APPARENTLY to whittle down the influence of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and ensure that it no longer retains the power to cripple academic activities in Nigerian universities, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, on Tuesday, said it had registered two new unions of lecturers.
The two unions: Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and Nigerian Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA), Ngige said, were registered after due consideration following series of letters written to the Ministry of Labour and Employment by the lecturers who made up the two new unions.
He said the lecturers had in the letters complained of ASUU’s maltreatment and further declared their interest to break away from their parent union.
Ngige, who made this known in his office in Abuja when he played host to the two unions, said that the Trade Union Act empowers him to regroup existing labour and pensioners’ unions.
He recalled that he had carried out a similar action when he regrouped the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) into three unions for the purpose of industrial harmony.
He added that the registration of the new unions is an action taken to ensure that no union will cripple Nigeria university education. He insisted that ASUU’s actions are not in favour of progressive tertiary education in the country.
“Trade Unions Act CAP. T14, Law of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 gives the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment powers to regroup an existing Trade Union of Worker or Employees.
“In the view of the above, I Senator Chris Ngige, in the exercise of the powers conferred on me as the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, do hereby approve the registration of CONUA and NAMDA,” the minister said.
The minister further said that the unions now have equal rights with ASUU and will be invited to all events and negotiations involving university lecturers. He added that there are now three voices (unions) in the Nigerian tertiary education and that ASUU will no longer be the only voice that speaks for Nigerian lecturers.
He also noted that the unions applied for registration in 2017 and 2018 respectively, even as he insisted that the registration of the two unions doesn’t mean that ASUU no longer exists or that it will not enjoy its due rights.
“These associations will exist side by side with ASUU in the Nigerian universities in the spirit and tenets of International Labour Organisation (ILO) core convention. They are accordingly entitled to all rights and privileges accruing to such academic association/ organisation including but not limited to receiving check-off dues of their members,” Ngige said.
Furthermore, Ngige said that the Federal Government would still go on to negotiate with ASUU and resolve the lingering issues that led to the seven-month-old strike.
To the newly registered unions, Ngige asked them to resume academic activities in the universities without further delay.
He went on to warn the unions not to interfere in government business in the running of the universities.
In his response, the president of NAMDA, Dr Nosa Lance Orhue, said the registration has given medical and dental academicians in the university and other tertiary institutions, where training of medical students and postgraduate doctors takes place, a legal voice in the determination of the training requirements, management of the training system, and the welfare of her members. He appealed to the Federal Government and ASUU to quickly resolve the current strike in the universities.
Meanwhile, ASUU has described as frivolous the registration of the two new academic staff unions in universities, saying it is of no consequence to the ongoing industrial action by the union.
ASUU president, Professor Abuja Emmanuel Osodeke, stated this on Tuesday in Abuja in an interview with the Nigerian Tribune in reaction to the presentation of registration certificates to CONUA and NAMDA by Chris Ngige.
He described Ngige as a desperate minister who is bent on frustrating the efforts of ASUU to fight for the welfare of its members and development of Nigeria university system.
He said, “As far as we are concerned, it is not worth responding to. They should go and reopen universities then. I don’t know why the minister is so desperate. He has tried all possible ways, he went to court and failed; he goes here and there and failed.
“Now it is registration of unions; they should register hundreds. Our members know what the union is fighting for, not for saboteurs, people who just want to work with government. It’s so sad. There is nothing to respond to. They should go and raise membership; government wants to use them to fight the university system.
“Even a child will see through what Ngige is doing. These people have been there. When people have problems with universities, corruption and all these things, they quickly raise those groups. That is what they have been doing all along, this has no consequence on our strike.”
National Coordinator of CONUA, Dr Niyi Sunmonu, had been advocating for registration of CONUA as a trade union just like ASUU, saying such development would break the monopoly being currently enjoyed by ASUU.
He had noted ASUU’s consistent strike has caused more harm than good in the university academic system. He accused ASUU of using strike as only tool to resolve its issues with the government, saying such development must stop, while adding that there were many ways of resolving issues.
The Lagos zone of ASUU, in a reaction, said it is not in any way disturbed that the Federal Government has registered CONUA as a trade union in the Nigerian university system.
The coordinator, Dr Adelaja Odukoya, said this on Tuesday when Nigerian Tribune asked for ASUU’s reaction to the CONUA’s registration, four years after application for same.
He said he would not want to say much on the matter because it is irrelevant but would simply describe the Federal Government’s action as “shooting a gun at nothing”.
Similarly, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) chided the Federal Government for registering CONUA, saying the action is just to create more confusion and crisis in Nigerian public university system. National Public Relations Officer of NANS, Giwa Yisa Temitope, told the Nigerian Tribune on Tuesday that the registration was absolutely unnecessary, adding that the registration of another union among lecturers, particularly now, by the Federal Government is a demonstration of the failure of the current administration.