Members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Owerri Zone, have lamented that university staff salaries have remained stagnant for 15 years, while calling on President Bola Tinubu to urgently intervene on the welfare of their members amidst the current hardship and high cost of living in the country.
The union who said this on Monday in a communiqué signed by their Owerri Zonal Coordinator, Prof. Dennis Aribodor, and made available to journalists during a press conference held at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University (Unizik-ASUU) complex in Awka, Anambra State capital, noted that their members had been earning the same salary since 2009.
The university staff pleaded with the President not to allow politicians to commercialise the university system in Nigeria.
“The focus of this press conference is the state of our union’s engagements with the federal and various state governments on how to reposition our public universities for national development as a sequel to the FGN-ASUU Agreement of 2009.
“The Union is worried that both the Buhari and the Tinubu-led administrations have jettisoned the main elements of the 2009 agreement and other lingering issues that led to the nationwide strike action of February–October 2022.
“This conference is intended to update Nigerians on developments since the suspension of our last national strike action on Friday, October 14, 2022, and our engagements with the current administration since its inception.
“ASUU is a patriotic organisation committed to national development and should be taken very seriously when she talks,” the union said.
On renegotiation of the FGN/ASUU 2009 Agreement, the union said that “The renegotiation of the FGN/ASUU Agreement of 2009 has dragged on for seven years since 2017.
“The reluctance of the Federal Government to conclude the renegotiation is the reason why the government committee has had three chairmen, from Wale Babalakin through Munzali Jibril to Nimi Briggs. This means that academic staff in our universities have been on the same salary structure for 15 years.”
According to the ASUU, “We urge the Bola Tinubu administration to speedily put a final closure to the renegotiation by directing the upward review in view of current economic realities and signing the draft agreement reached with the Nimi Briggs committee.
“The most obvious implication of the truncation of the renegotiation of the agreement is that university teachers in Nigeria have been on the same salary regime since 2009 when the value of the naira to the dollar was N120 as against N1800 today.
The most obvious implication of the truncation of the renegotiation of the agreement is that university teachers in Nigeria have been on the same salary regime since 2009 when the value of the naira to the dollar was N120 as against N1800 today.
“The signing of the Nimi Briggs draft agreement will be a concrete step towards restoring the dignity of academia and ensuring industrial harmony and peace on our campuses.”
On withholding member salaries, ASUU argued, “The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions guarantee the right of trade unions to use strike action as a means of pressing for their demands as a last resort.
“The immediate past Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, in pursuance of his personal animus towards ASUU, engaged in the weaponization of hunger and poverty by withholding the “seven and a half months” salaries of academic staff in federal universities.
“Some visitors to state universities were disappointed, leading to the withholding of varying months of salaries for academic staff at state universities.
“The most ignoble act of the then Minister of Labour was the pro rata salaries paid to academic staff in October 2022, subsequent to the suspension of the strike. The step taken by the Tinubu administration to pay four months of the withheld salaries is a step in the right direction.
“Consequently, we urge the Tinubu administration to put an end to the agitations surrounding the withheld salaries by clearing the remaining three and a half months. That struggle by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, instigated by the failure of the government to honour agreements, was, after all, in the national interest.
“Meeting ASUU’s demand in this regard is a panacea for industrial peace in our universities.
“Compatriots of the press, the Union also draws your attention to the fact that the Federal Government has lately been evasive on its commitment to the payment of the backlog of the Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), part of which was captured in the 2023 National Budget for Federal Universities.”
The union further stated that “The Memorandum of Action (MoA) of December 2020 between FGN and ASUU captured the mainstreaming of the earned academic allowances into the salaries of lecturers with effect from 2022, while the arrears were to be cleared prior to the mainstreaming.
“The scheduled payment of the arrears was aborted, while the mainstreaming of the earned academic allowances, which was supposed to commence in 2022, has remained a mirage in both federal and most state universities. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.
“On the illegal dissolution of governing councils, the union said the governing council is the highest decision-making body of the university, charged with the general control of the institution, its affairs, and its functions, including finances and property.
“The illegal dissolution of the governing councils of federal universities and some state universities since June 2023 (over 8 months) constitutes an unbridled attack on and the erosion of the autonomy of the universities in violation of the existing laws of the universities.
“It has caused a major setback in the administration of universities, with serious adverse consequences. Without governing councils, universities are hamstrung and at the mercy of unscrupulous vice-chancellors and their cohorts in the Federal and State Ministries of Education, who illegally assume the function of the administration of the universities by awarding contracts, approving promotions, and recruiting. These anomalies and aberrations are abominable and totally unacceptable to our union.
The Union, therefore, calls on federal and state governments to immediately reverse the dissolution of governing councils where they were dissolved without serving out their tenures and to, without further delay, reconstitute governing councils whose tenures have expired.”
On the issue of Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS), ASUU said, “The President Tinubu administration has announced the exit of tertiary institutions from the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS), a corrupt salary payment system imposed on federal universities by the Buhari administration.
“Our union consistently rejected the payment platform because it grossly eroded the autonomy of our universities. However, our union is worried that some elements inside and outside the ambiguity that currently surrounds the transition out of IPPIS to the so-called “new IPPIS,” with which January salaries were paid a few days ago.
“Our position is that the government should revert to quarterly releases of university funds to the various universities to enable them to design and implement their salary payment plans. In addition, the government should release the promotion arrears of academic staff in various universities dating as far back as 2013 and defray the outstanding salaries of all academics who were unjustly denied their salaries arising from the obnoxious imposition of IPPIS.
“We also note with serious concern the efforts by the National Universities Commission, which is currently taking over the responsibilities of the senates of our universities with the imposition of the Core Curriculum Minimum Academic Standard (CCMAS) with effect from the 2022–2023 academic session.
“Consequently, we urge all our university senates to resist the surreptitious moves by NUC to erode the powers of our senates over academic programmes in our respective universities. The NUC cannot and should not regulate itself.”