By Lateef Adams

While the universities in the country were shut for over 8 months last year, over the government’s refusal to implement agreements it reached with ASUU, the sector is about to witness another closure over similar issues. This time around, the Joint Action Committee (JAC), comprising of the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU), will from 5th of February begin a nationwide strike.

The Movement for a Socialist Alternative (MSA) condemns in strong terms the federal government’s refusal to implement the agreement reached with university unions. President Buhari’s regime has shown to be the same as the previous governments as far as the neglect of the education sector and workers’ welfare are concerned.

 Despite warnings by the workers’ unions, through press statements and warning strikes, to draw the government’s attention to its plight, the regime remained unmoved, refusing to learn from the 8 months of ASUU strike and the big promises it made. It is worrisome that workers would always have to resort to strike actions before the government looks into their grievances.

For instance, members of the NASU and SSANU had previously carried out a three-day nationwide warning protest in response to the government’s failure to address the issues contained in the memorandum of understanding, MOU, signed by both parties in previous years. The protest witnessed massive support from their members across the country. Weeks later, the Buhari led government is yet to implement any of the agreement in the MOU, remaining recalcitrant.

Nigeria’s capitalist governments have no regard for the wellbeing of workers and the university system, and that is why they are starved of much needed funds. As a matter of urgent attention, we call on other labour unions to give solidarity support to NASU and SSANU struggle and mount pressure on the government to implement the agreement it reached with the workers.

The demands raised by the unions are genuine, and it must be met by the government for the development of public education as well as the wellbeing of the workers. Some of the grievances included in the demands are the non-constitution of visitation panels for universities, the inconsistencies in the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and the non-payment of Earned Allowances. Other demands are about the neglect and poor funding of the state universities, non-payment of the retirement benefits of retired members of staff and non-payment of arrears of the minimum wage. 

This is the reason the MSA supports the strike action, and call on the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to declare a solidarity strike in support of workers nationwide that are suffering the same malaise of incomplete payment. The non-payment of full salaries and allowances is not peculiar to the federal government alone. Most state governments also engage in this cruel practice. The labour movement must take a firm stance against it that is beyond press statements and denunciation, as many workers find it difficult to make ends meet.

In the MSA, we have always condemned the poor funding of the education sector, alongside the unions that have been embarking on strikes over a similar issue. Also, many universities across the country are in a sorry state, with poor physical infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms, inadequate furniture, lack of laboratory apparatus, dilapidated hostels etc., because the capitalist government of Nigeria is not ready to fund public and university education. Education comes behind outrageous allowances of political office-holders in the government’s list of priorities.

In the 2021 budget, the government appropriated a mere 5.6% of the total budget or 0.5% of our GDP to the education sector. This is a shortfall of allocation when compared to 6.7% of the total budget in the previous year. Over the years the government has always fallen beyond the 20% UNESCO recommendations. Ideally, the international standards dictate the education sector to get an allocation of 20% of the total budget or 6% of the GDP. To win this struggle for better funding of education. We call for a united struggle of workers in the education sector.

Unity of workers needed to defeat anti-workers policy

The division in the university workers’ union is an advantage to the government, who would seize on that division to continue its poor funding of the sector and carry on with its attacks on the welfare of workers. To save the education sector and win the fight against the attack on workers welfare, unions in the university sector would have to give unity a chance, convene joint congresses and struggle side by side.

For us in MSA, we believe this approach, if adopted, will guarantee greater chances of victory over a vicious government. It will also allow the unions to combine resources to tackle the blackmails and misinformation of the government, which is richer; therefore earning unions the support of students, parents and the working masses that are living under cruel policies of capitalism and understand the essence of solidarity. The current disunity in struggle creates apathy among the working people, which makes it seems the demands are repeated and not genuine. We call on the various unions in the university to unite and struggle collectively to make it possible to defeat policies that endanger education.

However, to make this possible, we call on the Academic Staff Union, the non-academic staff union, the senior staff union, as well as the National Association of Academic Technologist, the Academic Staff Union of polytechnics, the Nigerian Union of Teachers and other unions in the education sector, to call for an education summit and forge a way forward. We commend the SSANU, NASU, ASUU and other trade unions that always included in its demands from the federal and state governments, to adequately fund the education sector.

This is important because the state of our institutions is in serious need of such intervention. To reiterate, we also call on all trade unions under the NLC and TUC to show solidarity support in this fight to force the government to increase funding from the current 5.6% to 20% as recommended for developing economy like Nigeria. We also demand the nationalization of the commanding sector of the Nigeria economy place under democratic control and management of the working people.