The Oasis Reporters
March 14, 2018
In nominating Chris Ngige, a medical doctor and former governor of Anambra state as Nigeria’s Minister of Labour, President Buhari knew exactly what he was doing. He scarcely looked at the man’s medical credentials. He was more interested in putting a ‘toughie’ into that position, because he has an aversion for unionism and therefore needed someone who could box them in to a corner.
After all, Ngige boxed the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to a corner, such that he emerged governor without winning an election, and trampled on the heads of godfathers without bowing to their needs. It didn’t matter that the courts chased him out of Government House.
Akin to a coup plotter, if you like.
Recall that Gen. Buhari disbanded the striking Nigerian Medical Union and chased them out of the country to start Nigeria’s brain drain, with the nation’s best, fleeing abroad.
Academic Staff Union Of Nigerian Universities started a strike in 2017 over what they called the refusal of the government to honour previous agreements entered into with them dating back to the late President Yar’adua’s regime. One of the chief reasons was the payment of Hazard allowances, even as their salaries continued to run. After all, in comparison to other African countries like South Africa, Botswana etc, lecturers in Nigeria look pitiably paid.
The Buhari administration agreed after a long strike to pay.
But trust Ngige, the government would pay ‘in installments’ owing to paucity of funds.
University of Ibadan staff agreed. They are the most staffed Federal university and their wage bill is high.
So the government released the first tranche.
The local branch of ASUU in the University of Ibadan, devised an ingenious formula : payment according to when a staff joined the University service, while the rest members waited for their turn.
But the non academic staff wanted to be more egalitarian by sharing the money to every staff. In the end, some staff got a mere pittance whereas the ASUU formula put more meaningful money in the hands of those who had collected. And they went back to work.
NASU on the other hand, proceeded on a crippling strike action because what each member got, was paltry thereby demanding for the full financial release.
The government made motions of talking to them without really saying anything. As far as they cared, let the strike continue. NASU failed to catch the drift and smell a rat.
THE non teaching staff of Nigerian Universities have been on the renewed strike since December 2017. It meant final year students would get every frustration they could receive, while the rest students would have their second semester examinations suspended.
Then private working people running secretarial services or other businesses on the campus would be unable to operate, with electricity, cleaning services, water supply etc, cut off. If you saw a phone, laptop, television repairer, etc , chances are that you are before a Master’s or doctorate degree student. Doing odd jobs to keep body and soul together.
In trying to make the strike totally effective, the rights of everyone on the University campus was breached, with some persons claiming physical abuse by a section of the striking workers.
Worse still, students were being locked out of their halls of residence, for rooms they had paid for. The boys hostels resisted it stoutly. Female students were not so lucky initially. To compound matters, no cleaning, electricity or water services were running.
These actions led to loss of goodwill and empathy and the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Olayinka was said to be furiously angry.
Some students managed to get into lecture theatres to ensure that classes held.
To forestall any backlash from the authorities, it was said that the University of Ibadan, NASU branch co-opted sister universities into making the strike nationwide. It stayed the hands of the University authorities from wielding the big stick on the striking workers who breached the rights of others while pursuing their’s.
Currently all the rest universities are using their tongue to count their teeth. Most of them have pulled out, leaving only the University of Ibadan branch to tackle it’s own problem alone.
Chris Ngige is in one corner, chuckling.
While other universities have graduated their final year students and accepted their new intakes, the University of Ibadan is still running behind schedule and by the time they resolve to call off or suspend the strike, they’ll discover that the authorities have outsourced all the jobs that NASU used to do. Contractors are now in charge, at cheaper rates, far lower than the combined wages bill of NASU members.
Ngige is making himself unavailable for any further negotiations.
President Muhammadu Buhari may have little regard for court judgements.
Redundancies may be declared over some services, which may lead to some worse fears over jobs.
A news report said in January 2017 that a “meeting which is on the instance of the Federal Government negotiation team led by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige is expected to deliberate on the “no work, no pay” policy being contemplated by the government against the striking workers.But the three unions have said they will not be threatened and have accused the government of being responsible for the prolonged strike.Although the meeting was slated for 11am, as at 12:30pm the union members were agitating to storm out of the Conference hall because neither the two Ministers of labour nor their counterparts in the ministry of education are present, a staff of the labour ministry pleaded with the union leaders that the meeting has been shifted to 1pm”.
The non teaching staff under the umbrella of Joint Action Committee, JAC, comprising the Non Academic Staff Union of Universities and Associated Institutions, NASU, National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, have accused the Federal Government of breaching the agreement the two parties entered into in September 2017 that led to the suspension of the strike the unions embarked on.
However, Permanent Secretaries in the two ministries are seated waiting for the leader of the government negotiation team, Senator Chris Ngige”.
These are clear signs that unease may rule on the side of the union like Obasanjo’s government did to the University of Ilorin, which till date have rejected unionism in it’s system, making it the leading Federal government owned university with a stable calendar. It’s fresh students have already commenced lectures, ditto the Universities of Benin, Calabar, Oye Ekiti, DutsinMa, Otuoke, Petroleum University, Warri etc.
Those that passed JAMB and post- UTME examinations into the University of Ibadan are still at home biting their toenails in frustration, all because of the NASU strike.
With services currently running on the campus, it is evident that the Vice Chancellor has figured out how to completely sideline the non academic staff, and it simply does not bode well for how the University system used to run. Change has come. But NASU will not like it, all because of a lingering strike that forgot to know when the drumbeat had changed.