Despite the caution from the Federal Government, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has adamantly continued the eight-month long strike. In a press statement released by the Ministry of Labour and Employment’s Deputy Director Press and Public Relations, Olajide Oshundun, he quoted the Minister of Labour, Senator Chris Ngige, as saying that a new directive by ASUU urging its members to continue with the strike was an unwarranted lawlessness, noting that “the Federal Government strongly frowns at this.”
Senator Chris Ngige accused the leadership of the union of misinforming and misleading its members and warned against the consequences of contempt of court order. Ngige said: “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, meanwhile it hasn’t done any of this. Rather, ASUU only filed an application for a permission to appeal the order. It 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 strike and return to work, but that it also has a stay of execution,” Ngige said. The Minister further called on the union to respect the court order and return to work while negotiations are concluded on the remaining issues in contention.
In his press release, the Minister also denied allegations of him walking out on the meeting between the House of Representatives and ASUU last Thursday, September 29, 2022. He said he left the meeting to attend to other pressing matters with the permission of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila after making his presentation. He stated that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation was earlier granted such permission by the Speaker.
Speaking on the issue of salaries and wages, Senator Ngige said “On renegotiation of salaries and wages of lecturers, I sympathise with ASUU just like other Nigerian workers. The economy is bad and the hard times are 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 myself 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 also noted that when the issue of 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 Order 3 and 4. “The SGF supported me. That was how I took it upon myself to write to all the parties, Communication and Digital Economy, NITDA, ASUU and others. At a 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? The three of them – IPPIS, UTAS, UPPPS – have failed the test. Do you recommend something that has failed a test? So, no matter how 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 so as to capture all the university system peculiarities. They accepted but while negotiation was going on, they went on strike. But their peculiarities have now been captured by IPPISS, even those teaching in the universities with special allowances. About a year ago, NARD wrote to 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,” Ngige added.