National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) President, Comrade Ibeji Nwokoma, speaks with Tribune Reporter, SOJI-EZE FAGBEMI, on why the Union did not join the on-going strike by NASU and SSANU. He also states the immediate demands of the Union, without which it will review its stand and consider a strike option.
WHAT is the decision taken by the Union after your National Executive Council (NEC) meeting; considering your dialogue with the government?
First and foremost, we asked that branches should go and take a referendum on whether we should proceed on strike or not. We just finished our National Executive Council meeting and from our referendum, 36 per cent of our branches said we should go on strike, and 40 per cent said we should not go on strike. This translated to 26 branches voted in favour of us going on strike and 30 branches voted in favour of not going on strike. Moreover, yesterday we had a discussion with the Federal Government and the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment invited us for a discussion and the meeting is on-going. If we are having an on-going with the Federal Government it would be wrong for us to proceed on strike without getting to the end of the discussion, or whereby it is deadlock or the Federal Government refuses in any form, then we can go on strike. But for now, the National Association of Academic Technologists is not on strike and we will not go on strike until the end of discussion with the Federal Government.
We have three non-academic unions in the university system. Two, NASU and SSANU, have started strike. It means you are not joining them?
No. We are not on strike, we are independent of NASU and SSANU, we are not members of JAC, that is JAC of NASU and SSANU. Our congresses have asked us not to go on strike, and we cannot but take their directive because they are our principals.
But since you are pursuing the same goals, which indeed you started together, don’t you think this will negatively affect the struggle on both sides?
Pursuing the same goals in quotes. The same goal because the three unions were shortchanged by the government in terms of the amount of money allocated to the three unions. But even the N10 billion that was allocated to the three unions has also shown that our Union, NASU and SSANU are not on the same page. Our members across the branches are being shortchanged. Go through the universities, you discover that NASU and SSANU are insisting that this thing be paid across board irrespective of our agreement and my Union takes exception to that. That is not acceptable to us and because of that, we are not going on strike, we are forging ahead with our discussion with the Federal Government that additional money should be given to my Union separately. We are also mindful that our children have been outside the campuses for almost one year now. So, we don’t want to disrupt academic activities now because it is only lecturers and technologists that have contact hours with students. We are mindful of that.
Do you believe this government will listen to you?
Yes. Not just listen to us, we want to ask the general public, well meaning individuals to prevail on the government that we are conscious of the fact that the students have been out of school for a long time, and also we are being patriotic because we don’t also want to disrupt academic activities. So, they should prevail upon the government to do the needful.
With what you have said, it looks as if you have not written off going on strike completely. If in the next two weeks, the government fails to give you what is tangible, what will be your action?
No, no and no. We will review our stand. If the government out of patriotism thinks that the union can be taken for granted, then we will review our stand, we would go on strike.
What exactly do you want the government to do now?
We want the government to improve on the N10 billion allocated to the three unions. It is skewed against the three unions; it is unfair. If you want peace in the universities, there must be justice, there must be equity. So, we want the government to do that. We also want the government to help the universities in ensuring that COVID-19 protocols are observed because my members are affected mostly. In the laboratories, the students will come for practical, the students would be asked to use one particular equipment over and over again. So, how do you protect the students and our members who are working with them. There should be COVID-19 protocols at the doorstep of every laboratory before you come in, you do hand washing and obey all those rules. So, we ask the government to please help the universities to do that and ask the university management to please ensure that COVID-19 protocols are observed.
Specifically, how much are you asking the government to add to the N10 billion released to the three non-academic unions?
We already told the government. The earned allowance being owed our members is N71 billion; my union and members alone because why ASUU has been paid up to 2016, our own members are struggling to be paid up to 2012. In most universities, our members are being owed up to 2011. So, we have also demanded that 50 per cent of what is being owed to our members should be paid to us, which translates to N35 billion.