By Dr Kenneth Okoh
“(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or in any other law – (a) where any worker takes part in a strike, he shall not be entitled to any wages or other remuneration for the period of the strike, and any such period shall not count for the purpose of reckoning the period of continuous employment and all rights dependent on continuity of employment shall be prejudicially affected accordingly.” (Section 43 of Trade Dispute Act)
Public interest should take precedence over professional camaraderie. From the time of Attahiru Jega, every ASUU leadership has always worn as a badge of honour an industrial action resulting in welfare improvement for its members, notwithstanding the length of the strike. In fact, it is now an anomaly for an ASUU president not to preside over a strike action during his tenure.
In my last intervention titled, “Who funds the strikes by ASUU”, published in January, 2020, I predicted another industrial action by ASUU in the following lines: “The next strike timeline is predictable. There may be only a warning strike in 2021 because of the prolonged 2020 strike. But by 2022, there will be another strike, lasting months. ‘Rot in infrastructure’ will be the top item while Earned Academic Allowances will be tucked into the list of demands. There will be a new ASUU president to lead his men in battle. Every new leadership of ASUU must get pocket enhancement as the barometer for measuring the success of its tenure. But the strategy is to push on the front burner ‘decay in infrastructure’ in order to obtain public empathy.”
It’s not surprising that ASUU is beating another drum of strikes. The federal and state governments must be held responsible for paying ASUU members for the period of strike action in violation of s.43 of Trade Dispute Act. This is a matter of common sense. Yes, you may stop my salary during an industrial action, but if I knew I would still collect the salary after calling off the industrial action, why then should I not embark on strike every now and then? I can use the period of the industrial action to do other businesses. Heads or tails, I did not lose; in fact, I gain so much! Here then lies the motivation for endless strikes in our ivory towers.
A former colleague and vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Prof Isaac Adewole, once expressed the same opinion, warning “the federal government against paying lecturers for the nine months that they did not work, saying that would encourage more strikes in the future.” We may wish to recall that the ex-president of ASUU, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, declared before a bewildered nation that “…our members are not tired of withdrawing their services”! Why not? When you’re sure of collecting salaries for not working! Government’s business is nobody’s business!
It is an open secret that many of the academics, especially the union leaders have their children in private institutions in Nigeria and abroad. Indeed while these dons collect salaries for not working in public universities, they collect wages for working in private universities. In the latter, there must be evidence of lecturing before you can be paid. As a matter of fact, students are part of a lecturer’s promotion assessment in some private universities, as you have in ivory towers abroad. Many of the academics that wish to be paid salaries during the strike period demand all manners of gratification from our children with the pain of failure. By now, one would have expected the government to have rid the public universities of the moral corruption.
In Nigeria, government’s business is nobody’s business. The rational alternative is to turn all public universities into private institutions. Government will then place a ceiling or subsidize school fees payable. You’ll be shocked that the current government’s investment in universities with the Internally Generated Revenues may just be adequate! With this, sanity will automatically be restored. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. And if you’re caught demanding sexual or monetary gratification from students, you’re shown the way out. And our students will get the best of education. There will be no room for lecturers to receive double, triple salaries from the same government purse, as ICPC investigation revealed.
When Prof Yakubu Mahmood was the Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, he lamented from time to time the inability of most of our public institutions of learning to access the billions of Naira in the fund. The reason being that the universities were unable to account for the management of the previous funds they received! It is like pouring water in a basket as the public varsity system is riddled with corrupt practices, pollution and mismanagement of funds. Besides, the public should also demand from ASUU, if their products have become more employable in the labour market after the past revitalization funds released by the government.
This is putting the Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige and the leadership of ASUU on notice not to ignore the threats from concerned stakeholders. Our children must no longer be used as canon fodders. Time is life. When next you go out on strike, there will be a court action to ensure compliance of the federal government with s.43 of the Trade Dispute Act and force academics to return the salaries for the nine months they were at home in 2020 to the public exchequer. ASUU cannot continue to hold the entire nation hostage.
The leadership of ASUU may wish to reflect on the submission of Prof Babatunde Ogunsanwo, during the 49th inaugural lecture of Olabisi Onabanjo University in 2009. “Government,” he observed, “has no business in negotiating salary for university staff because the latter are not employees of government. The responsibility to fix the salary of any university staff should be left strictly to the Governing Council of that university if we are sincere about our demand for university autonomy and academic freedom. The concept of unified salary structure for members of the academic staff is not only retrogressive but archaic and encourages indolence. Under this system, a hardworking, industrious and innovative academic staff would have to seek motivation elsewhere as there is no difference between his ‘take-home’ pay and that of a lazy colleague who will not accept any administrative responsibility but rather indulges in attending to his lectures a week or two before the commencement of an examination.”
“I sincerely hope that the union would put a stop to this line of action which has always succeeded in inflicting unwarranted pains on parents and students otherwise Mr. Vice-Chancellor Sir, just like Dr. Martin Luther King jnr., I also have a dream that one day the university teachers shall step out as usual on a strike and the fee-paying students, who are the major stakeholders in the system, shall ask them never to return.”
If anyone imagines the dream cannot become a reality, then they may wish to read the news report in the media titled, “Varsities closure: Students threaten to beat up lecturers!” A word is enough for the wise.
- Dr Okoh, a retired varsity lecturer, writes from Lagos.