The Ministry of Labour and Employment has faulted the National Association of Nigeria Students, NANS, for blaming the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, for the ongoing four weeks strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, saying the students’ body is ignorant of the facts.
Reacting to a statement credited to NANS’ President Sunday Isefon, Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations in the Ministry, Charles Akpan, said yesterday that the NANS’ statement threatening to mobilise students to disrupt the activities of the Ministry was inflammatory and misguided
According to Mr Akpan, the Federal Government had paid no less than 100blion to ASUU members, declaring that “Though neither the Ministry nor its officials who since November 2015 have successfully conciliated 1786 trade disputes, would wish to join issues with students who certainly do not have enough information about the commitment of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige to the return of stability and excellence to the universities, indeed his untiring efforts to enthrone a peaceful national industrial milieu, it is imperative we make salient clarifications on the misinformation and misrepresentation on what has become an unending ritual of a strike by ASUU vis a vis the ongoing action.
“The reason is to carry along, all genuinely concerned Nigerian students and parents on the commitment of the Buhari administration to resolve age-long challenges besetting the university system as well as apprise them of the steps being taken by the Minister of Labour and Employment in the discharge of his responsibilities in this wise.
“First is to note that university lecturers who operate under a union of workers, ASUU affiliated to the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC are employees of the universities being overseen on behalf of the Federal Government by the National Universities Commission, a parastatal under the Ministry of Education. The Federal Ministry of Education being in charge of everything Education is hence the employers of all workers in the education sector including the academic and non-academic staff of federal universities. The Ministry of Labour for clarity is the conciliator of disputes between workers and their employers in various Ministries, in this case, ASUU and the Ministry of Education.
“It is thus completely false that the Minister of Labour and Employment has not paid attention to monitoring the implementation of the December 2020 ASUU/ FG Memorandum of Action. Apart from the Federal Ministry of Education, other ministries, departments and agencies involved in the agreement include the National Universities Commission, Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget & National Planning, and Budget office of the Federation, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation and National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA. Though not assigned to it in the Memorandum of Action, MOA, the Minister of Labour and Employment has been monitoring the implementation of the MOA to ensure compliance.
“It should be noted also that until the Minister left for the African Regional Labour Centre Governing Council, 1st Post COVID-19 physical meeting in Botswana on 14th February 2022, the Ministry never received any official communication from ASUU on any impending strike as required by Labour Laws. Further enquiries at the Ministry’s Labour Desk in the Federal Ministry of Education in case ASUU chose to drop the notice there also revealed none. Only ASUU knows the reasons it is in regular breach of this laid down procedure for embarking on strike.
“Though not our mandate, the Minister of Labour has been pushing all affected MDAs to discharge their own side of the Agreement. For instance, though not explicitly written in the Agreement rather a “gentleman understanding,” the Minister to show good faith, wrote a passionate letter to the President to approve on compassionate ground, the payment of eight months salaries of ASUU members withheld for the period they were at home, refusing to teach the students either physically or virtually as was done in almost all private universities. The money was later paid in tranches of three months or two months plus December 2020. This is notwithstanding that ASUU performed no academic activities in that month of December.
“The N40billion Earned Allowances was paid in February/March 2021. The N30bilion Revitalization that suffered delay was paid in October/ with another N22.72billion mainstreamed into the 2021 Budget also paid November 2021. So in all, a total of N92.72billion was paid as per the December 2020 Agreement apart from the withheld salaries running into hundreds of Billions for periods, not at work, that is, No Work no pay as contained in Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act.
“The truth is that any strike by university teachers also affects Ngige and his children the same way it affects ordinary Nigerians. During the 2020 strike, the Minister doubled as a concerned parent and Federal Government official, having three of his biological children in three Medical schools in different public universities in Awka, Lagos and Abuja UNIABUJA. This doesn’t include the numerous fatherless and indigent students from all parts of the country that he is catering for under his Foundation’s Scholarship programme. It defies logic that Ngige as Minister whose children and wards are in public schools would sleep comfortably as university teachers shut down classes.”
UTAS VS IPPIS imbroglio
Continuing, Akpan noted that the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Finance in 2016 made it mandatory to pay all her workers in all Treasury Funded Government MDAs through the Integrated Personnel Payments System, IPPIS. The ASUU members picked holes in the system and described it as foreign packaged and not capturing the peculiarities of the University system. They opined that they were in the process of developing and providing a system which they named The University Transparency Accounting System, UTAS. This system was not developed when in 2018 all MDAs not on IPPIS was given as terminal date. During the 2019 Budget presentation also, the President directed that persons not on IPPIS shall not be paid from FG Treasury. ASUU went on strike.
He said “On a courtesy visit to Mr President early 2019, ASUU raised this issue. The Minister of Labour and Employment supported ASUU that if they have finished developing their system they ought to be encouraged in the spirit of Presidential Executive Order 3 & 5 that encourage homegrown human resources and local content, hence the system needed to be sent in for evaluation starting from the would-be Users Federal Ministry of Education/ National University Commission, NUC, and Federal Ministry of Finance /Accountant General of the Federation. Again not our job but the Minister of Labour facilitated, coordinated and personally attended these demonstrations with our officials all in a bid to make sure that things work out and thereafter sought the Federal Ministry of Communication & Digital Economy/ NITDAs cooperation, analysis and Testing of the UTAS.
“The system was to handshake with IPPIS as a first step. ASUU again went on strike in February 2020 saying their members should NOT be enrolled on IPPIS at all even when UTAS was not ready but that they should continue receiving their salaries and some allowances via the obnoxious cash system or the abolished recurrent GIFMIS system through which the Federal Government incurred a loss of about N750billion annually paid to ghost workers and other fraudulent financial sharp practice. Is pertinent to note that no employee is allowed to dedicate to an employer, mode of payment in his organisation in line with the ILO principle at work provided the wage/compensation is paid as and when due.
“This Strike stretched into the outbreak of Covid-19 and lasted till October /November with many stakeholders intervening to no avail and ASUU digging into their trenches and saying “no IPPIS but UTAS”. UTAS which in any case was not ready for use could not be deployed as it had already undergone the 1st stage of the User Acceptability test. Finally, good reason prevailed when some ASUU members secretly whispered to us and their leadership that as a matter of truth they were receiving salaries like other University workers that had voluntarily registered on the IPPIS. The 2020 agreement was born with a clause that ASUU members will continue receiving their salaries/allowances under this HYBRID IPPIS arrangement until UTAS passes all the tests viz User Acceptability, Integrity, System Vulnerability and finally the Hardware Compatibility. The hardware was to be sited in the NUC and NITDA was also to access the site to match Hardware storage.
“The Minister of Communication & Digital Economy being a past CEO NITDA had worked very hard with NITDA and put out the result which was forwarded to ASUU on the areas of pass and failures/ defects in about more than 200 tested areas. This was after our interaction again in October/ November 2021. ASUU analyzed the report and made their observations and disagreed with the NITDA report. Minister of Labour acted as the courier of the ASUU counter reports and asked affected agencies to get ready for a meeting of experts with a neutral Information Technology Development expert to assist our Ministry in order to put an end to the matter. This arrangement was still ongoing before this new one-month warning strike
2009 ASUU/ FG RENEGOTIATED AGREEMENT
“A Committee on this had initially headed by Dr Wale Babalakin SAN and later Professor Manzalli. This is an Education Ministry’s internal committee mandated by the parties to look into the issues of salaries/ Allowances in the Universities and another item of conditions of Service.
ASUU reported at the last conciliation that the committee had finished its work and handed it in but the Education Minister reported to me when he came back from a long sick leave that the committee was being reconvened to complete their work after which it would be forwarded to the conciliation meeting from where if both parties agree on the work, it would be forwarded to the Presidential Committee on Salaries (Wages)
“The Minister of Labour made this explanation and advised ASUU to get back to the Minister of Education so as to forward that aspect of the negotiation as their employers so that it will also be transmitted fast to PCS.
With all these explanations, it’s clear that the Minister of Labour has continued to be proactive on matters affecting ASUU and in fact, all the Universities based workers unions like NASU, SSANU, SSARTRAI and others prevent undue disruption of academic activities in the University system.
“NANS should appreciate the uncommon efforts and tireless work put in even far into the nights by the Labour Ministry & staff particularly when issues pertaining to education and health, two critical areas in our Industrial relations between employers and employees, now made very sour by the increased cost of living and low purchasing power of present wages.
“Our Minister appreciates this and that’s why some people accuse the Ministry of treating issues pertaining to workers especially the workers in these two industries with kid gloves and always going out of his way to please them most of the time. It’s therefore with pain and dismay that we received the NAN leadership unwarranted outbursts even as we also sympathize with the parents, of which our Minister is one and the students over this sudden stoppage of academic activities. You don’t go attacking a Conciliator or Arbitrator because a party in a dispute for some reason has not lived up to a timeline for implementation.
The Minister is in touch with the Ministers of Education, education stakeholders including the Leadership of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council NIREC co-chaired by His Excellency, Sultan Abubakar and CAN President Ayokunle and will work to address the grey areas as directed by Mr President in order to restore normalcy to the sector.