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By Innocent Oweh (Abuja)and Sylvester Enoghase (Lagos)
Federal Government may have begun enforcement of “no work, no pay” rule on university teachers who are now on an indefinite strike called by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other university-based unions.
Daily Independent gathered from a reliable source close to the National Universities Commission (NUC) that government had given directive to the various universities’ governing councils to halt payment of salaries of the striking lecturers.
The development was confirmed on Thursday in Abuja shortly after a zonal conference of ASUU at the University of Abuja, Gwagwalada campus, to review the strike that has paralysed the university system for over three months.
ASUU Zonal Chairman, Clement Chup, said his colleagues are yet to receive their September salaries.
He said they have, therefore, resorted to other welfare strategies to cope with the effect of the non-payment of salaries, in a bid to contain the attempt by government to break the resolve of the union.
“The Federal Government has through the National Universities Commission directed universities to stop the payment of our salaries effective September this year and since then our salaries have not been paid.”
Part of the welfare strategy, he said, involves distributing food items, giving out soft loans and cash advances to members.
Chup said Nigerians should disregard rumours making the rounds that the three-month-old strike has been called off, saying “the strike continues until the government demonstrates a positive inclination towards implementing the 2009 agreement and the 2012 memorandum of understanding signed by both parties.”
Meanwhile, General Secretary of the Non Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU), Peters Adeyemi, said strike has been beneficial to the academic system.
At a separate forum in Abuja on Thursday to announce the coming back of NASU into the fold of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Adeyemi said strike has helped in saving the education sector from total collapse, as it has compelled government to be alive to its responsibility in the sector.
He said some of the benefits currently being enjoyed in the tertiary education sector have come as a result of strike.
He cited the N130 billion for infrastructure and earned allowances recently released by the Federal Government through the Needs Implementation Committee chaired by Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswan.
“The government had already pledged to release N400 billion for infrastructure since 2013; N100 billion for four years. But if not for the ongoing strike, they would not have released the first N100 billion.
“Why does the government have to wait for strike before implementing agreements?” Adeyemi asked.
He added that although NASU is not on strike, the salaries of its members have not been paid for several months, which has led to some local chapters embarking on strike.
Adeyemi added that the union is currently restraining itself, but cannot understand why its members’ salaries are being withheld.
He blamed government for the spate of strike in the tertiary education sector.
“Government negotiators have to know their onions, they must know the capacity and limitation of government, but if on behalf of government, they entered an agreement to provide N1.3 trillion, then the government is bound by that agreement.
“Yes, N130 billion is a lot of money, but is that what they said they will provide in the agreement? When you know you are not in a position to do something, you should not promise that.
“You cannot have an agreement, then after three years come back and say you want to renegotiate that agreement,” he said.
Organised Labour, under the aegis of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), has also called on the Federal Government to explore more options of dialoguing with ASUU to put an end to the lingering crisis in the education sector.
Labour warned that the alleged ‘no work, no pay’ directive by the Federal Government to the respective universities would worsen the ongoing crisis.
NLC Acting Secretary, Chris Uyot, while insisting that dialogue is the only solution to the strike, stressed that no work no pay will further create more crisis.
“We urge the government to decisively tackle the crises in the education sector in order to prevent a total shut-down of the sector.
“We urge the Federal Government to muster all the necessary will and skill to confront the issues that threaten the education sector before the bubble burst.
“This is because any threat by the Federal Government will not bring an end to the lingering crisis in the education sector,” he added.
Also, Secretary General of TUC, Musa Lawal, who insisted that government’s threat may further fuel the ongoing crisis in the education sector, said: “We urge the government to dialogue with the ASUU as any threat has grave implications for the education sector and should be avoided, at least for the sake of our children.
“There is need for the Federal Government to put in place all that is needed for crisis in the education sector to be resolved because the strike by ASUU, for instance, is in its fourth month and has almost certainly disrupted an entire academic session with collateral consequences,” the TUC scribe said.