CONUA demands govt recognition, vows not to embark on strike


Jeleel Olawale

National Coordinator of Conference of University Academics (CONUA), Dr Niyi Sunmonu, has demanded the recognition of the union, saying that the union started its registration process in April 2018, two months after the union was formed.

The organisation asked the federal government to conclude its registration.

CONUA has been seeking formal recognition for about four years since its members broke away from the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

It was formed as a parallel academic staff union at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife in February 2018, following a leadership crisis that rocked the university’s ASUU at the time.

During that ASUU-OAU face-off, CONUA members accused the current ASUU National President, Emmanuel Osodeke, of worsening the crisis. Mr Osodeke, who was not ASUU president then, denied the allegation.

Mr Osodeke, who led a team sent by ASUU national headquarters to look into the crisis and submit a report at the time, accused the aggrieved members of wanting him to present a false report in their favour.

At a briefing on Friday, the CONUA National Coordinator, Niyi Sunmonu, noted that the union started its registration process in April 2018, two months after the union was formed.

By 19th November, 2020, he said, the Minister of Labour and Employment held a public meeting with CONUA delegates where he gave the ministerial committee (reviewing the registration of CONUA) four weeks to conclude its work.

“We are aware that the committee has since submitted its report. We have therefore been waiting to hear from the government on our registration,” he said.

He, however, expressed worry at the comment of the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, who said the government has refused to register CONUA because it respects ASUU.

“Let me tell you a secret today… For the past three years, another association of university teachers has met all the requirements for registration. They are there at the ministry of labour, CONUA –Congress of University Academics– we have not registered them, we just respect ASUU. We don’t want to be seen as the one breaking ASUU,” Mr Keyamo said when he featured on a programme on Arise TV.

CONUA described the minister’s statement as a ‘double-edged sword.’ “First, it is gratifying for us that the Ministry of Labour and Employment acknowledges that CONUA is not a frivolous union, but an assemblage of visionary and courageous academics with immense potentials to stem the tide of the consistent decline in the public image of and confidence in university education in Nigeria,” Mr Sunmonu said.

“Second, we are immensely worried that the government places the desire not to be seen as the one breaking ASUU over and above upholding the fundamental human rights of law-abiding citizens who have demonstrated merit in their quest for the exercise of the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of association, in consonance with Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, and international labour law.

“We believe that any further delay in the registration of CONUA would amount to undermining our fundamental human right to exercise our patriotic duty to provide agreeable options to incessant strikes that have wreaked more havoc than any good they may have yielded. It will, furthermore, amount to a commendable effort at deepening the democratic ethos in the educational setting to register CONUA forthwith,” he said.

He listed universities that have some of their lecturers as members of CONUA to include the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike; University of Benin; Federal University, Lokoja; Federal University, Oye; Kwara State University, Malete; Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; the University of Jos and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, where the union was formed.

CONUA, which has previously dissociated itself from the ongoing strike by ASUU, said it is saddened by the disruptions of the academic calendars in Nigerian public universities over the incessant strike by ASUU.

“Between 1999 and 2021, Nigerian public universities had experienced strikes for 1,417 days which translated to over 5 years! The ongoing strike is in its sixth month now! This has caused damage in no small measure to teaching and research,” Mr Sunmonu said.

He said CONUA, determined to proffer solutions to these endemic problems, is calling on the federal government to convene a stakeholders’ meeting to include parents, students, all unions and relevant government agencies to brainstorm and find lasting solutions to the problem.

“We cannot be doing the same thing the same way for many years and expect different results. As a union, we are committed to the entrenchment of quality ideas that will stand the test of time in Nigerian universities,” he said.

CONUA said it would avoid strikes by “engaging proactively in ideologically-unencumbered consultation, dialoguing and lobbying the National Universities Commission, the Minister of Education and the House Committee on Education on the need for enhancing budgetary provisions for education, rather than folding our arms when budgets are being prepared and then going on strike to ask for improved funding.”

It said it would advise the government and educate the public on the need to maintain an effective and efficient educational system in the country, raise consciousness on ethical conduct on issues of sexual harassment, and build a good relationship between students and lecturers.

CONUA said it sees itself as a partner in national development and would work harmoniously with other university-based academic and non-academic unions for the enhancement of the capacities of university staff to fulfil their different mandates in the university system.

“We also use this medium to appeal to those Vice-Chancellors who have been harassing and molesting CONUA members on account of the present non-registration of the union to desist forthwith. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria allows the free association of like minds pending the completion of the registration process.

“It will be the dawn of a new era when CONUA is handed the legal recognition by the Federal Government. It will provide alternative perspectives for the achievement of constructive engagement with stakeholders, thereby making hitch-free academic calendars possible,” he said.