The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige has said that he has done what many cannot do to forestall strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU.
Senator Ngige also dismissed insinuations that he is responsible for the ongoing action by the union, saying that his work was only to conciliate and not to implement agreements reached.
Speaking on a Silver Bird Television Live Interview Programme, the Minister said he has successfully conciliated 1683 industrial disputes since assumption of office in 2015, and has been taking extra measures beyond his statutory responsibilities, to forestall strike and ensure action is promptly suspended when workers unions make it inevitable.
Ngige also said the untiring efforts of his office towards peaceful national industrial milieu , sleepless nights as a parent whose children are also in the public universities and who equally bear the brunt of ASUU strike, are being undermined by an erroneous impression by some Nigerians over his role as a conciliator, and by the uncooperative, anti-labour attitude of ASUU leadership
The Minister insisted that the role of the Minister of Labour is to conciliate disputes and does not include the implementation of agreements so reached with parties.
“However, when conciliation fails, the Minister is under obligation by section 9 and 14 of Trade Disputes Act, Cap T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria to transmit the results of the negotiation to the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) or to National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN)
“In the ongoing ASUU imbroglio, I’m the conciliator. I bring them to negotiate with their employers – the Ministry of Education and the National University Commission as well as IPPIS, the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, all under the Ministry of Finance.
“At the end of every negotiation, we put down what everybody has agreed on in writing and add timelines for implementation.
“But let me tell you. There is nothing new about ASUU strike. It has been a recurrent decimal. In the last twenty years, ASUU has gone on strike, sixteen times. So , there is nothing new as such.
“What is new however is that I have done what Napoleon could not do. You can ask them, the ASUU leadership. I’m sure that in the innermost part of their hearts, they can’t sweep away my untiring efforts. I’m the only conciliator lately, who has conciliated and put timelines on agreements and pushed all the parties, the government side to implement and stick to the timelines. Such fidelity wasn’t there hitherto.
“Last year alone, based on the timelines I put on the 2020 agreement , they got N92.7b in terms of Revitalization and Earned Academic/ Earned Allowances for the university system. I went out of the schedule of my office, to the Ministry of Finance , to the Office of the Accountant General myself , on occasions , to ensure these monies were paid.
“Yes, I did it. I did same for doctors and other health professional operating under JOHESU. I promised in 2015 when the President appointed me that the era when agreements were left to gather dusts were over and I have maintained it. I work even at odd hours, late night , at times far into morning hours to ensure things work.
“I recall that in 2020 when ASUU went on strike and refused virtual meetings which COVID-19 imposed, turned down all appeals by the federal government to call off the strike and engage the virtual teaching of their students as was done in the private universities, the Federal Government had no option but to invoke No work, No pay in line with section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act after three month of the strike. As a parent whose children with others already lost nine months of academic teachings, I approached the President to approve payment to ASUU on humanitarian ground, despite not teaching for nine month!
“I have also personally suggested to ASUU to appoint a general secretary and deputy as part of its secretariat to do the leg work, follow up on its matters, since its leadership, comprising professors, senior citizens may not stand the bottle necks and delays usually associated with public service bureaucracy.”
The Minister regretted that the current ASUU strike has prolonged because the university teachers have made negotiation difficult.
“Negotiation now is being made impossible by ASUU. For example , ASUU insists that National Information and Technology Development Agency (NITDA) should take the payment platform, University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) that it developed and deploy it for payment in the university whether it is good or bad , whether it failed integrity and vulnerability test or not.