Monday, 29 September 2008

Heading For The Rocks

The stand of the federal government on the three-day warning strike by members of Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, may likely aggravate the situation rather than ameliorate it

By Increase Abasi-Ubong & Tosin Omoniyi

It was meant to be a peaceful protest over government's insensitivity and insincerity in meeting its constitutional responsibilities. The demonstrators, mainly members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, University of Calabar, UNICAL, branch, marched round the campus and terminated it at the university's main gate where the union officials were billed to address them. But it turned out to be a different address all together. Mr. Dominic Aja, a staff of the Graduate School of the university, who had joined his colleagues in the protest march from Chinua Achebe Arts Theatre to the university's main gate, suddenly slumped and was immediately rushed to the hospital where he died later despite spirited attempts by medical personnel to revive him.
This was perhaps, the height of the three-day warning strike last week ordered by SSANU national leadership over government's non-adherence to past agreements between it and the academic body. Among the demands of the union were the payment of the monetization arrears to its members; the controversial baseline retirement, which pegged the retirement age for non-academic staff at 65 years as well as the unresolved new salary scale initiated by the previous administration.
SSANU national president, Promise Adewusi said the union members would embark on an indefinite strike if government fails to meet their demands within two weeks. He told newsmen that the three-day warning strike was, “to draw the attention of the appropriate government officials and well meaning members of the public to our plight so that if issues are allowed to worsen, nobody claims ignorance,” and described the government insensitivity to workers' plight as appalling, which negates universal democratic norms.
Citizen Ini Ekpo, national public relations officer, PRO, of SSANU, who also spoke to Newsworld said the association has done all within its powers to resolve the disputed issues with the federal government but to no avail. “We took our time hoping government would behave maturely and responsibly. It is however obvious that the federal government is insensitive to the plight of workers, especially those in the university sector, and it appears the only language government understands better is strike,” Ekpo stated. He said SSANU members would have embarked on a full blown strike but for recent developments in the country. “The president has just returned from Lesser Hajj and the new Secretary to Government of the Federation had just assumed office.
“Alhaji Babagana Kingibe was very much versed with what was going on, in fact he intervened when we first gave the ultimatum and now he is not in office. So we need to give the new secretary to government the opportunity to address the problem. That is why we embarked on the three-day warning strike; and if nothing is done then the strike will be total.”
But the case of SSANU UNICAL chapter appears to be different. Godwin Mbeke, chapter chairman apart from the unpaid monetized benefit, members of the union in the university want the Cross River State government to refund the three months arbitrary deduction from the salaries of members between April and June 2007 as well as the payment of honorarium to staff of Centre for Educational Studies. They also want and the release of 2007 promotion and the implementation of circulars on retirement as well as upgrading of staff with additional qualifications and the employment of immediate family members of deceased staff. “We have made our grievances known to the relevant authority with nothing being done to address the issues in contention,” Mbeke told this magazine.
Their other demands included payment of hazards and high risk allowances to deserving staff, pension refunds to staff who were either underpaid or whose names were omitted and the immediate recall of the 19 suspended members of the union who were suspended from duty by the university management.
But federal government seems not bothered about the union's demands. Instead, it threatened to invoke the 'no-work-no-pay' rule against members of any striking union. And to make good its threat, vice chancellors of federal universities were directed to sanction the striking SSANU members. In a letter signed by the executive secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, Professor Julius Okojie, the vice chancellors were ordered to deduct three days pay from the September salaries of the workers that participated in the industrial action.
SSANU leadership however, said the action will only ill-advised but succeeds in aggravating the situation. Adewusi noted that past governments that toed the same path had had their hands burnt in the process and urged the federal government to immediately rescind its decision as the association would not be brow-beaten into submission by the authoritarian action.

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