SSANU, NASU Will Commence Strike if FG Fail to Yield to Protest – SSANU chair, Falowo

Comrade Naheem Olusola Falowo, Chairman of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), University of Ilorin branch, speaks with OLUMIDE OLUSEGUN on the disagreement with the Federal Government over the four months withheld salaries of SSANU, NASU members.

What is the current situation regarding the disagreement between SSANU, NASU, and the Federal Government?

Well, the current situation is that we are hopeful that the government at the end of the day yield to our demand. Majorly, our demand is the payment of four months withheld salary. You can recall that in 2022 all the unions in the University went on strike demanding the review of the 2009 agreement and the release of the N50 billion, the government promised us four months. Now, we all went for that strike. At the end of the day, we suspended our strike. I mean, SSANU and NASU, under JAC based on the agreement we had with the then Minister of Education, Professor Adama Adamu, and Dr Chris Ngige, as the Minister of Labour at that time. One of the clauses in that agreement was what we call the non-victimisation clause. That non-victimisation clause stated that nobody would be victimized as a result of his or her participation in the strike, but we have seen that clearly that the government has been victimising us by withholding our salary against an agreement they entered into with us. We have been trying to ensure that we avoid strikes because SSANU and NASU don’t love strikes, we love to be on our job. We are not happy going on strike. We only go on strike when we are pushed to the wall and the situation seems hopeless. And that’s what we have been trying to avoid since 2023 now. We were supposed to have gone on strike since 2023 but we have been writing all those that are concerned. We have written the Minister of Education, Minister of Labour, Accountant General, Ministry of Budget, and all relevant stakeholders in the education sector that we are not happy to go on strike. And if you look at it, we gave them two weeks of Thursday. We could not go on strike because they called our leaders for a meeting in Abuja. You will recall that there was a meeting between the national leadership of SSANU and NASU with the Federal Government. The meeting was held but there was nothing concrete to show that the federal government is committed to paying us. So, to avoid going on strike, the national leadership of SSANU and NASU now called for a national protest, which is going to take place in all the campuses in Nigeria tomorrow, Tuesday.

What will be the next line of action if the Federal Government fails to pay after the protests?
If after the Tuesday protest, the government still did not pay us. We will go for a grand protest at Abuja on the 18th. So, after that grand protest, if they still don’t pay us, that is when we will now go on the mother of strike. It is going to be total, it is going to be indefinite and there won’t be any concessions. So, we are appealing to the government that they should not confirm the common saying that the only language that our government understands is the language of strike. They should not force us to go on strike because we don’t love to go. The most painful part of it is that just last month, our counterparts in the academic union, ASUU, were paid that withheld salary and they left non-teaching unions.

But why do you think the Federal Government continues to ignore the non-teaching staff and concentrates on ASUU?
It is very clear. The government is taking the non-teaching staff for granted. What the government doesn’t understand is that no university anywhere in the world can work or function without the non-teaching staff. Let’s take from the gate that you enter any university in Nigeria, the security personnel by the gate, are non-teaching staff. When you go to the reception, those that will welcome you are non-teaching staff. If a student is getting admission, the admission office is occupied by the non-teaching staff. The clinic is occupied by non-teaching staff. The academic office is occupied by non-teaching staff. All the registry staff are non-teaching staff. And those who will clean the environment, who will weed the grasses as well as those who will maintain all our electrical and mechanical appliances, are non-teaching staff. So, if you say somebody because somebody goes to class alone, and because of that, you will not make them special and ignore the section that handles all these important roles, it is unfair. It seems the government doesn’t understand how the university systems operate because I don’t understand why they will pay ASUU and ignore the non-teaching staff.

What is your take about the way the Federal Government handles the education sector?

I fear that our leaders generally want to make education unaffordable for the common man. The primary and secondary school systems have been destroyed already. Most of the Polytechnics, and Colleges of Education are struggling to survive. It is only university education that is still a bit strong but they are on the verge of destroying that University education. Most of them have their private university. So, I hope it is not a conspiracy to destroy the public universities so that their private university will flourish. The government needs to confront this because this is the university that produces most of them. Most of them attended these universities free of charge including meals. They have now refused to take care of workers who are working to make sure that Nigerian children receive qualitative education in the university. And if I may ask you? Have we not tried enough since 2022, clamouring for the payment of the withheld salary? They agreed with us before we suspended that 2022 strike. And among all the unions that went on strike, it is only SSANU and NASU that had an agreement with them. And I am very sure it is that written agreement that was delivered to this present government and that is the four months salary arrears they were talking about because our own is four months, ASUU’s own is six months. So, if we enter into an agreement and you say, go and resume, we will pay your money. And we took them for their word, we resumed and they never paid us. We fulfilled our part of the bargain but they didn’t fulfill theirs. Do you think next time we will trust them? These are the things that I want Nigerian citizens to look at and help us to appeal to the government because we love our work. We don’t love to go on strike. They should please don’t force us to go on strike. They should pay our withheld salary and fulfill all the items on the agreement we have with them, including the negotiation of the 2009 agreement.

This is coming amid the clamour for an increase in the minimum wage. Do you have any concern that this may hamper the processes for the demand of the minimum wage?

The issue of minimum wage has been lingering for a long time. This is with claims that there are no resources. The government that wants to prove to the citizens that there are no resources will not distribute SUVs to legislators. If you know that you don’t have resources, why are you prioritizing buying of SUVs and they are still talking about purchasing of presidential jet for the President. You know how much they intend to spend on the vice president’s house. When they are going out, you can see the huge number of convoys they go out with. You are aware that for every outing, those people who follow them would get an allowance. The Nigerian government is not living what it wants the citizens to believe the situation of the country is. They said that they have no money and they are displaying riches. Imagine, somebody that is earning N24 million per month is telling the person that is earning N30,000 per month to sacrifice. Why can’t they satisfy? Can’t their N24 million be reduced to N10 million? The Nigerian government should please not push the masses to the wall. They should live what they say the county is. Today one bag of rice is N80,000 and you say a family should not be more than six. The father, the mother, and four children. If the salary of your father cannot buy a bag of rice in Nigeria. I don’t know how the people in the government of Nigeria go through this crisis. I don’t know how they can sleep with the situation the country is in. The most pathetic one is that, you cannot access medical services anymore. Go to the pharmacy, drugs are extremely expensive. The civil servants cannot afford drugs anymore and yet we still have some wicked states that are not paying this N30,000. I want to plead with the Nigerian government that if they cannot pay the minimum wage that the labour is demanding, they satisfy the demand, they should engage in absolute, efficient, and massive price control. If there is price control, we will not be shouting for an increase in minimum wage. With price control and you are earning what they are proposing, then the money will be reasonable. Go to the market, you will see where they placed three pieces of tomatoes for N1,500. It is a fact here. How are we going to survive like that? The first survival of man is food. Why would the government go to sleep when some Nigerians have no food to eat? Why do some Nigerians have no access to medical care? And we say we have government. So, I don’t believe what they are saying that there are no resources to pay minimum wage because lifestyle is not reflecting it.

Recently, the Ekiti State governor said that the federal government cannot pay the minimum wage without increasing allocation. What do you make of this?

The governors who are saying that they cannot pay minimum wage without an increase in allocation, honestly don’t know what they are saying. Immediately after the removal of the subsidy, the allocation tremendously increased. President Tinubu told them that this money was to take care of the citizens in their state. You can see what Governor Zulum is doing. I was in Borno, I saw what that man was doing. His citizens are happy with him. Apart from him, I do not see any other governor performing like him. If Governor Zulum can take care of his state, the governor of Ekiti State should be able to. They should not tell us that allocation must increase before they can pay minimum wage. That is not correct and uncalled for.

The governors also said the Federal Government and the states should be responsible for negotiating the minimum wage. What is your take on it?
The minimum wage is not in the concurrency list, it is in the exclusive list. Before they can do that, they have to amend the constitution. It is the function of the Federal Government to announce and pay minimum wage. The governors does not have a right not to pay the minimum wage not when we know that they can pay it. It is just they want to continue to live that flashy lifestyle where when they are going out 20 cars will follow them. They want to live lavishly. The position of government is a position of accountability and if we do not give account to the people here, we will surely give account to God. If they are living the way they are living now and feel we cannot do anything to them, they will give account to God.

In the area of governance, where do you think the government is missing in terms of how they should administer the country?

In Nigeria, we need a leader who understands how to solve the problems of the people. We all know what to do to make Nigeria great, it is just that the government doesn’t want to do it. In a country that doesn’t produce anything, there is no way there will be prosperity. Herdsmen are still driving farmers out of their farms. It was in the news today that local security had clashes with the herdsmen because their herds were grazing on people’s farms. It happens everywhere. The government should handle these herdsmen and stop them from disturbing farmers who produce food for us. That insecurity should be addressed first.

About Olumide Olusegun

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