Nigeria’s minister of labour and employment, Chris Ngige, has promised Nigerians that the ongoing one-week-old industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) will end before the one month declared by the union.
However, an adamant ASUU has said the strike will continue as the government has failed to fully meet any of his demands.
Mr Ngige, who spoke on Tuesday at the resumed negotiation between the union and the representatives of the government, said the government was surprised by the lecturers’ decision to embark on strike despite the assurances by the government and the intervention of ‘stakeholders’ including the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC).
The minister said, “I assure you, this meeting will be a fruitful one.
“We brought everybody to the discussion table. We have ‘apprehended’ the situation. All the disputes. And we expect that from the discussion that we will have today, ASUU will understand that the government does not mean any harm. And even if there were lapses, they are lapses that can be handled without resorting to industrial action.”
TEAM PLATO had on Monday exclusively reported that the union and the government representatives would resume negotiation on Tuesday as part of efforts towards resolving the conflict.
No demand fully addressed yet – ASUU
But in response to the minister’s claim that most of the issues in contention had been addressed by the government, ASUU said none of its demands had been fully met by the government.
The union’s president, Emmanuel Osodeke, said several meetings with different agencies of government have also not yielded any positive result.
ASUU said it had met with President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and that despite the promise by them that the issues would be resolved, “yet nothing has come out of it.”
Mr Osodeke noted that during one of its meetings in October, the ministries of education and finance promised to set up a tripartite committee in two weeks but noted that nothing has been done.
He said Tuesday’s meeting was for “the union to see action”.
“This is not a MoA or MoU meeting. We have to see action” Mr Osodeke said.
ASUU added that NIREC reached out to the union and conveyed its demands directly to the president in February.
The ASUU president added, “They (NIREC) actually met with the government on the 1st of February and they told us that the ministers of labour, education and the chief of staff were mandated to resolve the issue by the president.
“When you look at issues in this agreement, you will find out that none, not even one has been fully implemented as we agreed. And that is what led us to where we are.
“We are fully ready to discuss. The strike will not last for one month if the government doesn’t want it to last for one month.”
‘Meeting will be fruitful’
But the minister, who said he was in Botswana when the union embarked on strike, said the government would not allow a situation where “the grass suffers when two elephants fight.” He was referring to the situation where the students suffer the consequences of strike by the union.
The minister said, “I sincerely thought ASUU and the Ministry of Education would have resolved the issues, which hopefully are not major areas of dispute, warranting industrial action. To my surprise , I came back , and the strike is still on. Be that as it may, it is the mandate of my ministry to apprehend industrial disputes wherever they occur and we have apprehended this.
“But I must tell you that on the government side, they were taken by surprise. NIREC met with you (ASUU) and reported to the President. Having met with you (ASUU) and having given the details of their meeting with you, we sincerely hoped we won’t again take this route of industrial action . So, the government side is taken by surprise- Ministries of Education, Finance and all are taken aback.”
Mr Ngige called on the government he serves in to fulfill the timeline of the agreements it signed.
He said: “I also want the government as much as possible to be factual as far as this negotiation goes because there is nothing as bad as somebody agreeing to do something and put a timeline and that thing is not done.
“As a negotiator, it doesn’t strengthen my hand because I wear a double cap. I wear a cap of a reconciliator. I wear the cap of a minister of the government of the federation.”
The representatives of both the government and ASUU went into a closed-door meeting which was yet to end as of Tuesday night.
The meeting, which is currently taking place at the conference room of the labour and employment minister, also has, in attendance, representatives of the ministry of communications and digital economy, officials from the office of the head of service, auditor general’s office, ministries of education and finance.
Parts of the items lined up for discussions at Tuesday’s meeting include Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), revitalisation fund for public universities, promotion arrears, inconsistencies in IPPIS payments, proliferation of state universities, FGN/ASUU 2009 Re-negotiation, the release of white papers on the report of the visitation panels to universities and the adoption of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).
ASUU had on Monday, February 14, declared a one-month warning strike after its weekend-long National Executive Council meeting at the University of Lagos.
The union had accused the government of consistently failing to meet its demands including signed agreements.