The federal government and the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) locked horns again Tuesday over modalities to end the five-month-old strike by lecturers in Nigerian public universities.
While President Muhammadu Buhari directed that the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige should be part of meetings to resolve the crisis, the ASUU leadership said it would not participate in any process involving the minister.
Aside from ASUU, the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Allied Institutions (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) have been in similar industrial action for disperate reasons.
Some of the demands of ASUU include: Revitalisation of public universities, payment of earned academic allowances and the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) for payment of university lecturers among others
With the ASUU strike lingering for months, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) declared a nationwide protest for July 26 and 27 to show solidarity with the striking lecturers.
Also, the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP) and the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) at the weekend threatened to join the strike action if the demands of ASUU are not met by the federal government.
Buhari steps in
President Buhari on Tuesday directed the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, to resolve the prolonged industrial action embarked upon by ASUU and three other university-based unions.
Daily Trust gathered that the president gave the directive after receiving briefings from the relevant government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) involved in the ongoing efforts to end the face-off with the university unions.
After Tuesday’s briefing, the president ordered the education minister to ensure that the areas of disagreement were sorted out within two weeks and report back to him.
In addition to Adamu and Ngige, Buhari had directed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha to be part of the team to interface with the striking unions.
In attendance at the meeting were the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Dr. Zainab Ahmed, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Ngige, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, the Head of Service of the Federation, Dr. Folashade Yemi-Esan, the Chairman of National Salaries Income and Wages Commission, Ekpo Nta and the Director-General Budget Office, Ben Akabueze.
Including Ngige in new committee will worsen situation, says ASUU
Reacting to Buhari’s fresh order while responding to Daily Trust’s enquiry at a press briefing in Abuja on Tuesday, ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, stressed that Ngige, as an “acclaimed conciliator” had been the major actor fuelling the crisis in tertiary institutions across the country.
“When NIREC met the president on this issue, he directed a three-man committee to resolve this issue within a short period of time. If you remember, the committee was made up of the Chief of Staff, ministers of labour and education. That was around February, where are we now? We are in July, did they resolve it?
“Similarly, these two weeks, our prayers and prayers of many Nigerians is that they can resolve these issues within two weeks if that man called the Minister of Labour, Ngige is not part of it. We have to be very clear because he’s the one creating the problems.
“But we will watch because what I read is that the person who is now leading that team is the minister of education. With Adamu, we do hope that he will do the interference of this minister of labour so that it can be resolved. It is a good development but we hope they will meet the two-week deadline,” he said.
Addressing journalists earlier, Osodeke maintained that the union would not succumb to blackmail, alleging that Ngige had been feeding the general public with lies, hence the press conference.
“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.’
Labour minister keeps mum; NLC continues mobilisation for protest
Several efforts made to get the reaction of the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige, proved abortive as several calls to his mobile phone were unanswered and he did not respond to a text message sent to him.
In the same vein, one of his aides, who did not want to be quoted, told one of our correspondents that they have not read ASUU’s accusations, saying the minister’s media office would react at the appropriate time.
The President, Nigeria Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba, did not respond to Daily Trust’s enquiry if the congress would still go ahead with its planned protest.
But an official of NLC, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, explained that the unions that have shown solidarity with ASUU would not back down in their planned protest.
“Many affiliates of NLC have shown interest in solidarising with ASUU. Honestly, they are not going back in their resolve to embark on a nationwide protest,” the official said.
We won’t accept disparity in varsity workers’ salaries – SSANU
Meanwhile, the SSANU warned Prof. Nimi-Briggs-led Committee renegotiating the 2009 Agreement that it would not accept any disparity in salaries of university staff, saying it would take legal action against such development.
President of SSANU, Comrade Mohammed Ibrahim, in a statement issued last night over alleged proposed salary disparity by the Nimi-Briggs Committee, said it would cause fresh problems in the university systems if care is not taken.
“We have read in the media that there is a proposal for the review of salary for university staff with a differential of teaching staff taking between 108 to 180 per cent and unreasonable of 10 per cent for non-teaching staff.
“We are shocked to read that the Nimi Briggs Committee has submitted a report to the government while we only met with them twice. To say the least, SSANU is not happy with the pace of work in that committee ,” Ibrahim said.