Raymond Ozoji, Awka
From all indications, staff of public universities in Nigeria may in no distant time commence an unending strike that may cripple the nation’s public universities over what they termed federal government’s insincerity, dishonesty as well as outright blatant lies intended to play on the intelligence of University workers.
The signs and symptoms of the impending indefinite strike were made manifest in the submissions of the Chairperson of Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities Nnamdi Azikiwe University Branch Comrade Njideka Nwangwu, the Chairperson Non-Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities Nnamdi Azikiwe University Branch Comrade Chukwugozie Ikegulu as well as the Chairperson Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities Nnamdi Azikiwe University Branch Comrade Stephen Ufoaroh.
Nwangwu told our correspondent that an indefinite industrial action may be the last option, should the federal government continue to deceive staff of the nation’s universities with pledges intended to build castle in the air.
She said that the Nnamdi Azikiwe University branch of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities had commenced a 3-day warning protest to press home their demands over inconsistencies in the IPPIS payment platform, non-payment of earned allowances, non-payment of arrears of minimum wage, delay in the renegotiation of FGN/NASU/SSANU 2009 agreements, non-payment of retirement benefits of outgone members, teaching staff usurpation of headships of non-teaching staff units amongst others.
She maintained that non-teaching staff were not second class citizens in the Nigerian University system instead they should be regarded as first class citizens in the campuses because she believes that without the non-teaching staff, the university system can not function properly.
According to her, IPPIS payment platform is the most problematic and most worrisome in their demands. She explained that IPPIS is a platform through which the federal government pays workers’ salaries currently and that before their enrollment into IPPIS, the federal government convinced them that all their peculiarities will be taken care of.
Nwangwu regretted that at the moment, the reverse seems to be the case as she opined that all what the federal government said ab initio about IPPIS is now a complete fallacy !
She said, “Even our check-off dues no longer have name. The union is run by check-off dues; they have taken them away from us. For instance, in Nnamdi Azikiwe University our 7 months check-off dues is outstanding. How do we explain that ? They deduct the money from our salaries but they don’t remit it to the appropriate bodies.
The SSANU NAU chairperson also berated the fact that a lot of their members have not been captured into the IPPIS platform. She accused the operators of the IPPIS payment platform of collecting bribes to enroll people into the system.
Nwangwu said, “They want you to give them bribe for them to do their work, if not, they will leave your case pending.
“All these things are not okay to us. This IPPIS has also taken our allowances. Our peculiar allowance has been taken out. Our harzard allowance has also been taken out.
“Apart from IPPIS, the federal government said before the 31st of December 2020, we will have our minimum wage, arrears of our minimum wage and our earned allowance but up till now, government is yet to pay the money. The possibility of an indefinite strike is 100%, if the federal government refuses to do the needful.”
Comrade Chukwugozie Ikegulu, the Chairperson Non-Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities Nnamdi Azikiwe University Branch, disclosed that their new minimum wage was approved in 2019 but it has not been implemented till date.
Ikegulu equally accused the federal government of a grand conspiracy to channel the bulk of the earned allowance to the teaching arm of the universities while other bodies settle for peanuts.
He also expressed concern that their teaching colleagues were usurping their offices in the university system. He said that in Nnamdi Azikiwe University for instance, a professor is currently heading the transport unit of the university whereas the unit has a director of works.
According to Ikegulu, IPPIS collects their money at source but they don’t remit the money to the cooperatives where they obtain loans from and some other assistance; describing the payment platform as a calculated attempt to blindfold university workers in the country.
On his part, the Chairman Academic Staff Union of Universities in Nigeria Nnamdi Azikiwe University branch, Comrade Stephen Ufoaroh, told our correspondent that ASUU suspended strike on 23rd December, 2020 with hope that the federal government was forthcoming with its promise of meeting some of its demands by 31st December, 2020 but till date, government has proved itself as very unreliable and insincere.
Ufoaroh said ASUU members are still where they are when they suspended the strike last month. He said, “Some members are still owed up to 11 months salaries and virtually all issues at stake are still unresolved.
“Aside from the release of the names of members of visitation panels to federal universities; the date for them to commence their work has not been made known yet.
“Our members actually suspended the strike because of pressures from parents and other stakeholders. Government can not mount pressure on us to suspend strike because we know that government has never been sincere . How much has government released to universities to enable them to procure COVID-19 prevention materials?
“We have only suspended the strike. We didn’t call off the strike. As soon as we give them enough time and there is no positive response from them, then we go back to the trenches because the only language government understands is strike and an indefinite strike is the next available option.”
Also an ASUU member of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University branch, Dr. Uzochukwu Chukwuebuka of the Department of Parasitology and Etomology, narrated his ordeals to our correspondent, saying that by February 2021, it would be one year since he received salary.
Chukwuebuka said, “I have not been paid salary since February 2020 till now. It is seriously biting and my family is suffering from it. I’m trying to see if ASUU will assist me but you know ASUU doesn’t do business.
“The government should sit up and do what they are supposed to do. They should fulfill the promises they made to university workers. What we were told was that by 31st December 2020, the salaries will come but up till now nothing has come.”