President Gives Minister Two-week Ultimatum to Resolve ASUU Strike

•Varsity unions recommend use of stamp duty, GSM, alcoholic taxes to fund education 

•We won’t accept disparity in salary, SSANU warns FG 

•University workers express divergent views over Ngige’s role in dispute resolution

Deji Elumoye and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

An end may be in sight to the over five-month old strike in Nigerian public universities as President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday directed the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, to resolve the prolonged industrial action embarked upon by the four university-based unions and report back to him within two weeks.

This was just as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has urged the federal government to consider mobilising funds from different sources including non-budgetary outlets like stamp duty, GSM and alcoholic taxes to help fund the needs of the education sector.

On their part, members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian University, (SSANU) have warned the Professor Nimi-Briggs Committee renegotiating the 2009 Agreement that it would not accept any disparity in university staff salary, saying it would take every legal action to ensure that such doesn’t happen.

Buhari gave the directive to end the 155-day old industrial action embarked on by ASUU as well as other university unions that later downed tools, after receiving briefings at the State House, Abuja, from relevant government Ministries, Agencies and Departments (MDAs) involved in resolving the face-off with the university unions.

ASUU had proceeded on one month warning strike on February 14, 2022 and thereafter extended the industrial action, while other unions also withdrew their services after that as a result of the alleged inability of the federal government to meet up with their demands.

The three other unions that embarked on strike are the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), the Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Educational Institutions (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT).

However, the president was reported to have convened the meeting to receive briefing from the government team on while the strike had lingered for too long.

Buhari 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 said the president also directed that the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, must attend all the meetings to be called to resolve the crisis.

A sources added that the president, however, commended Ngige in his efforts so far to resolve the lingering crisis with the university unions.

Those who attended the meeting with the president included the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu; his Finance, Budget and National Planning counterpart, Dr. Zainab Ahmed and Ngige.

Others included Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami; 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.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had on Monday expressed its resolve to hold a two-day national protest from July 26th and 27th, to demand the immediate reopening of the country’s public-owned tertiary institutions.

The NLC had accused the federal government of not negotiating in good faith to resolve the crisis in Nigeria’s public Universities

The Labour movement had at its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held in Abuja, on June 30, 2022, threatened to embark on a nationwide protest to compel, “the federal government to conclude the ongoing negotiation with trade unions in Nigeria’s universities and be prepared to commence implementation of whatever Collective Bargaining Agreement arising therefrom so that public universities in Nigeria can resume normal activities.”

The federal government was then given a 21-day ultimatum to resolve the dispute or face a one-day nationwide labour protest which might culminate in a full blown worker’s strike.

The federal government had said the proposal made by the Prof. Limi Briggs-led Committee in relation to the demands by members of ASUU and other unions in universities would gulp N1.12 trillion to implement.

Ngige, in a statement signed by the Deputy Director Press and Public Relations in the Ministry, Olajide Oshundun, had said having rounded off its work, the Briggs Committee had proposed 109 -185 per cent increase in the university wage structure.

He had explained that based on the recommendation, federal government would incur, “an additional N560 billion as salaries alone, on top of the present N412 billion, less all other allowances such as earned academic allowances and fringe benefits, teaching allowance, field trip responsibility and post-graduate supervision allowances, and hazard allowances which were to gulp another N170 billion.”

ASUU Suggests Use of Stamp Duty, GSM, Alcoholic Taxes to Fund Education

 Meanwhile, ASUU has urged the federal government to utilise resources from the stamp duty, GSM and alcoholic taxes to help fund the needs the education sector.

The union also took a swipe on Ngige, blaming him of constituting an obstacle to the process of resolution of the lingering dispute with the federal government.

Addressing a press conference in Abuja yesterday, ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke said the union was of the opinion that federal government could explore the possibility of sourcing finding for the development of the education sector from non-budgetary sources.

“ASUU believes that the idea of availability of funds is a dynamic process. For instance, government can mobilise funds from different sources including non-budgetary outlets like the stamp duty, GSM and alcoholic taxes. 

“These were parts of our recommendations at the National Workshop organised by the federal government on sustainable funding of education in Nigeria, held between 27th and 28th November, 2018, at the Banquet Hall of the State House in Abuja,” it said.

Osodeke said the workshop by the MDAs were also challenged to remit, for the purpose of raising budgetary profile, excesses that accrue and not accounted for. 

“We insist that until and unless these sources of ‘loose funds’ are pooled and appropriated in support of education funding, Nigerian Universities will not be positioned to compete globally as well as develop and attract local and foreign grants,” he added.

The ASUU president said the union was also appalled by the recent calls by top government functionaries at both federal and state levels to establish more universities at a time agencies run by same Chief Executives had been tightly squeezed of funding.

He said ASUU was restating its opposition to the proliferation of universities and other tertiary institutions merely for political gains or electoral value.

He described the intentions of establishing new universities as hypocritical and the handwork of political jobbers who dangle the carrots of siting institutions they have no intention of developing to compete with others in Africa and beyond.

Osodeke also spoke about the delay in reaching a resolution of the dispute with federal government, saying the government had been going back and forth on the issue.

He accused Ngige of deliberately misrepresenting the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) convention on the collective bargaining agreement and the roles of a conciliator to serve his alleged propagandist interest in this matter.

“Specifically, there have been insinuations by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, that there was no agreement between ASUU and the government; that ASUU sat down to fix its own members’ salaries; and that our Union asked representatives of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to recuse themselves from the negotiations, ” he said.

Osodeke said ASUU participated at several meetings at the instance of the Ministry of Labour and Employment chaired by Ngige as, “Conciliator” since it began its strike on February 14.

“To our utter dismay, nothing concrete came out of the endless deliberations as the Conciliator kept approbating and reprobating. For instance, he would declare that he fully supported our demand that the renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU be speedily concluded within six weeks while at the same time creating an unrealistic pathway to arriving at a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

“Similarly, Ngige kept going back and forth on concluding the integrity test for the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) for replacing the discredited Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information (IPPIS) contrary to the letters and spirit of the Memorandum of Action (MoA) of December 2021. “Matters got to a head when our Union leaders were forced to express their frustration at one of the so-called conciliatory meetings. When we expressed our frustration at the manners the engagement processes were going, Ngige went on to lampoon the Ministry of Education; saying he was not our employer.

“At a point, he directed our union to go and picket the office of the Minister of Education, who is our employer! Subsequently, he tactfully recused himself, ” he said.

Osodeke also accused Ngige of frustrating move by the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, and supported by the Co-chair of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) and President of Christian Association of Nigeria, Revd. Dr. Samson Ayokunle, to get the embargo placed on university workers’ salaries lifted to pave way for amicable resolution of the crisis.

The ASUU president denied that the union said the president was going to sign agreement between it and the government.

“What we said was that our draft agreement was receiving attention by the president. Our claim about a draft agreement was predicated on the fact that it was the second document to be produced by a joint Renegotiating Committee of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement comprising representatives of MDAs and the ASUU team,” he said.

Osodake further questioned the rationale for granting the Minister of Labour the status of. Conciliator, adding that the Trade Dispute Act, the principal legislation for labour relations, does not empower the Minister to assume the office of conciliator.

We Won’t Accept Any Disparity in Varsity Salary, Says SSANU

On its part, SSANU has warned the Nimi-Briggs Committee renegotiating the 2009 Agreement that it woulf not accept any disparity in university staff salary and vowed to take every legal action to ensure that such doesn’t happen.

It however commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his intervention in the ongoing strike embarked upon by the university based unions.

Unlike its sister union, SSANU commended Ngige for what it described as his dexterity in ensuring that all university-based unions are carried along in the renegotiation exercise.

National President of SSANU, Mr. Mohammed Ibrahim stated these in a statement in Abuja, yesterday.

While commending Ngige for the role he has played in handling the negotiation of the 2009 Agreement, he said, “SSANU is happy with the dexterity of the Minister of Labour and Employment in ensuring that all university-based unions are carried along in this renegotiation exercise.”

According to him, the proposal for the review of salary for university staff with a differential of teaching staff taking between 108 to 180 per cent and unreasonable 10 per cent for non-teaching staff is unacceptable.

“We are shocked to read that the Nimi Briggs Committee has submitted a report to the government while we only met with them twice. To say the least, SSANU is not happy with the pace of work in that committee.

“While we only met twice with them, we are aware that they have met with the teaching staff not less than 10 times. We are surprised how the so-called percentage was allocated to non-teaching staff. We have not had the opportunity of discussing salary review with them because the committee stated that they have not gotten the approval of their principal to discuss that.

“We are seriously shocked and taken aback by the media report that a certain miserable, unacceptable percentage was recommended to non-teaching staff. We therefore advise that that committee should as a matter of urgency, conclude renegotiation with us.”

The SSANU boss told the committee to immediately reconvene to conclude the assignment given to it by discussing frankly and truthfully the 2009 renegotiation document presented to it.

Warning that non-teaching staff would not take it likely any attempt to have different payment table for staff, he said, “This is because the university system is a universal system comprising two broad categories of staff, the teaching, and the non-teaching staff and the salary consideration has always been the same except for allowances.

“Therefore, any attempt to give preferential treatment to any group will not only be unfair but unjust and inhumane.

“The way the university operates, we are all in the system because of the students, the students are the most important stakeholder in the university project. Therefore, while the teaching staff is busy imparting knowledge to the students, the non-teaching staff have the responsibility of molding the character of students through the provision of a conducive and secure atmosphere and that is why at the end of any student graduating degrees are awarded to students if they are found worthy in character and learning. The teaching and nonteaching staff play complementary roles in making the university.”

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