ unique characteristics, claiming that UTAS would better address the flaws in IPPIS.

Similarly, the administration mandated in October 2023 that each federal civil servant receive a new wage award of N35,000 as a palliative measure to lessen the severe consequences of eliminating the gasoline subsidy.

However, ZINGTIE’s results demonstrated that the government could only pay for two of the six months it had pledged.

Additionally, the government declared in September 2023 that salaries at tertiary institutions would be reviewed upward by 35%; however, the pay increase still needed to be implemented and was retroactive to January 2023.

The National President of ASUU, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, recently stated that since the start of President Bola Tinubu’s administration, the government has not carried out all of the agreements it made with organized labor, especially between ASUU, during an interactive session with journalists at the Federal University of Technology (FUT) Minna, the capital of Niger State.

To decide on the next course of action following the NEC meeting later this month, Osodeke said that members of the National Executive Council, or NEC, were now in a nationwide consultation with the union’s affiliates.

“Well, none has been implemented. On the issue of wage awards and the issue of seven-and-a-half salary arrears, I can tell you that nothing has been implemented. In fact, as I am talking to you now, none of our members has been paid,” Osodeke declared.

To emphasize their demands, the ASUU leader promised that the organization would take the required steps and bring all of the recommendations from its nationwide consultations to the NEC meeting.

“That is why we have come to see our members, and we are seeking their views about the next line of action which we are taking to our NEC meeting in February (this month). And at the NEC meeting, we are going to make a decision”, Osodeke said.

The chairman of the ASUU UNN branch, Comrade Nobert Oyibo Eze, bemoaned to ZINGTIE that the union members’ wages were no longer sufficient to satisfy their necessities. As a result, life had become challenging for them.

Eze expressed sadness about the government’s constant rush to the media to make bold claims and backtrack.

He claimed that despite his repeated assurances, President Tinubu has not kept his word to address most of the union’s requests if elected.

He said, ‘‘It is extremely difficult for everyone in the university now; very very difficult because not only that the salary is not commensurate anymore, remember that this salary started in 2009, about 16 years now. It has not improved.

“Not only has it not improved, the exchange rate has messed it up completely. Around 2011, a professor was receiving almost $2,700 equivalent.

“Today, the equivalent of what a professor is getting is $255. This is what someone in the UK can use to pick some groceries in a grocery shop; that is what a professor in the Nigerian academic system is receiving.

“Yet, in spite of the fact that it has not improved, they withheld our seven-and-a-half months salary on account of our last strike.

‘‘Why wouldn’t we say that what they are paying us is no longer commensurate? Is it a crime to agitate? Throughout the countries of the world, workers do go on strike; the other time French workers went on strike. As long as the government is not doing what they are supposed to be doing, with respect to labour laws there will continue to be strikes.

“Anybody thinking that withholding our salary will make us stop going on strike is not serious because you cannot beat a child and ask him not to cry.

‘‘It is only in Nigeria that the government will be making money in millions and refuse to pay workers. It is not the health sector that they have fixed or the education sector that they have fixed.

“They want to remove their hands from discharging any responsibility. Yet they don’t want to embark on true federalism where the people will ask questions, manage the resources available and use it to develop their universities.

“They want everything to go to Abuja and they are not doing what they are supposed to do.

So, right in the university, it is extremely difficult for everybody.

‘‘The government of this country is…I don’t know how to describe it. People have already known their tactics. They go to the press and say all kinds of things but since Tinubu took over the government, he has not paid anything.

“You know last year, they gave some wage award but nothing has been paid. No arrears of salary have been paid. Even the four months they made noise about in the press, nothing has been paid.

‘‘For some time now, the national executive of ASUU have met some of the government functionaries, especially the minister of education and many others. Everything they owe us has been articulated and sent to them.

“The only thing, out of the reasons we went on strike – the IPPIS, which has been handled in the press – that they are taking us out of the IPPIS. I want to tell you that IPPIS paid December salary, IPPIS is going to pay January salary. I heard somewhere that IPPIS has asked the Bursars of the universities to send vouchers for January salary, which means we have not been out of IPPIS practically.

“Since that announcement last year, the last salary that could have been paid using IPPIS is the December salary. As I am talking to you now, we have not received our January salary.”

While throwing more light on the salaries paid to the university lecturers, Eze said: ‘‘Let me give an example with myself, as an associate professor, I am going home with N332,000.00.

“If you want me to send you my payslip, I can do so. Are they not the one paying us? A professor on the bar is receiving N400,000.00. Those who were just appointed professors two years ago are still within N300,000.00. What can you buy with N300,000.00?

‘‘The other time I read that people were demonstrating in Minna because of the current hardship. The reality is that it is not just about the academic staff in the public universities, it is about the entire workforce in the country.

“It is people who are generating the money, which they are stealing, they are doing whatever they like. Look at what is happening in the Central Bank, that is why they want their children to work in the Central Bank. Can you imagine that in the Central Bank they have over 5,000 workers at the headquarters alone? What are they doing there?”

On the next step the union will take to press home its demand, he continued, ‘‘It is not for me to speak but I think all the branches are angry. You see politicians, they can say all sorts of things during electioneering campaigns.

“Bola Tinubu who is now president said that if he becomes the Nigerian president, he will stop the strike in the universities. Very soon, he will experience one. He has not even addressed why we went on strike in the first place.

“So withholding our salary is just playing to the gallery because we did not embark on strike because they are not paying us salary. We embarked on strike because our take home pay can no longer take us home. And nobody has raised the reason why we embarked on strike, and he knows it.

“He told the public that if he becomes president he will solve all the issues that can push us to go on strike.

‘‘Now all the issues that emanated from the last strike, which one has he addressed? He has not addressed anything. As I am talking to you, there are workers in the universities who are not earning up to N100,000.00.

“The truth is that people are hungry, and they say that ‘a hungry man is an angry man’.

‘‘We will be going to a national executive council meeting soon, whatever we decide during that meeting will be made public; people will hear it. If we decide to embark on another strike, they would not say we have not given them enough time.”

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