Much ado about non-academic staff’s earned allowance

ASUU National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi

Nigeria’s tertiary education system is synonymous with crisis and the Federal Government is accused of doing little to change the dynamics. Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal, writes that if the ongoing face-off over the N23billion earned allowance disbursement is not quickly resolved, university students may have more years to spend in school than necessary.

The school gate was shut. Successful Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination candidates who had come for screening at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) were stranded. The school’s non-academic staff had refused to work. In droves, the workers milled around the institution’s premises, protesting the two per cent allocated to them of the N23b earned allowance for both teaching and non-teaching staff.
In Nigeria’s education sector, it never rains but it pours.Just smarting from the Academic Staff Union of Universities’ (ASUU) protracted strike; the Federal Government may be courting another crisis if it fails to properly address the brewing discontent in the camp of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities. (NASU).

It all started in January.On January 16, the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT); NASU and the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU) embarked on a five-day warning strike because of the Federal Government’s failure to implement the 2009 agreements with the unions.

The Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the unions, speaking of the inevitability of the strike then had noted that the industrial action was necessary to make the government take action to fully implement the 2009 FGN/Non-Teaching Staff Unions Agreements it reached with the unions.
“The university system is challenged by poor governance and administrative lapses, which need to be addressed holistically. There is poor funding of our universities, shortfall in payment of staff salaries, increasing corruption in the university system,” the unions had told the federal government.
Also listed among the problems that required the attention of the government was the problem of inadequate physical infrastructure and abandoned projects, which the unions said reduced the capacity and output of their members.Other areas they mentioned the government had neglected were the problem of lack of adequate teaching and learning facilities, which have reduced the productivity of workers and the non-payment of earned allowances being product of the 2009 agreement.
That same January, the unions also mentioned the issue of the Nigerian University Pension Management Commission, (NUPEMCO) to resolve the problem of university staff pensions, the non-implementation of the National Industrial Court (NIC) judgment on university staff schools and the non-implementation of the negotiated career structure for technologists, CONTISS 14 and 15.
But it is the earned allowance that is creating a scenario of hullabaloo across the nation’s universities at the moment – about 12 months after the five-day warning.
Last Friday, the JAC directed the SSANU, NASU and the NAAT to resume strike this Monday.A letter to the entire branch chairmen of the three unions titled, ‘Directives to immediately resume the suspended strike,’ was signed by Samson Ugwoke, SSANU, Chris Ani, NASU and Sani Suleiman, NAAT.
Concerning the earned allowance, the unions claimed that what they got was too meager compared to what ASUU received, complaining that the government failed to explain how the N23bn Earned Allowance was shared between ASUU and the non-academic staff. 
“Please recall our last correspondence to you in which we informed you of the letter written to the Minister of Education, rejecting the allocation made by the office of the Permanent Secretary. In the said letter, the Federal Government was given seven days to explain the criteria for the said allocation and do the needful. The deadline has elapsed without any response from the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“In view of the above, therefore, you are hereby directed to resume the suspended indefinite strike action as from 12 midnight, Sunday, December 3, 2017. During this period, the strike shall be total and comprehensive,” JAC instructed its members in a recent letter.
Now academic activities on campuses have been grounded to a halt.At UNILAG, aspiring and eager students could not get screened, following their successes at the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination because the school’s non-academic workers are on strike.

The institution union’s Chairman, Kehinde Ajibade, justifying the strike action was quoted as saying, “The Federal Government is not sensitive enough to tackle our problems. How can the government give two per cent of the N23b to non-academic staff? UNILAG’s case is the worst. We were all given N23m as earned allowance. We have been robbed and we totally reject that.”

However, the President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, believes the non-teaching workers have no stake in the N23bn earned allowance released by the federal government.According to him, the academic union was only being brotherly when it gave a tiny slice of the money to the non-academic unions.

Ogunyemi pointed out that the money was for ASUU only and that the union only decided to give a slice of it to the non-academic unions following the federal government’s plea in that direction.

“We sat back to review what we were supposed to give our members. We had to cut down part of our members’ claims to give a portion to the non-teaching staff because the government requested us (to do so). They (non-teaching unions) too can make their demands known to the government. But they should not vent their anger on our union; that would be anti-labour,” the ASUU president said.

He alleged that in 2013, the non-academic unions shared N30bn earned allowance that was released to the universities with ASUU not benefitting a dime from the largesse.

“While we are not against protests by other union members, we shall take necessary steps to protect our members. All the threats of assault and kidnapping against our members would not be condoned. We urge the university authorities and the government to protect our members. We shall take all necessary steps to ensure that our members are not harmed,” Ogunyemi added.

Ajibade however showed no signs that the non-teaching unions have any intentions to be at loggerheads with ASUU. For him, the real issue lies with the federal government.He asserted, “We’re not returning to work until our money is released. We know what the Federal Government is trying to do – but that cannot work – they want us to clash with the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
They want to cause a crisis within the university system. But we don’t have any issues with ASUU. It is the Federal Government we have issues with.”

Just some few days to the end of September this year, the government held an eight-hour-long meeting with SSANU, NASU, and NAAT to suspend a strike they had embarked on.Following the conclusion of that meeting, the SSANU President, Samson Ugwoke had said, “A three-page agreement was signed and endorsed by all of us. We are taking our document and we will make our pronouncement soon.”

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said both parties had reached a consensus, which would be passed to the union executive members for deliberation.“Based on this conclusion, we all agreed that the JAC will consult its organ with a view to calling off the strike as soon as possible,” Ngige had said.

Are the non-academic staff unions being too hard to please? Or, have they become a public nuisance – a clog in the academic system?
In December 1992, when Prof Babatunde Fafunwa was Education Minister, the federal government approved a separate university salary table that favoured members of the ASUU, when the non-academic staff unions heard of the disparity in the salary, they embarked on a 42-day nationwide strike to demonstrate their disapproval of the salary review which favoured the academic staff over the non-teaching staff, who are a majority of the workforce.. 

In 1999, the non-academic unions presented a memorandum to the federal government to press home their demand for improved terms and conditions of services that would correct the problem created by the National Minimum Wages of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar on Elongated University Salary Scale (EUSS) in favour of the civil service salary table. The EUSS was re-styled as the Harmonised Tertiary Institutions Salary Structure (HATISS).

Speaking on the current controversy, the national public relations officer of SSANU, Abdussobur Salaam debunked claims of competing with ASUU saying there is an existing template on the allocation of earned allowances, which the academic union jettisoned, in the current arrangement.

In 2013, N30 billion was allocated to the universities and ASUU got over 60 percent of the money, while the non-teaching staff got about 40 percent. Given the templates, we did not have a problem with that. They got the bigger share but it was acceptable to us because it was based on what was negotiated. In the present case, to exclude the non-teaching staff, ASUU started a new song of Earned Academic Allowances. It is a ploy to divert and exclude the non-teaching staff from allowances, which were to be allocated to all staff within the system.

He said,” we are not competing with ASUU; what we are saying is that there is an existing template , each union has an allocation, a situation where money is shared arbitrarily is unacceptable. This is not the first tranche of money the unions will be getting from the federal government, in 2013, it was shared on 60-40 ratio but this time around, ASUU allocated 89 percent to itself while we got 11 percent, which is unacceptable.

“Look at what was allocated to the University of Ibadan (UI), Obafemi Awolowo University and UNILAG vis a vis the allocations to the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA). How can UI got 105m, UNILAG 23m and FUTA 378m? The question we are asking is, what is the sharing formula that made FUTA got more than the first generation universities? University of Porthacourt got more than UI and Ife put together?

“There are so many things that don’t add up. Contrary to speculations by those who don’t know, we are not in competition with any group. We are only insisting that the templates for the 2009 agreements of all unions with the Federal Government should be used in allocating the funds, “ Salaam insisted.

As the strike action entered its fourth day, the question on many people’s lips is: why does the government have to make policies if it is not ready to provide available resources to implement them?

If the government continues to renege on its promises to the academic and non-academic unions, the end may be the total crippling of the education sector and the disillusionment of Nigerian youths who spend many years seeking admission and many more years in school because of one policy somersault after the other.

As jingle bells chime solemnly, ushering the Yuletide, university students may have to prepare for a long Christmas break. There is no respite yet for the tertiary education sector, which started the year with a crisis and is ending it with another.

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ASUUBiodun OgunyemiNASU
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