Academic unions reject Tinubu’s payment offer after strike

Academic unions in Nigeria have faulted President Bola Tinubu’s directive to pay lecturers half of the salaries that the government withheld during an Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike of eight months in 2022 – on condition that it will not grant a similar waiver to education unions in the future.

In a statement on 20 October signed by Tinubu’s spokesperson, Ajuri Ngelale, Tinubu said he invoked the “presidential prerogative of mercy” to approve a partial waiver of the ‘no work, no pay’ order against ASUU.

The president explained in the statement that the “the exceptional last waiver will allow for the previously striking members of ASUU to receive four months of salary accruals out of the eight months of pay which was withheld during the eight-month industrial action undertaken by the union”.

He added that the payment is subject to a mandatory requirement that the Federal Ministry of Education and the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment must secure a document of understanding, establishing that “this exceptional waiver will be the last one to be granted to the ASUU and all other education sector unions”.

“We are not aware of it [the waiver] and until they write to us on the issue, we don’t believe those conditions,” ASUU President Professor Emmanuel Osodeke told University World News.

When he was asked what the union would do if Tinubu stands by his statement, Osodeke said: “The union will meet and decide.”

Members of ASUU went on a strike between February and October 2022 after the government failed to honour an agreement it reached with the union.

The lecturers’ demands included funding for the revitalisation of public universities, the payment of earned academic allowances as well as demand for the University Transparency and Accountability Solution platform for paying university staff, instead of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System preferred by the government, University World News reported at the time. The issues still remain largely unresolved.

Other unions condemn ‘insulting’ condition

Meanwhile, other unions have also kicked against the partial waiver and the mandatory requirement of the president, saying the “insulting” condition is an attempt to repress the unions’ right to strike as a universally acceptable instrument for pressing home their demands.

Dr Anderson Ezeibe, the president of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, said no union will sign the proposed document of understanding.

“What do they mean by waiver? … All the lost sessions have been covered; the work has been done. So why are you giving them [ASUU] slave treatment? Why are you ridiculing them? You want to give them 50% and you’re asking them to sign an agreement. Nobody will sign that agreement. If they implement it, we will not even talk to them [the government] – enough of this kind of insult.

“The only strategy that will prevent future strikes is for the government to honour the agreements reached with the union. They should respect the agreement and fund the higher education sector. Strike [action] is an internationally recognised instrument for trade unions,” Ezeibe told University World News.

Dr Smart Olugbeko, the chairman of the Colleges of Education Association Staff Union, said he was disappointed by the statement of the president, who was expected to make a positive change in higher education.

Olugbeko noted that the “presidential prerogative of mercy” is anti-union and ill-advised and shows that the government has not come to terms with the sad realities in the educational system.

“The lecturers called off the strike after a lot of persuasion and negotiations and they went back to do all the work they ought to have done during the eight months. Asking them to sign the document is an insult and it amounts to the government not appreciating the essence of industrial tranquillity,” he said.

“We can never get involved in signing that kind of anti-union document, because it is illegal. The decision to strike is entrenched in the Trade Union Act as recognised by [the] International Labour Organization (ILO). What the ILO says is that, when you breach an agreement signed with a union and the union decides to go on strike, you cannot apply the ‘no work, no pay’ rule.

“ASUU went on strike on the basis of the agreement it signed with the government which the latter refused to implement. It is our right to go on strike when the government breaches an agreement. The fact that you have the power to withhold salaries does not mean what you’re doing is right. I believe no reasonable unions will accept those insulting conditions,” he said.

Ben Gong, the spokesperson for the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Education, told University World News he could not speak on the consequences should the unions refuse to sign the document.

“Mr President gave the order so it is the presidential spokesperson that can say what will be the consequence [if the unions fail to sign]. If the minister [of education] gave the order, I would have been able to say what would happen,” he stated.

Ngelale, the president’s spokesperson, did not respond to calls and a text message sent to him.