Why Briggs committee report should be discarded, by SSANU
National Vice Chairman, Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Abdussobor Salaam, in this interview with IYABO LAWAL, speaks on the ongoing strike by the union, why they are opposed to the report of Nimi Briggs-led negotiation committee and now restore peace to the nation’s universities.
Your union and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and allied institutions (NASU) have been on strike for over four months with no solution in sight. What really are the issues?
The strike is a product of various collective bargains and agreements that the association has had with the government, originating from 2009 when it was first signed.
After 2009, there were various memorandums of understanding, agreements, and actions to consolidate the 2009 agreement. The basis of the strike is rooted in the various memorandums of understanding signed in 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.
The strike is a product of these issues and one of them has to do with the renegotiation of SSANU/NASU/FGN 2009 agreements. The other had to do with the issue of the payment platform, Integrated Payroll and Personnel information system (IPPIS), which is being used to pay the salaries of workers in the university system.
The third is the issue of payment of arrears and allowances as agreed in 2009. Another has to do with the payment of arrears of the national minimum wage. Then, we have the issue of visitation panels and the constitution of visitation panels for universities.
The issue of a court judgment in respect of university staff schools, poor funding and governance of state universities; non-payment of retirement benefits to outgone members and lastly, violation of course of study and establishment procedures in all universities.
Arising from this, the association wrote a letter of reminder to the government on the need to address these concerns, not less than three letters of reminder went to the Federal Ministry of Education, the National Universities Commission and the Federal Ministry of Labour. When they were not addressed, we had to give notice of strike. Having exhausted and followed all procedures, we started the strike about 120 days ago and here we are today.
Between that time and now, how many of your demands have been met?
Out of the nine demands, none has been met as of today, although two out of those demands- payment of arrears of national minimum wage and visitation panels, received partial attention.
But why we said it is part is because we still have about 40 per cent of our members, who are yet to receive arrears of the national minimum wage. Members of staff in three federal universities of agriculture have not received at all, while in some universities where they have received; only 50 to 60 per cent have been paid.
We are aware the visitation panels were constituted, reports have been made that the panels have gone ahead to visit the universities, and submitted their reports to the Federal Government but no white paper on their report.
Has there been any meeting or discussion with the government’s negotiation team since you commenced the strike in the last 120 days?
We had a meeting on May 6 with the minister of labour and employment. Arising from that meeting, an attempt was made to address the issues so that we could return to work. But those concerns that led to the meeting and the strike itself have not been addressed.
On May 12, we had another meeting that was facilitated by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), with the president represented by the Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari. Arising from that, we were requested to come up with minimum demands that will lead to suspension of the strike action. We, subsequently, limited our demands to issues of renegotiation of the 2009 agreement and IPPIS.
In attendance were the Sultan of Sokoto and the national president, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
Based on those two minimum demands, the government charged the Prof Nimi Briggs committee to ensure that it submitted its report within three months, while the National Information Technology Development (NITDA) was also charged with the mandate of assessing the payment platform introduced by the two unions.
We also found out that IPPIS was introduced into the Nigerian payment system without going through accreditation or approval by the relevant agency, NITDA. So, it came in surreptitiously without approval. The agency that was meant to verify it for fitness before deploying to universities or into the public service payroll system jettisoned the process.
At the meeting, it was agreed that the three payment platforms, UT3PS by the joint action committee of SSANU and NASU, UTASS by ASUU and the existing payment system, IPPIS, should be presented to NITDA for integrity test. We have had a series of meetings with NITDA and it is commendable to say their activities are a departure from the general experience of the government offices. They have been up and doing as far as the issue of assessment is concerned. We have taken the entire integrity test as required and what we are expecting is the result.
We had two meetings with the Briggs committee; the first was in April 2022 and another was in June. At the first meeting, our demands, which were up for negotiations, were broadly outlined in two parts: non-financial and financial parts.
The non-financial part has to do with conditions of service for our members, issues pertaining to the governance of the university system and career structure for non-teaching staff in the university system. The financial aspect naturally has to do with the issue of salaries, allowances and remunerations as the case may be.
When we met with the committee, an appeal was made to us that we should first resolve the non-financial aspect because the committee was still expecting feedback from a sub-committee set up for the purpose of giving a counter offer. We had given an offer as to what we were expecting to be paid. This offer was based on the comparative cost of living between 2009 when the last agreement was signed with Gamaliel Onosode.
The parameters for determining the demand from us have to do with the existing cost of living, and cost of fuel for example, between 2009 and 2022. These were some of the parameters that determined our proposal for a review of our salaries.
The committee said it was still expecting feedback from the accountant general and budget office as well as the national salaries and wages commission, and as soon as they are able to get such feedback, there would be back for discussion and make a counter offer concerning the salary components of our demands.
It was to our surprise two weeks ago, when we had that the committee, had recommended a 10 per cent salary review for non-teaching staff.
It was in the recommendation sent to the Federal Government, which we found to be shocking and against the principles of collective bargaining because the process of negotiation did not even discuss the issue of salaries and allowances. So, it was a surreptitious attempt by the Briggs committee to allocate an amount for payment as a review for non-teaching staff of their salaries without having gone through the process of negotiation and as such, we find what the committee has done as a breach of confidence and trust.
Concerning the Briggs committee, what would you want?
We are calling on the Federal Government to do the needful. What we are expecting is for the committee to negotiate with us properly, it is a breach of trust, a betrayal of confidence from the committee.
If they were asked to negotiate 300 per cent for us, the expectation is to go through a negotiation process with us. Our expectation is for the committee to negotiate with us properly and not allocate to us as if we are beggars.
We have made a demand that the report summited does not represent the product of our negotiation with the committee and as such, it is unacceptable.
With the blame game by your union and the committee, do you see an end in sight to the strike?
What has led to the delay in all of these is the lack of truth from those who have been chosen to represent the government; it is their insincerity that has led us here. If they were sincere with us, and do what they were supposed to do in line with their mandate, we won’t have these problems.
If the government can give the committee two weeks to negotiate with us, then we do not see any reason why the strike should linger.
NASU and SANU are not striking organisations, our names and reputations in the university systems are not synonymous with strikes. If these issues could be peacefully and sincerely addressed, in 24 hours, we will be back at our duty post.
If all these issues are addressed, will your union be willing to accept IPPIS?
The creation of our own payment platform is a product of deficiencies of IPPIS, if the IPPIS has been serving the purpose for which we expected it to serve, not causing confusion in the payment of salaries in the university system, we would not have gone ahead to create our own payment platform.
What is most important is to ensure that whatever is been adopted as a platform, can take care of the peculiarities of the university system. As of today, I have passed a vote of no confidence on IPPIS as far as payment of salaries for university workers is concerned.
What is most fundamental is having a platform that can address the peculiarities of the university system. Where the payment platform comes from, is immaterial to us.
There are claims that your union is competing with ASUU, that’s why you are opposed to the recommendation of the Briggs committee on salary increase, what’s your take on this?
The issue is not about rivalry and nobody is asking for the same payment as ASUU. We cannot demand the same salary because we are not doing the same thing, our condition of service is not the same and even our salary structure is not the same.
What we are saying is that if the committee is to negotiate, it should do so properly, the committee has decided not to negotiate with us, rather, it negotiated with our sister union. We are not in competition with ASUU, but the committee negotiated, completed and summited same to the government without any input from SSANU and NASU. If they can negotiate with ASUU, why not us? Why allocate a percentage increase for us without our consent or agreement? This is unacceptable.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander; the committee was directed to negotiate with the four unions, it is wrong to use the product of your negotiation with one to submit a report or recommendation on behalf of others. Negotiate with the four; let it be a product of productive bargaining.
What do you want the government to do concerning the report?
The report, particularly the area that concerns non-teaching staff, should be discarded because it is not a product of collective bargaining.
The government can choose to either disband the committee or charge the same committee and give them the mandate to do the proper negotiation with the unions.
Strike, over the years, has affected the nation’s education system, disrupting the learning and the academic calendar. How can strikes be averted in tertiary institutions?
The strike is the last resort for unions, we have collective bargaining, but where such has failed, aggrieved parties have no choice but to go on strike,
The only solution to incessant strikes is for government to be more responsible, and respect collective bargaining and rule of law.
Besides, the government should ensure proper funding for the sector to address the challenges confronting education in the country.
At this point, what is your message to students and parents?
We want to appeal to them to understand our plight, students should be patient and understand that whatever is happening today, is in their interest and the future of generations yet unborn.