Stop opening new universities, upgrade existing higher institutions – SSANU, NASU tells Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari and governors of the thirty six states of Nigeria have been urged to stop opening new universities, but to concentrate on upgrading the existing higher institutions and properly fund them.

The admonition was made by the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) in the Eastern Zone, consisting of the Southsouth and Southeast geo-political zones, at a news conference over the weekend at the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT).

JAC condemned opening of new universities, while leaving the ones that had been established to be poorly funded, with workers being owed allowances and salaries being delayed.

SSANU and NASU’s JAC, through the National Vice-President of SSANU (East), Dr. Leku Ador, reiterated that the unions decided to embark on a five-day warning strike, which ended on Friday, after the expiration of 14-day ultimatum for the Federal Government to address the issues in the 2009 agreement.

JAC said: “The issues in the 2009 agreement are, but not limited to, universities’ staff schools’ matter, payment of earned allowances, renegotiation of 2009 Federal Government/unions’ agreement and funding of universities, both by the federal and state governments. These issues have lingered for over four years, despite very healthy interactions with the Federal Government and its Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), through memos and meetings, among others.

“It is a well-known fact that Nigerian universities, whether federal or state, are underfunded. We are calling on the Federal and State Governments to improve the funding of universities. We are also calling on the visitors to the universities (President and Governors), to properly fund the existing universities, in order to be able to favourably compete with other universities worldwide.

“We are also calling on the National Universities Commission (NUC) to step up its supervisory roles and concentrate more on the universities that are already on the ground. So that they can function much better, for our graduates and children to have proper education, the universities to have adequate infrastructure and good working/learning environment for research.”

The JAC also insisted that members of the unions at the staff schools of Nigerian universities, who were illegally laid off over four years ago, should be reinstated.

The unions declared that they would not accept only payment of the arrears for the suffering workers of universities’ staff schools nationwide.

JAC said: “On staff school matter, it must be clearly stated that all employees in the various universities are engaged by the governing councils, representing the government. Establishment of staff schools, which are centres of excellence, is as old as the universities. Suddenly, the Federal Government, through a circular, decided that NASU and SSANU members at the staff schools should be removed from the mainstream of the universities. For over four years, our members have been thrown out of jobs and now begging to survive the hard times, while most of them have died.

“Staff school matter is a product of our 2009 agreement with the Federal Government, with a clause that the universities shall be responsible for the funding of the staff schools. Federal Ministry of Labour took the matter to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria in Abuja, but the unions got favourable judgment on December 5, 2016. Since then, we have been calling on the government to implement the court judgment.

“On August 20, 2019, the Federal Government released a circular, through the NUC, trying to mainstream our members in staff schools into the budget, directing vice-chancellors to liaise with the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and Federal Ministry of Finance, towards effecting the payment of accruable arrears to our members, but it is not yet Uhuru, as proper placements must be worked out for them, to prevent injustice.”

The unions also disclosed that the earned allowances were equally captured in the 2009 agreement, but the payment was now in arrears for the members, while maintaining that allowances should not be paid to staff on union basis, asking the Federal Government to release the arrears of N30 billion to SSANU and NASU members, and that there would be no going back on the demands, while advocating fairplay and justice in the matters.

JAC stated that the earned allowances should be made to be part of the salaries of members of SSANU and NASU, to end the problem of payment of arrears.

The unions said: “On the renegotiation of 2009 Federal Government/unions agreement, it must be stressed that the agreement that all the four university-based unions entered into in 2009 is still subsisting, but ought to be renegotiated every three years. The 2009 agreement ought to have been renegotiated three times. The Federal Government is treating the renegotiation with kid gloves and we say no. Federal Government must expedite action on the matter.

“The struggle is aimed at making the university environment a better place for staff and students. We extend appreciation to the parents and guardians of our students for their understanding.

“We are calling on all Nigerians to prevail on government to urgently address the issues, for industrial harmony, because at the end of the warning strike, the national JAC of SSANU and NASU will reconvene to chart the way forward, based on the response from government.”

JAC also admonished all the stakeholders in the education sector to prevail on the federal and state governments to immediately do the right things, in order to move forward, considering the future of Nigerian students.

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