Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU – Non- Academic Staff Strike Not Ending Any Soon.
The Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) spokesman, A.O Salaam, in a chat with our correspondent, OKERINMODU FAITH OLUSEGUN, spoke on the ongoing nationwide strike by the union.
TI: On the crisis rocking Nigerian education sector again sir, is there any likelihood of it been resolved soon?
Salaam: I hate to sound negative because our honest desire is that the matter is resolved soon and we all resume to our various duty posts. As far as we are concerned, it is not in anybody’s interests that we stay away from work. However, if we are left with no choice, what do we do? The speedy resolution of this crisis is in the hands of government. They created it abi nitio and brought the university system to the sorry situation it finds itself. As such, the resolution of the crisis lies in the hands of those who created it. NAAT, NASU and SSANU are hapless victims. We have families to cater for, we also have children who are undergraduates and are desirous of graduating in record time. But the situation has left us with no choice. Conclusively, based on my personal observations of the issues, I don’t see the strike ending very soon. To end the strike, there must be a high level of commitment and sincerity on the part of government to resolve the issues. This is very much lacking. The bane of the crisis rocking the university system is insincerity and lack of commitment on the part of government. So if you ask me, I don’t see this strike ending very soon. Unfortunately!
TI: Many persons are of the opinion that Earned Academic Allowance should be for the academic staff alone, what’s the true position of things?
Salaam: On the issue of Earned Academic Allowances vis a vis Earned Allowances, it is unfortunate that the public is being confused on the issue. As far as we are concerned, the three non- teaching unions negotiated Earned Allowances with the Federal Government in 2009. As far as we are concerned, there is nothing called Earned Academic Allowances because that’s not what was negotiated. There may be a group that is demanding Earned Academic Allowances but if we are to look at it dispassionately and from an enlightened perspective, the term Earned Allowance is more generic and cuts across the academic and non- teaching sectors. Unfortunately, the inclusion of the word academic, was intended to cause confusion and to create tensions and I think that agenda has succeeded.
Where we have found ourselves is indeed unfortunate. In 2009, the unions signed agreements with the federal government on issues of welfare, financial and non- financial, and issues of sustenance and governance of the university system. Unfortunately, successive governments have come and gone and the issues were left largely unaddressed. Where it seems that some of the issues were addressed, it was in contravention of the agreements. Eight years later, we are still clamoring for the implementation of agreements signed in 2009. Isn’t that unfortunate?
On the issue of accrued arrears of Earned Allowances, agitations had been on and in 2013, a first tranche of N30 billion was paid. This first tranche went through the due accounting and auditing process before payment. Each university was allocated a fraction of the monthly personnel overheads to cater for the Earned Allowances. Because the money was to be earned, University Council Committees were set up, with evidential submissions from the Registrars and Bursars to justify the eligibility of each staff for the various categories of allowances. In line with standards, only the Bursaries and Registries, being custodians of information and records, can provide information on who gets what in the system. At the end of the 2013 payment, while it is natural for some people to assume that they were underpaid because it’s money issues, the general consensus was that it was fair and fool proof. In fact, in most universities, when it was discovered that most junior academic staff would not be getting any payment, many universities devised what was described as a doctrine of universal happiness, where the junior academics were paid Hazard Allowance, a component of the Earned Allowance for non- teaching staff. At the end of the day, there was peace.
The payment made in 2017 however witnessed the most macabre display of corruption and incompetence. After our September strike and the MOU reached, it was agreed that the money was Earned Allowance and not Earned Academic Allowances and it would be allocated between the teaching and non- teaching staff. A modus operandi was defined for the payment which would have made everything easy. This was not followed. At the end of the day, a group surreptitiously, in connivance with some government officials, decided that the money was no longer Earned Allowance (a generic), but Earned Academic Allowances (a specific). The implication of this approach was that a whopping sum of N19 billion was allocated for the academic staff, while in a display of tokenism, a miserly sum of N4 billion was allocated to the non- teaching staff. This was done from the back door and without following due process. The Registrars and Bursars who are the only people authorized to determine who gets what were marginalized and bypassed while officials of the union started doing calculations of payments based on the claims of their members. The monies were then frontloaded from the ICT unit of the Federal Ministry of Education and the Accountant General’s office. These monies and the allocations were never audited before payment. All of a sudden and for the first time in the history of the Nigerian university system, payments were made on the lines of ASUU and non -teaching staff. The implications of what was done, is very dire and has far reaching consequences on the system. One is surprised that such travesty could be done under a government fighting corruption. I say it loud and clear, that on this issue, I see corruption written in capital and bold letters. As non -teaching unions, we have been clamoring that government should beam its search light on the educational sector and this is one of such instances. Looking at the allocations, you will discover a lot of arbitrariness in the payments made to the universities. My university, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, was paid N80 million for non- teaching staff, while University of Lagos was paid N23 million, just a little over one quarter of what FUNAAB was paid. Are we saying that the population of non- teaching staff in FUNAAB is almost times four of that of UNILAG? Bringing it into relief, Federal University of Technology, Akure, was paid N378 million. Are we saying that FUTA is 16 times in population of non- teaching staff than UNILAG? Bayero University Kano, was allocated N49 million. Are we saying that BUK is only one sixth of the population of University of Jos, which was allocated N336 million? The point being made is that while the monies are Earned Allowances and not a bonus or bonanza, there should be a corresponding correlation between the allocations per university and their staff populations. The inherent contradictions in the payments forced us to demand for explanations on how the allocations were made. A letter was written on November 14, demanding the criteria used for the allocations and I daresay that up till today, no explanations have been given. There are more questions begging for answers. Meanwhile, there were pressures by the group which the allocations seemingly favored that the monies should be paid. Based on this, we were left with no choice than to resume our suspended strike on the issue of Earned Allowances and others.
Don’t forget that we have the issue of university staff schools where over 2,000 of our members have been removed from the payroll since 2014. In 2016, we went to court and the National Industrial Court ruled that they should be reintegrated into the payrolls as they are an integral part of the universities, whose employments were done by their various councils. Since December 5, 2016, over a year after, government officials have been prevaricating over the judgement. We are disappointed and shocked that there should be so much hide and seek in the implementation of a court judgement by a government supposedly run under the rule of law.
These are among the issues that have led us to where we are. There is the issue of terminal point for technologists to get to CONTISS 14 and 15, shortfalls in salaries and others but let me stop here. Our strike is not only about Earned Allowances as assumed.
TI: Recently, there was a meeting with the federal government on the strike; is there a likelihood of any meeting again soon?
Salaam: Yes. We had a meeting with the federal government through its officials on Tuesday, December 19. I was privileged to be at the meeting. They acknowledged that there was a problem but they have not proffered solutions to the problem. We are not the ones to call a meeting. It’s their responsibility to invite us for meetings. When they do, we will attend. NAAT, NASU and SSANU, as responsible unions, will not shy away from any engagement or dialogue that will bring the conflict to an end. We will always make ourselves available but the onus lies with government. The earlier we are able to resolve the issues, the better for everybody.
TI: Some schools are working despite the strike action, does it mean all members don’t agree on the issue on ground?
Salaam: JAC is an alliance of NAAT, NASU and SSANU. The three unions are on strike. We have over 90 per cent compliance with the strike directives. That is not to rule out local situations that may have hampered the full compliance of the strike in a few universities. However, this issue affects our members and they agreed that the strike is the only option. I say it with confidence that we have over 90 per cent compliance.
TI: What is the relationship with ASUU like, has this development caused any frosty relations between the two unions?
Salaam: ASUU is a sister union in the university system and also under the aegis of the Nigeria Labour Congress where we are all affiliates. However, our contemplation is that ASUU should not and is not our problem. Our problem is the government which has caused the divisions among us. Government deliberately plays one group against the other to be able to achieve their own ends. The onus lies on us the unions, to be wiser and see further than the ploys used to divide us. Karl Marx enjoined workers of the world to unite as we have nothing to lose but our gains. As far as I am concerned, the stratifications of academic staff and non- teaching in the system do not serve all of us well. A situation where a group considers itself superior to others is not healthy for the system because of its inherent implications. We are where we are in the system either by choice or circumstances but eventually we are all workers. Ordinarily, I assume that ASUU should be the chief promoter of egalitarianism among workers and we urge them to go back to those ideals. They have the intellectual wherewithal to promote egalitarianism in the labour movement and other unions should follow. I strongly feel that they should revisit their positions vis a vis their relationships with other unions. As for us, we have our respects for our sister union in the system. Together, we can fight our common and mutual enemies who have brought public educational institutions at all levels to their knees while promoting their private universities. Our enemies who have not given appropriate budgetary allocations to the educational sector in successive budgets. We know who our enemies are and as far as SSANU is concerned, it is not ASUU. ASUU are not our enemies. We are all victims of a bad and evil system.
All over the world, the university is described as a system. The choice of that description is not misplaced but in the conviction that no single subset can work the system alone and different subsets need each other for the system to function efficiently and effectively. The system needs the non- teaching staff as much as it needs the academic staff. It is extremely wrong therefore to assume that only one group owns the system and must be given preference over the others. We are not talking equality here, but equity. Each group should be given its fair due in the system. Unfortunately, this is not the case. However, as far as we are concerned, all groups are important and play symbiotic roles that grow the system.