I recall reading about members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Olabisi Onabanjo University chapter when they declared an industrial action, claiming that the Ogun State government owed them salaries for 16 months. One of their colleagues pilloried the union for deceiving the public with the wild allegation of salary arrears. By the time the dust settled, it turned out that the Ogun State government did not actually owe the workers one month salary let alone 16 months as claimed by the union. I waited in vain to read an apology in the press by the union for such a deliberate misinformation.
As was later discovered, the union went on strike because of Earned Academic Allowances, an agreement it negotiated with the Federal Government, which gets 54% of the monthly Federal Allocation. I have no evidence that the state government was in a position to pay such, or that it actually paid. But everyone was happy that the strike was called off. That was in December, 2015. It seems we are back to where we were in 2015. ASUU-OOU is once more on strike, but this time around it seems the issues are more confusing.
In one breath, we hear the union is accusing the government of not paying subventions to the institution. In another, there is a claim that government owes them salaries for three months. But reports in the media indicate that the union went on strike in the first week of August, alleging non-payment of July salary by the management of the institution. This last point has been confirmed. It, therefore, follows that the current strike, just like others in recent years, is hasty and insensitive, especially at a time when governments across Nigeria are confronted with financial crisis.
This is not an attempt to speak for the state government. As a matter of fact, one should emphasise that labourer deserve their wages. And so when you pay salaries, you are simply fulfilling your obligations. But given the current situation in the land, any government that is able to pay its workers necessarily deserves to be praised, because there are thousands and one reasons why it is difficult to pay these days. There are pressures everywhere. Workers constitute less than 2% of the population of every state in the country, but the governors will have to cater for the others as well. This point should not be lost on any union.
Since delay or non-payment of salary has never been an issue in the last five years of Governor Ibikunle Amosun’s administration, the most considerate action expected from ASUU over the one-week delay in payment of July salary should have been some engagement with the management of the institution and the state government through the OOU Governing Council. Going on strike at the drop of a hat is certainly not the way to go. How can a union, given the current realities in the country, declare an industrial dispute because of one week delay in payment of (July) salary? It certainly beats one’s imagination. And will management pay you while you are on strike?
It is equally surprising that the union should go outside its mandate, as a trade union, on the issue of subvention when it is easily recalled that prior to 2011, the OOU’s Internally Generated Revenue, despite high school fees paid by students, could not fuel its vehicles let alone cater for any major expenditure, most of it having ended in private pockets. If the Amosun government has installed a new management with good corporate governance that has been able to meet the financial obligations to its workers, including clearing convocation arrears of eight solid years inherited, despite reduction in the school fees by the same Amosun government.
As it has always been argued, industrial action will always be attractive to workers once they know that they will receive salaries for the period of the strike after they return to their duty posts. But where does this leave our students? Who will pay them for the lost academic sessions as a result of such strikes by their lecturers?
ASUU-OOU should call off its present strike because it is clearly unwarranted.
• Oladayo writes from Ijebu Ode, Ogun State
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