The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, on Tuesday begged the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to rescind its opposition to the registration of two new academic unions in the Nigerian public university system.
The new unions – the Congress for Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and the Nigeria Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA) – recently received letters of recognition from the minister.
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But the NLC, in a letter to Ngige, signed by its President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, demanded immediate withdrawal of the letters issued to the unions, arguing that their registration contravened the laws guiding trade unionism in the country.
However, Ngige, in another letter to the NLC, a copy of which was obtained by Daily Trust, appealed to the organised labour to allow the new unions to exist in the spirit of “freedom of association.”
The minister maintained that the Trade Dispute Act 2004 empowers him the solely to register new trade unions, either by registering a new union or regrouping existing ones.
He reiterated that the new unions were offshoots of regrouping and their applications were considered by two committees of his ministry, with the Registrar of Trade Unions participating when the first recommendation for approval was given in 2019, and again in 2022.
“Comrade President, do not unnecessarily oppose the registration of these new academic unions because with ASUU, they are all like seeds on the academic soil of Nigeria and which will grow into big trees we don’t know. But the one which her trees are not bearing good fruits, we already know. So, as an uncle of the unions, oppose none in the spirit of Freedom of Association.
“It should be noted that Section 3 (2) of the Trade Dispute Act, CAP T14 gives the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, the sole power to register new trade unions, either by registering new trade union or regrouping existing ones.
“This matter was a subject of litigation in the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) in most recent case which the President of the NLC failed to mention in his narration of court cases – the case of the Nigerian Union of Pensions (NUP) and the regrouped Federal Parastatals & Private Sector Pensioners Association of Nigeria (FEPPAN) from NUP where the Law on Regrouping of Trade Unions was extensively explored and ruled upon unlike the cases cited by the President of the NLC to misinform the general public and unfortunately lead astray his affiliate Trade Union – ASUU,” the letter signed by Ngige partly read.
According to him, CONUA and NAMDA were regrouped from the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), for efficiency and effectiveness in the system and more importantly, to protect these groups of university teachers whose worldview differs from the parent union.
Regarding NAMDA, he said they are medical doctors lecturing in the universities who are bound by their professional ethics and Hippocratic oath to “first do no harm” to all and as such, were against “the incessant prolonged and illegal strikes by ASUU, which had disrupted medical training and caused consequential damages to the educational system and by implication, the quantity and quality of future medical doctors and dentists in Nigeria.”
He added, “They have been teaching and some have graduated their students since the 8-month old strike by ASUU which commenced on Feb 14 2022. Universities of Maidugri, Bauchi and Sokoto medical teachers are indeed patriots. Moreover, their peculiar needs are quite different from the rest of ASUU members and they are often left out on welfare and career progression in the universities-the core functions of a registered trade union.”
Ngige also urged the NLC President to desist from using his position to deceive the general public by misguiding them with mal-citations of Labour Authorities
He said, “President, NLC, you know and will admit that the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment is a full blown active member of ILO who have brought Nigeria back from 10 years absence and oblivion into the Governing Board since 2016 when he made his first appearance at the ILO Governing Body meeting. He was President of the 187 country Government group and even spokesman Africa group and is in a very good position to know that ‘full democratisation’ of trade unions and even federations is where the world has gone.”
“Neighbouring Ghana and South Africa have multifarious trade unions in academics while South Africa has four federations or labour centres instead of Nigeria’s two federations – NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC), even though Nigeria’s workers’ population is about three times that of South Africa.”