ASUU-Unizik Protests unpaid wages, proliferation of public universities

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By Udodirim Oti , Awka

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) , Nnamdi Azikiwe University Chapter, today marched in protest over unpaid wages, breached agreements with governments and proliferation of universities in the country, among others.
During the protest, the members chanted solidarity songs with their leadership for championing their cause and interest while displaying placards within the university premises.

Some of the inscriptions in the placards read: “Stop Suffocating University Lecturers,” “Pay Us Fairly, ” “FG, Stop Deceiving Nigerian Lecturers,” ” We Deserve Better Pay,” ” We Teach, We Deserve Our Pay.” Addressing the press shortly after the protest march, the Chairman of ASUU-NAU Chapter, Comrade Kingsley Ubaoji hinted that the idea to limit the protest to the premises of the institution was to avoid a
situation where infiltrators would hijack it and breach law and order.

Ubaoji observed that the Federal Government under the Bola Tinubu administration iwas yet to engage fully with the. union to address all outstanding issues with ASUU decisively.

Ubaoji who spoke in company of his executives also listed other demands to include Renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement, implementation of the Prof. Nimi Briggs Report; funding for the Revitalisation of Public Universities based on the FGN-ASUU MoU of 2012, 2013, and the MoA of 2017 and
release of the 3½ months of the withheld salaries

According to him, the Union was desirous of release of unpaid staff salaries on sabbatical, adjunct, etc., due to IPPIS., release of third-party deductions, implementation of UTAS in place of IPPIS, implementation of the Reports of the Visitation Panels, illegal dissolution of Governing Councils in Federal and State Universities and proliferation of public universities

    He observed that some of these issues have outlived successive governments without any resolution, in addition to other issues have been created by consecutive governments including the implementation of the IPPIS, which came with the Muhammadu Buhari administration. 

Ubaoji recalled that the government has made commitments and signed agreements with ASUU, detailing timelines and expectations of both parties aimed at developing the Nigerian Universities as conditions for suspending any strike action, lamenting situations where thr government and other stakeholders returned to the status as soon as lecturers resumed, promoting “ASUU again to start writing letters and reminders to the government, which were most often ignored, resulting in another strike action by ASUU.”.

Recounting to the public the successes ASUU had achieved so far to the benefit of universities and students, he pointed it that, through ASUU struggles, Nigerians have benefitted from regulated/subsidised tuition, establishment of TETFUND and NEEDS Assessment funds that have sponsored critical infrastructural projects in the universities, including lecture classrooms, office blocks, roads, hostels, electricity, etc., purchase of laboratory equipment and implementation of a reviewed salary structure for lecturers (last reviewed 2009). The others, he noted, were partial payment of Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) and non-victimisation of devoted union members and other victories which were made possible by ASUU struggles and strike actions.

The Unionist revealed that the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement has been a recurrent decimal in all ASUU industrial actions since 2009, lamenting that “no government had taken the renegotiation seriously, but during the life of the past administration, negotiation came to a conclusion with the Nimi Briggs Committee. “A document was produced, but the minions in the corridors of power refused to pass it on to the then President for his consideration and approval. Since then no tangible outcome has been recorded in spite of the constructive recommendations of the Committee.”.

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In this respect, he said the union, therefore was demanding that all renegotiations of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement be rounded off based on the Nimi Briggs Committee resolutions. He disclosed that the salaries of Academics in Nigeria have not been reviewed since 2009 to the point that, for over 14 years, have been on a static salary structure despite the country’s increasing inflation rate.

Continuing, he observed: “Aside from the raging inflation, we invite you to compare the wages of our counterparts in other African countries and offer your judgment. It is on record that most of our bright students are turning down the opportunities to join the teaching profession simply because Lecturers in Nigeria are not well-paid. By the time we retire, who will teach our children?

He maintained the stand of the Union that “based on the FGN-ASUU Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of 2012 and 2013 and the Memorandum of Action (MoA) of 2017, the revitalisation of our public universities remains a top priority if Nigerian universities and academics would remain competitive. “Money has been released for frivolities; why not for revitalising Nigerian universities, one might ask? “

He insisted that the work for which the government has withheld the members 3½ months salaries, based on the ‘no work, no pay’ policy of government, had been done and argued that the government has no reason to keep the salaries of university academics or face the dire consequences for dilly-dallying.. Ubaoji said: “It is worrisome and incomprehensible that the Earned Academic Allowances captured in the 2023 Federal Budget have not been paid.

Ubaoji wondered at the illegality in not paying the EAA even when the budget year in which it was captured has elapsed, urging Nigerians to ask the federal government where the budgeted funds for university workers’ EAA are currently domiciled.

He called on the federal government to release EAA without any further delay, as the non-implementation of this aspect of the budget is questionable and verges on illegality and its concomitant corrupt practices.

He further observed that the government’s failure to remit third-party deductions, including pension contributions and cooperative society dues, due to the incompatibility of IPPIS with the university system and therefore called for the immediate remittance of these deductions to the appropriate quarters, even as he hinted that failure to release the third-party deductions was a clear violation of the Trade Union Act that governs the deduction of such funds.

The Union’s boss revealed that the introduction of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) has led to unacceptable inconsistencies, including the non-payment of salaries of bona fide academic staff for some years and months, and academic staff on sabbatical, adjunct, and other contractual engagements that make the academic system unique.

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He said: “It is unthinkable that people were employed for the past four years in some cases and nothing is paid to them as salaries up till today not minding their punctuality to work,” describing the development as satanic and can only be executed by the devil’s advocate!”. Equally, the ASUU boss bemoaned non-payment of promotion arrears for the members as and when due,. observing that “it often takes about one year or more to process the promotions of academics especially, those at the professorial cadre, and when the results are finally released, the government finds it difficult to pay promotion arrears to our members.”.

Ubaoji, therefore, called for “the immediate payment of these unpaid salaries and allowances by the Federal Government to prevent further unimaginable distress among our members who are affected. “

He revealed that ASUU developed, at the instance of the Federal Government, the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as an alternative to IPPIS, as he said, “UTAS was designed to address the unique needs of universities, ensuring transparency and accountability in the management of resources. It is a system that is highly compatible with the Nigerian University System. The Federal Government called for it, and ASUU rose to the occasion. We therefore, demand the full adoption and implementation of UTAS in our universities as a home-grown solution to the financial accountability needs of our universities. UTAS made possible what IPPIS claimed to be impossible. IPPIS is not only a criminal process it is also a conduit pipe of corruption for some government officials as it enrolls without qualms, academics without their consents, captures ghost workers or non-existent staff into the payroll of the FGN, which could not have been possible with UTAS.

     "Hence, their reason for not implementing UTAS for our public universities. Carrying out a forensic audit on IPPIS will certainly reveal this assertion.

Our union condemns the dissolution of governing councils without due process. Governing Councils are crucial for the governance and strategic direction of our universities.” Ubaoji faulted the illegal and arbitrary dissolution of the Governing Council whose tenures have not ended,” adding that “it undermines Nigerian universities’ autonomy and smooth functioning, warning it “cannot be tolerated as it lays a very bad precedence. “Even the membership of the said newly reconstituted Councils is problematic. A critical look at the list of the newly constituted Governing Council, shows that it is made up of very old politicians who do not understand the academic system and its administrative processes.

       "Our public universities should not be a retirement home for politicians.". The ASUU boss called on the Tinubu-led Government "to do the needful by reversing its decision on the University Governing Councils dissolution., noting that the "union maintains that the proliferation of public universities without provisions for adequate funding and infrastructure does not auger well for our university system," the Union's leader narrated."         


          He called  on the government to put a moratorium on creating more universities without substance, stressing that government’s Visitation Panels to Nigerian universities make recommendations aimed at improving university governance and administration." Ubaoji suspected collusion or romance in the neglect to implement the recommendations of the Visitation Panels to the various universities, hinting:    "If there is no collusion or romance in the embezzlement of public universities funds and some other impunities within the system, some measures would have been taken by government to clear the mess made possible by the Procurement Act and other related laws and guidelines that give room for corruption and impunity in our public universities.," calling on the government to ensure the implementation of the Visitation Panels’ Reports, as delays in doing so impede the smooth operations and development of Nigerian universities. 

It is on good records that President Tinubu promised during his campaigns and afterwards that ASUU would not take industrial actions during his regime.”. ” We want to believe that he meant he would resolve all lingering issues so that the Nigerian University System, which is almost being strangled to death, could breathe a little easier. Therefore, there is a guarantee, somewhat, that there will be no ASUU industrial action if the Federal Government of Nigeria commits to:
The adoption of the Nimi Briggs Committee Report which was based on the spirit of the renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement. Nigerian Academics’ salaries and allowances should be reviewed to meet the present realities. Fourteen years without reviewing our salary is a punishment not deserving for Nigerian Academics.

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Funding and revitalization of public universities based on the FGN-ASUU MOU of 2012, 2013, and the MOA of 2017.
“The release of the 3½ months of the withheld salaries of members of ASUU for services already rendered.
Payment of Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) which was captured in the 2023 Federal Budget.
The release of unpaid salaries of staff on sabbatical, adjunct, etc., due to the incompatibility of IPPIS to the Nigerian University System.
The release of third-party deductions, which IPPIS is illegally withholding.

The reinstatement of the Governing Councils in Federal and State Universities, which were dissolved unlawfully.
The adoption and Implementation of UTAS in place of IPPIS in Nigerian Universities.
Putting a stop to the unbridled proliferation of public universities
Implementation of the Reports of the Visitation Panels.”

If the FGN sets its priorities right, all these could be resolved amicably, without any industrial action. Noting that the union remains committed to advocating for the rights and welfare of academic staff and the overall improvement of the Nigerian University System,Ubaoji said . the truth is that the government appears to have been treating these issues with some fun, which our union finds unacceptable.

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