In a bid to reduce the influence of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and ensure that it no longer retains the power to cripple academic activities in Nigerian universities, the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, October 4, 2022, had registered two new unions of lecturers.
The two unions: Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and Nigerian Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA).
The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige, who spoke while presenting the certificates of registration to the two unions, explained that the two bodies will exist alongside ASUU.
ASUU has been on strike since February 14, 2022, as lecturers of public universities protest unpaid allowances and demand better welfare packages from the Federal Government.
Ngige, who approved the existence of the two unions in Abuja, said CONUA’s registration became necessary because they do not believe in the current strike by ASUU. He hinted that CONUA has been seeking registration since 2018.
Ngige noted that the Ministry of Labour and Employment set up a committee to look into the merit of CONUA’s application and has now approved the application having passed the basic minimum requirements.
Like their colleagues in CONUA, he said NAMDA had applied for registration as medical teachers in the university system under various groups, saying, “they include medical doctors doing pre-clinical teaching of basic medical courses and honorary consultants teaching clinical students in tertiary health institutions and teaching hospitals.”
When the Minister was reminded that the Trade Unions Act clearly states that another trade union cannot be registered by the Minister in a sector where a similar one is already existing, Ngige cited Section 32 of the Act that empowers such registration at the discretion of the Minister.
He hinted that more unions in the universities would be registered in due course, adding, “yes that is what the law says, but there is another proviso that the Minister can register new unions where the existing one no longer serves the purpose it was established.
“We registered pensioners in the contributory pension as a breakaway from the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) when it was becoming too big and there was restlessness everywhere among the pensioners. The NUP went to court, but the court said the Minister was right in registering another union. I can tell you that after these two new unions, others are coming and we will register them if they meet the requirements.”
Furthermore, Ngige said that the Federal Government would still go on to negotiate with ASUU and resolve the lingering issues that led to the seven-month-old strike.
To the newly registered unions, Ngige asked them to resume academic activities in the universities without further delay.
He went on to warn the unions not to interfere in government business in the running of the universities.
In his response, the president of NAMDA, Dr Nosa Lance Orhue, said the registration has given medical and dental academicians in the university and other tertiary institutions, where training of medical students and postgraduate doctors takes place, a legal voice in the determination of the training requirements, management of the training system, and the welfare of her members. He appealed to the Federal Government and ASUU to quickly resolve the current strike in the universities.
Meanwhile, ASUU has described as frivolous the registration of the two new academic staff unions in universities, saying it is of no consequence to the ongoing industrial action by the union.
ASUU president, Professor Abuja Emmanuel Osodeke, stated this on Tuesday in Abuja in an interview with the Nigerian Tribune in reaction to the presentation of registration certificates to CONUA and NAMDA by Chris Ngige.
He described Ngige as a desperate minister who is bent on frustrating the efforts of ASUU to fight for the welfare of its members and the development of Nigerian university system.
He said, “As far as we are concerned, it is not worth responding to. They should go and reopen universities then. I don’t know why the minister is so desperate. He has tried all possible ways, he went to court and failed; he goes here and there and failed.
“Now it is registration of unions; they should register hundreds. Our members know what the union is fighting for, not for saboteurs, people who just want to work with the government. It’s so sad. There is nothing to respond to. They should go and raise membership; the government wants to use them to fight the university system.
“Even a child will see through what Ngige is doing. These people have been there. When people have problems with universities, corruption, and all these things, they quickly raise those groups. That is what they have been doing all along, this has no consequence on our strike.”
National Coordinator of CONUA, Dr Niyi Sunmonu, had been advocating for registration of CONUA as a trade union just like ASUU, saying such development would break the monopoly being currently enjoyed by ASUU.
He had noted that ASUU’s consistent strike has caused more harm than good in the university academic system. He accused ASUU of using strikes as the only tool to resolve its issues with the government, saying such development must stop, while adding that there were many ways of resolving issues.
The Lagos zone of ASUU, in a reaction, said it is not in any way disturbed that the Federal Government has registered CONUA as a trade union in the Nigerian university system.
The coordinator, Dr Adelaja Odukoya, said this on Tuesday when Nigerian Tribune asked for ASUU’s reaction to the CONUA’s registration, four years after application for the same.
He said he would not want to say much on the matter because it is irrelevant but would simply describe the Federal Government’s action as “shooting a gun at nothing”.