The year 2013 was quite eventful with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, making a mark with a strike that lasted six months. That was perhaps the longest strike in the history of the labour movement in Nigeria.
This edition of Labour Vanguard is a review of the strike, lessons from it and the way forward.
The lecture rooms have roared back to life with students and lecturers in most universities back at work.
The six-month strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities under the leadership of Dr. Nasir Issa Fagge stirred so much controversy; many for, several others against the strike.
Ideological trade union
All of that is now history.
However, to those of us, who have followed ASUU and its strikes for over two decades, one cannot but commend ASUU leadership for living up to the tradition of the union.
Today, ASUU remains perhaps the only ideological trade union in this country. The union is one that continues to benefit from the experience of its past leaders.
This is rare in other unions. What we find is a ‘new’ crop of labour leaders who would do everything to do away with the past and even try to wipe out the legacy of their predecessors.
ASUU’s struggle was about the sanctity of collective bargaining.
Nigeria ratified Convention 98 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO); tripartism and the principle of collective bargaining and once earned the international organisation’s respect, during President Obasanjo’s tenure when his government negotiated and implemented a new national minimum wage with the Nigeria Labour Congress under the leadership of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA). Oshiomhole as NLC president, told journalists that the N5,000 national minimum wage announced by Obasanjo “was what we agreed.”
Labour Vanguard sought the views of a former national president of the Petroleum and Gas Senior Staff Association ( PENGASSAN) and immediate past president of the Trade Union Congress ( TUC), Comrade Peter Esele on ASUU’s strike, and other issues.
Labour Vanguard: What impact do you think the ASUU strike of last year had on labour relations in our country?
Peter Esele: “The strike by ASUU was the labour headliner for 2013. Though some may feel aggrieved about how long it took; but in the long run it is actually what the universities in the country need to be able to build capacity for our manpower development.
They have also demonstrated they can do anything legally possible to defend whatever agreement reached with their employers (Government). There is a general consensus that something needs to be done about the state of our universities. The relationship between the union and the government won’t be affected, due to the fact that their goals are similar- an educational system that we can all be proud of.
What is the way forward, especially in government- labour relations?
The way forward is very simple. Government must respect whatever agreement signed after negotiation. Secondly, it has to ensure that knowledgeable people are sent to represent it. A situation where government feels it was short- changed is unacceptable. The unions should also continue to give ample time in issuing of ultimatum— its a call for lets talk before something happens. Thirdly, the laws of the land should be respected; irrespective of how uncomfortable it may be to our reasoning. Failure to do so will only result in chaos which will do both parties no favours. The Ministry of Labour should also be given more powers. It deserves to not only bark, but also bite .
What is your assessment of labour relations between private employers and the trade unions?
Majority of private employers will mouth the fact that they respect the constitutional provision which guarantees freedom of association; the reality is further from the truth. The dangerous trend that is gathering steam is the fact that most of the private employers are anti union. Union branch officers are either victimised or intimidated.
There is also an increasing number of employers showing total disregard for the collective barging aggrement (CBA) . To improve the relationship, both labour centres and NECA should drawn up a plan or rules of engagement . This will be a foundation for having a clearing house for all labour related issues before it escalates.
The labour ministry must have powers to ensure that best labour friendly practices are encouraged. If anyone is found wanting, appropriate sanctions should be meted out.” The strike is over but ASUU also needs to do some internal cleansing.
Some lecturers need to benefit from more lectures and earn the student’s confidence and respect.
There must be an end to exploitation of students by selling hand-outs that lack originality. Some come so cheap that they are financially induced by students. Yet there are many who are principled and uncompromising.
For instance, students of the University of Benin have spoken of how tasking it was for final year students of the Department of Business Administration when they have to write the late Professor Iyayi’s paper.
A student who prefers anonymity said, “ Students meet Iyayi in their final year and you really have to know your onions to pass his papers.”
He said some have had a year extra because they failed Professor Iyayi’s paper.
There are so many Iyayis in our universities but there are also lecturers who help to produce half baked graduates.
The era of lecturers awarding grades due to financial or sexual inducement by students should be over.
For Nigerian university certificates to be worth the paper on which they are written, government, lecturers and parents should live up to their roles
Feel free to comment and your send feedbacks.