‘ASUU should continue to negotiate with the federal government. Any further strike action by ASUU could potentially push the federal government to mobilise all instruments of the law to finally proscribe ASUU and replace it with CONUA and NAMDA’
Ripe reports have it that members of the academic staff union of universities (ASUU) are mulling another strike action when they were paid pro-rata for 18 days only after their 8 months strike action. Recall that the union called off its 8 months strike action on 14 October 2022. There are feelers that after receiving a half salary for only one month when they expected 8 months salary arrears, some branches of ASUU have asked their members to stay at home until the federal government pays the 8 months salary arrears.
Recall that ASUU downed tools on 14 February 2022, resumed work on 14 October 2022 after a court order and were on tip toes to receiving a full 8 months salary in arrears only to be greeted by a half salary payment for 18 days at the end of October 2022.
Now ASUU is contemplating declaring another strike action to press for full payment of the 8 months salary in arrears. To this end, the union has called for a nationwide congress of its branches next Tuesday to take action on the matter.
The question now is ‘could another strike action by ASUU be justified when the matter is in court?
The answers are not far-fetched because clearly, the ASUU V FGN feud is subjudice as it is before the court of appeal hence it is illegal for ASUU to embark on another strike action .
Recall also that the appeal court has accepted to hear ASUU’s suit challenging the ruling by the national Industrial court (NIC) on 21 September 2022 which ordered ASUU to go back to work hence it amounts to contempt of court for ASUU to declare another strike action.
The ruling of the appeal court has technically upheld the judgement by the national industrial court (NIC) which asked the lecturers to resume duties.
THE RIGHT THING TO DO: ALLOW THE LAW TAKE ITS FULL COURSE
The right thing to do is to allow the law take its full course. The ASUU matter is now a subject of litigation and should be allowed to take its full course including up to the Supreme Court if need be.
In legal parlance, when a matter is subjudice, all parties are expected to abstain from all actions on the matter including but not limited to public discussions. To this end, ASUU cannot and should not declare a fresh strike in the midst of litigation.
In one of my previous articles on the ASUU matter dated 26th August 2022 and titled ‘ASUU STRIKES: ARE UNIVERSITY LECTURERS ENTITLED TO ANY SALARY ARREARS?, i stated the position of the law on the NO WORK NO PAY RULE. Clearly, any worker who fails to turn up for work in the name of strikes is not entitled to pay for the period he/she was away unless with the express approval of his/her employers. In this regard, ASUU is not entitled to salary arrears and promotion for the period of strike.
This scenario is clearly stated in the relevant section 42(1)(a) of the trade union act 2005 which is clear, explicit and unambiguous that:
‘Where a worker takes part in a strike, he shall not be entitled to any wage or other remuneration for the period of strike, and any such period shall not count for the purpose of reckoning the period of continuous employment, and all rights dependent on the continuity of employment’
The ‘rights dependent on the continuity of employment’ appropriately captures the fact that apart from the loss of salary arrears, workers are also not entitled to promotion to the next level, salary increase and such rights.
In another article on the ASUU matter titled ASUU: IS THIS THE LAST ASUU STRIKE? i suggested that the federal government may choose to pay the salary arrears of ASUU members in part or in full during the period of strike but this is clearly extra-legal and can only come under the doctrine of ‘compassion and consideration.
In any case, ASUU cannot be on strike and still expect that everything will be jolly-jolly. It cannot be as simple as ‘Go on strike for as long as you wish, come back and get paid millions of Naira in salary arrears. This scenario will encourage other unions in and outside the universities to do a copy-cat: Go on strike and resume after many months or years to collect millions of Naira as salary arrears. It is a way of building huge savings. In’t?
THE STUDENTS WHO ULTIMATELY BEAR THE BRUNT
What about the innocent students? Who is going to pay them for the time lost? Remember that these students have duly paid their registration fees for the semester. Who is going to refund them?
Yes, section 40 of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) has guaranteed fundamental rights of assembly and association for every citizen but that right comes with an obligation. A union cannot pick and choose when it wants to work, when it wants to strike and resume to collect salary arrears. The incessant strike action by ASUU is insensitive to the plight of the Nigerian university student who is struggling to attend classes amid a very harsh economic squeeze. It is psychologically traumatising for the students in public universities to watch their friends and peers in private universities attend classes while they sit at home for no fault of theirs.
LOSS OF GOODWILL
If ASUU goes on another strike action, the union stands to lose any remaining goodwill and sympathy it enjoys from the good people of Nigeria. Everyone will simply be confused and downcast about ASUU just as everyone knows that the basis of ASUU strikes is but for salary increase under the cover of ‘university upgrade’
Indeed, if the purported ‘upgrade of universities’ is real, why is ASUU not mentioning it now? Why are they now complaining about half salary and not the lack of laboratory and other teaching equipment in the universities?
With no intent to speak for the federal government (as a matter of fact, I have been speaking against ASUU strikes since 1996 as a postgraduate student), there are many areas of the government’s active funding of tertiary education in Nigeria particular the TETFUND which gulped over N2.5 Trillion in the last 10 years. Billions of Naira are allocated and paid to universities, polytechnics and colleges of education to fund infrastructure, training etc. Why is ASUU not talking about it?
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS DRAWING ASUU INTO A POSITION
Although it is legal for the federal government not to pay any salary arrears of ASUU members during the 8 months period of strike based on the legal provisions of section 14(2)(a) of the TUA 2005, anybody who understands the mechanisms of public service knows that the FGN is drawing ASUU into a cocoon with a view to applying the final hammer and proscribe the union using all available legal instruments. If ASUU declares another strike, the FGN may have no option but to proscribe the union.
Declaring a fresh strike will mean ASUU saying ‘Please federal government, proscribe us. We are tired.
Under the trade union act 2005, the President and C-In-C has the powers to withdraw the certificate of registration of any union that doesn’t abide by the terms of its registration. Clearly, this is an option for the federal government if ASUU declares another strike action. This is more so when juxtaposed with the fact that President Buhari has lend his voice to the calls for ASUU to stop its incessant strikes and even added that ‘enough is enough.
If the federal government goes ahead to ban ASUU in the face of another strike action by the union, it may replace it with the congress of Nigerian university academics (CONUA) and the National association of medical and dental lecturers in universities (NAMDA). These two university unions were recently registered as part of the plan by the federal government to provide options to university lecturers and break ASUU’s monopoly.
THIS IS MORE THAN NGIGE V OSODEKE
The ASUU matter is much more than a personality clash between the Honourable minister of Labour and productivity Dr (Sen)!Chris Ngige and the ASUU President, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke. Albeit each of these two leaders is trying to defend his constituency, clearly the chemistry and body language of the duo suggests that there is an ego-inspired personality disagreement between them. Much as i wish it is not, it looks highly unlikely that these two leaders can agree terms. They are professionals in their own right but there is the need to bear in mind that the ASUU matter is more than a personality clash. It has to do with the future of innocent students and that of our dear country Nigeria. ASUU strikes will certainly lead to stagnated tertiary education system and by extension, stagnated national development. The consequences of ASUU strikes to the students and Nigeria are huge.
These is no amplifying the fact that all hands must be on deck to stop these incessant ASUU strikes before the Nigerian university system collapses before our very eyes. Indeed, ASUU needs to change its method. Strikes are outdated methods and no longer fashionable.
For the sake of the innocent students, ASUU as a union of sound intellectuals should stop these incessant strike actions and employ the legal option (go to court) as a means of pressing any demands it has.