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ASUU kicks as court orders striking lecturers back to classroom

By Cross Udo
The Federal Government yesterday declared that nobody won or lost in the ruling of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), ordering members of the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to return to work.

But ASUU, in a statement by the Lagos Zonal Coordinator, Dr Adelaja Odukoya, quoted the National President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, as saying, “Our lawyer is filing an appeal and stay of execution of the judgment.”

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According to the statement titled, “NICN back to the work order on ASUU: Be calm”, Osodeke urged the aggrieved university teachers to remain calm as there is no cause for alarm on the back-to-work order delivered earlier today.

“Members should remain resolute and strong. A people united can never be defeated. Solidarity without compromise,’’ he stated.

Earlier, Justice Polycarp Hamman, of the National Industrial Court (NIC) in his ruling ordered ASUU to suspend its ongoing seven months plus, of industrial action.

Hamman granted the motion on notice filed by the Federal Government, where it prayed the court to order the public varsity lecturers to return to the classroom

The Judge in his ruling stated that it has been observed that the strike action by ASUU has taken a toll on the students coupled with the fact that there is the age factor when it comes to employment

He said “Students have been out of school for seven months in Nigeria, where age is a factor in employment. The legal adviser of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment has access to legal issues relating to the trade dispute. I do not see how the information is hearsay.”

However, he noted that in the interest of justice and fairness to all, he would grant the federal government’s request, citing damage and conduct of parties.

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He also agreed that the FG who is the owner of federal universities stands to lose more if the application is not granted.

The judge added that the National Youth Service Corps even bars graduates aged 30 from going for youth service.

“I, therefore, hold that the balance of convenience tilts in favour of granting the application,” the judge said.

The judge added that the prolonged strike, inflicts irreparable damage on Nigerian students and they have been at home since February 14, 2022.

Subsequently, the court suspended the ASUU strike citing its discretionary powers over trade union disputes.

Recall that on Monday, counsel to the Federal Government, James Igwe SAN, urged the court to grant the interlocutory application because of its urgency as well as the infrastructural damage on tertiary institutions occasioned by the industrial action which began on February 14.

Igwe had said that based on trade union laws the court had powers to call off the ASUU strike while negotiations between the union and FG continues.

But Counsel to ASUU, Femi Falana SAN, had told the court that the FG must show how the strike has caused damage to tertiary institutions.

He contended that the federal government’s refusal to fulfil its agreement with ASUU constitutes damage to the lecturers, their welfare, and the well-being of educational institutions.

Falana urged the court to dismiss the application because it is based on hearsay and the federal government’s representative is not a member of the university community.

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Following the ruling, the Federal Government said that it would order the vice-chancellors to reopen public universities in compliance with the order.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, stated this when he received members of the Nigerian Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA) in his office.

Ngige also assured that the court ruling does not preclude further negotiation between the Federal Government and ASUU.

According to him, “The ruling is in the best interest of the nation. It is a win-win situation for all of us- government, students, lecturers- all Nigerians indeed. I have just gotten the order of the court asking ASUU to go back to work.

“It is a sound judgment. It is no victor, no vanquished. You doctors in academics are for now members of ASUU, but, you are here, even though you have dissociated yourself and you are working. We want to thank you for working and teaching your students.

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“The court ruling does not preclude us from going on with further negotiation and consultations. The pro-chancellors met Mr. President and made some demands, such as topping up government offers and seeing whether there could be some bailout. Mr. President said in considering it, he will consult stakeholders. So, he is going to consult everybody.”

Ngige welcomed the intervention of the House of Representatives in the ASUU imbroglio, saying he was happy that the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila said they were going to meet the President.

He said the intervention was timely considering that the President must have also consulted some stakeholders, adding that whatever money to be put in would go into the 2023 appropriation where the National Assembly comes in.

“If they have shown interest now, it is good and wonderful. When they bring that proposal, the Executive will not have any problem. ASUU should also know that this is a step in the right direction. And all these things have been promised to them by the Minister of Education at their last meeting with him. For me, they should do the needful and get back to the classroom.”

He said the government would order the vice-chancellors to reopen the universities in compliance with the order of the court.

“The government would order the Vice Chancellors to reopen the universities in compliance with the order,” he said.

Continuing, he said, “Whenever there is hostility between employer and employee and conciliatory processes in motion, that has not been satisfactorily done to achieve peace and tranquillity in the industrial enterprise in consonance, with Section 4 (6), the Minister of Labour, by Section 17, will transmit it to the National Industrial Court for final adjudication.

“And once the transmission is done just like when apprehension is done by the Minister, the parties will return to status quo ante bellu and that is why we asked the court to look at this issue and look at the interlocutory injunction asked for by the federal government and pronounce that these workers should go back and that these employers should open up the classrooms and the laboratories and everywhere for the students to go and benefits from the education.

“And the court saw with government and granted the request and even in granting the request, they said it is of national importance to the development of education, and for the protection of rights of our children, to education, that the teachers so employed to teach them should go back and start teaching them pending the resolution of the issues raised from my office as issues in disputes.

“We listed them for the courts, seven of them, some of them about five of them conciliated, here satisfactorily for ASUU even during the strike.”

On the insinuation that ASUU was contemplating appealing the ruling, he said, “Appealing, the order is within their rights to do so. But I don’t think is a good step. Because of this order, this court order ruling does not stop us from further negotiations.

“The trajectory, like I said earlier is that the courts, in looking at the issues will constitute a panel either a panel of the courts or what is called Alternative Dispute Resolution Panel, to look at the issues one by one.

“If the alternative dispute resolution panel is used, they will also make their report to the court, and the judge will make a pronouncement on it

“If the alternative dispute resolution is constituted there and the parties make a special request that they want to go back to their area of demonstration, which is either education or here to produce an acceptable agreement. The court can grant it to them. They did that before.

“I don’t know now but it is at the discretion of the court. So appealing it is neither here nor there. I don’t see anything injurious to anybody to necessitate such an appeal.”

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Meanwhile, the President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Usman Barambu, has announced the suspension of the union’s planned protests following the ruling of the National Industrial Court which ordered that the seven-month strike by ASUU be suspended.

This comes barely 10 hours after a statement by the NANS PRO, Giwa Temitope, said the court cannot force the lecturers to return to class.

In a statement to its members, however, the NANS President thanked them for their resilience and said that since the court has directed that the strike be called off, their protest actions are called off.

He also urged the Federal Government to fulfil its part of the negotiations by satisfying ASUU’s demands.

He appealed to ASUU to see the court order as a way to yield positive results at the negotiation table.

The statement reads in part; “I am pleased to congratulate all Nigerian students for standing out during the impasse between ASUU and the Federal Government, let me also commend the resilient, doggedness, and commitment displayed by students throughout the period the strike has lasted for seven months, I urge you all to consider your actions as a struggle for the emancipation of our Educational Sector. It’s a Win-Win situation, Victory at last.

“May I also use this opportunity to also Urge the Federal Government to fulfil its part of the negotiation as we anticipate a smooth outcome in the negotiating process, in line with the directive and order of the National Industrial Court issuing an order for ASUU (our Lecturers) to return to the classroom, I hereby Stand down all NANS protest Nationwide.

“More so, may I use this singular privilege to appeal to our dear lecturers (ASUU) that the court order is a progressive way forward to achieve a positive result at the negotiation table for it is a win-win for all, we hope and believe ASUU will accept the court ruling in good faith as it affects the future of our dear country.

“Finally may I appeal to all parents and guardians to assist our students as they prepare to resume their academic pursuit.”

THE WHISTLER reported that ASUU has however revealed, in a statement, that plans are underway to appeal the court’s ruling.

“Our lawyer is filing an appeal and stay of execution of the judgment. Members should remain resolute and strong. A People United can never be defeated. Solidarity without compromise,” the statement read in part.”

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