Strike: FG Not Opposed To Higher Pay For Lecturers — Ngige

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ABUJA — Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, yesterday, briefed President Muhammadu Buhari on the progress made over the on-going negotiation between Federal Government and the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU.

This came as members of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, in Anambra State, yesterday, blocked major streets in Awka, the state capital, while protesting the lingering strike by ASUU.

Meanwhile, government has dismissed insinuation that the Federal Government was not interested in enhancing the remuneration of university lecturers, saying government was not opposed to it.

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Recall that ASUU embarked on a one-month warning strike on February 14, 2022, over the inability of the Federal Government to keep to the agreements it entered into with the union.

ASUU had presented its proposed payment platform, the University Transparency and Accountability Solution, UTAS, to replace the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, IPPIS, which the universities based unions have lamented has caused them hardship.

Speaking to State House correspondents after meeting with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Ngige assured that the government was disposed to comparing what they earn with their counterparts elsewhere and make compensatory increment if necessary. 

He said the Federal Government had so far paid over N92 billion as Earned Allowances and revitalisation fee to federal owned universities across the country as part of the implementation of the 2020 December agreement reached with the university teachers.

According to him, “Why I said that the 2020 December agreement we had with ASUU is on course in terms of implementation, there is a line that says the FG should pay N40 billion for Earned Academic Allowances, EAA, for ASUU and other unions, that has been paid.

“The N30 billion was also budgeted or was to be paid for revitalization that also was paid late last year. N22.127 billion was agreed in that December agreement, to be paid from supplementary budget as Earned Allowances for 2021, that money was also paid last year.

“It was put in the supplementary budget, which was passed around June-July and the money was remitted. So, the government has done that.”

On the controversial issue of introducing the UTAS payment platform as preferred by ASUU instead of the IPPIS, the minister said the matter would be revisited.

NANS blocks roads over ASUU strike

The protesters, comprising students from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, clutched placards demanding an immediate end to the strike.

At the popular Aroma Junction in Awka, the students formed a circle and danced for over two hours while road users waited patiently.

One of the protesters, Miss Chidimma Obiajulu, described as unfortunate a situation where students spend up to six years in the university for courses that should ordinarily last four years.

“I ought to have left the university last year, but the frequent strikes by ASUU had kept me in school, with the attendant financial pressure on my family. If this strike was averted, I would have been rounding off my studies by now,” she said.

Obiajulu, whose position was shared by many other students urged the Federal Government to meet the demands of ASUU, adding that the concern of the lecturers was to ensure quality tertiary education in Nigeria.

Minister has apologised

Meanwhile, NANS, through its National President,  Sunday Asefon, has said the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, has apologised to the student body for walking out on them during their protest in Abuja on Monday.

Asefon in a statement said after the initial altercations between the students and the minister, some prominent persons intervened and another meeting was convened with the minister, where he apologised. 

“Our first meeting with the Minister of Education on Monday, was tense, ended abruptly, because of our  radical stance which was necessitated by the untold hardship we have suffered from these incessant strikes and lack of adequate commitment to the development of the tertiary education system in the country. While the Minister of Education stormed out of the meeting, we barricaded the Ministry, but the Minister managed to escape the waiting anger of the crowd of students.

“However, with the intervention of the DSS, the Nigeria Police Force, the special appeal from the Executive Secretary of NUC, the JAMB registrar, and the unreserved apology of the Minister of Education, a new meeting was reconvened at the Conference Hall of the NUC, where the Minister of Education was also present.

The Minister apologised to NANS and the entire student populace for the prior misunderstanding, sympathized with Nigerian students for the avoidable situation and the strike,” the statement added.

We want to be part of negotiations

Also, the student body said it presented a three-point demand to the minister and other government officials present at the meeting.

“We presented our three-point demand as follows:  Urgent action by the Federal Government to end the incessant ASUU strike permanently

“We requested the state of implementation of the FG/ASUU agreement of 2009 be made public. The inclusion of students’ representative in every negotiation between FG and ASUU as the issues are triangular and students must be duly represented for the balance of interests.”

The association added that the minister described some portions of the 2009 agreement as unimplementable and that there was need to review such areas.

“The Minister explained that some of the items in the 2009 agreement with ASUU are not realistic and un-implementable and ASUU has been duly informed, hence the constitution of the renegotiation committee to review the agreement and do everything possible to reach a new agreement acceptable to parties. The implementable document which has been drafted and submitted to the government will be signed by Federal Government and ASUU to put a permanent end to ASUU Strike.

“While we await the resolution of the meeting between the FG and ASUU today, we have informed the Minister that we shall react louder and bigger across the 36 States and the FCT should the government fail to find a permanent solution to issues of ASUU strike.” 

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