The Federal Government has again appealed to members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities to immediately call off their prolonged industrial action and return to classes.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, made the appeal on Thursday while interacting with journalists after receiving letter of nomination by Sun Newspaper Publishing Limited for the award of ‘Public Service Icon 2021’.
A statement by the acting labour ministry spokesperson, Patience Onuobia, quoted Ngige as saying that the government is unrelenting in its efforts towards addressing the industrial disputes in the university system involving ASUU and the other unions.
According to the minister, everything contained in the December 2020 agreement was religiously executed to the extent that the government aggregately paid N92b from the 2021 budget to cover the revitalisation funds and Earned Allowances for non teaching staff.
The minister faulted the demand by the Nigeria Labour Congress for a high-powered panel with requisite mandate to resolve all the disputes within 21 days, saying the President had already put in place a high-powered team, comprising his Chief of Staff, the ministers of labour, education, finance, communication and digital economy.
Regarding the renegotiation of conditions of service of the university lecturers, Ngige maintained that the renegotiation must be guided by the International Labour Organisation principle of ability to pay.
He recalled that the former renegotiation committee headed by Prof Jubril Munzali made a proposal of 200 per cent rise in emoluments of university workers, but the FG said it cannot pay.
He said the university system and the teaching hospitals consume two-thirds of all the emoluments currently paid from the national budget of the country, arguing that an increase for the lecturers would occasion an upward review of the salaries of allied professionals in the health sector, based on their different salary structures.
Ngige stated, “There is no point giving you percentages on paper that nobody can pay. Munzali worked out a percentage that placed the university workers on about 200 per cent pay rise.
“The Federal Government through the Education Ministry said they cannot pay. The Ministry of Finance said they cannot pay. They came to me and I said nothing is wrong with renegotiation because even if a Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed, it could be renegotiated.
“The document produced by Munzali was not signed by both ASUU and the Federal Government. It is a proposal. Manzali’s committee had elapsed. The Education Ministry didn’t act as I wanted. The minister was away but his lieutenants didn’t do anything for five months, contrary to my expectations.
“The minister has set up another committee headed by Prof Nimi Briggs. They have been working and I have given them six weeks to come up with a proposal.”
On the payment platform for university lecturers, Ngige said the National Information Technology Development Agency informed him that the University Transparency Accountability Solution proposed by ASUU passed user acceptability test but failed integrity and credibility test, which formed the bulwark against hacking.
He noted, “NITDA said UTAS failed, ASUU said we didn’t fail. As we were discussing, ASUU went on strike. In the face of this disagreement between ASUU and NITDA, we are talking with NITDA to bend backwards so that there will be a handshake between UTAS and the government certified IPPIS platform. After embarking on strike, ASUU went back to what I proposed to them.”
Earlier, the management of the Sun newspaper led by its Managing Director, Onuoha Ukeh, described Ngige as a quintessential public officer.