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ASUU strike and non-compliant varsities

Some universities did not join the nationwide strike called by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for various issues.  However, the ASUU leadership says their non-compliance does not discredit the strike, report KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE, ADEKUNLE JIMOH (ILORIN), AIWERIE OKUNGBOWA (ASABA), and SOJI ADENIYI (OSOGBO).

The campus of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife is unusually not busy. The hustle and bustle of academic activities have reduced. Classes are not going on. The reason is not because of the nationwide strike called by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on August 13. It is because the institution is wrapping up its first semester examination of the 2016/2017 academic session.

Its Public Relations Officer, Mr. Biodun Olarewaju, said the examinations would be concluded this week and the students would begin a short holiday that would last no longer than a fortnight before they resume for the second semester.  He confirmed plans by the university to conduct the post-UTME screening for prospective candidates this month.

“We will finish this week. Some, who were meant to write last Friday and Monday but did not, are waiting to do so. We will give the students a break of one or two before resuming for the second semester.  They do not have to go home; this is not a sessional exam. Those who don’t have money to go home can stay and those who want to can go home. We will do post-UTME this month,” he told The Nation on Tuesday.

However, that is not the news. The news is: OAU is not part of the ASUU strike.  This is because OAU is usually one of the institutions noted for compliance with directives from the national leadership of the union.  But this is not presently the case.

When asked why the institution did not join the strike, Olarewaju said the lecturers were magnanimous enough to consider the welfare of students, given that the university was behind in the academic calendar.

“We put the interest of our students at heart because we have not been meeting up with the academic calendar, so our lecturers decided we should join the strike.  We are grateful to OAU ASUU chapter for that,” he said.

However, The Nation found that the lack of compliance has more to do with crisis in the local chapter of the union than the magnanimity of the lecturers.

Before the call for the industrial action, the OAU ASUU had been bedevilled by crisis occasioned by the appointment of Prof. Anthony Elujoba, as Acting Vice Chancellor, which a faction of the union, led by Dr. Caleb Aborisade, insisted did not follow due process. But another group led by Dr. Niyi Sunmonu, has the blessing of the university authorities.

It is this group that claimed that the directive of the national secretariat of ASUU could not be obeyed because the union was not informed about the strike.

Sunmonu said:  “The directive to embark on a strike was not communicated to my committee. The directive from the national ASUU was not directed to us, but as faithful ASUU members we still considered it at our congress. And the decision of the congress was that since we were not communicated officially, the referendum to go on strike or not was not before us.”

However, on his part, Aborishade, who said his group was the one recorgnised by the national ASUU secretariat, said that his “loyal members complied with the strike order.”

According to him, the strike is for the future of the education sector.

He said: “As far as we are concerned, the OAU is on the same page with ASUU national secretariat. My members were in compliance with the directive of the NEC, which is to fight the rot in the university system. The greatest offence anybody can commit in ASUU is to break a strike which some people have decided to do. We resolved at our congress that we will not disturb anybody from holding exams; they go by their own conscience, and it’s by choice. For example, my own exams, there is no way it can be done, because I am on strike. Though the university authorities are trying to intimidate my members by issuing queries to them, we still complied with strike order.

When asked to comment, the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Eyitayo Ogunbodede, said OAU lecturers were not interested in the strike.

The Nation, however, gathered that past leaders of ASUU, including Dr. Dipo Fashina, were in the university to reconcile factional members of the union in the interest of all. OAU is known for taking active positions in union matters in the past.

Nevertheless, OAU is not the only institution that did not the strike. Others include the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), which has not embarked on strike since 2001; the Kwara State University, Malete, and the Delta State University (DELSU), Abraka.

All the institutions have local issues.

Explaining the no-compliance at DELSU, the immediate past ASUU chairman, Dr. Emmanuel Mordi, said although the lecturers backed the decision by the national body to go on strike, the chapter could not comply with the directive because it did not recognise the election that ushered in the chairman, Prof Abel Diakparomre.  As a result, he said, the chapter did not participate in the process leading to the strike.

Mordi hailed the decision the strike, saying “the strike action is long overdue”.

He accused the Federal Government of “freely making agreements and breaching them”, stressing that ASUU demands were geared towards arresting the downward spiral in the tertiary education sector.

At KWASU, which had just resumed for a new session when the strike was announced, there are two factional chairmen, Dr. Adesola Dauda and Dr. Issa Abdulraheem.

Both said the branch did not join the strike.

Dauda, whose faction is recognised by the national body of ASUU, said his faction was still on observer status.

He said: “The ASUU national is on strike but KWASU is not because we are on observer status. We have just joined ASUU and by their constitution we have to observe. We are on observer status if we have the capability to join.  But up till now, I am still having problem with my university management. The university management does not want union to exist in KWASU.”

Abdulraheeem, recognised by the KWASU management, said the strike was not being observed in the university.

“We are not on strike. We have just resumed,” he said.

At UNILORIN, the local ASUU chapter that has the heart of the university management has gained notoriety within the national leadership of the union for not complying with strikes. This has been the case since 2001 when 49 lecturers of the university were sacked for joining a national strike.  Though they were reinstated in 2009, the university has two factions of ASUU, the stronger of which does not comply with strikes.

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics) Prof Sidikat Ijaya said the university had gained positively from not going on strike.

Speaking at an international conference organised by the Social Studies Association of Nigeria (SOSAN) and hosted by the university, at the start of the strike,  Ijaya said: “This non-participation of UNILORIN in all strikes called by ASUU has been responsible for the unbroken academic calendar and peace we have on campus in the last 16 years.”

However, the factional ASUU Chairman, who is recognised by the UNILORIN management, Dr. Usman Raheem, said the union agreed with ASUU on the reasons for the strike.

He said the lecturers did not join the strike because the chapter was not informed about it.

Raheem said: “UNILORIN is not observing the strike called by the national union of ASUU because of obvious reasons.

“Since 2001, UNILORIN has not been part of ASUU national, which has also been carrying its activities without us. The reasons for the strike and need for it were not communicated to us at UNLLORIN. So, the referendum for whether it will hold or not in this university was not conducted because it was not communicated to us.

“However, we came across the reason the national union is calling the strike. We believe in it; we believe that ASUU has a reason to agitate for the implementation of the 2009 agreement, which the Federal Government signed with the union. It is just honourable that the Federal Government honours the agreement. We support the move to force them to do the needful.”

Reacting to the reasons for non-compliance in the institutions visited, National ASUU President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, said ASUU was aware of the local issues in the chapters and excused the unions to sort out their domestic issues. Nonetheless, he said their non-compliance did not discredit the union’s struggles as it recorded more than 90 per cent compliance.

“Any branch that has crisis, we know they have a disability and as such they cannot present a common front.  In each organisation, there will always be weak areas.  But it does not detract from the integrity of our struggle.  Over 90 per cent of our branches are on strike,” he said.

He however accused the UNILORIN chapter of being hypocritical by supporting the reasons for the strike, but not joining in the struggle.

Ogunyemi said: “Can you not see that it is contradictory? You believe in what someone is doing but you cannot do it; you say you were not invited.  They know they have violated the ASUU constitution.  UNILORIN has always maintained this moral bankruptcy.  They want to reap where they did not sow.  Don’t be surprised this has been happening in Ilorin. UNILORIN is not a good university to showcase when it comes to moral steadfastness.”

The ASUU chief also condemned the university management for persecuting lecturers loyal to the national body.

“Our members who are loyal, they have sent them out – placing them on suspension. The secretary of the union has been suspended for more than six months.  We protested but nothing was done – so there is official connivance,” he said.

ASUU is billed to meet with the government again today in Abuja to negotiate issues that led to the strike. The union is demanding: The registration of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company, NUPEMCO; payment of complete salaries in federal universities (salaries have been incomplete for about a year) and better funding of state universities; payment of arrears of earned academic allowances; release of funds for rehabilitation of public universities; implementation of guidelines for retirement benefits of professors; exemption of universities from the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and resumption of funding for universities staff primary schools.

If all goes well, students may soon be called back to the classroom.





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