By Adesina Wahab, Victor Ahiuma-Young, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Joseph Erunke, ABUJA
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari yesterday gave the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, two weeks within which to resolve the prolonged strike embarked upon by the four university-based unions and report back to him.
Recall that unions in the aviation and banking sectors had on Monday, threatened to team up with the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, in the protest planned for next Tuesday and Wednesday against government’s refusal to resolve the varsity unions’strike.
The four unions in the university system, including the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Educational Institutions, NASU, Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, and National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT, had been on strike for over five months as a result of government’s failure to meet their demands.
The demands include withdrawal of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel information system, IPPIS, and adoption of University, Transparency and Accountability Solution, UTAS, for ASUU; and the University Peculiar Payroll and Payment System, U3PS or UPPPS for the non-academic unions, among others.
Although parents, under the aegis of National President, National Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria, NAPTAN, saw the president’s directive as a huge relief, ASUU, however, expressed doubts about government’s seriousness about the strike.
This is even as the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, which has been mobilising for protest against the government for next week, welcomed whatever it said was needed to resolve the varsity workers’ crises, saying though NLC was not aware of the ultimatum given to education minister, it was in support of it.
However, President Buhari, who gave the directive after receiving briefings from the relevant government Ministries, Agencies and Departments, MDAs, involved in resolving the face-off with the university unions, after he summoned a meeting yesterday to hear from the government team on why the strike had lingered for too long.
The President after hearing from the relevant MDAs directly involved, ordered the Minister of Education to ensure that the impasse was resolved within two weeks and report back to him.
Sources at the meeting also said the president directed that the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, must be in any of the meetings to resolve the crisis.
The sources further said that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, was asked to be part of the team to interface with the striking unions.
It was learned that the President commended Ngige on his efforts so far to resolve the face-off with the striking university unions,
Those at the meeting were the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Dr. Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, 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.
It doesn’t mean govt is serious — ASUU
Reacting to the directive yesterday, Lagos Zonal Chairman of the union, Dr. Adelaja Odukoya, said it should not be taken as an indication iof government’s seriousness on the issue.
Odukoya, who is also a member of the National Executive Committee, NEC, of ASUU, said: “It is not a measure of seriousness. It is not the first time the Presidency would give such directive and nothing would be done.
‘’There was a time a committee was set up that comprised the Chief of Staff to the President, the Ministers of Education, Labour and Finance that interacted with us, but what came out of it? Nothing.
“As for us making concessions, we have been doing that. We are all in this country and we all know what is happening. We signed a memorandum with the government in May 2021, we agreed on a number of issues, but they did nothing. Let the government come out with its mindset. As a union, we negotiate, we don’t take awards.’’
Buhari’s directive to minister on strike’s welcome relief – PARENTS
However, the National Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria, NAPTAN, described the president’s directive as a welcome relief.
National President of NAPTAN, Alhaji Haruna Danjuma, said in his reaction: “The directive is making parents to heave a sigh of relief. It is a welcome development and we hope that nothing is going to stall the amicable resolution of the issues this time around.
‘’Our children have stayed at home longer than necessary and are tired of the whole scenario.
We also hope that ASUU and other unions would agree to make some concessions so that our children would be back on campuses and resume their studies. Life is about give and take and you win some and lose some.’’
We welcome its resolution even in 24hrs — NLC
Also reacting yesterday, President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba, said Congress welcomed whatever was needed to resolve the varsity workers’ crises, saying though the NLC was not yet aware of the ultimatum given to Minister of Education over the issue, the directive was welcomed
He said: “The closure of the nation’s universities has been of serious concern to us in the last five months because it concerns the destiny of our children and the destiny of the nation.
‘’We believe every right thinking Nigerian should be concerned. We need to get the children back to school. A whole academic session has been lost.
“We needed to intervene to create awareness and draw attention to the issue. This is not the first time we are intervening. We have intervened before, which led to the setting up of the Nimi-Briggs committee which reports say the government has rejected.
‘’Though we have not been officially informed about the rejection of the committee’s report, we have described its rejection by government as unacceptable.
“We are not aware of the ultimatum (two weeks ultimatum given to the Minister of Education to resolve the ASUU crisis), this issue can be resolved, even now. So, we welcome the directive.’’
FG has done everything possible to assuage ASUU —SOURCE
Meanwhile, the Presidency has blamed leaders of ASUU for the protracted closure of public universities in the country, lamenting that the Federal Government had done everything possible to please ASUU leadership to no avail.
Top officials of the Ministries of Education and Finance who spoke to Vanguard on condition of anonymity, said ASUU leadership has refused to shift ground, despite the fact that the Federal Government had agreed to virtually all the issues in the Memorandum of Action, MoA, signed in December 2020.
Officials of the Ministry of Finance, who preferred anonymity, said: “Despite a subsisting agreement signed with the government in December 2020, which the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment was religiously pushing for implementation from all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, ASUU decided to go on strike just 13 months in the midst of the implementation.
‘’How can ASUU leadership justify this strike? The only lapse on Federal Government’s side occurred in the Ministry of Education not closing properly the Prof Munzali Jubril report or proposal on the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement on condition of service that is for their salaries and allowances review.
‘’The MoA of December 2020 envisaged its closure in Federal Ministry of Education, FME; from there to National Salaries Income and Wages Commission/Presidential Committee on Salaries for approval and by the Federal Executive Council, FEC.’’
Another Presidency official, said: “It is really not clear why ASUU kept mute from May 2021 when it was submitted and not processed till November 2021 when they now approached the Minister of Labour and Employment to inform him the proposal is now an ‘Agreement.’
“Recently a new Nimi Briggs Committee was set up by the Minister of Education after a strike had occurred, without notice to the Minister of Labour and Employment by ASUU and the Minister of Labour and Employment in the conciliation meeting fixed six weeks for this committee and education ministry fixed three months for the job. Surprisingly, ASUU supported the three months and still continued with the strike, an indirect confirmation of the rumour that they enjoy the situation by which public university students are home and they moonlight in all private universities, earning big pay.
“The visitation panel set up late last year finished its work and Mr President has signed the outcome, awaiting for it to be gazetted. ASUU’s University Transparency Accountability Solution, UTAS, is being tested. It has failed integrity test twice but Chief of Staff to the President/ Minister of Labour and Employment, on ASUU insistence from the last negotiations, approved the further testing of the UTAS of ASUU, the University Peculiar Payroll and Payment System, U3PS or UPPPS of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, NASU, and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, as presented by their Joint Action Committee, JAC, as well as the Federal Government’s IPPIS.
“The government directed NITDA to improve on them where necessary. ASUU is on strike because of it. Why would you go on strike over what is a privilege, not a right? No employee dictates to his or her employer how he or she should be paid.
‘’All an employee should be interested in should be that his or her salary and allowances are paid as at when due. You don’t dictate whether your salaries and allowances should be paid in cash, cheque or through electronic transfer.
‘’Why should you tell your employer that he must use your platform? Nobody does that. Now, NASU and SSANU are talking about their own platform; U3PS. They have insisted that even if UTAS is 100 per cent perfect, their members should not be part of it. What should the government do in this scenario?
“You will recall that doctors were in the same quagmire with ASUU, that IPPIS did not capture their peculiarities. The doctors submitted their peculiarities to IPPIS and the peculiarities were integrated into the system. Computerization is garbage in, garbage out. Whatever you put in is what you will put out.
What they are running away from is one; they do not want IPPIS to stop them from teaching in three or more universities. Two; they do not want IPPIS to make them pay PAYE tax to the respective state government, unlike in the past where they cut deals with state governments to pay pittance as tax only for those states to come back to ask the federal government to give them PAYE tax of their workers in their states through the Joint Tax Board, JTB.
‘’The Federal Government paid N890billion as PAYE tax differences in 2018 and 2019 for federal workers in states. Should this be allowed to continue?
“These lecturers who shut down Federal Government universities for five months and dish out Marxist propaganda to Nigerians are worse than the politicians who we agree are not good, because both have their children in private universities here in Nigeria and abroad. ’Their children are in Babcock, Afe Babalola, Igbenedion, Madonna, Baker, etc. Those in the north send their children to universities in Egypt and Sudan
“Whether they like it or not, the figure of salaries they are requesting is way beyond what a financially ailing economy can carry. Negotiate a reasonable amount and go back to work as the negotiation is on. Enough is enough.”
Count us out of strike, breakaway ASUU’s faction, CONUA declares
However, a breakaway faction of ASUU, operating under the aegis of Congress of Nigerian University Academics,CONUA, yesterday denounced the ongoing strike by the nation’s public university lecturers. The faction in a statement, by its National Coordinator, Niyi Sunmonu, and the National Publicity Secretary, Ernest Nwoke, said it was a separate union of university academics in the country.
The statement read: “The Congress of University Academics would like to seize this opportunity to announce its independence as a union of academic staff in Nigeria’s public universities. ‘’Being a separate and independent union, CONUA has never been part of the decision to embark on the industrial action which has paralysed academic activities in our universities for five months now.
“Our strongly-held view is that strikes wreak great havoc on the university system, and the concessions that are earned after every strike, over the decades, have amounted to pyrrhic victories when weighed against the systematic destruction of the local and global image of university education in Nigeria.
‘’Our preferred alternatives to strikes in resolving industrial disputes, therefore, include constructive engagement and constant dialogue with all stakeholders.
“As CONUA, we are of the strong belief that strikes should never be a strategy of first recourse. Their deployment should be contemplated only when all other options have failed, and they should not appear to be motivated by a desire to cause maximum damage.”
CONUA explained that its members had been in classes in universities such as Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma since the strike declared by ASUU.
“In fact, before the incident, which caused the students to be asked to vacate the campus, most of our members had concluded their lectures. Since it wasn’t our members who declared a strike, lumping us together with those who are on strike is, therefore, patently unfair,” it said.
In spite of its position, CONUA bemoaned the conditions of service of Nigerian academics just as it discredited the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System, IPPIS, describing the system as inconsistent.
It said: “Furthermore, CONUA notes, regrettably, that the condition of service of academics in Nigeria is very poor. It is, in fact, pitiable. Research has, in this regard, shown that Nigerian academics are among the worst remunerated when compared to their counterparts on the African continent.
“We continue to believe in the urgency of such an action, and would continue to work towards the well-deserved improvement in the condition of service.
“CONUA, however, believes that these are issues that can be sorted out through dispassionate, well-meaning collective efforts, and is ready to offer the professional expertise of its members to the government to solve the problems.
“Finally, CONUA calls on the government to expeditiously register the union in order to provide a more robust platform for academics with alternative, pragmatic and more sustainable views to operate and engage with the government.”