For some weeks now, the Federal University of Technology, Akure, FUTA, has been embroiled in a crisis which has paralysed activities in the usually bustling citadel of learning. Trouble started when the three non-teaching staff unions in the university – the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, the National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT and the Non-Academic Staff Union, NASU – embarked on a protest. The protest lasted for two days between Thursday, October 6, 2016 and Friday, October 7, 2016. Since then, the university community has known no peace.
Reports had it that without any previous notice to the university management as a precursor for embarking on any industrial action, the three unions rose from a joint congress held on Thursday, October 6, 2016, and immediately embarked on a protest. The aim of the protest was to press for the removal of the institution’s Vice Chancellor as well as the Bursar. The protesters also called for the dissolution of the University Governing Council. Perhaps, to convince the school authorities that they meant business, the unions locked up the two gates leading to the university and also barricaded the road to the main gate, thereby preventing vehicular movement in and out of the campus. As a result of this disruption, normal activities in the university were tempered with.
According to available information, the crisis precipitated by the three unions is not unconnected with a recent circular by the Federal Ministry of Education on the restructuring of the university’s erstwhile Staff Primary School. It is also connected with the demand for a controversial allowance the unions christened Productivity Allowance Staff Welfare Package. This allowance ranges from N360,000.00 for all categories of senior staff and N180,000.00 for junior staff in the University.
‘Without actually sounding immodest, at this time of biting economic crisis in the country, the various communities in FUTA should learn to live together in harmony and preserve the infrastructural facilities on campus….’
It would be recalled that prior to this unfortunate development, the authorities of the university had made concerted efforts to resolve the issues arising from the complaints of the unions over steps taken by the University to implement the recent federal government directive on the ownership of Staff Primary Schools across the country. But if these two factors were the remote causes of the crisis, the immediate cause could be attributed to the recent invitation of Professor Adebiyi Daramola, the Vice Chancellor, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to respond to a petition against the university administration. It was while the VC was away at the zonal office of the EFCC in Ibadan that the unions took advantage of his absence to embark on the protest.
In recent times, many unionists in Nigeria have made it almost their first priority to embark on protests and strikes at the slightest inkling of a possible industrial dispute, without recourse to the labour laws guiding such actions. Ordinarily, in the case of the issues at stake in the current FUTA crisis as enumerated above, it appears that the unions merely resorted to precipitate action as a shortcut to achieving their aim to hoodwink the authorities of the school to play ball. This is so because as far back as 2014, the National Universities Commission, NUC, drew the attention of all VCs to the position of the federal government that staff schools are established as private enterprises to be funded by the institutions that establish them.
What this means is that the burden of the wage bill of staff in the staff schools should no longer be transferred to the federal government had been the practice. The directive was communicated through the instrumentality of a circular ref. No. NUC/ES/138/Vol. 60/194, dated 2nd September, 2014. This position of government was further conveyed to all Federal Universities by the Federal Ministry of Education by a letter ref. No. FME/SU/GEN/IVB/60 dated 21st April, 2015, as well as a circular from the Budget Office of the Federation, Federal Ministry of Finance, ref. No. BD/EXP/S.800/T/27 dated 29th September, 2015. The circular from the budget office of the federation was clear and unambiguous. It stated that: “Personnel/Teachers of Schools affiliated to Institutions/Agencies (i.e. Staff Schools) should, on no account, be included in the nominal roll of such Institutions.” It did not stop there. It went further to prescribe that appropriate sanctions will be applied to defaulting agencies, as such action will be treated as willful introduction of ghost workers;
In spite of the industrial action embarked upon by SSANU to demand government reversal of the directive at that time, the NUC reiterated the decision of the federal government via circular ref. No. NUC/ES/138/Vol.61/116 dated 29th January, 2016. It was based on this that the authorities of FUTA disengaged the teachers in its Staff Primary School and opened a new window of opportunity for them to retain their jobs by applying for same under the services of the school’s management board. But, the teachers will not want to have anything to do with the government directive. Thus, they were poised for war.
All efforts to dissuade the teachers from toeing the path of confrontation fell on deaf ears. These efforts included the intervention of the University Governing Council, religious leaders, elders in the academic community, royal fathers and even law enforcement agents. Though far reaching decisions were taken at these meetings in the interest of the disengaged staff, the teachers insisted they were not going to apply for their jobs. A stalemate followed. Consequently, attempts to reopen the school since January this year, it was learnt, have been repeatedly thwarted by the unions, especially SSANU and NASU and the teachers themselves.
Now, the only offence the VC seems to have committed is his commitment to the implementation of the federal government directive by the university management. It was in the midst of this confusion and the unions’ vehement disagreement on the reopening of the primary school for pupils on 16th September, 2016, that the university also received another letter from the non-teaching staff unions jointly demanding for payment of one year productivity allowance. As stated earlier, the total money involved is colossal – about N360,000.00 for senior staff and N180,000.00 for junior staff. To rub it in, the protagonists of this productivity allowance came up with a propaganda that the allowance in question had earlier been granted approval by the institution’s governing council at its 97th Statutory Meeting held on Thursday, May 24, 2012.
The school’s management has since denied that any such thing ever happened. According to the management: “At no time did the University Governing Council approved such allowance. At the meeting referred to, Council did not approve a part of the University Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, for payment as staff Productivity Allowance Welfare Package as erroneously conceived by the unions. A major part of the decision of Council at that meeting was that with the lean purse of the university, it would be pretty difficult, if not impossible, for the management to accommodate the unions’ demands beyond the palliatives already paid.”
On the issue of the EFCC invitation of the VC, since the VC has visited the EFCC and made statements, the matter can no longer form the basis of any protest by the unions because whatever must have been written against the VC would be thoroughly investigated by the anti-graft agency. It is a good thing to allow the agency to carry out its statutory functions. And until the EFCC releases its findings, the unions should refrain from using this as a license to embark on wholesale brigandage on campus.
Without actually sounding immodest, at this stage of biting economic crisis in the country, the various communities in FUTA should learn to live together in harmony and preserve the infrastructural facilities on campus rather than embarking on senseless and destructive behaviour capable of truncating the peace and tranquility that had prevailed there for quite some time now. That is why the current impasse should be speedily resolved through dialogue in order to allow peace to reign.
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