ASUU in the news again – or in the mud?

Fear not, said we, as it is not a strike warning or a meeting with the Federal Government, which usually does not end well. Today, we exchange what is legal and what is a labour union.

The Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Dr Folashade Yemi-Esan Monday, during the opening of the separate and joint meetings of the national public service negotiating councils, said the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), as well as their affiliates, were not recognised labour unions in the public service.

The HoS said, “While you sit at plenary, I ask that among other crucial matters to be discussed, you are enjoined to note that Unions like the Nigeria Medical Association and the Academic Staff Union of Universities and their affiliates are not members of any recognised Labour Union in the Public Service and government is considering bringing the Health and Education Sectors to constitute two additional Councils, subject to recommendations emerging from the meetings.

Sustaining industrial harmony in any sector of a country’s economy, including the public sector, is strategic and cardinal to national development. This is because there cannot be meaningful development in any country where the grievances of workers, who are the drivers of development, are ignored.”

This is interesting, knowing that the academic body, ASUU, makes sure that the grievances of lecturers across Nigeria, on state and federal level cannot be ignored. Let’s do some history.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) grew out of the Nigerian Association of University Teachers (NAUT). The NAUT was formed in 1965, covering academic staff in the University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; University of Ife; and University of Lagos. The NAUTs orientation was mainly for improvement in the condition of service, the socio-economic and political well-being of the country.

ASUU was formed in 1978, the period of the beginning of the decline in the oil boom, when the country’s leaders became deeply inept and hardly understood how to use resources. Military dictatorship had eroded humanity and freedom – academic freedom and university autonomy were casualties of military dictatorship. The funding of education, and so of universities, became poorer. The factors required a changed orientation of the union of academics, from 1980.

NAUT hardly took any noteworthy position on national issues. But ASUU’s orientation became radical, more concerned with broad national issues, and stood firmly against oppressive, undemocratic policies of the country.
Throughout the military period, ASUU’s struggles centred around the survival of the university system and broad national issues such as anti-military struggles. And this is when strike actions became the only voice successive governments listened to.

ASUU struggles have lived up to the Unions conventional requirement that the Union should defend the interest of its members, establish and maintain just and proper conditions of service for its members, and the protection and advancement of the socio-economic interest of the nation. Maybe add that ASUU does a lot of salary structure comparisons and uses that to justify asking for more.

ASUU’s history cuts across many trade disputes, personal attacks from the government, strike actions, university dismissals, and proscriptions. So, why is it not a recognised labour union in the public service?

If we borrow from Investopedia, “a labour union is an organisation formed by workers in a particular trade, industry, or company for the purpose of improving pay, benefits, and working conditions. Officially known as a “labour organisation,” and also called a “trade union” or a “workers union.”

Nigeria’s Constitution provides freedom to join and form unions. Every person is entitled to assemble freely and form association a trade union or any other association for the protection of their rights. Trade unions must also have registered rules that includes provisions dealing with matters such as the union’s purpose, funds, accounts, membership dues, officers and discipline. A Trade Union will only be unlawful if any of its purposes is in restraint of trade whether its purposes include the provision of benefit to its members or not.

ASUU has yet responded to the HoS’ claims who also stated that the Federal Government was considering creating two additional councils in the education and health sectors. But this is a message. Are we looking at the government trying to replace ASUU? The events of the next few days or weeks will answer that.

Another globally recognised labour union, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), was formally constituted as the only national federation of trade unions in the country in 1978. NLC participates in the activities of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the African Union through the Labour and Social Affairs Commission. It is affiliated to International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation, Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) and the Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa. Maybe ASUU should take a cue from that.

Meanwhile the association continues to claim that it is involved in a struggle for Nigerian tertiary education and Nigerian students by extension, but many Nigerians argue that the supposed struggle, marked by incessant strike actions, are malicious and self-serving.

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