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Strike: Labour Advisory Council Backs Ngige, Disagrees With ASUU


Strike: Labour Advisory Council Backs Ngige, Disagrees With ASUU

A former Director of Skills and Certification at the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Dr. Ibrahim Jibia has disagreed with Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and a section of the press over the role of the Minister of labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige in conciliating the lingering disagreement between the Federal Government and ASUU.

In a statement in Abuja, Wednesday, Jibia, a labour relations expert, and member of the National Labour Advisory Council, NLAC, absolved Ngige of blame over the eight months strike and faulted allegations by ASUU that the minister was destroying the university system.

Reflecting on the trajectory of the now suspended strike, Jibia said the minister took every step to ensure an early resolution of the dispute through social dialogue and blamed ASUU’s inconsiderate demands and uncompromising stand for the collapse of conciliation and the consequent resort to the National Industrial Court.

He said, “ASUU commenced action on February 14, 2022 and the Minister promptly apprehended it by convening conciliation on February 22 in line with Section 18 of the Trade Disputes Act. At that meeting unresolved matters in the 2020 Agreement such as Earned Academic/Allowances, revitalization fund, conditions of service and UTAS payment platform were discussed and ASUU was appealed to suspend action.

“I recall that when the National Labour Advisory Council of which I’m a member, converged in Lagos on March 20, 2022, we adopted a resolution that unions must obey the provisions of Section 18 of the Trade Disputes Act, mandating them to suspend strike once it is apprehended as the minster did in this instance. ASUU did not comply, leading to another conciliation on March 22, 2022.

“At that point to be honest, no Nigerian who knew the efforts the Federal Government made just the previous year, 2021 to ensure stability in the university system would support any call for strike by ASUU. It was just too early, uncalculated to shut down classrooms after government had demonstrated such good faith.

“I recall that ASUU embarked on nine months strike in 2020 and their salaries were withheld under ‘No Work, No Pay’ till January 2021 when the President granted clemency and authorized payment of the withheld sum in three tranches.

“These payments were made together with monthly salaries in March, July and October 2021 and the academic community was quiet.

“Besides this, the Federal Government additionally paid N40 billion in February 2021 for Earned Academic Allowances/Earned Allowances, N30 billion for revitalization in April 2021 and another N22.72 billion in August 2021.

“In 2022, N43 billion meant for Consequential Adjustment of the Minimum Wage arrears was slated for payment in May and was paid while ASUU was on strike.

“I’m therefore convinced that if patriotism was given topmost consideration, there was no justifiable reason ASUU would commence another strike on February 14, on the heels of N92 billion federal government cumulatively paid in the just ended 2021. It was inconsiderate.”

Further absolving Ngige of responsibility in the prolonged strike, Jibia said the Minister offered all necessary advice to ASUU on the best way to resolve outstanding disagreements with government.

“Ngige was the one who convinced the President in 2019 to give UTAS payment solution a chance in line with the Executive order 3& 5 on local content and promotion of local intellectual creativity .

“When UTAS failed integrity and vulnerability tests, Ngige insisted that neutral professionals be brought in for re-testing the platform and secured the participation of all stakeholders.

He further pressed ASUU to accept a handshake between UTAS and IPPIS in order to capture the peculiarities of the university system.”

He added that when Professor Briggs Committee on renegotiating the 2009 Agreement was set up, Ngige sensing the urgency of the matter, sought for six weeks period but ASUU pressed and got an extension, went ahead and monopolize the committee as well as prevented relevant stakeholders like Ministry of Finance, National Salaries Income and Wages Commission, Budget Office from making critical input, which resulted in the rejection of the submissions of the committee.

He stated further, “when the National Inter-religious Council comprising eminent religious leaders intervened and beseeched ASUU to call off strike, it turned it down. Also, when the committee set up by the President and chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Chief of Staff to the President beckoned on ASUU to consider suspending action while awaiting the Briggs report, ASUU also rejected the request.”

According to Jibia, “the irony is that today, after keeping innocent students at home for eight months and telling Nigerians that Ngige is a stumbling block to ASUU, further accusing him of destroying higher education, ASUU has reversed itself before the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and accepted the same proposals made by the Minister of labour eight months ago – in February and March, 2022 !

“ Today, ASUU has accepted a handshake between IPPIS and UTAS which Ngige started canvassing since December 2020 Agreement! ASUU has also accepted that the remaining funds for revitalization and earned allowances be mainstreamed into the 2023 budget, a plea Ngige made to ASUU in February 2022.

“ASUU has equally accepted that apart from salary, all other allowances should be augmented for a bigger package as Ngige had earlier proposed. It is public knowledge that the Minister had intended a package where a professor would earn about a million naira at the end of the day but done through a patriotic approach to elicit the buy-in of the President. How then is Ngige destroying the university system?

On ‘No Work, No Pay’, Jibia argued that section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act is neither new nor invented by Ngige as it has been invoked on ASUU in 2020 but later granted clemency by the President, JOHESU in 2018 and NARD in 2020. He further argued that clemency may not be easy this time as ASUU had turned down every plea to suspend action until it was forced by the National Industrial Court.

“As a matter of law, migrating a matter to the National Industrial Court in line with section 17 of the Trade Disputes Act, was the last option left for the Minister as ASUU has defied every attempt at conciliation. It was the judgment of the National Industrial Court that forced ASUU back to the classroom and not the intervention of the Speaker with all due respect. And Ngige as a responsible Minister would not have waited longer, hands akimbo, while ASUU crumble the system.

“Similarly, the registration of two new unions of CONUA and NAMDA should be seen as part of an egalitarian culture of association which should not be foreign to the Nigerian University system with over 40, 000 lecturers. It is also in line with the Nigerian constitution as well as Convention 87 and 97 of the ILO on full democratization of trade unions. This should also not be reason to blame Ngige.

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