By Bukola Kayode
Dr ‘Niyi Sunmonu the National Coordinator of the newly registered Congress of Nigeria University Academics, has said the new union of academic staff working in public universities will ensure that strikes are a thing of the past.
Sunmonu insisted the union is not a rival to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) which has been on strike for months.
Recall that the Court Appeal in upholding the judgment of the National Industrial Court, ordered ASUU to return to work while negotiations continue. President Muhammadu Buhari also announced that part of meeting ASUU’s demands over N400 billion has been allocated to revitalise universities.
The CONUA coordinator said in an interview with Punch that the union would find better ways of handling issues with states and the Federal Government.
He said: “Even with all that has been done before, have we achieved more? In a democratic setting, our hope and aspiration is to deploy the following, but certainly not limited to them, because as time goes on, we will see more reasons to modify our viewpoints.
“First is to deploy the tool of continuous engagement. You can never be tired of engagement. We are still basking in the effect of military mentality. We have not really imbibed that democratic culture. We are still growing; we will not be tired of continuous negotiation. Even up to the point of, but not limited to, taking on board some eminent Nigerians who the leadership can listen to for the greatness of our country, because no nation can develop beyond its ivory towers. So, that negotiation, we want to create the right environment for it. Negotiations that would be continuous, we won’t have to wait; in an environment that all stakeholders are equal, so that your mind is not made up before you get to the negotiation table. We are only interested in the progress of the university education. We believe in this much that even in situations of outright wars, we still talk”.
“The second approach is to take proactive steps before the budget is prepared. How can the union be involved, because as it is now, the unions are not involved? How do I mean? The job of preparing the budget is that of the administrators and it is the union that knows what is best for the universities. The point is that there should be ways the union can intervene at the level of budget preparation, so that budgets are not passed into law before we start shouting. It would make us to look as if we want the government to violate the law of the land.
“The third one is to use legislative interventions. Legislative intervention will get the buy-in of people in the national and state Houses of Assembly on the needs of universities. The last, but not the least, is if government agrees and signs and wants to renege on agreement, we will go into the judiciary process, so that we can deepen our democracy and no government will wake up and want to renege on agreement, especially if the court pronounces in favour of the union”, he added.
According Sunmonu more universities will join CONUA.
He said: “Time is not right for that now, in terms of number. I say this because I take October 4 as the date we were given birth to. That doesn’t mean we have not organised ourselves in the past. When CONUA was formed in 2018, it was only in OAU. But by October 2019, we had spread to five universities, including the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti; Kwara State University and Ambrose Alli University.
“Our sister union started like that too, with five universities. We can’t start comparing ourselves with our sister union. We respect the fact they have come a long way but we are focusd on nurturing this newborn. We have been taunted in the past that our efforts would result in a stillbirth. We thank goodness that we now have a bouncing baby. We will nurture it. Before the pronouncement on Tuesday, we had grown to 17 universities. It would have been 18 because University of Port Harcourt joined us in 2019 and it was widely publicised by print and electronic media. They were the one who sought us out; we didn’t go after them. But in 2020, they felt they should pull out and we respect that and that’s why we are 17.
“Between October 4 and today, our website, my phone lines and that of some national officers have been bombarded with calls by people who want to be part of us. So, at the right time, the public will know”.