ASUU Strike: FG Backpedals, Withdraws Order to Reopen Varsities

Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Kuni Tyessi in Abuja and Kemi Olaitan in Ibadan

The federal government, through the National Universities Commission (NUC) yesterday withdrew an earlier circular in which it had ordered vice-chancellors, pro-chancellors and governing councils to re-open federal universities.

The NUC in an earlier circular had directed all vice-chancellors; pro-chancellors and chairmen of governing councils of federal universities to re-open the universities and the development was greeted with criticism from some stakeholders, including the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

But in another circular tagged NUC/ES/138/Vol.64/136, which was also signed by the Director, Finance and Account of the NUC, Sam Onazi, the commission withdrew the order.

The letter though did not explain why, the earlier letter titled, “withdrawal of circular NUC/ES/138/Vol.64/135 dated September 23, 2022,” was withdrawn, the latest letter partly read: “I have been directed to withdraw the NUC Circular Ref: NUC/ES/138/Vol.64/135, and dated September 23, 2022 on the above.

“Consequently, the said circular stands withdrawn. All pro-chancellors and chairmen of governing councils, as well as vice-chancellors of federal universities are to please note. Further development and information would be communicated to all relevant stakeholders.”

The earlier NUC letter which was obtained yesterday, was addressed to all vice-chancellors; pro-chancellors and chairmen of governing councils of federal universities.

“Ensure that ASUU members immediately resume/commence lectures; restore the daily activities and routines of the various university campuses,” the previous letter partly read.

The National Industrial Court of Nigeria had last Wednesday, ordered the union to call off its ongoing nationwide strike, which it had embarked upon in the past seven months.

ASUU has been on strike since February 14, 2022, to press home its demand for improved funding for universities and a review of salaries for lecturers, among other issues.

Several meetings between ASUU and the federal government had ended in a deadlock. Consequently, the federal government decided to take the matter to the industrial court.

The government through its counsel, James Igwe, had prayed the court for an interlocutory injunction restraining ASUU from taking further steps as regards the strike, pending the determination of the substantive suit.

Igwe had said there was a need for the matter to be expeditiously determined to enable university students to return to school, adding that failure to call off the strike would cause irreparable damage to not only the students but also to the nation.

According to him, since the dispute between the federal government and the lectures was already before the court for adjudication, it would be proper and in the interest of justice for the strike to be suspended.

In his ruling, Justice Hamman held that the application was meritorious and deserved to be granted by the court.

While dismissing objections ASUU raised through its lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, the court had held that the strike action was detrimental to public university students that cannot afford to attend private tertiary institutions.

“The balance of convenience tilts in favour of the applicant.

“I hold that this application is meritorious and this application is granted”, Justice Hamman ruled.

The court, thereafter, issued an order, restraining ASUU, “whether by themselves, members, agents, privies or howsoever called, from taking further steps and doing any act in continuance of the strike action, pending the hearing and determination of the suit filed.”

ASUU had since filed 14 grounds of appeal to challenge the order.

However, in reaction to the federal government previous directive for the universities to be reopened, the lecturers’ union had vowed not to resume academic activities.

The union pointed out that it had appealed the go-back-to-work order by the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICM) and sought a stay of execution from the Appeal court to prevent its execution.

When contacted by THISDAY on the directive, ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke had earlier said as far as ASUU was concerned the strike was continuing and none of its members would go back to work until the dispute was resolved.

“We are not part of that directive. We have appealed against the industrial court ruling. By law, once you file appeal against a court order and seek stay of execution of the order, you are covered. We are not part of it. If they like they can go to Russia and get lecturers to teach,” he said.

In a related development, the Chairman, University of Ibadan Chapter, ASUU, Prof.  Ayoola Akinwole, in a statement yesterday, had said the federal government owns the universities and can decide when to close or open them.

This was just as he maintained members of ASUU would not return to classes despite the order by the federal government that the universities be open.

Akinwole noted that the union never shut down the universities, stating that members of the union would not go to the classes, but would continue to do their researches and community services.

He stressed that the union was on strike with its members withdrawing their services from teaching, supervising and holding statutory meetings in line with the ongoing strike.

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