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Research institutes’ strike: Nigeria risks economic slump

The indefinite nationwide strike of the three unions – ASURI, NASU and (SSAUTHRIAI – in the nation’s research institutes and other allied institutions, has entered its fourth month without any deliberate move or action by the Federal Government to address the crisis

STRIKE
The indefinite nationwide strike of the three unions – ASURI, NASU and (SSAUTHRIAI – in the nation’s research institutes and other allied institutions, has entered its fourth month without any deliberate move or action by the Federal Government to address the crisis

Almost four months into the indefinite nationwide strike by the three workers’ unions in the country’s about 100 research institutes and allied institutions, there seems to be no concrete efforts by the Federal Government to address the crisis. The industrial action, which has since paralysed research activities in the institutes and centres, has put the country’s research development on the verge of imminent collapse.

There are growing indications that the unresolved face-off between the FederalGovernmentandtheworkers’ unions hasfurthercrippledthenationaleconomy, especially health, agriculture, livestock, andotheralliedsectors, including marine and veterinary, where research efforts have since been put on hold.

Indeed, the three main workers’ unions in the research institutes, including the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHRIAI) and the Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions (ASURI), under the aegis of the Joint Research and Allied Institutions Sector Unions (JORAISU) had since November 4, last year.

This is as New Telegraph has authoritatively learnt that the members of staff of the institutes are leaving in droves for the university system, especially private universities, where they are sure of receiving their salary regularly.

This is a development which stakeholder regretted would further cripple the system. Worried by government’s attitude in resolving the face-off, the workers have raised the alarm that all ongoing research projects which have timelines have been abandoned across all the institutions.

For instance, due to the strike the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) has been unable to raise seedlings for this year’s planting season, while other crop and livestock institutes are similarly affected. This development has raised palpable fear of the possibilities of economic slump, increased hunger and poverty in the country.

Expectedly, the unions, which are challenging the Federal Government for its refusal to address their demands and grievances, have vowed not to return to work. Some of the issues raised by the unions include the agitation for negotiation of a separate salary structure for the Research and Allied Institutions, non-payment of outstanding 12 months arrears of CONRAISS, approval of the reviewing conditions of workers’ services, non-implementation of the retirement age of 65 years; demand for the withdrawal of circular on non-skipping of CONTISS 10; payment of Peculiar/Earned Allowance, establishment of a central body for the effective co-ordination of research activities in the research institutes to be known as the National Research Institute Commission (NARICOM) and increased funding of Research Institutes. According to a letter dated November 30, 2017 which was jointly signed by the trio of General Secretary of NASU, Comrade Peters Adeyemi; General Secretary of SSAUTHRAI, Comrade Moshood Akinade, and the Secretary General of ASURI, Comrade Dr. T.C.N Ndubuaku and which was sent to the Chairman, House of representatives Committee on Agriculture Colleges and Institutions, the unions had put forward the eleven demands for negotiation.

These are the outstanding payment of N8.2 billion, which the then administration of erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan, according to the unions, failed to pay, and which the present President Muhammadu Buhari-led administrationi has also not attended to after 32 different meetings between the leadership of the unions and government representatives.When New Telegraph visited some of the institutes in Lagos, Abuja and Ibadan, such as the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Obafemi Awolowo University, and the National Centre for Generic Research and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), as well as the Nigerian institute for Oceanography and Marine Research, Lagos; Federal Institute of Industrial Research (FIIRO), Lagos; Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR); IITA, and in Abuja, the Nigerian Institute of Pharnmaceutical Research, Abuja, activities were paralysed and the system totally shut down.

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A source at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Yaba, Lagos, who spoke to New Telegraph on condition of anonymity, hinted that the strike had further worsened the situation at the centre, wherethereisthedearthof researchequipment and facilities to culture and type the various epidemic ravaging the country, especially now that the scourge of Lassa Fever is taking its toll on the nation. Meanwhile, the National Secretary of ASURI, Dr. Theophilus Ndubuaku, in a telephone chat with New Telegraph, however, said: “The Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria has onerous mandate for research and development in six crop areas.

These are cocoa, kola, coffee, tea, palm and cashew, which are export crops that can earn huge income for the nation. As we are talking, the period for raising seedlings for these crops is already gone with this strike. All the research works or activities the researchers had begun before the strike have to be restarted afresh and we all know the implications of this on the economy.” In the area of crop development, he added; “All the inputs that the farmers required for next planting season might have gone down the drain as there may be no planting next season especially in oil palm and rubber research since most of the seedlings are expected to be raised during the dry season for planting in the raining season.”

This, according to him, is how it has been with institutes that are involved in other crops as well as annual crops such as cassava, maize, rice and wheat. He, however, lamented that every research institute has been grounded, saying if care was not taken, the country might go back to a fresh economic recession since farmers would have no seedlings to plant next season. While painting a gloomy picture, the union leader, who insisted that the Federal Government should be blamed for these lapses, also regretted that this would increase hunger and poverty in the land, and as well reduce the income earned from foreign exchange through export of crops.

“This will definitely threaten food supply chain and food sufficiency,” Ndubuaku said, stressing that the institutes do not have funding for research as most researchers have to fund their research on their own for lack of funding by the government. Speaking further, he recounted: “The Federal Government does not pay our salary and still expect us to fund research on our own.

We have a condition of service that has been pending on the drawing board for 10 years and the government for whatever reason has been dragging its foot. “You can imagine that a research institute in Nigeria, a country that is in the quest for development, does not have an acceptable condition of service for the workers that are expected to be responsible for the technological development and breakthrough of the nation.

“It is only through research that a nation could be developed because neglecting research is an abomination and antithetical.” Worried by the implications of the strike on the national economy, the Acting President of SSAUTHRIAI, identified simply as Dr. Akintola, also blamed the crisis on the Federal Government for separating research from development, saying without research the country cannot move forward.

“The strike has a lot of negative implications on the economic sector. First, the government is merely toiling with research, forgetting that some researches are tied to a particular season, and failure to conduct them at that season, either raining or dry season, would negatively affect the outcome of such research efforts,” Akintola said. Akintola, who said there would be a rally today in Abuja, hinted that the protest to National Assembly Complex is to further sensitise Nigerians to the plight of the institutes and the workers. In fact, he explained that the rally was being organised to call on well-meaning Nigerians and organisations to prevail on the government to address the demands of the unions, with a view to getting the institutes back on stream.

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On when the unions will likely call off the strike, Akintola said there was no plan to either suspend or call off the strike since the government is not forthcoming with any concrete action. According to the workers, theongoingstrikebecameinevitable n due to the Federal Government’s failure to pay their N8.2 billion outstanding salary from an increment of 53.37 per cent for 12 months, which was signedwiththeFederalGovernment on July 3, 2014. The unions, which vowed not to return to their duties, therefore, lamented that with the various presentations, the Federal Government, no doubt, had not exhibited enough commitment towards the workers’ plight, as well as research development in the country. Akintola wondered how the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe, at the last meeting with the unions on December 6, 2017, never mentioned anything whether the ongoing strike should be called off or not.

“The agreement had been reached with us to pay the N8.2 billion since January 2011. What we are asking is the implementation of the agreement. On July 7, 2010, we wrote to the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission on behalf of the staff of the Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, as well as those of the Federal Colleges of Agriculture, and via a letter signed by S.U. Ukut, dated 23rd July, 2010, their demands were granted. Why not ours since?” Akinade queried. In a new twist to their demands, the workers, who converged on Enugu last week, are requesting the government to initiate a review of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) Act to include research institutions among the beneficiaries.

The unions, which made the call during a protest at the Project Development Institute in Enugu, expressed dismay over poor funding of the institutes, which according to them, had become a major challenge to the research institutions in the country. For the umpteenth time, the union vowed not to call off the ongoing industrial action until the Federal Government addressed their grievances, insisting that since TETFund is meant for research and development of infrastructure at the institutions, it would be illogical to exclude research institutions from the fund. According to the Deputy President/Chairman, Research and Projects Trade Group Council, Wakili Tijani, the aggrieved workers are not going to back down from any of their demands.

“Council resolved that the strike must continue; it must be total and comprehensive as no concession of any sort shall be granted to management and government until outstanding issues are positively addressed,” he said. Also, in a circular jointly signed by Adeyemi, Akinade, and Ndubuaku, said the leadership of the unions had decided that all their workers should demonstrate at their institutes so as to get the attention of the public to the nonchalant attitude of government towards research in the country.

The Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions, Project Development Agency, Enugu chapter, Teddy Udeinya, however, bemoaned the attitude of the Federal Government, saying it is not encouraging research in the country. According to him, the country would not make any progress in a situation in which the government has refused to fund research and development.

He said: “You cannot conduct research without money, and one of the major problems in the country is poor funding of research institutions. We don’t have enough tools and equipment for research. “There is also the need for improved remuneration for staff of research institutes. The Federal Government cannot continue talking of economic diversification without research, but at the moment the research institutes are all neglected. “It seems the country is retrogressing in the area of research and development. We are not going back to work until the Federal Government listened to us.”

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