As members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) continue their 10-month old strike, the federal government has commenced the process of registering a rival union.
Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, dropped this on Thursday in Abuja when the leadership of Congress of University Academics (CONUA), led by its National Coordinator, Niyi Sunmonu, paid him a courtesy visit.
CONUA’s membership is drawn from university lecturers opposed to ASUU.
Mr Ngige regretted the long strike by ASUU, saying that it had negatively affected the educational development of the country.
“We are receiving you in audience formally today in this ministry. We have the right to receive associations of persons that are workers, whether we have registered them or not, just as you have the right to apply for registration which is the lawful thing to do,” he said.
“We have the right to receive and hold meetings with you. The journey to have you registered has just started.
“You have done the right thing by applying and this ministry has also done the right thing by processing your registration.
“The review of your application for registration is ongoing. I have put up a committee to look into that review. I will ask the committee to wind up its work.
“We are giving them four weeks from today to turn in their report to the ministry.
“Part of our job here is to register unions; it is also part of our job to make sure that unions that are not functional are helped,” Mr Ngige said.
He, however, commended the university lecturers for initiating the process to register the union.
Earlier, Mr Sunmonu had said that CONUA was enjoying large followership with many universities, registering more members by the day since it came on board in February 2018.
He said CONUA was established due to irreconcilable differences between its members and ASUU.
“CONUA members are not members of ASUU and we are not ready to be part of ASUU due to irreconcilable differences and modes of operation.
“ASUU no longer represents our interest and aspirations. CONUA fits to be described as a group of people who are independent academics and who have decided to come together to form a union committed to the advancement of education in Nigeria.”
Mr Sunmonu condemned the prolonged strike in the university system, and urged unions to choose to engage the government constructively rather than down tools every time, considering the negative effect of that on the educational system.
He said that CONUA, if finally registered, would always constructively engage the government.
“The government cannot see what we see and we will not see what the government sees, but when we have our mind made up in a constructive manner, we will come to a reasonable agreement to further progress our universities and for the advancement of the nation.
“We want to ensure a seamless and uninterrupted academic calendar in the university system.
“This strike has done more damage than good. As academics and researchers, we are supposed to have evaluated the effect of the strike on our institutions, especially on our collective psychic.
“From the preliminary report that we have, the strike has done more harm than good to our universities. Nigerian Universities should rank comfortably with any other university in any part of the world.”
On the Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System, he said that CONUA members were keen on registering in spite of a series of threats.
He appealed to the minister to provide a conducive environment for its members to undergo the registration process without any encumbrances.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the federal government will be meeting with ASUU on Friday over the protracted strike.