FG breaks ASUU’s monopoly, gives nod to CONUA, NAMDA




About eight months after members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) commenced strike, the federal government Tuesday approved the registration of two parallel bodies – Congress of Nigeria University Academics (CONUA), and Nigeria Association of Medical & Dental Lecturers in Academics (NAMDA).

With the two parallel bodies, the government may have broken the deadlock surrounding the university teachers’ decision to carry on with the industrial action following the failure of the two parties to reach a truce.

Consequent upon this, CONUA was presented with a Certificate of Registration at the Conference Room of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Tuesday.

This is as the government directed the newly registered unions to resume work immediately.

ASUU’s grouse

The public universities in the country were shut down February14, after ASUU proceeded on a one-month warning strike.

Among other things, the university teachers began industrial action to protest the government’s failure to release revitalisation funds for universities, release the white paper report of the visitation panel to universities and also deploy the University Transparency Accountability System for the payment of salaries and allowances of lecturers.

The union said the government has not satisfactorily met any of its demands that prompted the commencement of the initial strike on 14 February.

And after every effort to salvage the worsening situation failed, ASUU declared an indefinite strike August 30, saying the bulk of its demands were yet to be met.

“Were it within our control, our universities would never have been shut for one day.

“We are all victims. We need the understanding, solidarity and sacrifices of all to ensure that every qualified Nigerian youth who cannot afford the cost of private university education or foreign studies has unhindered access to quality university education. ASUU strikes are aimed at saving public education, and ensuring that governments (Federal and State) use our common patrimony to support quality public university education. This is our collective obligation,” the union had declared in a statement by its president, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke.

Also, Speaker House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila intervened during which the federal government dragged the union to the National Industrial Court (NAIC) which ordered the union to return to work.

FG’s new decision

And as a major move towards ending the logjam, the federal government announced the approval for the formation of CONUA and NAMDA.

Minister of Labour and Employment Dr Chris Ngige who announced this in Abuja, said these associations will exist side by side with ASUU in the Nigerian Universities in the spirit and tenets of the International Labour  Organisation (ILO) Core Convention Nos. 87 & 98.

He said government’s action was based on Section 3(2) of the Trade Unions Act, CAP. T14, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004 which gives the labour and employment minister powers to regroup an existing Trade Union of Workers or Employers.

“The Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment in the discharge of her mandate in the management of Employment Relationships and the Administration of Trade Unions to ensure harmonious industrial relations system in the nation, has decided to approve the registration of two (2) more Trade Unions in the Nigerian University Academic Sub – Sector. 

“The University Sub-Sector is a major development plank of any Nation’s socio economic growth. Knowledge they say is Power,” the federal government said.  

“In view of the above, I Senator (Dr.) Chris Nwabueze Ngige, in the exercise of the power conferred on me as the Honourable Minister of Labour & Employment, do hereby approve the registration of Congress of Nigeria University Academics (CONUA), and Nigeria Association of Medical & Dental Lecturers in Academics (NAMDA).

“These Associations will exist side by side with ASUU in the Nigerian Universities in the spirit and tenets of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Core Convention Nos. 87 & 98 which are respectively on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining; as well as the enthronement,” he said.

On Section 3(2) of the Trade Unions Act, CAP. T14, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004, he said: “The Section under reference states no combination of workers or employers shall be registered as a Trade Union save with the approval of the Minister on his being satisfied that it is expedient to register the Union either by regrouping existing Trade Union, registering a new Trade Union or otherwise however.”

Speaking further, Ngige said: “In the last eight months, the classrooms in the nation’s Public Universities have been shut and students kept at home by the strike action embarked upon by the Academic staff Union of Nigeria Universities (ASUU) and this ugly situation has persisted despite series of engagements to resolve the trade dispute by the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Education. 

“In line with the provisions of the Trade Disputes Act, CAP. T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, this Strike was apprehended & Conciliations were done in this Ministry on February 22, 2022, and March 1, 2022. However, all efforts at conciliation failed resulting in the transmission of the trade dispute to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) for adjudication in line with the statutory trade dispute resolution processes. 

“At the NICN, an Interlocutory Injunction Order was obtained asking the Union to get back to work while the substantive suit is being heard; an order ASUU leadership and members refused to obey. Interestingly, a lot of university teachers in the public universities had indicated their willingness to get back to work while negotiations continue. 

“Also, it is worthy to note that some Medical Doctors who are teachers in the various Medical Schools/College of Medicine had carried on with teaching in the Universities of Maiduguri, Bauchi, and Sokoto and had graduated their new Doctors in the midst of the ASUU strike. 

“These groups of Lecturers had since been applying to have their own Academic Associations registered as trade Unions to organise their members because they do not share in the models, objectives, modus operandi, mission and vision of ASUU. They cite that under Section 40 of the Constitution they have a right to Freedom of Association with people sharing same academic vision and mission – like minds.”

Ngige said the two unions applied for registration since 2018 due to irreconcilable differences as they do not believe in recurring strikes as the solution to every welfare agitation.

“They also accused the ASUU executive of non rendition of account of Incomes and Expenditure for years. The Ministry of Labour and Employment set up a committee to look into the merit of their application. The committee saw merit in the application and recommended approval for the registration of the Association by the Registrar of Trade Unions (RTU) since 2020. But for the advent of COVID-19 pandemic and the recurring ASUU Strike, this would have been done.

“NAMDA, like their colleagues in CONUA, had applied for Registration as Medical Teachers in the University system under various groups.

“They include those Medical Doctors doing Pre- clinical teaching of basic medical courses and Honorary Consultants teaching clinical students,” the minister further stated.

He said the new unions “will be entitled to all rights and privileges accruing to such academic associations including but not limited to receiving check off dues of their members in accordance with Section 17 of the Trade Unions Act, membership in the Nigerian University Pension Management Company Limited (NUPEMCO) and being on CONUAS Salary Structure/Scheme.

“They are equally entitled to Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) and all other allowances attached thereto.”

CONUA

Receiving the letter of approval on behalf of the union, CONUA National Coordinator, Dr. Niyi Sunmonu, described the registration of the body as historic.

Sunmonu, in a statement said: “The registration of the Congress of University Academics (CONUA), as a Trade Union in the Nigerian university system, is monumentally historic.

“The hurdles we have faced to get here, since 2018 when we submitted our application for registration, have been seemingly insurmountable. The registration is therefore the validation of the power of the human will. It asserts the value of courage, initiative, focus, tenacity, patience, forbearance and persistent positive thinking.

“We are immensely grateful to the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, and his team of diligent staff for insisting on merit, due process and thoroughness all through the processing of our application for the registration of CONUA.

“The very strict and dispassionate review of our application brought out the best in the membership of the Union.

“We regard the registration of CONUA as a sacred trust, and pledge to reciprocate by devoting ourselves unceasingly to the advancement of university education in this country. We would make the details of our programmes available to the public in due course.”

“We are also deeply grateful to the numerous personalities and well-wishers whose good counsel and concrete actions have facilitated the success we have witnessed today. We believe in the saying that to whom much is given, much is expected. We would therefore constantly strive to make them all proud of CONUA.

“We appreciate the entire membership of the Union for believing in the righteousness of the CONUA cause and for believing in the leadership of the Union, and thereby remaining salutarily steadfast, even when disconcerting and demoralising situations arose.

“In this journey, the invaluable role of the media cannot be discounted. We are truly grateful to the media, and look forward to further mutually beneficial interactions as we strive for the development of this nation,” Sunmonu further added.

The CONUA leader also said: “Above all, we are absolutely grateful to Almighty God for granting us this grace.”

Action inconsequential – ASUU

In its reaction, ASUU described the registration of two new trade unions by the government for academic staff in the university system as inconsequential.

He said: “That does not in any way affect us. We are a disciplined and focused union and we know what we are doing and what we are after. Let them register as many unions as they like. That is inconsequential as far as we are concerned. We are not also in any way threatened. The sky is big enough for birds to fly.

“We know our members, we know our strength and we also know what our vision and mission are. Our members are not saboteurs or bootlickers. Our struggle is for a better educational system in the country. If the system is good, all of us will benefit and it is not only ASUU members’ children and wards that are going to benefit from improved funding and the provision of better facilities in our institutions,” Osodeke said.

Buhari on corruption in varsity system

In a related development, President Muhammadu Buhari said corruption in the education sector continues to undermine investments, while critics downplay funding by focusing only on budgetary allocations, urging a more comprehensive re-evaluation of expenditure.

President Buhari said this while declaring open the Fourth National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Sector at the State House.

He said measuring financing of education sector should include total education budget of each year by both federal and state budgets and other financial commitments in their totality.

The Summit was organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Office of Secretary to Government of the Federation (OSGF) and Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB).

“This year’s summit will mirror how corruption undermines educational policies, investments and create an unfriendly learning environment for our youths.

“Incessant strikes especially by unions in the tertiary education often imply that government is grossly underfunding education, but I must say that corruption in the education system from basic level to the tertiary level has been undermining our investment in the sector and those who go on prolonged strikes on flimsy reasons are no less complicit.

“The 1999 Constitution places a premium on education by placing it on the Concurrent List, thereby laying the responsibilities of budgeting and underwriting qualitative education on both the Federal and State Governments.

“The total education budget for each year is therefore a reflection of both federal and state budgets and should be viewed other financial commitments in their totality.

“The allocation to education in the federal budget should not be considered via allocation to the Federal Ministry of Education and also academic institutions alone, but should include allocation to the Universal Basic Education, transfers to TETFUND and refund from the Education Tax Pool Account to TETFUND,’’ he said.

The president said the aggregate education budget in all 36 states of the Federation and that of the federal government, combined with the internally generated revenues of the educational institutions themselves were also subjects that require attention of critics of government funding of education.

“In line with the National Policy on Education, this administration has been implementing the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme to provide a free balanced meal per day for each child that attends public primary school in order to encourage school enrolment and facilitate accesses to universal basic education.

“To mitigate the impact of security challenges on our schools, I signed the Safe Schools Declaration ratification document in December 2019. The Federal Ministry of Education followed up and developed the Minimum Standard for Safe Schools document in 2021, all part of the Safe Schools Initiative. The Safe Schools Initiative is an expression of government’s commitment to continue to work towards the protection of students, teachers and the school environments,” he said.

He expressed concern over the manifestation of various forms of corruption in the education sector.

“Government and stakeholders in the educational sector are concerned about the manifestation of various forms of corruption in the education sector.

“I am aware that students in our universities for example, use different terminologies to describe different forms of corruption they experience on our campuses. There is sorting or cash for marks/grades, sex for marks, sex for grade alterations, examination malpractice, and so on.

“Sexual harassment has assumed an alarming proportion. Other forms of corruption include pay-roll padding or ghost workers, lecturers taking up full time appointments in more than one academic institution, including private institutions, lecturers writing seminar papers, projects and dissertations for students for a fee, and admission racketeering, to mention only the most glaring corrupt practices,” the president said.

He commended the ICPC for investigating and prosecuting sexual harassment as abuse of power in educational institutions, saying “I approve and encourage them to continue to do so.”

The president assured that the federal government will continue to fund education within realistically available revenue, urging stakeholders, including the media to equally advocate for transparency in the amount generated as internally generated revenue by educational institutions and how such funds are expended.

“Corruption in the expenditure of internally generated revenue of tertiary institutions is a matter that has strangely not received the attention of stakeholders in tertiary education, including unions.

“I call on stakeholders to demand accountability in the administration of academic institutions and for unions to interrogate the bloated personnel and recurrent expenditure of their institutions. Let me also implore the Unions to work with government to put faces and identities to names on the payroll,’’ the President added.

President Buhari also said the government will continue to guarantee access and establish minimum benchmarks for quality education.

“Due to declining resources, government cannot bear the cost of funding education alone. I task our academics to attract endowments, research and other grants to universities, polytechnics and colleges of education similar to what obtains in other countries.

“About two weeks ago, I participated in the 77th United Nations General Assembly, in New York. One of the key events was Transforming Education Summit Leaders Day, titled: Transforming Education to Transform the World: Learning to Live Together Sustainably.

“Nigeria joined other countries in committing ‘to the vision of Education for Sustainable Development and to the objectives of the Greening Education Partnership’ and building ‘education systems that foster ethical and socially responsible global citizens’ who actively contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

“That is a vision which we will continue to aspire and build,” President Buhari stated.

He congratulated the sole winner of 2022 Public Service Integrity Award, Superintendent Daniel Itse Amah, who rejected the sum of $200,000 to drop a case, and followed up with investigations until the culprit was prosecuted.

Lauds ICPC, JAMB bosses

“I also commend the Chairman, ICPC, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Registrar of JAMB, for organising this summit and bringing together the three arms of Government, MDAs and other stakeholders to deliberate on corruption in the educational sector of Nigeria,” he said.

The President said he was pleased to have participated in each of the previous summits organised by the current Board of the ICPC, under the leadership of Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, SAN, in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, targeting different aspects of the administration’s commitment to fight corruption.

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