The Federal Government has presented certificates of registration to the two new academic unions in the university system, the Congress of University Academics (CONUA) and the National Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA).
Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, made the presentation with official gazette in Abuja, at a special press briefing.
Speaking before the formal presentation, Ngige said if a group of people felt that they were no longer useful or were forced out of a union, they reserved the right to aggregate themselves and ask for registration as a union, as guaranteed by Sections 40 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) and 87 of ILO conventions.
He recalled that NAMDA and CONUA were earlier issued letters of recognition by his ministry on the recommendation of committees set up by the ministry to consider their applications for registration as trade unions in the university system.
Ngige said, “The certificates are here for you to operate fully as trade unions. Letters have gone to the security agencies, to accord you all rights given to other unions, for your meetings, AGMs and delegates assembly.
“Same has been done to all government ministries, departments and agencies, including the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, so that your check-off dues will be deducted from source and given to you. Don’t behave like ASUU. Render your accounts to your followers and government.”
Reminiscing on the events that brought about the two unions, Ngige said a group of teachers in the university system applied to his ministry in 2018 to be registered as the Congress of Nigeria University Academics and they set up a committee, which did their work and by early 2019, recommended that the union should be registered.
“Nevertheless, we did not register the union because we wanted to make sure that we are on the right path. By 2020, the request came back and this time around, they explained that they had been expelled from the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and therefore denied protection. And that the expulsion was as a result of their unwillingness to go the way of ASUU. They complained of lack of democratisation inside ASUU and lack of transparency in the management of finances of ASUU, just like the ministry pointed out to ASUU that it has not audited its accounts.
“As of the time they were saying this in 2020, ASUU had not audited its accounts for four years. We wrote ASUU, asking them to tender the accounts for the years 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, but nothing was done. So, the committee felt that this association had a case. If check-off dues are deducted from your salary, you have a right to know how they are spent.
“And we as the Ministry in charge do not also know how it was spent whereas it is our law that they are operating. Talking in terms of deduction of check-off dues at source, the RTU 18 and Section 37 of the Trade Union Act, talks about rendering account to the Registrar of Trade Union (RTU). It says that those accounts must be rendered before June 1, every given year.
“The letter was unattended to in 2020. In 2022, ASUU was asked to respond to that letter and show cause why the penalty spelt out in that section 37 of Trade Union Act, should not apply to them. This includes also the withdrawal of the certificate of registration as a trade union, which ipso facto grants them the powers to receive check-off dues from their members monthly from their salaries.
“So, to cut the story short, the ministry decided to register members of CONUA to operate as a full-fledged union and we gave them letter of recognition. By the processes of the law, after the letters of the union is given, you gazette that union. It is part of Section 3 (2) of the Act and this section permits the Minister to regroup an existing union when its functionality is no longer guaranteed. And that is what we have exercised with CONUA.”
Regarding NAMDA, Ngige said the medical doctors in academics, including pre-clinical teachers complained that they were not being protected by ASUU and applied for registration as a union.
According to him, the medical teachers said ASUU negotiations do not cover them, in terms of their welfare, conditions of service and allowances.
“A committee was empanelled to look into it and it discovered a lot of rumblings in the sector, by which after a residency training programme, a medical consultant who has his part 2, coming into academics, loses seniority and even emoluments on CONUASS system scale. These are issues that have lingered over the years and they made their complaints. We thought we should streamline some of these things. The committee recommended that they come out of ASUU and have their own association.
“This is not an abnormal thing. We have unbundled the Nigerian union of Pensions in 2018. We now have contributory pensioners and pensioners in the public service agencies.
“Unbundling is dynamic. It is change. Change is constant in line. It is only a dead institution that does not want a change. We must change. As human beings, some cells die in the body and are replaced.
“Even the other PHCN was unbundled into generation, transmission and distribution. So, it is not a new thing. NNPC was unbundled the other day. This is life. Today, these bodies have come to receive their registration certificates.”
He assured that the government would address the issue of witheld salaries of members of the two unions.
He noted that members of CONUA were not part of ASUU strike but were locked out by the management, while the medical lecturers graduated medical doctors during the strike.
Responding, the Coordinator of CONUA, Dr Niyi Somonu, described the event as historic and appreciated the Minister for the registration of their unions, saying his members have been liberated from the shackles of ASUU.
Somonu said they would use the platform to promote the interest of their members, conscious of national interest.
Similarly, the National Vice President of NAMDA, Dr Ali Mohammed Ramat, praised Ngige for the courage to take the bold step, assuring that it would impact on the quality of medical doctors produced from our medical schools.
“You cannot keep the medical students at home for eight months and expect quality medical doctors.”