Between the Potent ASUU and Ineffective NLC

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Amby Uneze compares and draws a contrast between the engagement strategies of the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Nigeria Labour Congress

In Nigeria of today, struggle for relevance becomes the key word to survive the harsh economic realities in the country. It is no longer news that everybody fights for himself. The dependence on organized bodies to act as activists or mouthpiece for people who are aggrieved over certain unpopular policies of government(s) most times turn out to be impotent.

No wonder, therefore, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is dancing in the sun just for the sake of seeking relevance while in the actual sense of it the body is impotent. However, such organizations as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that acts as the main catalyst between teachers in the university and government need to be commended for standing tall to be counted. ASUU, no doubt has her own short-comings but generally, her potency to galvanize all the grievances of Nigerian university lecturers into a demand to achieve academic excellence in the country is highly appreciated. That is what a union that loves her members and country should do at any given time.

On the other hand, an organized body that should fight for all Nigerians irrespective of which union one belongs individually is the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). NLC is the mother of all unions in Nigeria, and her main mandate is to protect the rights of every worker in the country. Unfortunately, NLC has of late become a toothless bulldog and cannot defend the people it claims to represent. Nigerian workers are however, at the mercy of the government that tosses them like a coin.

The fundamental aims and objectives of the Congress are to protect, defend, and promote the rights, well being and the interests of all workers, pensioners, the trade unions and the working class in general; and also to promote and defend a Nigerian nation that would be just, democratic, transparent and prosperous through the attainment of the following objectives:

* To promote, defend and advance the economic, political and social rights and wellbeing of Nigerian workers and pensioners;

* To continually enhance the quality of life and improve the income and other working conditions of workers;

* To promote and sustain the unity of Nigerian Trade Unions, ensure total

unionization of all workers irrespective of their creed, state of origin, gender and political beliefs;

* To promote the existence of one trade union and/ or one federation of trade unions in every industry; including the emergence of one central labour organization in Nigeria;

* To continually strive towards the attainment of gender equity and improvements in the status and conditions of women in the world of work and society;

* To work for the industrialization and prosperity of the Nigerian nation and ensure protection of jobs, full employment and a humane working environment;

* To continually struggle to influence public and corporate policies and legislation on all issues at all levels, in the interest of workers, disadvantaged social groups and trade unions; etc.

However, the NLC has failed the people of this country in so many ways. Looking at the intervention of the NLC these past few months, especially as the petrol pump price increases monthly to the chagrin of Nigerians, one had expected the NLC to live up to her mandate by protecting Nigerians from the shylock of the federal government.

How can one explain that fuel which was sold for N87 per litre in 2015 before President Muhammadu Buhari ascended power can under five years rise to N170 per litre? Have we forgotten that Nigeria is one of the five major exporters of crude oil in the world and still her citizens pay heavily, even more than those countries they export to? What kind of economic calculation is that, and then the government is also talking about another recession?

The Organised Labour had recently reconvened a meeting with the Federal Government that was aimed at addressing the increase in price of fuel and electricity tariff. The outcome of the meeting was that they staged a walkout and never put pressure on the Federal Government to rescind her decision on fuel increase. The meeting, they claimed, was necessitated by the recent increase in pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), otherwise called petrol, from N160 per litre to N170 and the increase in electricity tariff.

The Federal Government has been giving excuses to justify the hike without taking Nigerians into consideration. The FG had linked the recent increase in the pump price of petrol to the success of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. Imagine that! The Federal Government has said that the recent increase in the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), otherwise known as petrol, is due to the announcement of a positive outcome in the final stage trial of the Coronavirus vaccine being developed by American pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer Inc in collaboration with BioNTech.

The explanation followed the public outcry and criticisms that have greeted the petrol price increase. This disclosure made by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva during an interaction with State House correspondents on Monday, November 16, 2020, after a routine meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at Aso Villa, Abuja was indeed a reckless one, considering the fact that Nigerians did not get the COVID-19 palliative meant for them by CACOVID talk less of vaccine.

Sylva pointed out that the announcement by Pfizer, that its COVID-19 vaccine was over 90% effective, triggered a slight increase in the price of crude oil in the global market. He said, “What happened recently was because of the announcement of a vaccine for COVID-19 by Pfizer. With that, crude oil prices went up a little bit.

“If you have been following crude oil prices, you would have seen that crude oil prices went up a little bit as a result of this announcement. So, when crude oil prices go up a little bit, then you will see that (it will) instantly reflect on the price of petrol, which is a derivative of crude oil.”

Sylva, who pointed out that it was not the first time that the Federal Government will be giving this explanation whenever there was a jump in petrol price, said that the pump price of petrol was directly determined by the price of crude oil in the global market.

He said, “When the price of crude oil goes up, then it means that the price of the fixed stock has gone higher; it will also affect the price of the refined product and that is why you see that product prices are usually not static, it depends on the price of crude oil which goes up and down.

“That is why we say, deregulate so that as the price goes up or down, you begin to go up and down as well at the pump. Before now, we fixed it – which was not optimal for us as a country.”

The Minister while speaking on the petrol price deregulation explained that the price of petrol will continue to fluctuate depending on the price of crude oil. He said it may crash again to a much lower figure, like was experienced in March 2020, if the price of crude drops again.

Now, what is the NLC doing to protect Nigerians from these regular increases in pump price of fuel? Generally, when there is a slight increase in fuel, every segment of the economy is affected and those who usually bear the brunt are the poor Nigerians that NLC is supposed to protect. But they have sold out.

For ASUU, its leadership has remained resolute, astute and dogged in fighting for what they feel are the rights of the university lecturers in the country. They have held several meetings with Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, and finally it does appear that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Last week the Minister expressed optimism that members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities will accept the new offer by the Federal Government and end the eight-month strike which began in March.

He urged ASUU to hasten consultations with its members in order to return to the negotiation table before Friday. “I feel that even this offer is one of the best they have ever gotten since I started conciliation with them. I do not see why they should not accept it. Everything they asked for has been granted. I don’t think they should say the offer is not good.

“But I told them before they left that asking the nation and the students to wait from Friday to Friday is unfair, they should come back to us by Tuesday. They have done that before when we negotiated with the Senate President. The offer was made on a Thursday and they came back to us on a Tuesday.

“So, that’s what I expect them to do this time around. If they do so, the nation will appreciate them and regard them as patriotic citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I expect them to get back to me much earlier than Friday,” the minister, who spoke on an ARISE TV interview, said.

The Minister had reported last Friday that the Federal Government accepted the demand by ASUU that the lecturers be exempted from the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System. The government also offered to increase the Earned Allowances to university staff from N30 billion to N35b and the Revitalisation Fund from N20 billion to N25 billion.

The government also shifted grounds, as it agreed to pay outstanding salaries to the university lecturers from February to June, through the old salary payment platform, Government Integrated Financial and Management Information System, as well as resolve other issues for a lasting industrial harmony in the university system.

While ASUU and the Federal Government should be commended for resolving the over eight months impasse, which apart from the lockdown that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic that crippled the nation’s university system, the NLC needs to carry Nigerians aling by protecting them from the onslaught of the Federal Government, which has made living more difficult for them. NLC should wake up from its slumber.

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For ASUU, its leadership has remained resolute, astute and dogged in fighting for what they feel are the rights of the university lecturers in the country. They have held several meetings with Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, and finally it does appear that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Last week the Minister expressed optimism that members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities will accept the new offer by the Federal Government and end the eight-month strike which began in March