The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has accused Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Productivity, of sabotage, vowing not to call off the ongoing strike.
ASUU had commenced one-month warning strike on February 14, 2022, and extended it twice after the Federal Government failed to meet up with its demands.
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Some of the demands of ASUU include: revitalisation of public universities, earned academic allowances and the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution for payment of university lecturers.
Reacting to the lingering strike during his eid-el-Kabir visit to his hometown in Daura, Katsina State, President Muhammadu Buhari had accused ASUU of keeping students at home.
However, the president made a U-turn on Tuesday, giving the Education Minister, Adamu Adamu, a two-week ultimatum to resolve not just strike but the industrial action of other university unions.
But speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday, ASUU National President, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, said the union would not succumb to blackmail.
“It has become imperative for us in the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to update Nigerians and lovers of education everywhere in the world on the status of our ongoing nationwide strike action which began on 14th February 2022. The need for doing so could be traced to two sources. First, as a union of intellectuals that deals with facts and verifiable claims, there is need to put the records straight on our engagements with the government.
“This need becomes very compelling against the backdrop of the statements recently pushed out from the government quarters. Specifically, there have been insinuations by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, that there was no agreement between ASUU and the government; that ASUU sat down to fix its own members’ salaries; and that our Union asked representatives of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to recuse themselves from the negotiations.
‘Nothing came out of deliberations’
“Also, it appears that Dr. Ngige has deliberately misrepresented the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) convention on the collective bargaining agreement and the roles of a conciliator to serve his propagandist interest in this matter.
“Following the resumption of the strike action by our Union at the University of Lagos, on the 14th February 2022, we participated at several meetings at the instance of the Ministry of Labour and Employment chaired by Dr. Chris Ngige as “Conciliator”. To our utter dismay, nothing concrete came out of the endless deliberations as the Conciliator kept approbating and reprobating. For instance, he would declare that he fully supported our demand that the renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU be speedily concluded within six weeks while at the same time creating an unrealistic pathway to arriving at a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
“Similarly, Dr. Ngige kept going back and forth on concluding the integrity test for the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) for replacing the discredited Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information (IPPIS) contrary to the letters and spirit of the Memorandum of Action (MoA) of December 2021. Matters got to a head when our Union leaders were forced to express their frustration at one of the so-called conciliatory meetings.
“When we expressed our frustration at the manner the engagement processes were going, Dr Chirs Ngige. went on to lampoon the Ministry of Education; saying he was not our employer. At a point, he directed our Union to go and picket the office of the Minister of Education, who is our employer! Subsequently, he tactfully recused himself.
‘Snail Speed and lack of result’
“The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), having observed the snail speed and lack of result, threatened and called on the Federal government to set up a high-powered committee to look into the matter. The NLC’s intervention resulted in the “Tripartite-plus” meeting chaired by the Chief of Staff to the President and Commander in Chief, Prof Ibrahim Gambari on 12th May 2022. Contrary to his claim, the meeting that held at the State House Banquet Hall was not convened by the Minister of Labour and Employment.
“In fact, Dr. Ngige did everything within his capacity to frustrate the suggestion by the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, and supported by the Co-chair of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) and President of Christian Association of Nigeria, Revd. Dr. Samson Ayokunle, that the embargo placed on university workers’ salaries be lifted to pave way for amicable resolution of the crisis.
“For the avoidance of doubt, at no point did ASUU say the President and Commander-in-Chief was going to sign any agreement between us and the government. What we said was that our Draft Agreement was receiving attention by the President. Our claim about a Draft Agreement was predicated on the fact that it was the second document to be produced by a joint Renegotiating Committee of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement comprising representatives of MDAs and the ASUU team.
“The first draft was coordinated by Emeritus Prof. Munzali Jibril, who took over the Chairmanship of the joint renegotiating committee from Dr. Wale Babalakin. That draft was submitted in May 2021 but was rejected by the government a year later! The second and current report was arrived at after the government’s team was reconstituted in April 2022 under the Chairmanship of Emeritus Professor Nimi Briggs.
“The Briggs-led Renegotiating Committee began their work with extensive consultations with heads of relevant units in the MDAs and shared a written submission of their findings with our union. We were reassured then, that the new committee had a clear mandate to review the Munzali-led committee’s report through a collective bargaining process. It was that process that produced a Draft Renegotiated Agreement on 16th June 2022.
“The government team was expected to present the draft document to its principal as done a year earlier. ASUU did not expect the President of the Federal Republic to sign the document because neither the 2009 Agreement under review nor any of the previous ones were signed directly by the Head of the Government.
“What we said and we are saying is that the government team was expected to obtain the needed clearance to sign the Draft Agreement which came out of a collective bargaining process that began way back in 2017! If Dr. Ngige means well as a “conciliator”, why will he be putting roadblocks on the path to completing a process that has dragged on for more than five years?”