By: Haleem Olatunji, Adeniran Olawale and Martins Isaac.
The Joint Action Congress (JAC), comprising the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non Academic Staff Union (NASU) and National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) in the University of Ibadan has embarked on an industrial strike action since December 2017 thereby leading to the withdrawal of services in strategic areas controlled by the members of the JAC. However, based on the recent happenings on campus, correspondents of the Union of Campus Journalists, University of Ibadan, had an interview with Mr. Wale Akinremi, Chairman, Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, University of Ibadan chapter. Here, he explained the background of the crisis, the current conditions, the demands, the strategies adopted by the JAC, the plans for students, among others. Enjoy!
The Chairman of Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), University of Ibadan branch, who has a degree each in History and Law – Mr WALE AKINREMI has informed UCJUI correspondents that the present struggle is as a result of the fall-out with the Federal Government to implement the letters which entails agreement signed between Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non Academic Staff Union (NASU), National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) and the Federal Government since 2009. He explained that of all the several issues which have culminated into the actions and reactions recently witnessed in the University sector, two of these issues are fundamental to the ongoing struggle. He mentioned them to include the issue of the Staff School; and the sharing of funds from the 2009 agreement.
He explained that the Staff school is a fundamental part of the University system but the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education who according to him “woke up on the wrong side of his bed one day” decided to remove it from the University system, contending its relevance. While that was on, the FG dragged the JAC to the National Industrial Court in Abuja over interpretation of the 2009 agreement. In December 2016, the court ruled in favour of JAC that the Staff School is an integral part of the school. On the issue of monetary allocation, he explained that both NASU and ASUU had gone on strike over unsettled payments by the FG.
“When the money came out, we realized that 89% of the money was to be given to the teaching staff and 11% to the non teaching staff, which happens to be the first time in several years.”
“Specifically, the letter mentioned that ‘unions’ be given money, which has never happened. Of course, we suspected a foul play, but whether a foul play existed or not, if a group of people were paid, it is good. But what we are saying is that we should also be paid and we are not fighting any other group except if you do anything to undermine our fundamental rights to press for our labour rights within the garment of the law”, he said.
The SSANU Chairman made it known that Staff schools include primary school established to serve the University workforce through the education of their wards. Fees are not charged in the school but the only thing which exist is the support offered by staff. He expressed dissatisfaction as he said that while the JAC won the case after the FG took them to court, implementation has since then became a difficult task to do, which has consequently resulted in the suffering of teachers as what the FG has been doing is writing several letters misinterpreting the provision of the agreement reached.
For the sharing formula, the SSANU Chairman mentioned that ASUU should not be cheated, as they should be given what is entitled to them, just as the non teaching staff also deserve to get what belongs to them. ”
“So 89%-11% was actually meant to cause crisis in the University setting and I think they are achieving that now, given the conduct of some people within the system, especially the leadership of the University system. We expected some of them to be neutral, rather they were sentimental and there were inflammatory statements coming from particular set of people.”
“Non teaching members of the University cannot afford to go on a total strike. When ASUU goes on strike, they withdraw teaching and research services, but we cannot afford to withdraw security, electricity, water, laboratories and health services, among others, for how long? We cannot, we are very important. We are much more important in maintaining the University system than any other group, so we are not fighting superiority battle with anybody. We are only saying that the FG should give unto Caesar what belongs to him”, he expressed.
According to him, the battle was not supposed to be between the non-teaching (JAC) and teaching staff (ASUU), but rather between the JAC and the Federal Government while ASUU is to play neutrality.
In his words on who has shown love to the students, he said, “… for example, we allowed you to write your exams, not because anybody was going to do anything to us. At the non-teaching level, we have what we call understanding and we put ‘human face’ into all our struggles. Many of you are our children, we put that into consideration. Not only that, we have lost a deal of time. Especially through ASUU strike and unnecessary closure of school as a result of one day protest of the Students’ Union. If we have wanted you not to write exams, we would not have allowed it. We have the capacity to carry out our struggle, and to do things in our own ways.”
He added in another session of the interview when quizzed about his say on ‘human face’, he said, “… respect begets respect, respect (they say) is reciprocal. When your teachers were on strike, you don’t see them (at all). They stop all they were doing for you; we didn’t stop all our responsibilities. We allowed you to write exams.”
He further bemoaned the fact that students failed to show appreciation either by a visit by hall or faculty executives, or letters from anyone even if the Students’ Union body was illegally disbanded. Continuing in his ‘swipe’ at students (leaders), he said, “You also continued to run things as if we are not there. Just two days (of no power supply) and we just showed you a bit of our strength.” He ended this that it was because of human face that he had to ensure the light was restored especially after he entered school on Friday, and he saw people along Baptist church who had exams (loitering) around seeking water which made him feel bad. He further added that he ordered the restoration of the light against the decision of the congress, the backlash of which he does not know yet.
He further asserted, “Up till now, nothing is coming from the students. So if you don’t know us, we also don’t know you.” In his words, he said the non-teaching staff sees us (the students) as intellectuals unlike the management who sees and treats us as “small boys.” From another angle, he added the fact that the students failed to acknowledge the fact that the leadership of the JAC botched a scheduled January 6th congress (in order to allow us write exams). He said, “if we had called our congress that day, there was going to be conflagration, and there was not going to be exams, but we want you to write exams, we chose not to call the congress. We sacrificed our congress for you. And till then, we refuse to call a congress… if we had called the congress that day, only God would have stopped the mayhem that was in the oven. We allowed you to write exams. Many of your mates were even asking that, is this strike and we’re not feeling it.”
He restated that the strike was not between the JAC and the ASUU (or management) but said that “if you throw your hat into the ring, we would not hesitate to engage you.”
In the much revealing interesting session with him, he told us of how the management reported them (JAC) to the commissioner of police in what he termed ‘cacophony’, telling lies that they (JAC) wanted to kill a professor, disturbing people, beating people so that they would be detained and eventually spend their new year in prison around December 2017. According to him, this made JAC members especially very angry about the lies perpetrated about them to the police from the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Aiyelari on behalf of the Vice Chancellor, Professor Idowu Olayinka.
More irritating to him was the fact that when members of JAC were in the hall to talk to students, they realized the Hall wardens were trying to “procure students to do clearance”. He was then forced to ask if students had been given admissions with the inclusion of taking on the role of NASU when clearly, there is a body recognized to carry out that particular task. In addition to condemning the management’s efforts to utilize student leaders as tools to undermine NASU, he added that during their (current management leadership) time as undergraduates, they enjoyed free meals (and chickens), but now the halls where students reside, to him are ‘insalubrious’, ‘dirty’ and ‘untidy’, enough to militarize their sensibilities.
He continued, implying that complaining about everything to the government makes us less-of-a-scholar, questioning what exactly the management itself is doing to improve things. He said, “is it that they handover everything to us and we just return everything to them just like that. Are we not supposed to add value, to remodel our youths…?” He concluded by saying that “if anybody chooses to cross our path, we’ll not hesitate to crush that person.”
On ill-rumours that the gates of the university would be closed the next day, he reiterated that they (JAC) have never closed the gates of the school. He added, “… we will not because of undue arrogance of some, inflict pains on others. But whatever we need to do, to carry out our struggle, we would do, yet still do our bit to ensure that we do not inflict absolute pains on students.”
Also on final year students and the prospects of them not being allowed to go for service (NYSC ) in time, he responded that, “…when ASUU is on strike, do they attend to you? We are on strike; I don’t know what is going to happen. We are praying that we call off this strike as soon as possible…”
Lastly, when quizzed on his opinion on Hall wardens taking charge of hall clearances, he boldly affirmed that, “tomorrow morning (today), we are going to descend on all of them… they are usurping our responsibility. And we are ready to face them. Anybody that attempts that is going to face serious troubles tomorrow (today) by the special grace of God.”