- Buhari Didn’t Issue Two-Weeks Ultimatum To Education Minister To Resolve Crisis
- Education Minister Requested Ngige Hands Off Negotiation – Presidency
The ongoing protracted industrial action embarked on by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to press home its demands assumed another worrying dimension on Wednesday.
Contrary to a widespread report that the ongoing impasse would be resolved within a fortnight, fresh clarification from the Presidency has it that there was no time President Muhammadu Buhari gave an ultimatum to the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to resolve the prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and others in the nation’s public universities within two-weeks.
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Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, made the clarification in a statement on Wednesday while giving an insight into discussions at the meeting held the previous day.
He said Adamu requested that the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, hands off the negotiation to allow him to conclude what he had started with the striking lecturers.
“The outcome of the meeting held by President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday with relevant Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) to end the agitations by university unions ought to be beyond spin-doctoring and conjectures,” said the President’s spokesman.
“It is a pity that almost all media houses allowed themselves to be deceived by interested sources that are not the authorized spokesmen of government. Neither during nor after the meeting was an ultimatum given to the Minister of Education.
“During the meeting, the Minister of Education requested that the Minister of Labour hands off the negotiation to allow him to lead and conclude what he had earlier on started with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).”
It would be recalled that many news outlets have reported that the president issued a two-week ultimatum to the Education Minister to resolve the issue.
Rather, Shehu, in the statement, added that the education minister promised that he could get an agreement within the shortest possible time, probably two to three weeks.
The Presidency, according to him, is confident that agreements can be reached in an even shorter period if all parties do not remain obstinate.
“In carrying out this assignment, the Minister will carry along all relevant ministries and agencies with statutory functions and duties relating to the issues involved,” the presidential spokesman said.
“On the part of the administration, all doors remain open for dialogue and the resolution of the issues.”
Meanwhile, indications have emerged that Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige has been asked to withdraw from the ongoing negotiation with ASUU.
The Matrix gathered that during a meeting between President Buhari and relevant stakeholders, the Minister of Education had requested that the Minister of Labour hand off the negotiation to allow him to lead and conclude what he had earlier started with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). And he promised that he could get an agreement within the shortest possible time, possibly two to three weeks.”
The Matrix had reported that ASUU had pointedly blamed Ngige for the prolonged industrial action embarked on by the union.
“Following the resumption of the strike action by our Union at the University of Lagos, on the 14th of February 2022, we participated in several meetings at the instance of the Ministry of Labour and Employment chaired by Dr Chris Ngige as “Conciliator”. 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 is speedily concluded within six weeks while at the same time creating an unrealistic pathway to arriving at a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
Similarly, Dr 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 manner the engagement processes were going, Dr Chirs 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.
It is against the principle of natural justice and the doctrine of equality for Dr Ngige who carries himself as if he has personal scores to settle with ASUU and shoots down the Union everywhere it matters to assume the role of conciliator.
The Trade Dispute Act, the principal legislation for labour relations, does not empower the Minister to assume the office of a conciliator. This is to guarantee the principle of ‘’good faith’’ in negotiations, which implies making every effort to reach an agreement, conducting genuine and constructive negotiations and applying them in good faith. A collective agreement is between an employer or group of employers or representative agents, on the one hand, and one or more workers’ organisations on the other.
To the extent that the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Education, empanelled the Emeritus Prof. Nimi Briggs committee to negotiate on its behalf with university-based Unions in Nigeria, the purpose of which is to create an agreement between the parties, that committee is the representative agent of the government. Any resolution(s), reached by the parties, such as draft agreements, are then to be ratified by the authorised signatories on behalf of the parties to achieve a binding collective bargaining agreement.
ASUU, therefore, makes bold to say that the Minister of Labour and Employment has taken upon himself the role of unabashed protagonist in our ongoing dispute with the government of Nigeria for some inexplicable reasons. Dr Ngige earlier told whoever cared to listen that he was not the employer of university academics and advised the union to march to the Ministry of Education. Nigerians may wish to know why he has suddenly turned around to constitute himself into an impediment to an amicable resolution of the ongoing crisis.
It would be recalled that lecturers in government-owned universities embarked on a nationwide strike on February 14 over the adoption of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) of the government as the payment system in the university sector.
They had also decried the poor funding of universities, non-payment of salaries and allowances of some of their colleagues, as well as the inability of the government to pay earned academic allowance to lecturers, among other issues.
Since the industrial action began, several negotiations between the union and the government have ended in deadlock.
Amid outcry over the effect of the industrial action on the nation’s tertiary education sector, various individuals and groups have asked the government to find a lasting solution to the crisis.
It is left to be seen if the latest effort will yield the required result and present an opportunity for Nigerian tertiary students to return to the classroom.