The 41-year-old Academic Staff Union of Universities has split with the formation of a new union, the Congress of University Academics.
Lecturers from five universities in the country announced the formation of CONUA in Ile-Ife on Saturday.
The lecturers, who unveiled the new union, were from the Federal University, Lokoja, Kogi State; Kwara State University, Malete; Ambrose Ali University Expoma, Edo State; Federal University, Oye-Ekiti and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
But ASUU President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, in an interview with The PUNCH on Sunday said the union was not aware of any splinter group.
Ogunyemi said some vice-chancellors, who were rebuked for high-handedness, were encouraging members of the union in their institutions to rebel.
Addressing journalists during the first stakeholders’ meeting of the new group at the OAU, CONUA National Coordinator, Dr Niyi Sumonu, explained that the new group was formed because of the need for new approach in handling issues affecting universities across the country.
Sumonu said the first mandate of the new union was to ensure a stable academic calendar in order to improve quality of education in the country’s ivory towers.
He said, “For standard of education to be very high, we need a stable academic calendar. We need to be able to predict academic session. We need to have innovation which is difficult without continuity.
“We also need to be in tune with modern realities. Our union will approach the matter of engagement with all stakeholders in an engaging manner to have a common ground for moving forward.”
We are not anti-govt –New union
“Our union is not anti-government, if government and by extension, administrators of universities are doing well, we will let the world know and we will quickly knock them, provide alternative constructive criticism and take them to task where they are not doing well.
“We will not wait for them to make mistakes before we intervene. We have vision and will provide ahead what can be done to have better results. If that is done we are sure we will have a better way to move forward.
“Members believe we should have alternative ways of solving problems. Members have been contributing very well to the finance of the union. When we fulfill and do all that we need to do, financial constraints will be forgotten.
“We have been at this for over three years in Ife. We have been waxing stronger and members from other universities have been experiencing what we experienced here, hence, the decision to come together to form a national union,” Sumonu added.
Asked if the union was not out to rival ASUU, the flagship umbrella body for lecturers, CONUA National Publicity Secretary, Dr Nwoke Earnest, explained that another key objective of the group was to “redefine academic unionism in Nigeria and is not ready to take issue with any union.”
He explained that CONAU would prefer to proffer solutions to issues before they become problematic, adding that the essence of forming the group was to enhance interaction with the educational system without being confrontational but through a synergy that would involve all stakeholders.
The ASUU National President, Ogunyemi, said some lecturers who were sanctioned by the union about two years ago had decided to kick against the sanctions by forming a parallel group.
Ogunyemi said, “I don’t know that group that they are talking about. What happened at OAU was that there were some people we sanctioned two years back; those people that acted contrary to the letters and spirit of our constitution. We sanctioned them and they decided to kick against the sanctions.
“Some of them agreed to serve the punishment and they have since rejoined the union. But those who do not want to serve the terms of punishment are now saying they will join forces with some individuals who have issues with the union.
“As far as we know, that is what they have been trying to do and we have been on that for about two years now. What I know is that whether in Ife, Oye Ekiti or Lokoja, we know that some vice-chancellors are encouraging rebellion against the union. Particularly in Oye Ekiti and Lokoja, we have issues with their VCs because of the way they are running their universities.
“ASUU has had reasons to complain publicly about the high-handedness of the VCs. Those VCs expectedly will want to take it out on the union and encourage that kind of rebellious attitude.”
On his part, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, said the Federal Government was looking at the application submitted by CONUA.
Although the minister confirmed the group was not registered yet, he noted that he had asked a committee to look into the application.
The Minister of Labour and Employment in a telephone interview on Sunday, said, “They (the new union) are not registered yet. Their application is with the ministry. It has not been treated. We will look at it. We are still looking at their application. I have asked a committee to look at it.
“When we look at the committee report, we will see. The application came since April. It is passing through a process.”
The Federal Ministry of Education said it had no hand in the formation or running of any parallel union under the ministry.
The Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations, Mr Ben Goong, said this in an interview with our correspondent.
He said, “That matter about a new union has not come to the ministry yet. But the fundamental principle is that the ministry does not have any hand and will not have any hand in the formation and running of any union.
“On the issue of whether we will recognise it; everyone has a right to form a union. The recognition by the ministry is immaterial. But like I said, this is coming to us for the first time. When it comes to us officially, the ministry will look at that administratively and deal with it.”