Ngige Warns ASUU Against Disobeying Court Order

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CEM REPORT, EDUCATION | The Federal Government has cautioned the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over disobeying the order of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) to call off its ongoing strike.

This is according to a statement by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, signed by Olajide Oshundun, the Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations, in the ministry on Sunday in Abuja.

“The union is dishonest and misleading its members and the general public, that it has filed an appeal as well as a stay of execution of the order of NICN on Sept. 2, though it has none of this.

“Rather, ASUU only applied for permission to appeal the order. Also attached to the application, is a proposed notice of appeal which it intends to file if the leave to appeal is granted.

“The application for a stay of execution as of this moment has not even been listed for hearing. Where then is ASUU coming from?

“It is therefore contemptuous, dishonest and misleading for the union to tell its members that it has not only appealed the interlocutory injunction by the NICN, directing it to call off the strike and return to work but that it also has a stay of execution.”

Ngige in the statement described the new directive by ASUU, exhorting its members to continue with the action as unwarranted lawlessness, noting that “the Federal Government strongly frowns at this”.

According to him, this is in defiance of the interlocutory injunction by the NICN which restrained the union from further action.

He accused the leadership of the union of misinforming and misleading its members and warned of consequences of contempt of court order.

He advised the union’s leadership to return to work whilst negotiations are sealed on the remaining issues in contention.

The statement further recalled the meeting between the House of Representatives and ASUU on Sept. 29.

“on the renegotiation of salaries and wages of lecturers, I sympathise with ASUU just like other Nigerian workers.

“The economy is bad and hard time, biting hard on everybody. ASUU deserves no blame.

“The Briggs Committee was the product of reconciliation of my ministry, which had to move to the ASUU’s direct employers  – Ministry of Education for a Collective Bargaining Agreement, so we can arrive on what is good to be paid to ASUU, subject to approval by the President.

“The President has a Presidential Committee on Salaries and Wages chaired by the Minister of Finance, with myself as co-chair and other members – National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, Budget Office, etc.

“Every MDA, whether drawing from the treasury or not, must pass through this committee on any issue concerning salaries for approval, before transmission to the President. The report of the Briggs Committee did not, unfortunately, pass this route.”

The statement also noted that Ngige at the meeting when the issue of the payment platform – UTAS – came up, persuaded the President to “give the platform a trial in the spirit of Executive Orders 3 and 4, and the SGF supported me”.

“If the system is good, we adopt it for the whole country, but meanwhile the hardware is not there. How do you do it?

“The test – the three of them – IPPIS, UTAS, UPPPS – have failed the test. Do you recommend something that has failed a test? So, no matter how much I love ASUU, I won’t support something that failed a test.’’

Other Resolutions at the Meeting

Also at the meeting of relevant parties involved in the lingering crisis between the government and the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities, the federal government promised to accommodate identified peculiarities of university workers on the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS), the payment platform for entitlements of the government employees including the allowances due the academic staff.

According to the Acting Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), Okolieaboh Sylva, who made the commitment to the union noted that the adoption of UTAS as insisted by ASUU would only open the floodgate of similar requests by other agencies and departments of government.

He added that the adoption of more than one payment platform by the government will lead to additional costs.

He stated that rather than having multiple payment platforms the government is willing to identify the peculiarities of universities.

“Let us sit down and know what these issues are and address them inside IPPIS. We can correct whatever mistake we make now.

“If we accept what ASUU is saying, it will create room for everyone to be asking for their own payment platform, the military is on IPPIS and health workers, ASUU should sit down with us and see the progress we have made.”

He said his office is willing to adopt the peculiarities to resolve the lingering dispute with ASUU.

“Let ASUU come to us, we are willing to accept. If we are going to adopt UTAS, that shows we are going to build the salaries of other civil servants to UTAS.”

However, ASUU President, Emmanuel Osodeke, explained that this was not the first time the government was making a promise of looking into the issues and yet failed.

He quoted the University Miscellaneous Act, insisting on the autonomy of the university and rejected payment of salaries through the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation.

Osodeke also queried NITDA’s refusal to make available the report of the last test conducted on UTAS. He insisted that the report must be made available for the union to study.

“We have two options. Use the one we have developed. Is there any other country in the world where the salaries of universities are paid by the office of the accountant general? No country in the world will harvest the data of their university lecturers and give it to a foreign company.

“The Nigerian people have a law that says that the universities are autonomous. What we want is real accountability. Allow the universities to operate based on the laws of the country.

“Circulars should not dictate what goes on in the university system. It’s this perception that the universities are corrupt and cannot manage themselves that has put us into this problem.

“Until we see the report and our committee goes through it, we cannot talk. Why did you send the first two to us and refused to send the last one?” Mr Osedeke queried NITDA.

Also, the union reject the promise of the government to capture N170 billion for revitalisation and N50 billion for Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) in the 2023 budget and release the funds in 2023.

At the meeting were other heads of ministries, departments and agencies of government including the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, the Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Kashifu Inuwa; Director General of the Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, and the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Folashade Yemi-Esan.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, appealed to the lecturers’ union to suspend the strike for the sake of the students.

He also promised to see to the implementation of the outcome of meetings between the lecturers’ union and government MDAs, assuring that the parliament would be a witness to the agreements.

Gbajabiamilla noted that all the agreements he had with the union in his last meeting are still intact.

He, therefore, appealed to ASUU to cooperate with the MDAs in deciding on the preferred payment platforms.

He also appointed the Chairman of, the House Community on Education to be a part of the tripartite meeting.

“I am happy with the solution on the issue of UTAS. It is no victor, no vanquish: everybody is carried along. And if it is possible to accommodate everything that ASUU wants in UTAS, for me, that is the best way to go.”

He added that the report of the meeting will be ready in days for onward transmission to President Muhammadu Buhari.

“Let me just say I believe this would be, hopefully, the last meeting we are going to have on this matter because from here the leadership of the House will put together our reports, our recommendations and our thoughts, and take it to Mr President. I am hoping that with whatever we have done, ASUU will at least – this is an independent arm of the government – accept in good faith and, hopefully, the government too will accept in good faith so that our children can go back to school and that is what this is all about.”

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