Begs SSANU, NASU for three months to pay minimum wage arrears
Says Buhari in order for retaining Idris as AGF
Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The federal government yesterday declared as illegal, the strike action embarked upon by university workers over the non-implementation of their seven-point agenda by government.
It, however, pleaded with the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Non-Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (NASU) to give it three months to offset backlog of minimum wage of their members, saying a supplementary budget to that effect would soon be sent to the National Assembly for approval.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, who spoke with newsmen at the Presidential Villa after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, also stressed that the President did not break any law by reappointing Ahmed Idris as the Accountant-General of the Federation (AGF) after attaining the mandatory retirement age of 60 years.
According to him, the strike action by SSANU and NASU was illegal since discussions to sort out some of the contentious issues were still on.
He recalled that the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of SSANU and NASU had given the federal government till midnight of February 5 to address about seven-point demand they made, saying if the government failed to address the issues, they would embark on indefinite strike.
According to him, the meeting with President Buhari was to discuss labour-related matters especially the threat by the university workers to embark on strike.
He said that the government had “apprehended” the strike by engaging on social dialogue with the unions, adding that it would be an illegality if they should go ahead with the planned strike.
His words, “I was around to see Mr. President on so many urgent labour issues. We will not claim ignorance of the fact that three unions in the university system, the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, NASU, the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities, SSANU and the National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT had given us notice of strike.
“The first two unions SSANU and NASU did that under the umbrella of Joint Action Committee, JAC, and as government, we have moved to apprehend the strike because we just came out from a strike that lasted for nine months that was executed by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
“So in consonance with the labour laws, we have apprehended both strikes. They gave us Trade dispute notice, we scheduled meetings with them after apprehension, we held meeting with NASU and SSANU last week Tuesday and government position was explained to them.
“They have a lot of issues mentioned as their grouse; issues like IPPIS. They said IPPIS has amputated some of their allowances, they also have the issue of consequential adjustment that was paid to all civil servants as a result of the new minimum wage of N30,000 for staff above Grade Level One, that is starting from Grade Level two up to level 17.
“Those in the university system have not received their own, that was an inadvertent omission and it was explained to them and even without their prompting, without their trying to go on strike, government on its own has computed the amount involved up to January with effect from 19th April 2019 when the minimum wage took effect to January 2020, that is the allowance or the consequential amount that was missed in the 2020 budget.
“We explained that government plans to put that in the Supplementary budget of 2021 which will be submitted by the National Assembly as soon as the Minister of Finance resumes from vacation. On the issue of IPPIS, we explained to them that it is something that is of general application, a lot of civil servants, public servants had complained that some of their allowances were omitted in the payment of their emoluments.
“IPPIS office explained that it was work in progress, they are putting back those allowances and they showed evidence that they have put back so many. So these two issues are the cardinal issues in the points they have made.
“So in the main, after conferring with Mr. President, we are telling the unions not to carry out the action because that action will run counter to ILO Statute on Social Dialogue and Principles at work because their employers have listened, they have brought them to the table. So for SSANU and NASU, we are imploring them not to carry out their threat which they said will take effect from this mid night.
“Moreso, when the meeting adjourned from their own instance. Just this morning I received a letter from them giving us a new date for the continuation of the dialogue, they proposed a new date of Thursday 11th of February and my office has communicated to them back that we will be ready for them at that time because as they claimed they needed time to consult with their constituency and come back on the fresh issues that have cropped up from the discussion. So I briefed Mr. President on that.”
On why government waited till the last day to respond to threats by the unions since they had given notice to embark on strike starting from midnight of February 5, the Minister said: “It will be preposterous for them to say that as we wait to negotiate further, they are invoking a strike by midnight today, that will be against the labour statute of both the International Labour Organisation and the Nigeria Trade Dispute Act and we will frown at it if they ever go that route.”
Asked if the government would invoke no work no pay policy should the workers go ahead with the strike, Ngige said, “I don’t want to go to that area because I presume that good judgment will prevail.
“The leaders of SSANU and NASU are very knowledgeable and very experienced in labour matters. The General Secretary of NASU, Prince Peters Adeyemi and the SSANU President, Comrade Mohammed Haruna Ibrahim, they are experienced labour leaders, they know they will not go that route, they know if they go that route it will be an illegal strike.
“They know that if they go that route, yes they also have a right to strike and the employer also has the right to some relief. They also know that when they go that route it means that they have broken down the negotiation in my place that they are not listening.
“The labour laws also say what I can do if I find that I can’t manage the situation. The law says that I can refer those disputes upwards starting from industrial arbitration panel to the National Industrial Court, so these are the options that are left.
“I am very optimistic that if they give us three months, the Finance Minister will do the needful.”
Reacting to comments from different quarters, especially from labour unions, over the refusal of Idris to vacate the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, despite the fact that he clocked the statutory retirement age of 60 years in November 2020, Ngige explained that the President exercised his Constitutional powers in retaining Idris in office after clocking retirement age of 60 years.
He explained that, Section 171 of the 1999 Constitution empowers the President to exercise discretion in appointing persons in to some extra-ministerial offices, adding that the same Constitution spelled out the offices in the category, to which the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation fell.
“There are other issues, all related to labour again, which I have to seek further information from Mr. President, like the reappointment of the Accountant General of the Federation, which the Trade Union Congress and the affiliate, Association of Senior Civil Servants, have drawn our attention to the fact that having clocked 60 years, that the man should exit.
“We have had two meetings on that and I have educated them that the 1999 Constitution, the supreme law of the land, is the grand norm, all other laws rose from it and any law that is in conflict with the provisions of the constitution doesn’t stand, it’s struck down.
“Therefore Mr. President has exercised his powers under Section 171 of 1999 Constitution as amended in reappointing Mr. Ahmed Idris with effect from June 25, 2019, not even today. So the man has a tenure of four years which by terms of appointment elapse June 2023”, he said.
Reminded that it was a constitutional provision that once a career civil servant clocks 60 years, the person should exit from service, he said, “I have made it clear that the issue of Accountant General of the Federation is a constitutional issue, the appointment is predicated on Section 171 of the Constitution of 1999, as amended. That Section is an omnibus section that grants the President powers to appoint those he thinks that he can work with and those offices were so listed.
“Offices in the public service of the Federation, heads of extra-ministerial departments or agencies, no matter whatever name so-called or so termed, also permanent secretaries, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, ambassadors and high commissioners and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation is part of the extra ministerial department.
“When those appointments are made and you are serving there and the President feels he can work with you, 171 protects him because he is not working for himself, he is working for the nation and he has to get the best of hands, trusted persons.
“So the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation is a sensitive position that deals with financial issues and he feels, and very rightly too, that this is the man that has been there, he is doing a good work and he wants to continue with him.
“I have explained this to the labour people, Trade Union Congress and the Association of Senior Civil Servants, we held a meeting yesterday and last Monday, I will continue because that is part of social dialogue, next week we will meet again because they requested for documents which I made available to them, documents on the appointments and the documents to show them the area of the Constitution that the powers were so derived from, they will have all”, the Minister stated.