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Registration of CONUA, NAMBA can’t guarantee end to strike in varsities, experts warn

By Collins Olayinka, Abuja
21 January 2023   |   3:58 am
The registration of Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and National Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA) has unsettled the labour movement.

Hassan Makolo

The registration of Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and National Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA) has unsettled the labour movement.

While the consistent locking of the gates of federal universities looks unsavoury, the registration of CONUA and NAMDA is seen within the labour community as unwelcome. 

The President of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Associated Institutions (NASU), Dr. Hassan Makolo, said the entrance of the two unions is a negative development to the movement.  

“The granting of license to CONUA and NAMDA is clearly a negative to the labour movement. I say this development is very negative because the Trade Union Act is very clear on the process of trade union registration. It says that where there is an existing trade union that caters for the interests of workers, it is not ideal to register a similar trade union. Members of CONUA are lecturers. So, government is duplicating trade unions because it wants to weaken the influence of the existing trade union as a result of a face off,” he said.

For those who argued that NASU and SSANU should be seen in the same light, Makolo explained: “When properly examined, you will find that SSANU did not emanate from NASU. NASU is an old union. SSANU used to be a part of the Senior Staff Association of Universities’ Teaching Hospitals Research Institutes and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHRIAI) in the university system. That was what collapsed into SSANU. So, it is wrong to cite SSANU and NASU as the same thing with the emergence of CONUA. The situations were completely different.”

Asked if the registration of CONUA would curb rampant strikes in the university community, Makolo went historical thus: “Can you cast your mind to when TUC was registered to curb the influence of the NLC? When TUC came on board, people in government were optimistic that the NLC would no longer have a monopoly of the industrial space. But what is happening now? Both TUC and NLC have been collaborating on major national issues and in most cases have the same line of thought. Government failed woefully in setting labour against itself. The labour centres always unite to fight the system on issues that border on the interests of the working class. So, the fact that government duplicates the unions does not guarantee anything, especially if the leaderships of those unions know that the essence of unionism is to fight for the welfare of workers. A time will come that all the duplicated unions will come together under one umbrella to fight the system.” 

Makolo insisted that, that the Minister of Labour has the power to do what he did does not make it right. “The fact that the Trade Union Act empowers the Minister of Labour to register a union does not give him the powers to register a new trade union that will function as an old union. Does the law give him such powers? The fact that the law has given him powers does not mean that the power should be misused,” he noted.

He argued that how the Minister went about to justify his action gives him away as someone that wants to curb the excesses of ASUU, not that he wants the new unions to be in existence primarily to protect the interest of its members. “For me, the act is a pure witch-hunting exercise,” he added.

For a former President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele, the registration of the two unions signals the decentralisation of the labour movement. 

He explained: “It also shows why ASUU must build relationships, because labour unions must recognise why they are in existence. They are in existence primarily to protect the interests of their members. The interest of the larger society is secondary. Do CONUA and ASUU recognise that? I will give you the example of the relationship between NLC and TUC. People were wondering the kind of relationship that will exist between TUC and NLC because of the bad blood that had been generated over the years. When I took over from Peace Obiajuku as the President of the TUC, I fostered a fantastic working relation with the NLC and things were cordial between us. My successors have also toed the same line.” 

Esele said he was full of optimism that both ASUU and CONUA can still work together for the benefit of their members. Asked if this government has successfully weaved a roadmap of weakening unions that subsequent governments would follows, Esele replied that he did not think so. 

“Government cannot break the unions if the members appreciate the reason for their existence. Governments can only break them when they lack the knowledge of why they exist. If they are there for their personal aggrandisement, then that can happen. Every government will always attempt divide and rule tactics to break the unions but it is left for the unions’ executives to allow themselves to be divided and be rolled over,” he noted. 

On whether university managements would benefit from the registration of the new unions, Esele said: “The university management while they may benefit, they will also soon find that they now have two unions to contend with rather than one they used to have. This will bring more challenges to the university system as well. I also do not believe that schools have to shut down whenever the lecturers have industrial disagreement. I am hopeful that CONUA and ASUU will find a middle ground to ensure they minimise strikes in the university system. CONUA and ASUU will be partners some day.”  

Esele urged ASUU to use the grouses of CONUA as a launch pad to rebrand itself.

“I think ASUU should examine what CONUA has been saying and see what has worked for them and what has not worked in the last 40 years and use all of that for the benefit of their members. If CONUA is saying that strike is not the best solution and has gotten better deals for its members, why would ASUU not examine the issues and use it to benefit their members? I don’t see anything wrong with that,” he said.  

The former PENGASSAN President called for the unification of all trade unions in all sectors of the economy to make negotiations easy for their leaderships. 

Speaking when he received the certificate of registration, President of CONUA, Dr. Niyi Sunmonu, described the registration of CONUA and NAMDA as a breath of fresh air in the system that is now ventilated with the air of freedom and a freedom of association and freedom of choice across the ideological divides. 

His words: “Today is a historic day and it is exciting to be back to this great ministry in conclusion of the final phase of the registration of CONUA, which is marked by the collection of certificate. In CONUA, our primary purpose at all times has been to promote the welfare of our members, while being constantly conscious of the overriding national interest.

“With this complete registration, we assure Nigerians that we shall embark on meaningful and realistic discussions and negotiations with the Federal Government and all other stakeholders on how we can get a better deal for university lecturers and indeed for better working of the entire system without necessarily rocking and sinking the boat.”

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