The Federal Government on Tuesday assured that the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, would be called off soon, saying it was taken aback by the renewed strike which university teachers embarked on February 14, 2022.
Addressing the resumed conciliation meeting with the Union, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, said the government was surprised ASUU negated the understanding and assurances it gave through the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council, NIREC, led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar and the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Supo Ayokunle.
Quoting Senator Ngige, Deputy Director Press and Public Relations, Charles Akpan, who was in Botswana for the meeting of the African Regional Labour Administrative Centre, ARLAC, when ASUU declared action, the Minister said he thought the university teachers and their employer, the Ministry of Education would have resolved the areas of disputes within days.
According to him, “I sincerely thought ASUU and the Ministry of Education would have resolved the issues, which hopefully are not major areas of dispute, warranting industrial action. To my surprise, I came back, and the strike is still on. Be that as it may, it is the mandate of my Ministry to apprehend industrial disputes wherever they occur and we have apprehended this.
“From this negotiation, we are having today, ASUU will appreciate that government means no harm. This is because even if there are still lapses in the implementation of the agreement, they are not such that will lead to industrial action. To that extent, we have to do everything possible to resolve this.
“But I must tell you that on the government side, they were taken by surprise in that before then, NIREC met with you (ASUU) and reported to the President. Having met with you (ASUU) and having given the details of their meeting with you, we sincerely hoped we won’t again take this route of industrial action. So, the government side is taken by surprise- Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance and all are taken aback.”
Ngige however assured that, the strike had been apprehended by his Ministry and that the ongoing conciliation would prepare the ground for an expanded meeting that will involve NIREC.
“It is my mandate to apprehend industrial disputes and this has been apprehended so we can discuss, and later expand to what is called tripartite plus meeting, involving members of NIREC who are top religious and traditional rulers, we cannot push aside. And that is as soon as we are done and agree on issues here.”
The Minister expressed optimism that the strike would be called off soon to enable students to go back to school, saying “It should not be one month strike. In fact, there is nothing like one month strike or warning strike in labour parlance. A strike is a strike. We want this to end as soon as possible, as we sort out all grey areas in the agreement as the ILO Principles at Work allows for renegotiation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. So we go back to the draft agreement. We must avoid another situation where our children bear the brunt of two elephants fighting.
”As a neutral negotiator, however, the Minister urged the government side of the negotiation to leave no stone unturned infidelity to agreed timelines, noting “I hence urge the government side to be realistic and factual as far as this negotiation goes. I wear a double cap, first as a conciliator and then, a Minister of the Government of the Federation. While I say so far, so good, let’s not rest on our oars. We must keep to the timelines.”
He debunked claims by ASUU that all the items in the 2020 MOA had not been fully implemented, stating that the ones not completed, were in progress.
Ngige said “I did a correspondence on the report by NITDA on University Transparency and Accountability Solution, UTAS to you (ASUU) in December 2021 and you sent your observation in a reply in February 2022. I made that available to all the parties involved, and this is the observation from ASUU. So, as far as I’m concerned, it is a work in progress. I’m not the Minister of Education. My Ministry is not your direct employer, but I take these proactive measures to fast track agreements and ensure we meet up the timelines.
“Apart from that, all the issues in the agreement are being religiously implemented, including but not limited to the payment of Earned Academic Allowances through the office of the Accountant General of the Federation in November / December 2021. So, most of the issues in the 2020 agreement, which moved over to 2021, and for which we met in October 2021, to make a progress report, are all works in progress. So it is wrong for you to say nobody is doing anything on the MOA.”
Speaking, ASUU President, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, blamed the Federal Government for the ongoing strike, alleging that apart from not implementing the 2020 MOA, the government also failed to convene the regular implementation monitoring meeting as agreed.
ASUU insisted that calling off the industrial action depended entirely on the Federal Government as members were determined not to shift ground until their demands are met.