By Cross Udo
The Federal Government yesterday advised the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to cease taking laws into its hands by directing its members to continue with the eight-month-old strike in defiance of the interlocutory injunction by the National Industrial Court (NICN) which restrained the union from further action.
The government in a statement in Abuja, through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, said a new directive by ASUU, exhorting its members to continue with action is unwarranted lawlessness, noting that “the Federal Government strongly frowns at this.”
The Minister, in a statement through the Deputy Director Press and Public Relations, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Olajide Oshundun, accused the leadership of the union of misinforming and misleading its members and warned of consequences of contempt of court order.
According to him, “The union is dishonest and misleading its members and the general public, that it has filed an appeal as well as a stay of execution of the order of National Industrial Court on September 21, 2022, though it has none of this.
“Rather, ASUU only applied for permission to appeal the order. Also attached to the application, a proposed notice of appeal which it intends to file if the leave to appeal is granted. The application for a stay of execution as of this moment has not even been listed for hearing. Where then is ASUU coming from?
“It is therefore contemptuous, dishonest, and misleading for the union to tell its members that it has not only appealed the interlocutory injunction by the National Industrial Court, directing it to call off the strike and return to work but that it also has a stay of execution.”
The Minister once again called on the union to respect the court order and return to work while negotiations are concluded on the remaining issues in contention.
The statement also denied reports that the Minister walked out of the meeting between the House of Representatives and ASUU last Thursday, 29th September 2022. It said the Minister left the meeting to attend to other pressing matters with the permission of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, after making his presentation.
It stated that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation was earlier granted such permission by the Speaker.
The statement further recalled that at that meeting, Senator Ngige addressed the two major issues over which ASUU is still on strike.
“On renegotiation of salaries and wages of lecturers, I sympathize with ASUU just like other Nigerian workers. The economy is a bad and hard time, biting hard on everybody.
ASUU deserves no blame. They know that many times during reconciliation, I said that left to me, this is what lecturers will get. I know the enormity of the work they do and have brothers who are also lecturers.
“The Briggs Committee was the product of reconciliation of my ministry, which had to move to the ASUU’s direct employers, Ministry of Education for a Collective Bargaining Agreement, so we can arrive on what is good to be paid to ASUU, subject to approval by the President.
“The President has a Presidential Committee on Salaries and Wages chaired by the Minister of Finance, with me as co-chair and other members – National Salaries Income and Wages Commission, Budget Office, etc.
“Every MDA whether drawing from the treasury or not must pass through this committee on any issue concerning salaries for approval, before transmission to the President. The report of the Briggs Committee did not, unfortunately, pass this route.”
The Minister revealed that when the issue of the payment platform – UTAS came up on January 9, 2020, he was the one that persuaded the President to give the platform a trial in the spirit of Executive Orders 3 and 4.
“The SGF supported me. That was how I took it upon myself to write to all the parties, Communication, Digital Economy, NITDA, ASUU, and others. At one point, I had to spend three and half hours at the Office of the Accountant General, while UTAS was on demonstration because we must support this platform that promised to save us foreign exchange.
“If the system is good, we adopt it for the whole country but meanwhile – the hardware is not there. How do you do it? Test- three of them – IPPIS, UTAS, and U3PS have failed the test. Do you recommend something that has failed a test? So, no matter how much I love ASUU, I won’t support something that failed a test.
“I had advised ASUU when the first result came, to have UTAS do a handshake with IPPIS to capture all the university system peculiarities. They accepted but while the negotiation was going on, they went on strike.”
The Minister also narrated how the medical doctors once threatened to go on strike over IPPIS.
“But their peculiarities have now been captured by IPPIS, even those teaching in the universities with special allowances. About a year ago, NARD wrote me that they would go on strike if we don’t put them on IPPIS. This is because all their peculiarities have been captured and no one is losing anything.”