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Days after dragging the Academic Staff Union of Universities before the National Industrial Court, the Federal Government may consider an out-of-court settlement with the union, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
The seven-month old strike embarked upon by ASUU was declared by the president of the union, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, on February 14, 2022 at the University of Lagos. The union said it had to go on strike following the failure of the government to honour the previous agreements reached with the union.
Some of the union’s demands include the release of revitalisation funds for universities, payment of lecturers’ earned allowances, deployment of University Transparency Accountability System as the payment platform for university lecturers, renegotiation of the ASUU-FG 2009 agreement among others.
In a bid to resolve the strike and other contentious issues, the government had raised a panel led by the Emeritus Professor Nimi-Briggs to head the government’s negotiations team.
The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, had told State House Correspondents during a press briefing that the refusal of the government to agree to pay the lecturers’ salaries for the six months they had spent at home was stalling the strike. He said ASUU insisted that lecturers must be paid their salaries for the period they were on strike.
But the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige dragged the striking university lecturers to court.
In a letter dated September 8 and addressed to the Chief Registrar of the Industrial Court, Ngige asked that the suit be given an accelerated hearing in order to resolve the dispute between the union and the government.
He asked the court to interpret in its entirety the provisions of Section 18 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, especially as it applies to the cessation of strike action once a trade dispute is being resolved.
The suit which was heard initially by Justice Hamman Polycarp on Monday, September 12, 2022 was adjourned to September 16, 2022.
Out-of-court settlement possible
Meanwhile, a source in the Ministry of Labour and Employment who spoke with one of our correspondents in strict confidence on Thursday revealed that the government might consider an out-of-court settlement should the striking lecturers call off their strike and return to work.
The source noted that the reason why the striking lecturers were dragged to court was because of their failure to return to work despite the efforts made by the government.
The source said, “We may consider an out-of-court settlement if they agree to return to work. The reason we dragged them to court initially was because they refused our pleas to return to work. We met with them several times and made moves for reconciliation but they refused. The reason for going to court is for the court to compel them to go back to work. If they agree to resume, there is no need going ahead with the suit.”
Suit continues Monday
The National Industrial Court on Friday adjourned till Monday, September 19, hearing in the suit filed by the Federal Government challenging the ongoing strike by ASUU.
At the resumed sitting on Friday, counsel for the Federal Government, James Igwe (SAN), asked the court to give the suit an accelerated hearing due to the urgency of the matter to enable the students to return to school.
He requested the court to direct ASUU to resume work pending the determination of the suit. But the counsel for ASUU, Femi Falana (SAN), opposed the request, stating that it would amount to determining the substantive suit.
Igwe told the court that since the matter was already in court, it would be proper for the strike to be called off pending the determination of the suit.
Counsel for ASUU, Femi Falana (SAN), argued that the matter was adjourned to Friday for further mention and not for hearing. He said he had been served with the Federal Government’s motion for interlocutory injunction.
The judge said it was the issue for determination and therefore could not be resolved before hearing.
Meanwhile, the application brought by the Socio-Economic Rights And Accountability Project seeking to be joined in the suit was not heard as the counsel filed another application which was only served yesterday on the party.
SERAP’s lawyer prayed the court to withdraw the earlier application and substitute the same with the current one. The court subsequently struck out the earlier application.
The lawyer also argued that for the sake of justice, his application should be heard before entertaining other matters related to the suit.
On his part, Falana agreed that in the interest of justice and clarity, it would be proper to hear the application brought by SERAP pertaining to the same matter before the determination of other issues.
Falana added that ASUU was currently meeting with stakeholders to ensure that the lingering crisis was resolved. He appealed to the Federal Government to cooperate with the union to resolve the issue.
In response, counsel for the Federal Government contended that SERAP’s application was not ripe for hearing because he had not been served with the relevant papers.
Hamman subsequently adjourned the suit to Monday, September 19, 2022 for hearing. In his ruling, he said SERAP’s application was not yet ripe for hearing since it was only served on parties on Thursday through the ministry of justice.
Buhari meets Briggs
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on Friday promised to engage in further consultations with relevant stakeholders towards ending the seven months old strike.
According to a statement signed by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, the President told the chairman and some pro-chancellors of federal universities at the State House in Abuja, “I will make further consultations and I’ll get back to you.”
The statement was titled ‘ASUU strike: President Buhari meets with pro-chancellors of varsities, promises further consultations’.
The President said without necessarily going back on the already established policy, he would make further consultations and revert to them.
The pro-chancellors were led to the meeting by Prof Nimi Briggs, who said they met with the President in three capacities: “As president and commander-in-chief, as father of the nation, and as visitor to the federal universities.”
Citing the recent listing of the University of Ibadan among the first 1,000 universities in the world, Briggs noted that “the future of the university system in the country is good,” despite the seven-month industrial action.
Briggs commended the Federal Government for concessions already made to the striking lecturers, including the offer to raise lecturers’ salaries by 23.5 per cent, and 35 per cent increase for professors.
He, however, asked for “further inching up of the salary, in view of the economic situation of the country.”
The pro-chancellors also asked that the No-Work, No-Pay stance of government should be reviewed, as he promised that lecturers would make up for time lost as soon as an amicable situation was reached, and schools reopened.
The Minister of State for Education, Goodluck Opiah, said all the concessions made by the Federal Government were to ensure that the industrial action came to an end, but that ASUU had remained adamant.
NANS in court
The factional President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, Umar Faruk Lawal, has sued some ministers and striking university lecturers over the industrial action.
In his suit before the National Industrial Court in Abuja, a copy of which was made available to our correspondent, Lawal noted that the court had summoned ASUU executives, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, and the Minister of Education and that the court ordered them to appear within 14 days.
The document partly reads, “You are hereby commanded that within 14 days after service of this complaint on you, inclusive of the day of such service, you do cause an appearance to be entered for you in a suit by Umar Faruk Lawal (President, National Association of Nigerian Students) of Department of Library Science, Bayero University Kano, Nigeria.”
Kano approves N304m
The Kano State Government has approved the payment of N304m as allowances to 287 eligible academic staff members of the state-owned Yusuf Maitama Sule University.
A statement in Kano on Friday by the Commissioner for Information, Mallam Muhammad Garba, said the approval was given at the state’s executive council weekly.
According to NAN, Muhammad added that the installment payment of the outstanding staff allowances would be paid monthly with effect from October.
He added, “The breakdown of the amount translates to N297m for verified staff, while N6.5m is estimated for the settlement of 10 other academic staff. The names of the 10 others were inadvertently omitted during the previous payment exercise. The council also approved the release of N82.1m to the YMSU for the direct furnishing and provision of equipment at the Faculty of Science.”
He added that the council also approved N84.9m for the state’s University of Science and Technology in Wudil. He noted that the money was for payment to eligible academic staff outstanding Students Industrial Work Experience Scheme and Teaching Practice allowances for 2019/2020 and 2021/2022 sessions.