University lecturers on Friday returned to work after the Academic Staff Union of Universities suspended its eight-month strike.
However, findings by Saturday PUNCH revealed that the academics had yet to get the assent of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) regarding the plan for a new agreement and the no-work-no-pay policy.
It was also learnt that the duty of paying earned academic allowances would from 2024 be the responsibility of the governing councils of the universities.
The union suspended the protracted strike which began on February 14 after an emergency meeting of its National Executive Council held at the Comrade Festus Iyayi National Secretariat, University of Abuja, Abuja, on Thursday.
But, in a press statement made available to Saturday PUNCH, it noted that the issues in its dispute with the Federal Government, including the demand for an improvement in the welfare of its members, had yet to be well addressed.
ASUU, in the statement, which was signed by its National President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, also commended the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, for his interventions.
“The National Industrial Court in its wisdom gave an order compelling ASUU to resume work pending the determination of the substantive suit. Given the nature of the order, and in the opinion of our counsel, there was the need to appeal the interlocutory injunction granted against our union at the Court of Appeal.
“The Court of Appeal acknowledged the validity of the grounds of the union’s appeal but still upheld the order of the lower court and ordered our union to comply with the ruling of the lower court as a condition precedent for the appeal to be heard.
“While appreciating the commendable efforts of the leadership of the House of Representatives and other patriotic Nigerians who waded into the matter, NEC noted with regrets that the issues in dispute are yet to be satisfactorily addressed.”
Speaking with one of our correspondents in Abuja under the condition of anonymity, a highly respected member of the National Executive Council of the union expressed displeasure that the lecturers were compelled by the court order to resume amid pending issues.
“We only resumed because of the court order. Yes, the Speaker intervened but to be honest, we haven’t got the green light from the President (Buhari). (On) the issue of earned allowances, no sharing modality has been cemented; the no-work-no-pay policy has not been resolved. The condition of service has not been agreed upon. Though the Speaker suggested that the model used for lecturers at Rivers State University, where professors earn more than N1 million a month be used, the President has yet to say a word.
“For the earned allowances, the last one the government will pay will be 2023. Afterward, the governing councils will be responsible for earned allowances from 2024. I also assume that you know that the issue of UTAS has not really been cemented; all they said was that IPPIS will be modified to accommodate UTAS,” the NEC member said.
Strike regrettable, unfortunate, says Gbajabiamila
While commending the lecturers for returning to work, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said it was regrettable that the union went on strike for a long period.
Gbajabiamila, in a statement on Friday titled, “Statement by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, on the Suspension of Strike Action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities,” added, “I am confident that the House will endeavour to ensure that the Federal Government keeps its commitments to the union and universities.”
“It is regrettable that this strike action happened in the first place. It is even more unfortunate that it lasted as long as it did. We must make sure it never happens again. The suspension of this strike does not mean all the issues of funding, education standard, and student and staff welfare have been resolved. Therefore, we must not rest on our laurels. Instead, let this be a call to action for the government, universities, unions, and citizens to begin the critical conversation about the future of public tertiary education in the country. I assure you that this is an objective the House of Representatives will pursue with dedication and determination.
Ngige apologises to parents, students
The Ministry of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, has apologised to Nigerian parents and students for what he described as an “unduly prolonged strike,” adding that the government was forced to take legal steps when every channel of negotiation failed.
A statement by the Deputy Director Press in the Ministry, Olajide Oshundun, on Friday assured Nigerians that with the steps the Federal Government is taking, Nigerian students would be saved from the unpalatable experience of intermittent, prolonged industrial actions in the future.
“Now that ASUU has decided to obey the judgement of the National Industrial Court by calling off the devastating action, we apologise to all students and parents, of which the Honorable Minister is one, for this unduly prolonged strike, which is unwarranted ab initio.
“It is our hope that now that the strike has been called off, the National Industrial Court will deal with the substantive issues as contained in the referral letter by the Honourable Minister. This is to ensure that justice is given to all parties, including ASUU and their employers – the Federal Ministry of Education – who act on behalf of the Federal Government.”
Meanwhile, checks by one of our correspondents revealed that some universities, including Tai-Solarin University of Education, Federal University of Petroleum Resources Effurun, Federal University Lafia, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka and Olusegun Agagu University, Ondo State, have directed their students to resume.
While TASUED advised its students to resume on Friday, October 14, 2022, FUPRE, Olusegun Agagu University, and University of Nigeria Nsukka urged students to resume on Monday, October 17, 2023. The Federal University Lafia stated that students would resume on October 30, 2022.
Meanwhile, lecturers and students at Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, have expressed happiness over the suspension of the strike. In separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria on Friday, some of the lecturers commended the union’s move.
A lecturer in the Department of Language and Linguistics, Mrs Chioma Ogbu, said, “I thank God, the strike is over, though it has done more harm to the system, including the curriculum. There is a need for peace and dialogue over issues between persons, the government, and the general public. The nation’s education has been moving backward due to poor funding.
A student, Kenneth Ano, commended ASUU for suspending the strike and described it as a relief to him and other students. Ano, a 400-level student, said the strike was as bad as a “disease” and urged the state and federal governments to always listen to the demands of the lecturers.
“Look at the rate of crime in society. This is because many students have joined criminal gangs and groups to survive. Criminality has been on the increase since the strike. Do you want to talk about the girl folks, many are now caring for babies and there are cases of unwanted pregnancy,” he added.
Some parents described the strike as an unpleasant experience that could have been avoided.
A civil servant and parent, Mr Willson Okereke, said, “I am happy with the development but want the federal government to always put a mechanism in place to solve issues before they get out of hand,” Okereke said.
Another parent, Greg Ejike, enjoined the government to bring a permanent solution to its educational development. A mother in the Federal Capital Territory, Mrs Rosemary Adejoh, who said she would have to spend extra money for her three children at the Federal University of Technology, Minna, called for a permanent solution to problems responsible for the strike.
“My appeal is for a permanent solution to end the strike so that our children can graduate within the stipulated years of their courses,” she added.
Coercing lecturers unjust, says UNILAG ASUU
However, the University of Lagos chapter of ASUU has said it is unjust for the lecturers to be forced to return to work.
The chairman of the chapter, Dr Dele Ashiru, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said, “This development has been well-thrashed in a lawyers’ forum and the takeaways are these: the order of the Appeal Court with the conditions surrounding it is incapable of being complied with. Where is the justice in coercing ASUU to comply with what they want to appeal against?”