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As the Academic Staff Union of Universities strike continues to linger, with the government taking them to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria for adjudication following the failure of dialogue between the union and the Federal Ministry of Education, some senior advocates of Nigeria have condemned the continued strike and asked the government to look for ways of resolving the dispute.
They also noted that the Federal Government law suit against ASUU is ill-timed and ill-conceived.
Speaking on the continued strike, Solo Akuma, SAN, said it is very unfortunate that the Federal Government and ASSU’s dispute has degenerated to a level where there is no way both sides would not be blamed for the continued impasse. He added that the two sides have not properly managed the dispute in the eyes of reasonable members of the society.
According to him, it should be understood that what an academic staff renders is a contract of personal service hence he cannot be compelled to render a service he doesn’t want to render.
He said, “That is the basic truth; what is important is not going to court because ordinarily, the court may not grant a request compelling ASSU to go back to class when you have not met the condition upon which the person will work.
“The most important thing is to look at the issue act on it with all the amount of seriousness. The government should show good faith; maybe there is no good faith that is why ASSSU has been very pissed so let the government show good faith in the negotiation.”
As part of the good faith, Akuma asked the Federal Government to meet some of ASUU’s demand, insisting that this may make the leadership of the lecturer’s body call off the strike action it has embarked on since February 14, this year.
“I think ASSU will be made to change its stance on strike because of all this demand, we have not heard that government released any amount. Also, government said they will not pay them for the time they were on strike. Why is government paying those working in the refineries that are not functioning, so government cannot be selective but has to look at all these things and know what to do,” Akuma said.
Corroborating Akuma’s stance on the lawsuit against ASUU, the founder of Comfort Chambers, Olalekan Ojo, SAN, said that the decision of the Federal Government to drag the union before the industrial court is not the best option in the circumstance since “adjudication by the court is necessarily adversarial in nature,” explaining that government ought to resolve the dispute “via a non-adversarial method, that is through alternative dispute resolution.”
“A labour dispute of this nature is best resolved by Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism. Order 27 of the NICN (Civil Procedure) Rules 2017 clearly shows preference for ADR in labour disputes. It is my considered view that it is most inexpedient to refer the dispute to NICN.
“It is expected that the parties (ASUU and Federal Government) will respect the judgment of the NICN whichever way it goes. However it will be difficult to force the striking lecturers to go back to work on the basis of that judgment,” he said.
Another lawyer Yomi Alliyu, SAN, who supported the Federal Government action, said both parties are not above the law and since they haven’t reached a compromise either can seek the intervention of the courts.
He said, “Certainly there is a trade dispute between ASUU and its employers. There are many laws guiding trade disputes. Any of the warring parties can approach the National Industrial Court for their rights and/or interpretation of statutes. If the strike is illegal there is nothing stopping the court from declaring it as such. It is the best option in overriding public interest since all negotiations have failed.”
But a Professor of Law, Isreal Worugji, disagreed with Alliyu’s view on the Federal Government’s action, noting that government should not have allowed the strike action to happen in the first place.
According to the don, it is very strange that government is talking about no work no pay in a strike that has lasted for six months.
He said, “I cannot imagine that in the history of any employment relations trade dispute can take that length of time without being settled. Government is the employer; government has the machinery for settlement but government could not settle the matter but Government is rejoicing over the law that says no work no pay.
“It looks funny, it looks ridiculous. No work no pay is in the private sector, not government as an employer because the expectation is that government will not allow strikes to go the way we are experiencing now. “
Worugji said the Federal Government’s insistence on No Work No Pay would not have been an issue had the government, as an employer, not consciously and deliberately instigated the dispute to linger.
He said, “It shows the highest level of irresponsibility on the side of the government as an employer. They think university work is like factory work. It doesn’t operate that way. As of this morning, I was still doing the assessment of professors from some universities but who will know that I am still working? It is a very clear show of lack of direction and responsibility that government will allow strike to last for six months, only for government now to know that there is a Trade Dispute Act and that Section 17 and 18 allows a minister to take over the matter and go to the industrial court: Does it show a responsible government as an employer? Does it show a government that has people that are mentally alert, responsive to their duties? Definitely, the answer will be no.
“To me, government going to the court is buying time prolonging the period of the strike. Going to the court, the case is not going to be settled within three days, in Nigeria, it will take two to three months, I don’t know the wisdom of going to the court instead of settling the matter. Has government said anything about their agreement with the Committee of the Chancellors and Vice Chancellors? Is it not ridiculous that two days after that meeting, they went to court?
“The truth is that the government under All Progressive Congress, led by Major General Muhammed Buhari (retd.) has lost focus and Nigerians should be told plainly to forget about APC, for now. Going to court they are looking for more time, the matter cannot be settled there. Government should swallow its pride and address issues.”