Varsities Unions’ Strike: Two Weeks after Buhari’s Ultimatum, Ngige Says FG Awaiting Education Minister’s Report
•Gives reason for not referring dispute to arbitration panel
•Sack Education Minister now, NANS tells president
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja Victor Ogunje in Ado Ekiti
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige yesterday said the federal government was still expecting the Ministry of Education to conclude and submit the outcome of negotiations with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other university-based unions.
The minister said this same day the two weeks ultimatum President Muhammadu Buhari had given the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, to resolve the ongoing strike by ASUU and other university-based unions.
Speaking further, Ngige also gave reason why his ministry adopted voluntary conciliation for the resolution of the strike by ASUU instead of arbitration, saying it did so in order to hasten the resolution process.
Ngige disclosed these while answering questions from journalists at the Joint Workshop on International Labour Standards and Dispute Resolutions, Organised by the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Abuja.
The minister said he could have transmitted the matter to the IAP or the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), but used his discretion to weigh the situation to know if it would cause more delay in the resolution of the dispute in a court process.
He recalled that ASUU embarked on strike on February 14 and he started voluntary conciliation on February 22 and subsequently on March 1.
According to him, by the second meeting most of the issues arising from the 2020 Memorandum of Action (MOA) signed between ASUU and the Ministry of Education with other government agencies involved were conciliated, leaving out only two.
Ngige explained: “The two outstanding issues were the conditions of service, which according to the 2009 agreement would be reviewed every four years. The last review was in 2013 and we started the review in 2018 under Wale Babalakin as the chairman of the renegotiation committee. We could not conclude because Babalakin left.
“A new committee headed by Munzali came. Munzali finished his work and put in his report at the Federal Ministry of Education. All these committees including the previous Onosode committee were all internal committees of the Ministry of Education. They discuss with the unions and give them offers and counter offers vis-a-vis what they have said. Once the committees finished, their products are sent up.
“The major issue here is salary and wage review. That was where they were before ASUU embarked on strike.”
While explaining his role in the ASUU strike saga, Ngige said once a strike occurs, it triggers the content of the Trade Dispute Act (TDA) on how to resolve the industrial action.
He said the Ministry of Education was still handling the matter because he transmitted it back to them.
“If a party wants us to transmit a matter back to them to have a second look, you assist them. That is what you call voluntary conciliation. It is voluntary because if I apprehend and bring all the parties to the negotiation table and a party requests that I should take the matter to NICN, I will do so,” he said.
Earlier in a keynote address, Ngige described the workshop as one of the reforms ongoing in his ministry as hitherto, some arbitrators have not fully understood the tenets of the panel(IAP) and were handicapped in discharging their duties.
He described arbitration as one of the statutory stages in trade dispute resolution commencing with internal mechanisms where they exist in any organisation, proceeding to mediation, conciliation, arbitration and adjudication by the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, with the Appeal Court as the final arbiter.
In a welcome address, the Chief Registrar of IAP, Abduhamid Ibrahim, said the purpose of the workshop was to provide unique opportunity for members of IAP and its management staff to acquire sound knowledge and experience in modern skills regarding labour disputes prevention and resolution in line with international labour standards.
Sack Education Minister Now, NANS Tells Buhari
Meanwhile, the National Association of Nigerian Students(NANS) has called for the immediate sack of Adamu over failure to resolve the lingering industrial action.
The students’ body averred that the call became expedient, following the minister’s failure to resolve the strike within the two weeks ultimatum handed down by Buhari.
The NANS National President, Sunday Asefon, in a statement, yesterday, said incapability to resolve the crisis by Adamu smacked of ineptitude and gross incompetence to handle such a pivotal Ministry.
Asefon bemoaned that ASUU had gone on strike for a cumulative period of 18 months within the seven years Adamu has been superintending over the Ministry.
He said the country can’t afford to entrust the Education Ministry in the hands of those he described as lacking the proficiency to manage the affairs of the country’s eggheads.
Asefon said: “You will recall that President Gen. Muhammadu Buhari on the 19th of July, 2022 gave the Minister, Malam Adamu Adamu two weeks ultimatum to resolve the ongoing strike by the ASUU to ensure that students return to classes. You will also recall while this ultimatum subsist ASUU extended the strike by another four weeks.
“It is therefore abundantly clear that the Minister of Education lacks the capacity required to manage such an important ministry as the Ministry of Education.
“He has shown over the years his lack of capacity, know-how, and adequate understanding of the complexity of educational management. This development calls to question his qualification to be appointed as minister of education in the first place.
” His total lack of compassion and empathy for the plight of Nigerian students speak volumes. NANS under our leadership will leave no stone unturned to ensure that our demands are acceded to, as we will do all that is required to reawaken the spirit of the Ali-Must-Go to ensure that Adamu-Must Go.”