—As Labour Minister plans to meet striking ASUP next week
—We won’t suspend the strike until we see evidence of FG’s seriousness–ASUP

By Johnbosco Agbakwuru

President Muhammadu Buhari has directed his Chief of Staff, Prof Ibrahim Gambari, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that they resolve the problem with the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN so that the ongoing strike will be called off.

This is as the Labour and Employment Minister has presented the demands of various unions that have embarked on strike to the President for his intervention.

But, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, led by its President, Comrade Anderson Ezeibe has said that the ongoing strike will not be called off until there is evidence of seriousness from the federal government.

Briefing State House correspondents after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Senator Ngige said he briefed the president on the industrial actions by various unions in the country.

Also read: JUSUN strike: Lawmaker calls for dialogue

According to him, “I have to brief (the President) on the labour industrial milieu in the country. You know that we are like in a season of the strike.

“We have the strike baton by the resident doctors actively supported by the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA). And we held certain meetings at which we reached some agreements in a conciliation.

“And I had to brief him ahead of the efforts we are making in those areas like we agreed that the hazard allowance should be reviewed. And as a matter of fact, before they embarked on the strike, my ministry and the Presidential Committee on Salaries had initiated what we can call a pre-emptive arrangement to make for further discussion by all the stakeholders; Federal Ministry of Health, Salary, Income and Wages Commission, the health unions, the NMA that is leading National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Association of Dental and Medical consultants, Association of General Duty Doctors, and others, while JOHESU will lead Nurses and Midwife Association, pharmacists, lab technologists, and other people working in the health sector under the big umbrella of Medical and Health Workers Union.

“So, that meeting has kick-started. And we know from our initial meetings and the data we have, we have an idea of what amount of money will be consumed or utilised to effect this change, which is going to be a permanent change, unlike what we had last year when we did a special COVID-19 allowance, which all of you know the government budgeted N20 billion for.

“And when we started the payment, it gulped a whopping N32 billion. So, we are working now to make the health workers feel that they are appreciated and that the efforts are appreciated by the government.

“So, I have briefed him on that. We have some fallouts from the ASUU discussion on the agreements reached then, a Memorandum of Action so that we can meet up the timeline on certain things promised. For example, the Revitalization Fund, which ASUU has called my attention to that they have not been done for the university system.

“So, we discussed it and necessary arrangements have to be made now for us to pay that amount to the NEEDS Committee accounts with the Central Bank.”

He said that he also discussed the issue of financial autonomy for the judiciary and the legislature with the President.

According to him, “We reviewed what has been done. The Chief of Staff did what we call in labour palance tripartite plus arrangement by engaging them, both parties conceded; Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, the heads of courts, State judges, the unions and the Presidential Implementation Committee for Executive Order 10 led by the Attorney General, but standing in for him by the Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary.

“So, we reviewed where they are. We had a twist two days ago because the arrangement they had with the Chief of Staff had to be altered when the governors got back to their forum.

“As the conciliator, when they presented the two papers, one from the Solicitor General and another one from the Director-General (DG) of the NGF, I had to tell them that we have to reconcile those papers because the areas that they differ are very fundamental areas in terms of the execution of Sections 83 and 162.

“We need the governors to touch this among themselves and come back because, in consultation, I receive documents, issues from the unions, and the NBA, and even the representative of the heads of courts on one side, and then from these government people of NGF, and the Solicitor General of the Federation representing Attorney General.

“So, if the government papers are not on the same page, then the discussion will be very difficult and fruitless. So, that is where we are.

“As I finish from here, I’m going to do another meeting with the Chief of Staff so that we can make a move. The President has directed that we meet and study the situation so that we can advise the government side on what is best for the situation.

“Nobody is happy that the courts are closed. There are grievous implications for the country if suspects cannot be taken to court for them to be remanded or put on bail.

“So, it is a very congruous situation for us. So, this is the main issue I briefed the President on and some assignments. Others are sundry issues that pertain to my ministry and parastatals which I am already handling. I just have to report back to him where we are. So, this is the situation and the purpose of my visit or appointment.”

Asked on what government ad did to ensure that ASUP called the ongoing strike, Senator Ngige, “On the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), as a matter of fact, by our mandate, we apprehend and conciliate issues that have gone out of hand.

“Yes, this one has gone out of hand. At education, I plead with us to give them some more time, and they have met with them thereafter.

“I met with them two times since they proceeded on that strike. So, I’m giving them up till this weekend, if they are not able to resolve and agree to do an in-house agreement at education, then we’ll be forced to, according to the mandate of the ministry, take it over, call all of them together, education on one side and ASUP on one side and resolve the matter because a lot of the issues raised there from the letter written to us by ASUP are issues that also apply to universities and the university union.

“Government has tackled a lot of them. The other ones that are peculiar to the polytechnics like the appointment of rectors, principal officers, and some other minor issues, which I think education can be able to handle in-house.

“But by next week, if they’re not able to do so, we will have no other choice than to apprehend and invite them to the table. And of course, first, ask them to call off the strike.”

Meanwhile, ASUP leadership on Friday said that its National Executive Council, NEC, has resolved to sustain the strike action until the unresolved details in the offer made by the Federal Government are sorted out.

Briefing journalists in Abuja on the update of the ongoing strike, the National President of ASUP, Comrade Anderson Ezeibe said that the union would soon meet to look at some of the offers made by the government even though he said that the Union would want to see evidence of seriousness from the government.

Ezeibe said, “Following the consideration of the offers as presented, the NEC of our Union resolved to sustain the strike action until the unresolved details in the offer are sorted out in the meeting(s) expected in the coming days.

“NEC also resolved that Nasarawa, Benue, Abia, Edo and Kaduna state governments should equally be encouraged to engage representatives of the Union like the earlier referred states on issues of owed salaries and non-implementation of promotions in affected institutions.

“We want to equally seize this opportunity to appreciate the coherent partnership with the media, the understanding and support of our students as well as the Nigerian public within the period. We appeal for the sustenance of same until this action is concluded.”

Recall that ASUP commenced strike on 6th April 2021 over the alleged sorry state of public Polytechnics, Monotechnics as well as the entire subsector. The failure of the government to respond appropriately to the series of letters written on the subject and the expiration of the Union’s ultimatum issued since March 2020 as well as the development of new issues of concern in the sector due to the negligence of the government.

Also read: Bida Poly rector’s tenure: ASUP asks FG to comply with Act

But ASUP boss said, “It is no longer news that our Union has attended 2 out of 3 scheduled meetings with the government since the declaration of the action.

“The meetings held on the 6th and 14th of April 2021. The aborted meeting of the 15th of April was rescheduled for the 27th of April 2021 on a tentative basis.

Immediate gains recorded within this period include the reconstitution and inauguration of governing councils of ALL Federal Polytechnics in the country (dissolved since May 2020) thereby completing the governance structures of the institutions as captured by the law.

“The value addition is that stalled staff appraisal processes can now be concluded, principal officers can also be appointed, the Union’s renegotiation processes with the government can now be re-started and concluded, as well as other duties ascribed to councils by Law can now be performed thereby concluding the emergence of a new legal regime for all Federal Polytechnics.

“In the same vein, the visitation panels are now empowered to perform their duties having been inaugurated within the period as well, while a substantive Executive Secretary has been appointed for the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE).

” On the other items, our Union received offers from the Government during the meetings for the release of an infrastructure revitalization fund of N15bn for the sector; The release of owed 10 months arrears of the new minimum wage within a yet to be determined period; The reconstitution of the Renegotiation Committee of the agreement between our Union and the government since 2010 and conclusion of the renegotiation process;

“The conclusion of the review process and release of the Scheme of Service and Conditions of Service for the sector which has been undergoing review since 2017; The review of the normative instruments for institutional and programmes accreditation to include minimum qualifications for appointment of principal officers in the sector, implementation of the approved 65 years retirement age for the sector, implementation of the approved salary structure for the sector, deployment of the full governance structures in all institutions in the sector, etc;

“The conclusion of ongoing moves to ensure the recall of victimized officers of our Union; The constitution of an Interministerial Committee to resolve all contending issues against the release of CONTISS 15 migration arrears for the lower cadre; The involvement of the Federal Ministry of Education in resolving issues around the implementation of IPPIS in the sector, the contentious letter on tax liabilities from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation and release of promotion arrears in the sector;

“The submission of a brief by the Union on the establishment of the National Commission for Polytechnics; The submission of a brief on the moves by the Agricultural Registration Council of Nigeria to force our members out of the Union.

“The NEC was also updated on ongoing discussions with the governments of Osun, Kano, Ogun and Katsina with our Union’s representatives on issues of the strike.

” These offers include the restoration of the Rapid Response Committee between the Union and the Federal Ministry of Education to serve as a monitoring and evaluation vehicle on the issues as well as resolve any emergent issue of industrial dispute in the sector.”

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