Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, has absolved himself of responsibility for the ongoing industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the three other unions in federal universities.
In a statement by the ministry’s Acting Head of Press and Public Relations, Patience Onuobia, in Abuja, yesterday, Ngige was quoted as boasting he has successfully resolved 1,683 industrial disputes since his assumption of office in 2015 and has been taking extra measures beyond his statutory responsibilities to forestall strikes.
Ngige also said the untiring efforts of his office towards peaceful industrial relations (besides sleepless nights as a parent whose children are also in public universities and who equally bears the brunt of the strike) are being undermined by an erroneous impression by some Nigerians over his role as a conciliator, and by the uncooperative and anti-labour attitude of the ASUU leadership.
The minister insisted that the role of the Minister of Labour is to resolve disputes and does not include the implementation of agreements reached with parties.
He said: “However, when conciliation fails, the minister is under obligation by Section 9 and 14 of the 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 Integrated Personnel and Payroll System (IPPS), 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. There is nothing new about the ASUU strike. It has been a recurrent decimal. In the last 20 years, ASUU has gone on strike 16 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 am the only conciliator lately, who has conciliated and put timelines on agreements and pushed all the parties 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 Revitalisation 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, 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 dusts 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.”
The minister accused ASUU leadership of making reconciliation difficult, saying: “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 per cent because that is what NITDA insists on, that they can’t take that risk on a payment system, that it can be hacked into. These are the issues.”
Ngige further revealed that the Prof. Nimi Briggs Committee on Renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement, which ASUU shunned despite several appeals, had rounded off its assignment and submitted its report to the Ministry of Education. “We will follow it from there. There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.