The Federal Government (FG) has appealed to members of the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to immediately call off their prolonged industrial action.
Dr Chris Ngige, the Minister of Labour and Employment, said this on Thursday in Abuja, while interacting with newsmen after receiving notification letter of his nomination by Sun Newspaper Publishing Limited for the award of ‘Public Service Icon 2021’.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the striking lecturers have been on strike for over months to press home their demands.
The lecturers are agitating for the implementation of the memorandum of action agreed between the government and ASUU, including improved funding and removal from IPPIS.
However, the minister called on ASUU to return to their students for resumption of academic work in the public universities.
Ngige said the federal government remained unrelenting in its efforts towards addressing all the industrial disputes in the university system, involving ASUU and the other unions.
“Everything contained in the December 2020 agreement were religiously executed to the extent that the federal government aggregately paid N92 billion from the 2021 budget.
“This is to cover the revitalisation funds and Earned Academic Allowances/Earned Allowances for non-teaching staff,” he said.
Ngige also maintained that regarding the renegotiation of conditions of service of the university lecturers, that the renegotiation must be guided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) 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 federal government through the Ministry of Education said it cannot pay.
The minister said the university system and the teaching hospitals consume two thirds of all the emoluments currently paid from the national budget of the country.
This meant that an increase for the lecturers would occasion upward review of the salaries of allied professionals in the health sector, based on their different salary structures, he explained.
” there is no point giving you percentages on paper that nobody can pay. Munzali worked out a percentage which 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 (CBA) 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. Munzali’s committee had elapsed.
“The Education Ministry didn’t act as I wanted. The Minister was away and 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,” he added.
On the payment platform for university lecturers, Ngige said NITDA informed him that UTAS proposed by ASUU passed user acceptability test but failed integrity and credibility test, which form the bulwark against hacking.
He added that “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 has gone back to what I proposed to them,’’ he said.
Ngige also faulted the demand by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) for a High-Powered Panel constituted of members with requisite mandates to resolve within 21 days the foregoing issues militating against industrial harmony in the system.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that NLC and its affiliate unions in the education sector held a meeting on April 13, to take reports on the ongoing industrial dispute cum action in Nigeria’s university system and resolved to make the call.
According to Ngige, President Muhammadu Buhari had already put in place his own high-powered team, comprising his Chief of Staff, the Ministers of Labour, Education, Finance, Communication and Digital Economy.
Earlier, the management of the Sun Newspapers led by its Managing Director, Mr Onuoha Ukeh, described Ngige as a quintessential public servant whose contributions to national development were enviable.
Ukeh described him as “an administrative czar and a nonconformist politician” whose 34 months as governor of Anambra revolutionalised the state.
“Ngige, as governor, transformed Awka to a befitting capital city during his tenure, tarring all the roads in the GRA Awka, dualised Nnamdi Azikiwe Road and put streetlights, among others,’’ he said.
He also noted that the minister’s labour diplomacy enabled the ministry resolved through social dialogue, over 1,700 industrial disputes while restoring Nigeria to the governing board of the ILO. (NAN)
FG ASUU strike