Two weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari directed the minister of education, Adamu Adamu, to take over negotiations with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and resolve the issues behind the protracted strike embarked on by the lecturers within two weeks, the parties involved are yet to make any headway.
Instead of calling of the six-month-old strike, the union on Monday extended the industrial action by four weeks, asking the government to use the period to address the remaining grey areas.
The president's ultimatum to Adamu on July 19, 2022, ended yesterday, with ASUU accusing the government of using hunger to punish its members by refusing to pay their salaries since February.
Buhari had on July 19 ordered the minister of labour and employment, Chris Ngige to hands off negotiations with ASUU with a directive that Adamu to take over from his Labour counterpart.
The decision was taken following explanation by Adamu about the reason behind his prolonged silence on the matter.
The minister of Education was quoted ad saying that his Labour and Employment counterpart, Ngige, had since 2016 argued "that only the Labour Ministry has the mandate to negotiate with striking workers unions in Nigeria."
On its part, ASUU had also blamed Ngige for allegedly complicating the crisis and making resolution difficult.
However, LEADERSHIP reports that the president's ultimatum elapsed yesterday without result, as ASUU has remained adamant, saying it will not call off the strike until their demands are met.
ASUU had on February 14, 2014, embarked on the strike to press home its demands for a better welfare package, revamping of the nation's education sector, among others, a situation that has forced many Nigerian students to idle away their time at home.
The union extended the strike by another four weeks, thus dashing hopes of students to return to school.
As Nigerians await anxiously for positive result following Buhari's directive, efforts to get an update on the order from the federal ministry of Education did not yield any result, as the ministry kept mum over the matter.
But ASUU president, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, who reacted to Buhari's directive, said the union was still open to negotiations with government's representatives to end the industrial dispute.
Speaking as a guest on Channels Television's programme, Sunrise Daily, Osodeke yesterday accused the federal government of using hunger as a tool to force the striking lecturers into returning to their classrooms.
He said their salaries have been held for the past six months, warning that the Buhari administration cannot use the force of hunger to pull the striking union members.
Osodeke said the federal government thinks that depriving the lecturers of their salaries will force the teachers to collapse and end the strike.
"Our salaries have been held, this is the sixth month or salaries have been held. They thought that if they hold our salaries for two or three months we will come begging and say 'pls allow us to go back to work.
"But we as a union of intellectuals, we have grown beyond that. You can't use the force of hunger to pull our members back which is exactly what the government is doing," the ASUU president said.
Osodeke added that the union, unlike other Nigerians, is hopeful that the strike would be called off at the end of the ultimatum as reported in the media.
He stated: "What we had last week was just speculation when we also heard on the news that the president has given the minister of education two weeks within which to resolve the issues. That was what people based their idea on that within two weeks the government will resolve the issue and then ASUU will call off the strike.
"It was based on speculation. We have our procedure; we the Union cannot call off the strike we must go to our branches.
"We were very hopeful that the strike could be called off this week. We thought that as soon as that announcement was made within one or two days we would be called to meet and negotiate. The issue remains that as of today, where we are can be resolved within 24 hours if there is seriousness on the part of the government."
On the issue of IPPIS, he said what has been happening recently is clear that IPPIS was just a fraudulent means of getting money from workers, noting that nothing has happened since the Union embarked on the strike.
He said, "If we take education seriously, if the children of all Nigerians, irrespective of your rank you are in Nigerian university, once NLC gave this warning early June, we would not have waited to do that demonstration, the warning was given the first week in June. Federal government was written to sort out this problem.
"If you don't within a timeline, we will have a protest, if that protest does not work, we will go on three weeks strike but they did nothing, then the protest took place last week and uptil today we have not been formally called to any meeting.
"This present government and even the one in the past they have absolutely no regard for the Nigerian educational system and the impact is very clear, any university you go to in the whole world, you will not see a Nigerian lecturer or student but there is no university you go to Nigeria that you see a foreign student or lecturers, except those whose parents are here, so why are our people leaving and nobody is coming in?
"As of now, absolutely nothing has come out of the negotiations," he added.
He further urged Nigerians to ask the government what it is doing in the past two weeks that minister of Education was asked to take over negotiations, even as he pointed out that all the issues in contention are important to them.
ASUU Strike: We Adopted Voluntary Conciliation To Fast-track Resolution Process-Ngige
Meanwhile, minister of labour and employment, Dr Chris Ngige, yesterday said the ministry adopted voluntary conciliation to fast-rack dispute resolution on the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) rather than arbitration.
Ngige who was speaking to journalists at a 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 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.
"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 is where they are before ASUU embarked on strike." Ngige said.
Ngige explained that 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."
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.