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Academic Unions’ Strike: Agreement must be comprehensive for all sides

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Over six months of staying home, mammoth Nigerian tertiary institutions students whose academic calendar were brought to halt by lingering Academic unions’ strike, still lie expectant of what situation will tell in the coming week. While grievances and outcries awash the Nigerian public space over the lingering strike, negotiations between aggrieved Tertiary Institutions Unions and the Federal Government on Thursday, 18th August, 2022 was still shrouded with some clouds of grievances. Although the Federal Government claimed that other striking Unions including the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, (SANNU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Education and Associated Institutions, (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) have accepted to resume work in the next one week, yet a major arrow head in the strike action, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has refused to give any of such assurance over issues believed to be contentious and unsatisfactory to it.

The Federal Government had claimed that while other issues have been resolved, ASUU has refused to accept the offer to resume based on demands that its members should be paid the six months salary withheld by the Federal Government over the period the strike has lasted.  The Federal Government on Thursday, 18th August, 2022 insisted that it will not yield to the demand by ASUU for their members to be paid the six months salaries withheld over the ongoing strike, saying it is meant to be the penalty for their action. The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, at the 47th session of the State House Ministerial Media Briefing organised by the Presidential Communications Team at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, said not paying the backlog will serve as deterrence for others who may contemplate strike in future. He said that other three university based unions that are on strike have accepted to call off the strike in the next one week, except ASUU that has remained adamant insisting that its members should be paid the five months that their salary was stopped.

“All contentious issues between the government and ASUU had been settled except the quest for members’ salaries for the period of strike to be paid, a demand that Buhari has flatly rejected,” Adamu was quoted.

Adamu argued that ASUU went on strike despite the huge investment of trillions of naira the President Buhari regime and agencies such as TETFUND and UBEC in education, hence would have to bear the consequences, mentioning that the demand for payment for the strike period was not tenable as President Muhammadu Buhari has flatly rejected same.

“If you think it is for the government other than what the government is doing in the university to stop strike, the standard government has taken now is not to pay the months in which no work was done. I think this is the only thing that is in the hands of government to ensure that there is penalty for some behaviour like this. So, I believe teachers will think twice before they join strike if they know that at the end they are not going to be paid and the Federal Government is not acting arbitrarily. Before, it was some magnanimity on its part, there is a law which says if there is no work, there will be no pay. I believe this will be a very strong element that will be determining from going on strike,” the Minister said.

Meanwhile, ASUU, on its part raised issues which though may be related to salaries, yet reflected more grievances than mere demands for payment of six months withheld salaries as loudly claimed by the Federal Government. The Union on Thursday, 18th August, 2022, explained that its meeting with the Prof. Nimi Briggs-led committee last Tuesday, 16th August, 2022, ended in deadlock because the committee presented “award of a Recommended Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure (CONUASS), prepared by the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission” which was unsatisfactory to it. ASUU in a press statement, made available to newsman by its President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, argued the ‘award salary’ was “against the principle of collective bargaining, based on the Wages Boards and Industrial Council’s Decree No 1 of 1973, the Trade Dispute Act (1976), ILO Conventions 49 (1948), 91(1950), 154 (1988) and recommendation 153 (1981), Udoji Commission Report of 1974, and Cookey Commission Report of 1981.”

The report, ASUU noted, “also provided a platform for resolving such important issues as special salaries and conditions of service of university staff, university funding, roles of Pro-Chancellors, Vice-Chancellors, and National Universities Commission (NUC). “A key outcome was a special salary scale for university staff known as University Salary Structure (USS).”

ASUU alleged the Federal Government was insincere in its approach to resolving the lingering crisis in the university academic system, demanding that “The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Education, return to the New Draft Agreement of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Renegotiation Committee, whose work spanned a total of five and half years as a demonstration of good faith.”

The union further argued that the “award” presented by the Nimi Briggs-led Team appeared in a manner of “take-it-or-leave-it on a sheet of paper,” noting that “no serious country in the world treats their scholars this way.” In the statement, tagged “Why ASUU Rejects Governments Award of Salary,” the union claimed that “Government imposed the ongoing strike action on ASUU and it has encouraged it to linger because of its provocative indifference. The Munzali Jibril-led renegotiation committee submitted the first Draft Agreement in May 2021 but government’s official response did not come until about one year later! Again, the “Award” presented by the Nimi Briggs-led Team came across in a manner of take-it-or-leave-it on a sheet of paper. No serious country in the world treats their scholars this way.

“Over the years, particularly since 1992, the Union has always argued for and negotiated a separate salary structure for academics for obvious reasons. ASUU does not accept any awarded salary as was the case in the administration of General Abdulsalam Abubakar. The separate salary structures in all FGN/ASUU Agreements were usually the outcome of collective bargaining processes. ‘Leaking economy’ The major reason given by the Federal Government for the miserly offer, paucity of revenue, is not tenable. This is because of several reasons chief of which is poor management of the economy. This has given rise to leakages in the revenue of governments at all levels. There is wasteful spending, misappropriation of fund and outright stealing of our collective patrimony.

“ASUU believes that if the leakages in the management of the country’s resources are stopped, there will be more than enough to meet the nation’s revenue and expenditure targets without borrowing and plunging the country into a debt crisis as is the case now,” it argued. ASUU noted that “at the commencement of the renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement on 16th March 2017, both the Federal Government and ASUU Teams agreed to be guided by” some terms of reference, but the Federal Government reneged on its side to abide by the agreement.

It warned that, “Government’s surreptitious move to set aside the principle of collective bargaining, which is globally in practice, has the potential of damaging lecturers’ psyche and destroying commitment to the university system.

“This is, no doubt, injurious to Nigeria’s aspiration to become an active player in the global knowledge industry,” ASUU argued.

Recall that ASUU had since February 14, 2022, embarked on an indefinite strike over unresolved differences with the government. The union had accused the government of failing to honour and implement the Memorandum of Understanding and Memorandum of Action signed between both parties in 2020 – an agreement that was reached to end a nine-month old strike by ASUU in 2020.

Other issues of contention include the government’s poor commitment to the payment of academic earned allowances and the continued use of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS). Also, is the grievances of the academic stakeholders over the refusal of the government to adopt the Universities Transparency and Accountability Solution, as it’s recommended substitution for  IPPIS, and the proliferation of universities in the country. Grievances by other stakeholders in the nation’s public tertiary institutions system had seen more Unions including NAAT, SSANU and NASU, subsequently joining up in the strike.

The grounds that informed the strike is known to have been clustered with more controversies over contentious issues that have so far stalled  agreement between the contending parties. While the Federal Government has claimed other issues of contention have been addressed, except demands for payment of the six months salaries withheld for the period the strike has lingered so far, it is apparent ASUU’s demands transcend such claim. Although, the Minister of Education had informed that the University Perculiar Personnel and Payroll System (U3PS) and the University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) outscored the Integrated Personnel Payroll and Information System (IPPIS) during the integrity tests conducted by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), affirming that ASUU’s peculiarities will be accommodated in whatever platform that may be adopted, and that currently, the IPPIS has been made to accommodate the issue of sabbatical for lecturers, yet there is more to having a lasting solution to the grievances of the aggrieved parties, most importantly ASUU in this case.

It is therefore, essential for the Government to reach a comprehensive agreement with ASUU accommodating other Unions, within an elaborate scope of systemic architecture not just to get them to work, but for lasting solution to the issues of contest which over the years have formed the bases of unending strikes. The crash dispositions to agreements over time by successive governments have only left the phenomenon of ceaseless strikes which has characterised the tertiary institutions system in the Country with gross academic instability, breaking down the fabrics of excellence demanded of such institutions. The Federal Government should, with this particular case, begin a paradigm shift by making its agreement with the Unions a comprehensive whole, not leaving any side untouched, a deficiency which may constitute the ground for future strike.

Editorial

Rising human rights violations in Nigeria: Urgent calls for Govt action

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The latest findings unveiled by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) during its monthly dashboard meeting paint a concerning picture of human rights violations in Nigeria, specifically in March 2024.

The alarming figure of 1,580 recorded violations across the nation’s six geopolitical zones is a stark reminder of the challenges faced in upholding fundamental rights.

Of particular concern is the North Central region, which emerged as the hotspot for violations, reporting 468 cases. This revelation underscores the urgent need for targeted interventions and heightened awareness in this area to curb such abuses.

Equally troubling is the revelation that State Actors, including the police, military, and Department of State Service (DSS), were implicated in 94 violations. Among these were distressing incidents such as the killings of security personnel in Delta State, highlighting the gravity of the situation.

The breakdown provided by the NHRC reveals disturbing trends, with 542 cases involving violations of children’s rights and 471 cases of domestic violence, signaling a worrying trend that demands immediate attention and action.

Furthermore, the involvement of non-state and private actors in 32 and 36 violations respectively underscores the need for a comprehensive approach to address human rights abuses across all sectors of society.

It is also disheartening to note that three cases of rights violations were recorded against disabled individuals, emphasising the importance of ensuring the protection and inclusion of all members of society.

Beyond these specific categories, the NHRC’s report also sheds light on violations impacting social, economic, and cultural rights, with 157 cases identified. Additionally, the 24 referred cases highlight the complexities involved in addressing such violations and the importance of collaboration among relevant stakeholders.

In light of these findings, it is imperative that concerted efforts are made to address the root causes of human rights violations and to implement measures aimed at safeguarding the rights and dignity of all individuals in Nigeria. Only through collective action can meaningful progress be achieved in building a society. In a solemn address at the heart of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, the Senior Human Rights Adviser, Hilary Ogbonna, delivered a sobering message. He revealed that a grim tally of 499 lives were lost to violence and abduction, with an additional 71 souls stripped of their fundamental right to life during the reviewed period.

Ogbonna’s words echoed with the chilling reality of 301 schoolchildren vanishing into the night’s grip in Kaduna State alone. Meanwhile, the silent screams of 40 souls extinguished in Benue State, and four lives cruelly cut short in Nasarawa State during the distribution of much-needed palliatives, reverberated through the nation’s consciousness.

These violations, ranging from killings to kidnappings, domestic violence to abductions, and the vulnerable children’s rights trampled upon, cast a shadow over the fabric of society.

As the ink of these harrowing accounts dries on the pages of our collective history, our hearts are heavy with dismay. The sanctity of life, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is under siege in myriad forms, exposing the fragility of peace within our borders.

The sobering revelation that Nigeria languishes among the least peaceful nations on the Global Peace Index further punctuates the urgency of the matter. Despite over two decades of democratic governance and the noble ideals of the UDHR, our nation grapples with the weight of human rights abuses, laid bare for the world to witness.

At its core, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights beckons humanity to embrace freedom from oppression, active participation in decision-making, and the assurance of basic necessities. Yet, these foundational principles remain elusive for many, casting a long shadow over the promise of a just society.

As we confront these challenges head-on, let us not forget the indomitable spirit of resilience that resides within our people.

Together, let us forge a path towards a future where every life is cherished, and every right is upheld with unwavering resolve. Since its declaration, it has become fashionable for most countries of the world, Nigeria inclusive, to entrench the catalogue of rights in their constitutions.

But, regrettably, in Nigeria, and indeed Africa, people are usually subjected to physical and mental torture ranging from cases of accidental discharge and other forms of police brutality, domestic violence, kidnappings as well as detention without trial.

There is no gainsaying it that insecurity has continued to manifest in virtually all parts of the country in the form of banditry, kidnapping, terrorism and communal conflicts, resulting in the loss of lives and property.

We are not unaware that violations of rights that guarantee personal freedom are further worsened by the apparent lack of remedies for the victims, whether in the form of compensation or access to justice for the wrong done. With increasing cases of human rights abuses, citizens’ trust in the Nigerian system has continued to dwindle, making it difficult for victims to come forward and seek justice.

The Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right to personal liberty which implies that human rights are the fundamental features of any true democratic setting. While we recognise the efforts made by nations towards safeguarding these freedoms, it is equally essential to acknowledge the persistent obstacles that hinder their full realisation.

Some of these obstacles may arise from legislative constraints, societal prejudices, or systemic shortcomings. Whatever is the case, justice demands that collective attention and concerted efforts be made to dismantle them.

We feel compelled to highlight the multitude of obstacles facing our nation, ranging from insecurity and separatist tensions to egregious acts such as torture, illegal detention, extortion, and extrajudicial killings perpetrated by law enforcement agencies.

Additionally, the pervasive challenges of limited access to justice, manipulation of the court system, and the alarming disregard for court orders compound the hardships faced by citizens. Coupled with the escalating cost of living and deteriorating living conditions, these factors undermine the ability of individuals to lead secure and fulfilling lives.

It is crucial to emphasise the pivotal role that safeguarding human rights plays in nurturing vibrant democracies, fostering social cohesion, and celebrating diversity.

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Editorial

EFCC and the war against Naira abuse

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The war against Naira abuse by the Economic and Financial Crime commission (EFCC) seems selective but it is a good omen and stakeholders must rise to support the anti-corruption agency in its task. A few weeks ago two popular celebrities Bobrisky and the Chief Priest of Cubana were brought to book for spraying money in public events against the laws regarding it.

The six months sentence slammed on controversial cross-dresser, Idris Okuneye popularly known as Bobrisky, and the ongoing prosecution of socialite, Pascal Okechukwu, also known as Obi Cubana, clearly demonstrates the seriousness with which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is willing to prosecute the war on naira abuse.

A Federal High Court sentenced Bobrisky to six months jail without an option of fine. Also, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos granted Obi Cubana N10 million bail after he pleaded not guilty to charges of naira abuse. EFCC’s decision to begin the war with these socialites is plausible and that will send a strong signal to their ilk.

Arguably, the naira is one of the most abused currencies in the world as it is very common to see Nigerians, especially the well-to-do, spraying this legal tender with reckless abandon at social events. This is a clear contravention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) Act which frowns at the abuse of the country’s legal tender.

Section 21(3) of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007 (as amended) explicitly provides for penalties for those caught abusing the naira. Specifically, the law stipulates that “spraying of, dancing or matching on the Naira or any note issued by the Bank during social occasions or otherwise howsoever shall constitute an abuse and defacing of the Naira or such note and shall be punishable under the law by fines or imprisonment or both.”

The law also prohibits hawking of the country’s legal tender when it provides in Section 21(4) that, “It shall also be an offence punishable under Sub-section (1) of this section for any person to hawk, sell or otherwise trade in the Naira notes, coins or any other note issued by the Bank.”

However, in spite of this copious provisions, Nigerians still indulge in outright abuse of the naira by spraying the banknotes at events, tearing and writing on the banknotes, and selling the banknotes among other clear instances of abuse including selling and mutilation.

As should be expected, these practices have continued to make a mess of the CBNs Clean Notes Policy which was implemented with the aim of enhancing the visual appeal and durability of the banknotes in circulation.

From 2007 when the Act was enacted to date, there have been no deliberate efforts to punish those who indulge in sheer abuse of the naira in contravention of the law. As a matter of fact, until recently, most Nigerians were unaware of the law.

It is clear that the respective authorities have finally woken from their slumber and are set to go after unpatriotic Nigerians who have turned naira abuse into a hobby. Beginning with the so-called socialites who are the worst culprits as far as abusing the naira is concerned, the government appears bent on ending this menace.

We applaud the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other relevant agencies of the government for this all-out war and urge them to sustain the tempo. Nigerians who have made it a habit to disrespect the naira by either spraying it with reckless abandon at social functions such as birthdays, weddings and funerals, or selling it at the roadside, must be made to face the full wrath of the law.

While the EFCC’s prosecution of Bobrisky is commendable, the agency must ensure that it sees to its logical end the ongoing prosecution of Obi Cubana. For this renewed war to make a meaningful impact, there must be no sacred cow. All those guilty of this abuse, regardless of their social standing, should be brought to book.

The EFCC and other agencies must resist the temptation to indulge in preferential treatment especially as one class of persons who are guilty of naira abuse is the political class. The political elites see spraying the naira at social gatherings as a status symbol. Even though it is a long held one, the culture of spraying money during celebrations is a national embarrassment that must be confronted using all the available legal instruments. There has to be an end to this sheer act of flamboyance and extravagance which is counterproductive.

In addition, while we commend the EFCC for its effort to protect the integrity of the national currency, we are persuaded to appeal to the government to apply the same zeal in ensuring that Nigerians, so hard pressed, have the Naira in their pockets in the first place.

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Editorial

Addressing the socioeconomic factors contributing to suicide rates in Nigeria

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The tragic incident that unfolded in the Magboro area of Ogun State, where Victoria Idowu, a 49-year-old woman, took her own life by hanging herself on a ceiling fan, is a poignant reminder of the deep-rooted issues surrounding mental health in our society.

The discovery of her lifeless body by her son upon his return from a church service emphasises the devastating impact of such actions on loved ones and communities at large.

This unfortunate event, coupled with the recent case of Deputy Commissioner of Police Gbolaha Oyedemi, who also tragically ended his own life, sends shockwaves across the nation. Oyedemi’s untimely demise, particularly given his position within the Force Criminal and Investigation Department in Lagos State, raises questions about the unseen burdens individuals may carry, even in seemingly successful and accomplished lives.

These incidents compel us to confront the pressing need for enhanced mental health awareness, support systems, and destigmatisation efforts within our society.

While the reasons behind such tragic decisions may remain elusive, it is imperative that we foster an environment where individuals feel empowered to seek help without fear of judgment or ostracisation.

As a nation, we must prioritise mental health initiatives, invest in accessible counseling services, and promote open dialogue about mental well-being in homes, workplaces, and communities. Only through collective action and compassion can we hope to prevent further loss and support those struggling with mental health challenges.

The intertwined tales of Victoria Idowu and Deputy Commissioner Gbolaha Oyedemi paint a harrowing portrait of despair echoing across Nigeria’s landscape.

Idowu’s final act, discovered by her son amidst the echoes of church hymns, and Oyedemi’s perplexing departure, once the trusted aide to a former governor, unveil a somber truth: suicide’s haunting grip knows no bounds.

Their stories, etched with the weight of societal expectations and personal demons, illuminate a troubling trend veiling Nigeria in sorrow.

From the seasoned to the youthful, lives are lost to the silent whispers of despair, leaving behind unanswered questions and shattered hearts.

In the shadows of these tragedies, Nigeria grapples with a growing epidemic, where the specter of suicide looms larger with each passing day. The reasons, as diverse as the nation itself, intertwine threads of societal strain, economic woes, mental anguish, and a dearth of solace in the face of adversity.

Yet, amid this darkness, one truth shines unwaveringly: suicide, however tempting, is not an adequate solution. It is a plea for help lost in the silence, a cry for understanding drowned in the noise. In the face of despair, let us extend hands of compassion, build bridges of support, and shatter the silence with voices of hope. For in unity, in empathy, lies the beacon of light guiding us through the darkest of nights.

In 2019, the tragic loss of a university student in Lagos to suicide, amid the weight of academic pressures and depression, stirred conversations about mental health awareness within educational institutions.

The following year, the untimely demise of a renowned Nigerian musician, who was discovered dead by suicide in his Lagos home, cast a spotlight on the silent struggles faced by celebrities and public figures battling mental health issues.

Similarly, in 2020, the distressing case of a young woman in Abuja, who took her own life after sharing troubling messages on social media, underscored the crucial need for accessible support systems for individuals grappling with mental health crises.

Then, in 2021, the heartbreaking loss of a teenager in Kano, driven to suicide by the torment of bullying and harassment at school, sparked urgent calls for concerted action to address both bullying and mental health concerns among students.

These poignant examples serve as reminders of the pressing imperative for heightened awareness, robust support networks, and adequate resources to combat mental health challenges and stem the tide of suicide across Nigeria.

Nigeria faces a sobering reality according to the World Health Organization, grappling with one of Africa’s highest suicide rates, with a notable portion of victims being young people. Worse, the ratio of psychiatrists to population is 1:800,000.

However, there’s a beacon of hope: fostering mental health awareness and education emerges as one of the most potent tools in combating this crisis. Despite prevailing stigmas branding mental health issues as taboo or indicative of weakness, dispelling these misconceptions can pave the way for a more compassionate and supportive society. By shedding light on mental health challenges, we can dismantle barriers to seeking help and foster understanding for those battling depression and suicidal thoughts.

Moreover, addressing the recurring tide of suicides demands an overhaul of mental health services accessibility nationwide. Presently, many Nigerians, particularly in rural areas, face insurmountable hurdles in accessing vital care and support. By bridging this gap and ensuring equitable access to mental health services, we can extend a lifeline to those in dire need, fostering a nation where every individual’s well-being is prioritized and safeguarded.

Governments, healthcare providers, and non-governmental organisations could work together to expand mental health services, train healthcare professionals, and integrate mental health into primary healthcare systems.

To effectively combat the pervasive issue of suicide in Nigeria, collaboration between governments, healthcare providers, and non-governmental organisations is paramount. Together, they can expand mental health services, equip healthcare professionals with necessary training, and integrate mental health into primary healthcare systems.

Establishing robust support networks is crucial for individuals grappling with mental health challenges and suicidal ideation. This entails offering accessible avenues for seeking help, such as helplines, support groups, and online forums. Education initiatives should empower friends, family, and communities to recognize signs of depression and suicidal behavior, fostering environments of support and understanding.

Furthermore, advocating self-care practices like exercise, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques equips individuals with tools to manage their mental well-being and mitigate the risk of suicidal tendencies.

Addressing the persistent scourge of suicide demands a holistic approach that delves into its root causes while providing effective interventions and support for those in crisis. Through concerted efforts to promote mental health awareness, improve access to services, foster support networks, and empower individuals, Nigeria can forge a path towards suicide prevention and cultivate a healthier society for all.

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