Too early for strike: Viable government responses as antidote to sectoral disturbances 

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…Education, a source of concern

Resolution of a congress held by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) branch on Tuesday, has revealed that Lecturers of the academic institution, have following their resolution, resolved plans to commence an indefinite strike. The ground informing the strike as would be expected has unpaid Earned Academic Allowance (EAA) as a hold of concern by the aggrieved parties.

A copy of the resolution signed by ASUU-OAU chairperson, Dr Adeola Egbedokun, conveyed complaints that no concrete action was taken by the university before the expiration of an ultimatum placed on January 7, 2022. “Congress however noted and reiterated the following – that constitution of any committee to be set up by the University administration to verify the correctness of all claims submitted by members of Academic Staff of the University as regards the Earned Academic Allowance, should be rejected since there was no such instruction in the accompanying documents from the NUC on EAA Disbursement. That the ultimatum of Friday, January 7, 2022, given to the University Administration to pay EAA into the accounts of all deserving members of ASUU OAU expired without concrete action (payment of members’ EAA) from University Administration. That the actions of the administration and the Vice-Chancellor in particular, with regards to EAA disbursements, have always undermined the struggles of ASUU. After exhaustive deliberation, congress resolved as follows – that the branch should embark on a total, indefinite and comprehensive strike. That the branch exco should commence the process of obtaining permission from the national Secretariat to embark on a total, indefinite, and comprehensive strike.”

Among several other subjects, breaches in the payment of EEA have constituted a major grievance informing industrial actions in the education sector, particularly with stakeholders in public universities. Cases of breaches of agreements have always been a resounding clause spurring actions of strikes by stakeholders in public owned institutions. The defaulting posture of the Government to fulfill promises made from demands of the stakeholders over time has been a disposition known with the Government. A strike action by members of ASUU, Plateau State University chapter,  which began on December 20, 2021, has lingered from last year to the new year, spanning across a period of three weeks. The Institution’s chapter of ASUU had accused the state government of refusing to implement an agreement which it entered with the Union on March 2, 2021. Apart from breach of agreement on demands over security, the aggrieved parties are also lamenting failure to immediately release about N70 million sum as part payment of the first tranche of earned academic allowance arrears, as well as failure to complete the payment of mainstreamed earned academic allowances for the 2019/2020, among others.

Issues of industrial actions in Nigeria have become a reoccurring phenomenon which have coloured Labour activities in the Country. Such industrial actions have largely been borne by grievances of unsavoury working conditions by workers in the Country. The echoes of the reverberation more often than not largely resound from those under the employment of the Government. While several bodies such as those of the judiciary and the health sector, have continued to resort to strikes to express their grievances, the incessant occasions from the part of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have been on the leading burner when it comes to the Country’s education sector.

The grounds for the incessant occasions of such strikes, from time to time, have largely been informed by the breaches of agreements on the part of the Government to honour promises made to address grievances of inconducive working conditions by the stakeholders. The possibilities of another strike by ASUU have always been ticking as the body of intellectuals have always lamented the breach of Agreement by the Federal Government reached on the demands of the Union. Last September, 2021, the Union had lamented that only two of its eight demands had so far been met by the Federal Government within the space of nine months, after it called off a nine-month-old strike in December, 2020. The strike which commenced in March 2020, had hinged on the failure to implement previous agreements between the union and the government in 2009, 2013, 2017, and 2019.

Issues which have formed the bases of clamour include the reversal of the decay in the Nigerian university system; restoration of universities through sustained financial interventions; and ensuring university autonomy and academic freedom. Also, forming part of the demands is that the government reverse the brain drain in the education sector by enhancing remuneration of academic staff, and disengaging them from a unified civil service wage structure. One very prominent bone of contention between both parties was the implementation of the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS), an electronic payroll system mandated by the government for payment of salaries of all public workers.

Drumbeats of industrial actions beyond the education sector have begun to take reoccurring effect in the past few days which is largely undesirable for a new economic year. Nigerian NewsDirect had last week lamented plans by workers attached to the National Assembly under the aegis of the Parliament Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) to embark on an industrial strike over payment default of eight months national minimum wage and 15 months CONPECULIAR allowances. A proposed strike scheduled for February, 01, 2022, by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) to protest the removal of subsidy is still much in view.

It is noteworthy that Nigeria at this critical time, needs nothing but concerted efforts with full concentration to blend strategic responses towards addressing the plethora of challenges, the Country is presently been confronted with. The strains of underdevelopment have sprouted wings of socio-economic disturbances demanding concrete intervention to douse the tension in the polity. Distractions from inconsistencies as may be obtained from such disturbances from strike actions are largely undesirable. It has become necessary for the Government to institute parameters to integrate structural provisions for systemic responses to address issues of concerns and satisfy pressing demands across sectors in a bid to proactively prevent issues from degenerating into grievances.