More trouble for public universities

Actual resumption of academic activities in Nigerian universities may not take place after Federal Government issued directive for reopening of higher institutions next Monday. Issues of revitalisation of universities, Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), Earned Academic Allowances and inadequate funding may stall reopening.

Although the universities were shut in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had been on strike over government’s decision to implement IPPIS, a payroll system, which teachers considered a denigration of university autonomy. Government, on its part, has refused to pay them for many months until they willingly subscribe to the new platform.

ASUU president, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi said members would continue to stay away from classes until all pending issues were resolved.

Ogunyemi said since Federal Government’s implementation of IPPIS, payment to ASUU members had been haphazard and inconsistent, as lecturers were owed salaries, ranging from three to eight months. ASUU also accused the Federal Government of non-remittance of five months dues of the union to its purse. It said the Federal Government between February and June this year deducted check-off dues on its behalf and refused to remit same.

ASUU Chairman at the University of Ibadan, Professor Ayo Akinwole, alleged evil conspiracy among the ruling elite to wipe out public university education, which caters for more than 90 per cent of Nigerian students, to elevate private universities owned by the elite and their collaborators.

He said that the union had been on strike for over six months to draw government’s attention to the implications of criminal negligence of funding public universities in the light of rising insecurity and other social problems.

Akinwole declared that government’s plan to use salary stoppage to punish university lecturers for being concerned with the parlous state of affairs in the nations’ tertiary education had failed, as members were resolved to ensure that government becomes responsive and responsible.

He maintained that, while the Union was ready to discuss outstanding issues on implementation of the February 2019 MOA signed with ASUU and other conditions of service, Federal Government had not been forthcoming but had resorted to propaganda against the union.

Akinwole also denied the claim that ASUU would call off its strike as claimed by the Labour and Employment Minister, Dr Chris Ngige.

He added that while the lecturers are ready to work, they would not do until government fully attends to all demands, including immediate implementation.

“As of today October 4, 2020 ASUU members are being owed three months salaries.

In some universities, our members have not received salary for up to six months. Federal Government, through the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, has criminally withheld five months (February-June, 2020) Check-Off deducted from our members’ salaries without remittance to the union.

“FG has forcefully enlisted our members on the National Housing Fund (NHF) scheme and has consistently been illegally deducting money for this from our members’ salaries.

“Our ongoing total, comprehensive and indefinite strike action would continue if this propaganda and lies against ASUU by appointees and representatives of the Federal Government like the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige persists,” he said.

While ASUU laments non-payment of salaries, the breakaway faction of the union, Congress of University Academics (CONUA), said members’ salaries had been paid up to date and are ready to resume if all necessary COVID-19 safety guidelines were put in place.

THIS came as the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) today (Monday) begins a 14-day warning strike over government’s failure to implement agreements reached with members.

Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, had last Friday directed tertiary institutions to resume on October 12, with a caveat that each school would determine its own opening schedule.

But Ogunyemi insisted that members of the union, who had been on strike since March, would not resume work until their demands were met.

He stated that government had failed to put in place the minimum COVID-19 safety requirements across public schools, wondering how students and lecturers would be able to maintain physical distancing considering the state of lecture rooms and hostels in those institutions.

“Government,” he said, “is free to reopen its institutions but our members reserve the right to insist that, until and unless what is due to them are paid, and other conditions for restoring the university are met, they are not going back.

“I don’t know how many of our public universities can guarantee social or physical distancing, which is essentially about facilities. Do we even have hostels in those universities? Where we have hostels, the rooms that some of us occupied in the 80s and early 90s meant for four students are now being occupied by 12 students and they are sleeping in shifts. So, what are we talking about here?

“The real issue about universities is about facilities. Have they expanded what they have? See the way they constructed emergency isolation centres; see the billions that went into that. They could raise emergency funds to address the rot in the health sector, but ASUU has been talking about emergency in the education sector since 2012, yet government has not deemed it fit to talk of emergency fund in the education sector.

The ASUU chief said the country was in dire need of research and development, and the only way to actualise it would be to invest in the sector.

Ogunyemi described the IPPIS scheme as a fraud, which ASUU would resist.

He said an alternative payment platform developed by the union, University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) was ready and had been tested at the Ministry of Education, wondering why the Accountant General would withhold salaries of ASUU members.

Ogunyemi said: “The Accountant General of the Federation has decided to withhold the salary of our members, ranging from three to eight months. Some were paid February and March, while others were not even paid. Some were paid March and June while some members did not receive anything. Those paid were given amputated salaries, no clear explanations for what they were paid.

The ASUU chief listed the demands of the union to include renegotiation of the Memorandum of Agreement reached with the union in 2013, payment of earned academic allowances, revitalisation of universities, proliferation of universities as well as funding.

National Coordinator, Congress of University Academics (CONUA), Dr Niyi Sunmonu, said although their salaries were being paid as and when due, the union members would resume once coronavirus safety guidelines are met in all the institutions.

Sunmonu recalled that government, in its publication of July 13, listed certain conditions of COVID-19 protocols that should be put in place in the institutions, saying so far nothing has been done along this line.

Sunmonu said once government plays its role, CONUA would have no justification not to work.

“CONUA is ready to resume but government must put the necessary safety measures in place. IPPIS is yet to be perfected with regard to certain peculiarities with academics, but we are interrogating that.

Meanwhile, SSANU’s public relations officer, Abdulsobbur Salaam said the union would commence a 14-day warning strike, starting today in protest against some anomalies in the system.

He said the strike was premised on the inconsistencies of the IPPIS in payment of salaries and non-payment of Earned Allowances to members.

He identified other issues as non-payment of national minimum wage and retirement benefits to members; delay in renegotiation of FGN/NASU and SSANU agreements, as well as non-payment of benefits to retired members.

“This warning strike is a prelude to a full-blown total and indefinite industrial action if our grievances are not properly addressed,” he said.

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