By Amara Christa
Two parallel academic bodies – Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Congress of University Academics (CONUA) – have been engaged in a battle of supremacy at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, over the last two years. Unfortunately, students have become the proverbial grass that suffers when two elephants fight. OKERINMODUN FAITH OLUWASEUN, a final year English Language undergraduate of OAU, reports.
Students of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) have become pawns in the war of superiority between two academic bodies in the institution – Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Congress of Universities Academic (CONUA).
ASUU and CONUA operate as parallel bodies with almost similar modus operandi, even though the latter is a fallout of the former.
On Monday, ASUU began an indefinite strike to protest the Federal Government’s stoppage of their members’ salaries for refusing to enrol in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), as well as not fulfilling certain components of the 2009 Agreement. Incidentally, the union just ended a two-week warning strike at the weekend, before the indefinite strike started.
Interestingly too, CONUA which started in OAU a little over two years ago, with tentacles in Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma; Federal University, Oye Ekiti; Federal University, Lokoja; and Kwara State University, Malete; has already enrolled in the IPPIS. CONUA insisted that its members would continue to hold lectures.
CAMPUSLIFE learned that the new students resumed four weeks ago, while those already in the system resumed the week ASUU warning strike kicked off.
Further checks by CAMPUSLIFE revealed that some lecturers of CONUA, especially from the faculties of Science and Arts, among others, held lectures for students all through the period.
This development left most students confused as many were not sure whether their willingness to attend lectures at the instance of CONUA would set them on a collision course with other lecturers in ASUU.
Students told CAMPUSLIFE that lectures in OAU have become a gamble, adding that a lecturer may hold a class this moment, while the following class is empty as the next lecturer might not show up.
How CONUA came into being?
In February 2018, some aggrieved lecturers of ASUU-OAU complained of marginalisation and of being unfairly treatment, a development that resulted in a splinter group that birthed CONUA the following month.
At its inauguration, the National Coordinator of CONUA, Dr. Niyi Sunmonu, said the sole purpose of CONUA was to redirect unionism, restore peace and stability in universities in Nigeria and come up with new approaches of engagement in addressing members’ welfare.
ASUU/CONUA justify stance
Ahead of the warning strike, the Chairman of ASUU-OAU Dr. Adeola Egbedokun, told CAMPUSLIFE that his members had since downed tools following the directive from its national body.
He said: “The reason for our strike action is not solely based on the IPPIS saga but on the promise the Federal Government has made to the union
“The funds which were violated from 2006-2018 were stated in the Memorandum of Understanding. The Federal Government is currently owing the union N1.1trillion of which they have refused to pay,”said Egbedokun.
“However our workers are being underpaid. A teacher in the ‘Senior Lecturer’ cadre in the university is still collecting the money being paid to a teacher on the status of ‘Lecturer’ 13 years ago. This shows that the Federal Government is wicked; how do they want us to live?” he said.
In what seemed a sharp contrast, however, Sunmonu said the union was not aware of the warning strike by their colleagues in ASUU.
Sunmonu told CAMPUSIFE that there was no rationale for embarking on strike since CONUA members are already on IPPIS payroll.
“All I know is that we will still attend the classes to teach our students. We have told our members to enrol on the IPPIS,” Sunmonu began.
“We enjoin the students of the Obafemi Awolowo University to please attend classes as the normal school activities still go on. We wish everyone success on their stay on campus “he added
Similarly, another member of CONUA who pleaded that his name should not be mentioned, corroborated Sunmonu, saying “because we aim excellence, we will keep the academics running.”
Students express frustrations
Gbaremu Azeez Olamide, a 100-Level student of the Department of Public Administration, said ASUU sometimes appears too indifferent to students’ plight.
He said: “The lecturers should have considered returning to class as directed by the Federal Government and not hold us ransom because it’s affecting our classes. Lecturers would tell us to come for classes and they won’t come at the end of the day.”
Another student, a second year undergraduate of Chemistry Odedeji Tolu, said she and others attended lectures by members of CONUA, adding that the experience, for the first time, afforded them an opportunity to ease off the tensions and anxiety regularly posed by ASUU strikes.
“Our classes have always been holding as earlier scheduled and there has not been any hiccup over the last two weeks the lectures started.”
Corroborating Odedeji, a 300-Level Geology undergraduate, Thomas Alao, said: “Ever since the commencement of the strike, we have been having lectures back to back which made us almost unconscious of the presence of ASUU.
“They (ASUU) should be considerate and help us in any way they can. We are the ones that suffer whenever they go on strike. They must understand that we are their priority.”
Abolade Matthew from the Department of Political Science also thanked CONUA for the consistent classes throughout the entire fortnight. Nonetheless, Abolade lamented that since ASUU still had majority of lecturers in OAU, whose absence created an aura of uncertainty among students, many didn’t come to school because they believed no lectures would hold.
“We still implore the Federal Government to do the needful (for ASUU),” Abolade, a second year undergraduate pleaded.
Falade Oluwaseun, a 200-Level English Language undergraduate, observed that only a handful of students attended lectures by members of CONUA. She lamented that ASUU strikes have become a recurring decimal, to the extent that when the two-week warning strike began, majority of students simply packed their bags and went home.
Adeniji Iyanuoluwa, English Department, 400L, said: “The strike action embarked upon by the members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities is a good one but it shouldn’t be this time. “They should understand that they are one of the top notch educationalists in Nigeria, they should know what to do”
Similarly, Adebanjo Imole from the Department of History, said he has since stopped attending classes, noting that lectures have been coming in tricles. “I have stopped coming to classes because we have not been holding classes ever since the strike action. Lecturers have not been coming to the class at all. This is rather frustrating,“the 200-Level undergraduate told CAMPUSLIFE.
A student, Kehinde Agbolahan, Department of Fine Arts 100 level, said: “Some of our lectures are still coming to classes and we have to attend the lectures because we don’t know which to attend or leave. Coming to classes has now become a bet.
“The strike action shouldn’t come up this time. The members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities should be considerate.They should allow us to do our lectures,” he pleaded
A final year Agricultural Economics undergraduate, Funmilayo Salami, said:”This has always been the issue in the education sector where we students have to suffer for everything because we are always at the receiving end.
“The strike action shouldn’t have come up this time. Members of ASUU should be considerate, especially against the fact that we haven’t done anything. I also appeal to the Federal Government to attend to their (ASUU) demands as this is affecting us. They should allow us hold our lectures,” she appealed.
Olasunkanmi Ajao, a final year Education Technology student of OAU, blamed both parties. While lambasting ASUU for often resorting to strike as a major weapon of agitation, Ajao tongue-lashedthe government for killing public institutions via underfunding.
For nearly 15 years, Ajao said the academic body has continued to agitate for almost the same demands, amid government’s indifference and I-don’t-care disposition.
“The education sector in Nigeria is nothing to write home about. The same issue keeps re-occurring and the government doesn’t want to change,” Ajao concluded.