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‘No work, no pay’ acid test for ASUU

By Aladesohun Sola
25 August 2022   |   2:38 am
University lecturers are having hard times at the hands of their chief employers for demanding better conditions for their institutions and students. This is not the first time they have experienced this in Nigeria.

ASUU president Emmanuel Osodeke (middle)<br />

University lecturers are having hard times at the hands of their chief employers for demanding better conditions for their institutions and students. This is not the first time they have experienced this in Nigeria.

It has been a nail-biting series of weeks on the part of the students, waiting for an end to the crippling industrial dispute. The lecturers have had the patience of Job as their cup of endurance is brimming over.

The austerity brought to their homes by the current strike, the delay by the Federal Government in ending the strike, the broadside launched at each other by both parties, the reduction by the strike in the number of service years for individual lecturers, the destruction of students’ plans and targets, and the chilling havoc the strike is playing with the social order and businesses within and outside the university campuses, all make ASUU’s strikes unwelcome phenomena.

A section of the Trade Disputes Act maintains that any time workers go on strike, particularly doctors who render essential services, their employers can withhold their pay. Disturbed by the incessant strike action in the institutions across the nation, the Federal Government decided to invoke a ‘no work, no pay’ policy aimed to halt the growing trend and, in fact, cut costs.

Dwelling on the ‘no work, no pay’ issue, Hilary Ekpo claims that the doctrine of ‘no work, no pay is a principle of equity and natural justice. He asks two important questions: ‘… Should the workers be paid their salaries to cover the period they were on strike when they resume strike? What happens to the employers? (see The Guardian, 13 September 2016)

Answers depend on one’s understanding of the conflict between ASUU and the Federal Government. In addition, how much one is familiar with the constitution that created the Trade Disputes Act of Nigeria is another thing to consider in answering the questions.

Generally, people’s allegiance to and sympathy for either ASUU or the Federal Government comes into play when answering the above questions. Notwithstanding, lecturers and their employers do not see eye to eye with each other concerning whether the former should be paid salaries whilst generating no revenue for their employers or having their pay withheld. The court usually has the final judgement.

Both the Federal Government and its employees aggravate strikes in Nigeria. ASUU is not on duty, thereby depriving the government of the means of paying lecturers’ salaries. Hence the government is punishing them by stopping their salaries. Such an asphyxiating measure, it is believed, will get the lecturers back in the classrooms.

On the other hand, for ASUU, the Federal Government cannot be trusted. The only effective weapon ASUU has is ‘the language of strike’. But is embarking on strikes the only effective weapon in ASUU’s arsenal? Until recently, ASUU’s demands have cut no ice with the presidencies and the Ministry of Finance.

Each time ASUU embarks on strikes after sending signals to the public, the Federal Government arranges bumpy rides and unfruitful meetings with the union.

After much persuasion, some promises, and the release of funds that fall short of what the union is requesting, the strikes are suspended. Before you can say Jack Robinson, academic activities are in place and campuses bulging at the seams.

Whilst negotiations are assumed to continue upon suspension of the strikes, ASUU soon realizes its errors. But this time around, the union seems to be saying that it can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. It nails its colours to the mast and remains as obdurate as a mule, trying to tell people that it has learnt a lot. The present strike, which started on February 2022 and which is why the Federal Government is withholding lecturers’ salaries, is not ASUU’s fault.

The Federal Government should rethink, implement the union’s demands and pay all the debts owed ASUU. Ideally, if it has acted responsibly by implementing say, 70% of the union’s demands, there won’t have been any need for the strike.

If the Federal Government is unable to revivify Nigerian universities, I do not think it will be possible for lecturers to wear two hats as far as the task of revitalizing is concerned. It is a different thing altogether if the government is expecting lecturers to install equipment in the classrooms in which they lecture, help fund the universities, increase the education budget, assist members in paying the earned allowances, etc. as part of an effort to unencumber their chief employers.

The minds of the masses should be disabused. The assertion that the Federal Government is not buoyant enough to pay ASUU is untrue. This year, the NNPC has remitted a staggering 2.7 billion dollars to the Central Bank of Nigeria in six months, which translates into roughly 450 million dollars, monthly.

Note that one billion dollar is roughly equivalent to 700 billion naira on the black market, at the time of writing this article. What ASUU is asking from the Federal Government is a mere drop in the ocean in a country where a public figure can easily divert 109 billion naira to his and his cronies’ private uses. The NNPC, one of the heavy revenue generators for the Federal Government, has long existed before ASUU was founded.

It is a display of humanity and generosity by the Federal Government to start disbursing all that is owed lecturers, both in the past and present. The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngigi, exhibited this kindness in the past. Lecturers have many mouths to feed and a great deal of responsibility to shoulder – bills, tithes, rent, children’s school fees, offerings, renovations, etc. Increasing lecturers’ salaries by 200% is not enough, other weighty items e.g. budgetary allocation to education, acceptance of UTAS over IPPIS, etc. on ASUU’s list should be honoured.

In conclusion, invoking ‘no work, no pay’ against ASUU at a time when Nigeria is having serious challenges does not add up. In western countries where there is a mutual understanding between workers and their employers, where workers are paid hourly (as the case may be), where striking workers lose their pay, where workers have the disposition to contribute to the success of their establishments and where employers do not pave the way for strikes, strikes almost always don’t come up.

The lecturers, like innocent lambs tied to a stake and bear–baited, are cooking with gas in this acid test by consistently putting up unflagging character in the face of the current trials and tribulations. Even if they throw in the towel at this stage of the struggle, they have done terrifically well.

Sola wrote from Port Harcourt.

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