•Union suspends negotiations with govt
•Ngige, education minister in marathon meeting
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The federal government yesterday moved to avert a major crisis in the public university system following a two-week industrial action embarked by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to force the federal government to implement the 2009 agreement signed with lecturers.
ASUU, at the end of its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting yesterday in Enugu, directed its members to proceed on a two-week warning strike.
The union has also suspended its ongoing negotiations with the federal government team headed by the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu.
But Adamu yesterday started a marathon meeting with his Labour and Productivity counterpart, Dr. Chris Ngige, on how the federal government could calm the frayed nerves of the lecturers.
A source privy to the meeting told THISDAY that the two ministers were brainstorming on how “to bring back ASUU leaders to another round of negotiation.”
Though ASUU and the federal government have been at loggerheads since 2009, the dispute was aggravated when the federal government introduced the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), which it mandated the lecturers to key into.
ASUU resisted the moves and proposed the University Transparency and Accountability System (UTAS) as an alternative platform for IPPIS.
Following a threat by the federal government to stop the February salary of ASUU members, who refused to enroll on IPPIS, the union decided to embark on the warning strike to protest what it described as a move to stop payment of members’ February salary by the federal government.
Speaking in a telephone interview with THISDAY shortly after their NEC meeting in Enugu, ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said the union had asked all its members to immediately proceed on a two-week warning strike to enable them to sort out issues relating to the February salary presumed to have been withheld by the federal government.
“Currently we have declared a two-week warning strike starting from today (yesterday) after our NEC meeting in Enugu. We have decided to embark on a two-week warning strike to tell the government of the need to sort out all outstanding issues in our memorandum with it,” he said.
When asked if the federal government has indeed stopped February salary of ASUU members in the federal universities, Ogunyemi said: “What we know is that our members have not been paid February salary; whether it was stopped or not we are yet find out.”
On whether ASUU’s decision to embark on a warning strike is going to affect the ongoing talks with Adamu over outstanding issues in the 2009 agreement with government, Ogunyemi said further engagement would wait until the federal government clarifies its position on the February salary of lecturers.
The federal government and ASUU have been at loggerheads since 2009.
The major bone of contention is poor funding of public universities and suspected plan by the federal government to introduce tuition fees and an education bank.
ASUU had also complained about the non-implementation of previous agreements, resulting in over three years of industrial action between 1999 and 2018.
In February 2017, Adamu had constituted a 16-member federal government/Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) 2009 Agreement Renegotiation Committee, with a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr. Wale Babalakin, as chairman.
The committee was mandated “to engender sustainable peace, industrial harmony in tertiary institutions and resolve impending issues.”
However, less than two years after the committee was set up, ASUU described Babalakin as “a stumbling block in the renegotiation process” and called for the suspension of the committee.