By Frank Ikpefan, Abuja; Oyebola Owolabi, Precious Igbonwelundu, Alao Abiodun, Victoria Amadi and Wisdom Udeh
The Federal Government must act fast to forestall a total shutdown of the economy, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) warned yesterday.
It called for an end to the ongoing strike by university unions.
But the Federal Government asked for more time to address the issues.
NLC and its affiliates took to the streets in city centres yesterday to protest the five-month-long strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Its President, Ayuba Wabba, who spoke while featuring on Channels Sunrise Daily, reiterated Labour’s threat to embark on a three-day warning strike should the government fail to end the industrial action by ASUU.
The NLC last week called out its state councils and affiliate unions for a two-day pro-ASUU protest.
Workers hit the streets in solidarity with ASUU, the Non-academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU), the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT).
NLC will hold a mega protest in Abuja today.
Wabba said: “The protest is to show our concern and to also call for urgent action to resolve the issues. We took two levels of decision.
“First is the national protest to call for attention and for the issues to be resolved promptly.
“The next level is a three days national warning strike if nothing has happened after the protest to show our grievances.
“There is unnecessary delay in resolving the strike. Why must the government wait for five months for what it can do today?
“I think there should be a level of urgency in resolving the issues.
“In 2011 when the 2009 agreement took effect, President Goodluck Jonathan invited the NLC and all the unions and the issues were resolved.
“Some of these issues need to be taken to the highest level.”
The labour leader insisted that its action was within the ambit of the law, saying the workers had the right to protest and embark on strike over issues they were uncomfortable with.
“Our universities have been closed down for five months, and the children of the poor, particularly the working class, are at home.
“Meanwhile the children of the elites and the rich are graduating daily from foreign universities, and they have the audacity to post those pictures to all of us.
“It was Mandela that said that the best way to address the issue of equality in our society and address poverty is to give the children of the poor quality education. That is why we are responding.”
Wabba said NLC pre-warning letters to the government in a bid to end the strike.
He said the NLC also joined the government negotiation team with ASUU, but their meetings failed to produce the expected results.
According to Wabba, parents and students were losing hope, and the schools had lost an academic calendar over the strike.
The NLC President claimed many of the country’s best lecturers had left because of poor wages.
He alleged that none of the professors receives up to 700 dollars.
“With 700 dollars a professor cannot survive,” the NLC President said.
Fed Govt pleads for more time
The Federal Government said it was ironic for the NLC to hold the solidarity protest when ASUU failed to play by the rules.
It said 80 per cent of the present workforce at the federal level were enrolled on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) which has been rejected by the university unions.
The government spoke through the Director of Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Education, Benjamin Goong.
He told The Nation that half of the workforce in the NLC were enrolled on the payment platform.
Goong said: “It is an irony for NLC to join ASUU on any solidarity strike particularly over IPPIS when more than half of the workforce of the NLC is on IPPIS.
“The major issue here being IPPIS and all of the federal ministries, parastatals are already on IPPIS. What message is Wabba sending to Nigerians?
“He (Wabba) will comply then go and join another person who is refusing to comply. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
An official of the Ministry of Labour and Employment appealed to the NLC for more time.
The official, who pleaded anonymity because she was not allowed to speak on the matter officially, said a position would be taken at the end of the two weeks grace requested by the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu.
The official said: “The NLC and Nigerians should wait and give the Federal Government a week or two more.
“I am sure positions will be taken; there will be announcements which I believe will be favourable to every one of us.
“All of us are involved; our children are at home. It is a national problem which requires patience, understanding and perseverance from all of us.
“Let us wait since the Minister of Education has promised between two and three weeks. If they can be this patient for five months I don’t think two-three weeks should be too much for us.”
Falana seeks end to strike
The solidarity rally was led in Lagos by the NLC Chairman, Mrs. Agnes Sessi, along with activist lawyer Femi Falana (SAN).
The protesters converged under the bridge in Ikeja and walked to the Lagos House, Alausa, singing solidarity songs.
Falana, who lamented the incessant university strikes, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to “collect money from the looters to solve the lingering issues between it and the academic workers”.
He also hailed NLC for supporting ASUU.
He said: “I commend the NLC for bringing out all workers today to protest against the insensitivity of our junketing president. As we are here now, he is on his way to Liberia to deliver a speech.
“The President is tired; he has said he is eager to go back to Katsina. We are asking him to rush back home. Boko Haram boys have taken over Nigeria.
“We are telling the government enough is enough. Enough of the killing of our people, enough of strikes in our tertiary institutions.
“President Buhari should collect money from 10 of the looters to resolve this issue of ASUU. One person stole N109 billion and some have stolen more.”
ASUU Zonal Coordinator Adelaja Odukoya lamented that Nigerian lecturers were the least paid in the world.
He believes the fallen standard of education in Nigeria was a result of incessant strikes.
“A professor in Nigeria is earning N460,000 after tax. That is bad and shameful. We can not continue like this. Our universities are no longer attractive and competitive.
“We are here in solidarity to ensure this government does the needful. We are tired of being at home and a strike is the last option for us.
“We have an irresponsible and uncaring government; the government that cares about its people must invest in education, especially university education. This protest is for the struggle of the soul of this country,” he added.
Commissioner for Establishments, Training and Pensions Mrs. Ajibola Ponle, who received the protesters and their letter on behalf of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, thanked them for conducting themselves peacefully.
She assured them that the governor would deliver their message to the president
Commuters were forced to abandon commercial vehicles and trek following the gridlock.
The NLC, in its letter to Sanwo-Olu, said: “We write to solicit your support and intervention in the matter between the federal government and the unions in the tertiary education subsector.
“This dispute has manifested in strike action for the past five months and has come at a huge cost to the students, the university staff, parents, the government, other stakeholders and the entire country.
“The strike, as you already know, is over the non-observance by the government of the agreements it voluntarily entered in with the unions.
“It has also been about the imposition of IPPS on the university union to which they have taken objection with credible reasons
“We are dismayed by the Federal Government’s paralysis and reluctance to take the necessary steps that could lead to the peaceful resolution of the issues in dispute and, by extension, end the strike.”
Despite heavy security presence, NLC also mobilised protesters in Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Kaduna and several other cities across the country.
They bore placards with inscriptions like “No lecture, no development”; “Nigeria must give education a priority”; “No school, no 2023 election”; “Nigeria at 60 years Independence: More hunger in the land”, amongst others.