Sonny Echono: Strike not best option for university staff unions

Executive Secretary of TETFund, Sonny Echono, made this known while receiving in his office, representatives of the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVCNU) in Abuja.

The executive secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Sonny Echono, has said the underlying factors for the ongoing industrial action by both the academic and non-academic staff of Nigerian universities have remained unaddressed by the concerned authorities.

He, however, said embarking on incessant strikes by the workers cannot be the best option to resolving the challenges in the universities, and the country’s education sector as a whole.

Echono, a former permanent secretary at the federal ministry of education, said this in an interview.

He said Nigeria needs “to awaken a collective consciousness on the need to invest in education, prioritise it and prepare the young population by expanding opportunities for them.”

He added that for a resource constrained environment like Nigeria, alternatives to strike should be explored and that “the government on its part should demonstrate greater commitment to honouring its obligations.”

According to Echono, the strikes do not only affect the students, they also have a long-term impact on the reputation of Nigerian institutions.

“It affects the ranking of our institutions because nobody wants to come from other countries to school here when they are not sure of the duration of the programmes,” he said, adding that parents are increasingly sending their children to school abroad.

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Both academic and non-academic staff unions across many universities in Nigeria have been on strike for more than four months, grounding activities on the campuses.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Allied Institutions, and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) have demanded, among other things, improved funding for the nation’s public tertiary institutions and improved welfare for their members.

While the government released N34 billion for the payment of minimum wage consequential adjustments from 2019, ASUU has maintained that until its core demands are met, the industrial action would continue.

Both NASU and SSANU have announced the extension of their strike by additional two months, insisting that until all issues of concern are addressed, they would not resume.

Though negotiations with ASUU are not part of TETFUND’s mandate, Echono said the agency is working on the sidelines to tackle some of the issues causing the strike.

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“It is not within our mandate to negotiate with unions but I can tell you that based on my antecedents, I have also been called upon to join the negotiation team,” he said.

Despite the disruptions caused by the strike, Echono insists that ASUU is a patriotic organisation, even as he described its leaders as friends who are passionate about Nigeria.

He added that although they may disagree on certain methodologies, they share the same vision and goal which is to ultimately improve Nigeria’s education sector.

TETFUND will focus more on funding research and development, Echono said.

“Over the last few years, there has been a significant improvement in the allocation of funding to research and development by TETFUND and we intend to expand and grow this in the years ahead by forging partnerships with several research institutes around the world,” he said.

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