The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, has said that he had done what many could not do to forestall strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Ngige similarly dismissed insinuations that he was 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 had successfully conciliated 1683 industrial disputes since assumption of office in 2015.
According to him, he 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 ceaseless 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, were 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 maintained 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 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 the same for doctors and other health professionals operating under JOHESU. I promised in 2015 when the President appointed me that the era when agreements were left to gather dust 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 months of the strike. As a parent whose children with others already lost nine months of academic teaching, 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 bottlenecks and delays usually associated with public service bureaucracy.”
The Minister lamented that the ongoing ASUU strike had been prolonged because the university teachers have made negotiation difficult.
“Negotiation now is being made impossible by ASUU. For example, ASUU insists that the 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.
“And ASUU members know that fraud committed on payment platforms can run into billions. If a hacker adds zeros to hundreds, it becomes billions. NITDA brought out the report of its test on UTAS – that it passed the user acceptability but failed vulnerability and integrity tests- the two critical tests that prevent fraud.
“Again, I went beyond my schedule as a conciliator, spoke to ASUU and NITDA to continue the test and see whether they can make up the lapses and arrive at 100% because that is what NITDA insists on. That they cannot even take the platform at 99.9% of vulnerability and integrity. That they can’t take that risk on a payment system, that it can be hacked into.
“These are the issues. So if you hear someone saying Ngige is responsible, it is wrong. I’m not the one that implements it. I’m the conciliator. I conciliate so that there will be no more warfare and even in conciliation, once I apprehend , the parties go back to status quo ante- which means, you call off the strike.
“ASUU should have by now called off the strike because that’s what the law says. I have earlier while we convened the National Labour Advisory Council in Lagos last month, urged the NLC to which ASUU is affiliated to intervene in this respect.”
Ngige further revealed that Prof. Nimi Briggs Committee on Renegotiation of 2009 Agreement which ASUU shunned despite several appeals to them, had rounded off its assignment and submitted to the Ministry of Education. “ We will follow it from there . There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.”
Praising the late former Minister of Labour, Alabo Graham Douglas as a unique politician “who excelled in labour administration at the incipient era of this democratic dispensation,” Ngige said Nigeria has lost a patriot.
“Graham Douglas will be remembered for effectively managing labour between 1999 and 2000, a very difficult period for the tripartite community, having just emerged from a long military dictatorship.
He prayed God to comfort his family and grant him eternal rest.