By Mubarak Oladosu
For a month and a half, the non teaching staff of Nigerian universities have stayed off work in protest against the Federal Government’s non implementation of agreements reached nine years earlier with the three non-teaching unions namely, the Non Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities(NASU), The National Association of Academic Technologists, (NAATs), and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU). The latest round of strike action which began on the fourth day of December 2017, is a follow up move which emanated from the industrial action that began on September 11,2017 and lasted for one week, before it was suspended on September 21, 2017.
The bone of contention in September was the refusal of government to pay the salary shortfalls owed members of the unions, non compliance of the government with the National Industrial Court judgement on University Staff Schools, registration of Nigerian Universities Pension Management Company, NUPEMCO, and implementation of CONTISS 14 and 15 for technologists. Following negotiations and promise by government to meet its obligations, the strike action was suspended.
True to the nature of successive administrations in Nigeria however, the promise was never fulfilled and the three unions commenced another round of strike on December 4 and government hasn’t batted an eye lid so far.
In addition to government not redeeming most of its pledges, one of the major reasons for the strike is that government allowed room for controversy over the sharing formula of the N23 billion which it released for ‘Earned Allowances’ among the aforementioned three unions under the umbrella of their Joint Action Committee (JAC) on one hand, and the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities on another hand. While the industrial action stretches on, the government through the cold shoulder of its officials, appears unperturbed that activities at the nation’s most important tertiary institutions are as chaotic as activities outside the universities.
At the time the universities are on strike, other crises considered more pressing such as the rampage of herdsmen militia and lingering fuel shortages hold the nation by its jugular. It is no surprise that decision makers for Higher Education at the highest level, whose lack of trust in Nigerian Education institutions, and whose lack of will to address the situation is evident in their patronage of foreign Universities, have not shown much concern, if at all they have shown any, over the ongoing strike. These officials send their wards to schools which are as expensive as those of the United Kingdom, schools that are as far as Indian and Chinese Universities and even show more confidence in universities that are as close as Ghana’s Universities.
These disheartening facts on the state of university education in Nigeria, and similar ones which abound in the public domain, should be enough to stimulate the non teaching university staff unions and their teaching counterparts (or rivals, as suggested by the latest strike) to up their game with the government, by demanding that wards of all public office holders attend Nigerian public schools. They could achieve this through campaigns in the conventional and the new media, through conversations and debates and through sponsorship of legislative bills. These actions demand urgent attention or Nigerians would continue to have elected officials run to UK for higher education of their wards, even when Ruth Kelly, a former British Education Secretary, was forced to step down for sending her son to a private school while holding public office.
Given that the bedrock of the highlighted ‘more pressing’ challenges are themselves products of mis-education and under education which put all emphasis on cognitive skills and non on the affective domain, the striking unions have a lot to engage the Nigerian public with in the media, while the strike lasts, and even more, after this strike ends.
While the non teaching staff unions have the moral ground on their side, a section of the media, particularly in the broadcast media has under reported on germane issues surrounding the strike. The effect of this is that the impact of university non teaching staff’s strike on the already ailing education sector remain relegated rather than be a daily topic on prime time TV shows, editorials and opinion articles.
Mubarak Oladosu is a non teaching staff at the University of Ilorin.