•Call off strike, make us part of meeting with FG — Reps

By Levinus Nwabughiogu

ABUJA — THE Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, last night agreed to integrate University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) into Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, disclosed this after about four hours of technical engagement between both parties.

He said the two parties will reconvene on Monday after the union deliberates with it’s National Executive Council, NEC.

The President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, who concurred with the Minister, said the  National Executive Committee of the union will review the conditions for the integration of UTAS into IPPIS .

Senator Ngige said:  “I am pleased to inform you that with the four ministers and Permanent Secretaries, Accountant General of the Federation and Directors, Acting Chairman, National Income and Wages Commission and ASUU Presidents and executive …we had very, fulfilling discussions.

“Where necessary, we debate, put forward our points  and the union also. Issues we discussed we used the memorandum of action which we entered into in February 2019 to look at issues that are outstanding, issues that have not been fully addressed.

“Both sides were satisfied that we made reasonable progress in addressing the few issues that have not been fully treated. Therefore, we move to the next round of a new contentious issue, which is the issue bordering on the non-capturing of some ASUU members on the IPPIS platform, which resulted in withholding of salaries and allowances of most ASUU members, those who did not come  under the platform and even some other university non-academic  staff members.

“Discussions were open and both sides realized that we are working for our country and that whatever arrangement we put in place would be for a better Nigeria. ASUU  has developed UTAS, and we have had some preliminary agreements  on what is to be done to accommodate the two systems.

” ASUU has now to get back to their members, consult the executive committee first  and all their members so that they  can agree on the modus operandi of trying to integrate the two systems.

” In that respect, we are continuing discussions.  So the meeting is adjourned till Monday, or Tuesday, pending when ASUU is ready for us, we have made progress. We thank the legislature for … earlier on this morning.

Our meeting will also helped us to smoothen some rough areas.”

ASUU President said, ” From our own side, we would say that we had a frank session, frank engagement and issues were thrown up.

“Those issues like the minister rightly mentioned came from outstanding issues in the February 2019 Memorandum of Action which has tended to be overshadowed by IPPIS.

” From the discussion we had, we agreed that we will go and consult that the proposals that came up we cannot pronounce on them until we consult with our members.”

Meanwhile, speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, yesterday appealed to striking members of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to call off ongoing  industrial action for the sake of the students and country.

He also urged the union to consider the psychological effect of the strike on the students and return to the negotiating table with the government to find a lasting solution to the crisis.

Gbajabiamila, who made the appeal in a meeting he brokered between the leadership of the House, ASUU and the Federal Government in Abuja yesterday, however, lambasted the government for not honouring the agreements between it and the university teachers which ASUU said were reached in 2009.

He also asked ASUU to give heed to the directive by government that its members should join the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System, IPPIS, with the intention of ridding the public service of corruption.

He said that the intervention of the House was hinged on its previous successful efforts which had averted many industrial strikes, citing those of resident doctors and the electricity workers as worthy examples.

The speaker, however, expressed confidence in the efforts of the House leadership to end the ongoing ASUU/FG face off.

It could be recalled that there had been a lingering face off between ASUU and the Federal Government on the 2009 agreements and the IPPIS, prompting another bout of strike by university teachers on Monday.

He said: “We have tried to avert strikes and we have been successful at it. Medical strike and electric strike. It does not speak well of the country. It has become almost perennial that at every point, somebody is holding somebody somewhere.

“There are basically two main issues here. Agreement and IPPIS. The law says you should give 15 days notice. The law is not there to be broken. The notice is to delay the inevitable. It does not in any way affect the strike.

“On the other issue, agreements are not meant to be disobeyed. There has to be something called sanctity of agreements.

There are situations where agreements are no longer feasible through no fault of govt. That breach is excusable.

“We are calling the meeting so that we, the National Assembly, can be a part of this agreement.  ASUU, on the issue of IPPIS, I have heard and read you.

Much as you may be right that ASSU should not be part of IPPIS, we don’t live in a jungle. If the government has come out with a policy and for the good reason, you should obey.

“I think the optics may not be good for you. Government is saying register for this and an organization is saying, we don’t want to do this. There has to be equal application of the law. You don’t have to say we have defeated government’s well intended policy.

“On your argument, every policy has to be tailored to the environment and policy of that country. We know there is corruption in every area of this country, including ASUU, the Executive arm, labour union.

Nigeria has its peculiarities and we must accept those peculiarities.

“I totally disagree with the government on the issue of agreements and violation of agreements, will-nilly. May be, If you were in sufficient contact with your committee (House Committee), they could have made a case, to say no, we have to make a budget.

“I want to appeal to you,  we cannot go on like this. I know government is ready and willing to listen to you and I want you to be able to listen to the government as well. There is a 2pm meeting. The chairman of the Education Committee should be at the meeting. Whatever agreement is reached will be known to the whole world.

“I called this meeting as a peacemaking effort to find solution. Give us the opportunity to be part of the negotiations with government. It is not a fight; it is a question of us listening to each other.”

READ ALSO: Our position on IPPIS subsists – ASUU

“It is almost embarrassing. The National Assembly is appealing to you for the sake of our children to call this off, let’s see what we can achieve. It is a tripartite agreement. Please, give us that opportunity and confidence to deal with the situation. Schools are shutting down because of coronavirus. Let it not be said that we are closing schools because of ASUU strike.”

In their response to the speaker’s request, the National President of ASUU, Professor Abiodun Ogunyemi, who came in the company of his immediate predecessor, Professor Fagge, and other serving officials of the academic body, said the leadership could not unilaterally call off the strike.

He said that the leadership would have to consult with the structures and membership of ASUU in all branches nationwide before the strike could be called off.

He noted that the strike was not a fresh one, recalling that the Federal Government has failed to honour the agreements of equipping the universities it entered with it in 2009.

On the IPPIS, Ogunyemi said it was not possible for ASUU to join, saying joining the system  would impede scholastic researches and image of Nigerian universities both home and abroad.

He said: “We are not starting a fresh strike. On February 7, 2019, we signed a memorandum of action. Every item has role assigned and timeline attached. We found that for much of last year, nothing concrete was done about the memorandum of action, three letters sequentially, stating some of these. We have written and stated the issues. We highlighted and we agreed on the memorandum of action.

“On the legality of the action, therefore, we are saying that they (govt) are not unaware of what was going on.  On January 9, we had the privilege of meeting with the President. We felt that we should follow up on our action.

“We want to acknowledge that the Minister of Education had met with us three times. That culminated  in the suspension of the 2009 agreement. If we signed an agreement 2009, more than 10 years after, no implantation, I think we should all be worried.”

“My immediate predecessor is here. It was in 2013 that the issue was first brought to us. We told told them it will not work. We wrote to them in 2014 to say, this cannot work. They said we should set up a committee, come up with your proposal, let’s consider. We did.

“Over $140 million dollars was borrowed to fund IPPIS. We have asked them to give us the challenge. We give them a system that will not cost them a kobo.

“We don’t allow the minister of finance to impose IPPIS on us. It is a matter of what is reasonable. Let them tell us the global best practice that informs that. It will shut the door against scholars and researchers that we need. Vice Chancellors do go to other universities to ask.”

We’re not aware of any strike action — FG

Earlier, the Minister of State, Labour and Productivity, Barr. Festus Keyamo, had told the leadership of the House that the government was not aware of the strike by the lecturers.

He said that a meeting had been fixed by 2pm on Thursday for continued deliberations on matter.

“We are extremely happy about this invitation by the House. The issue is about the teeming youths at home, following the strike.

“We, in the Ministry of Labour up till this moment, have not received any notice of any strike from ASUU. According to labour laws, ASUU should give us a 15-day notice of any strike. No agency of government received any notice. You must comply with the provisions of the law.

“It is an illegal strike because it has not complied with the law. Government is not aware. It will be irresponsible of govt to take notice from newspaper reports.

“Government has been very proactive. It is our responsibility to apprehend any strike. A meeting is fixed for 2pm today. Everybody will be there. We are anchoring the meeting at the ministry of labour by 2pm.

“If I hazard any guess now, perhaps, I will be jumping the gun. On IPPIS system. If we want to go to the nitty-gritty of this issue, it may take a whole day here.

“We all know that the system is designed to fight ghost workers, corruption and all that. Government has said there will be a separate portal for allowances and salary. The BVN will not pay twice. That has been done for doctors. In IPPIS, they are fully covered. It is our appeal to them to help us cooperate,” he said.

In his remarks, the Minister of State for Education, Barr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, who was physically present at the meeting, corroborated Keyamo’s position on the matter, saying the  federal government was handling it.

Vanguard

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