By Joan Nwagwu, Abuja.
The Federal Government has registered two new academic unions in the public university system, to exist alongside the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, presented the certificates to the unions on Tuesday in Abuja.
The new unions are the Congress of Nigeria University Academics (CONUA) and the National Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA).
Recall that ASUU has been on strike since Feb. 14, over the non-implementation of certain agreements it entered into with the Federal Government.
Ngige said that the two new unions would exist side by side with ASUU in the Nigerian universities, in the spirit and tenets of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Core Conventions Nos. 87 and 98.
“These conventions are respectively on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining.
“This is as well as the enthronement of the four pillars and principles of the Decent Work Agenda (DWA), considered necessary for social justice and equity in the world of work,’’ he said.
The minister bemoaned the continuation of the ASUU strike, in spite of the efforts by the Federal Government to resolve it through the Ministry of Education, after his ministry apprehended the strike and did conciliations twice — on Feb. 22 and March 1.
He also recalled that the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) had granted an interlocutory order, directing ASUU to go back to work, saying that the leadership and members of the union, however, refused to obey the court order.
Ngige, however, noted that interestingly, a lot of university teachers in the public universities had indicated their willingness to go back to work, while negotiations continued, but they were obstructed by ASUU officials.
“It is worthy to note that some medical doctors, who are teachers in the various medical schools/colleges of medicine, had carried on with teaching in the Universities of Maiduguri, Bauchi and Sokoto and had graduated their new doctors in the midst of the ASUU strike.
“These group of lecturers had since been applying to have their own academic associations registered as trade unions to organise their members because they do not share in the models, objectives, modus operandi, mission and vision of ASUU.
“They cite that under Section 40 of the Constitution, they have the right to freedom of association with people sharing the same academic vision and mission-like minds,’’ he said.
Ngige, while giving background information on the two newly registered associations, said that CONUA had applied for registration since 2018, citing irreconcilable differences with ASUU, as their members did not believe in recurring strikes as the solution to every agitation for improved welfare.
He said that like CONUA, NAMDA had applied for registration as medical teachers in the university system under various groups, including medical doctors doing pre-clinical teaching of basic courses and honorary consultants teaching clinical students in the teaching hospitals.
“Due to their peculiarities such as impediment in their career progression in the universities’ system, resulting in frequent and continuous agitations which had impacted an endangered species syndrome to these groups of workers/employees,
“The ministry’s special committee has also recommended their registration as an academic union, as all groups have the same objectives, mission and vision.
“It may be noted that Section 3(2) of the Trade Union Act, Cap. T14, Laws of the Federation (LFN), 2004, gives the Minister of Labour and Employment powers to regroup an existing trade union of workers or employers,” he said.
Ngige said that he consequently, in the exercise of the powers conferred on him, approved the registration of CONUA and NAMDA.
He said: “They are accordingly entitled to all rights and privileges, accruing to such academic associations/organisations, including but not limited to receiving checkoff dues of their members, in accordance with Section 17 of the Trade Union Act.
“They are also to have members in the Nigerian University Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO) and being on CONUA Salary Structure/Scheme.
“They are equally entitled to Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) and all other allowances attached thereto. ASUU, despite bickering, experienced protests from a large majority of her members including CONUA and NAMDA members,’’ he added.
Responding, NAMDA President, Dr Nosa Orhue, commended the minister and his team for approving the registration of the association as a trade union.
Orhue said that the registration had now given medical and dental academicians in the universities and other institutions, which were handling the training of medical doctors and post-graduate doctors, a legal voice.
He added that this was in the determination of the training requirements, management of the training system and the welfare of the union’s members.
Also, Mr Niyi Sunmonu, National Coordinator of CONUA, described the registration of CONUA as a trade union in the Nigerian university system as monumentally historic.
He said: “The hurdles we have faced to get here, since 2018 when we submitted our application for registration, have been seemingly insurmountable.
“The registration is, therefore, the validation of the power of the human will. It asserts the value of courage, initiative, focus, tenacity, patience, forbearance and persistent positive thinking.
“We regard the registration of CONUA as a sacred trust and we pledge to reciprocate by devoting ourselves unceasingly to the advancement of university education in this country.
“We would make the details of our programmes available to the public in due course.
“For now, we are giving the assurance that we would work to ensure that the nation is not traumatised again by academic union dislocations in the country’s public universities,’ ’he said.
Sunmonu also commended the entire membership of the union for believing in the righteousness of the CONUA cause and for believing in the leadership of the union.