MInister of Labour, Dr CHris Ngige

Two new academic unions addressed as the Congress of Nigeria University Academics (CONUA) and the National Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA) have finally scaled through registration hurdles as the Federal Government registered them in the public university system to exist alongside the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Dr. Chris Ngige, presented the certificates to the unions last Tuesday, 4th October, 2022, in Abuja.

It would be recalled that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had been on strike since Feb. 14, over the non-implementation of its demand entered with the Federal Government. According to Senator Ngige, the two new unions will exist side by side with ASUU in the Nigerian universities in the spirit and tenets of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Core Convention Nos. 87&98. “These conventions are respectively on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to organise and Collective Bargaining. “This is as well as the enthronement of the four pillars and principles of the Decent Work Agenda (DWA), considered necessary for social justice and equity in the world of work,’’ he said.

Dr. Ngige expressed sadness over the persistence of the ASUU strike in spite of the efforts by the Federal Government to resolve it through the Federal Ministry of Education (FME), after his ministry apprehended the strike and did conciliations twice, on Feb. 22 and March 1, this year. The Minister also recalled that the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) had granted an order of interlocutory, directing ASUU to go back to work, but the leadership and its members refused to obey the order of a competent court. He, however, noted that interestingly, a lot of university teachers in the public universities had indicated their willingness to get back to work while negotiations continue, but were obstructed by ASUU officials. `It is worthy to note that some medical doctors who are teachers in the various Medical Schools/College of Medicine had carried on with teaching in the University of Maiduguri, Bauchi and Sokoto and had graduated their new doctors in the midst of the ASUU strike. “These groups of lecturers had since been applying to have their own academic associations registered as trade unions to organise their members because they do not share in the models, objectives, modus operandi, mission and vision of ASUU. “They cite that under Section 40 of the Constitution, they have the right to freedom of association with people sharing the same academic vision and mission-like minds,’’ he said.

Senator Ngige, while giving background on the two newly registered associations, said that CONUA applied for registration since 2018, citing irreconcilable differences with ASUU, as their members did not believe in recurring strikes as the solution to every welfare agitation. He said like CONUA, NAMDA applied for registration as medical teachers in the university system under various groups, including medical doctors doing pre-clinical teaching of basic courses and honorary consultants teaching clinical students in the teaching hospitals. “Due to their peculiarities such as impediment in their career progression in the universities’ system resulting in frequent and continuous agitations which had impacted an endangered species syndrome to these groups of workers/employees. “The Ministry’s special committee has also recommended their registration as an Academic Union as all groups have the same objectives, mission and vision. “It may be noted that Section 3(2) of the Trade Union Act, Cap. T14, Laws of the Federation (LFN) 2004 gives the Minister of Labour and Employment powers to regroup an existing trade union of workers or employers, ’’he said.

Dr. Ngige consequently, in the exercise of the power conferred on him, approved the registration of CONUA and NAMDA

He said, “they are accordingly, entitled to all rights and privileges, accruing to such academic associations/organisations, including but not limited to receiving check off dues of their members in accordance with Section 17 of the Trade Union Act. “They are also to have members in the Nigerian University Pension Management Company (NUPEMCO) and being on CONUA Salary Structure/Scheme. “They are equally entitled to Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) and all other allowances attached thereto. ASUU despite bickering experienced protests from a large majority of her members including CONUA and NAMDA members,’’ he added. Responding, NAMDA President, Dr. Nosa Orhue, commended the Minister and his team for the approval of the registration as a trade union. Dr. Orhue said, the registration had given medical and dental academicians in the universities and other institutions a legal voice where the training of medical doctors and postgraduate doctors take place. He added that this was in the determination of the training requirements, management of the training system and the welfare of her members.

Also, Dr. Niyi Somonu, National Coordinator of CONUA, described its registration as a Trade Union in the Nigerian University System (NUS), as monumentally historic. According to him, the hurdles we have faced to get here, since 2018 when we submitted our application for registration, have been seemingly insurmountable. “The registration is therefore the validation of the power of the human will. It asserts the value of courage, initiative, focus, tenacity, patience, forbearance and persistent positive thinking. “We regard the registration of CONUA as a sacred trust and pledge to reciprocate by devoting ourselves unceasingly to the advancement of university education in this country. “We would make the details of our programmes available to the public in due course.

“For now, we are giving the assurance that we would work to ensure that the nation is not traumatised again by academic union dislocations in the country’s public universities,’ ’he said.

He also commended the entire membership of the union for believing in what he described as the righteousness of the CONUA cause and for believing in the leadership of the union.