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The face-off between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government has shifted from the negotiation table to the court.

With the development, distraught students of public universities, who have been off classrooms since February 14 when ASUU began an industrial action, may have more days to stay in their homes.

It was gathered that the Federal Government had declared a trade dispute with ASUU last week.

It consequently proceeded to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) to stop members of the union from continuing the strike.

The case which was instituted by Labour and Employment Minister, Chris Ngige, comes up for mention in court today.

The government is asking for an order directing the striking university teachers to resume work in line with the provisions of Section 18(1) (b) of the Trade Disputes Act. CAP. T8. LFN 2004.

It said the strike was already jeopardising the national education system.

By Section 25 of the Interpretation Act, ASUU is expected to enter appearance even if the notice of the suit was served on it or its president, Emmanuel Osodoke, or left at the service address or sent by registered post to the address of the union.

In the notice dated September 8, Ngige stated that all efforts to end the strike had failed.

He explained why the Federal Government/ Ministry of Education resolved to refer the matter to NICN:

A trade dispute now exists between the Federal Government/ Federal Ministry of Education and the ASUU;

Members of ASUU have been on strike since February 14 even when the strike/dispute had been “apprehended” by the Minister of Labour and Employment;

All efforts to promote settlement through conciliation at the level of the Federal Ministry of Education (FME) and Tripartite-Plus Social Dialogue/Meetings have failed.

The minister said: “Considering that the public universities have been closed since the commencement of the strike, thereby jeopardising the national education system; and in conformity with the provision of Section 17 of the Trade Disputes Act CAP T8. Law of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, now, therefore, I, Senator Chris Nwabueze Ngige, the Minister of Labour and Employment in the exercise of the powers conferred on me by Section 17 of the Trade Disputes Act CAP T8, Law of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 2002 hereby refer this matter to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) for adjudication.”

The government asked the court to “issue orders for ASUU members to resume work in their various universities while the issues in dispute are being addressed by the NICN in line with Section 18(1) (b) of the Trade Disputes Act. CAP. T8. LFN 2004”.

Among other prayers, the government requested the court to determine “the legality or otherwise of the ongoing prolonged strike by ASUU leadership and members which had continued even after apprehension by the Minister of Labour and Employment”.

It also wants the NICN to interpret and determine the following:

“The provisions of Section 18, LFN 2004 especially as it applies to the cessation of the strike once a trade dispute is apprehended by the Minister of Labour and Employment and conciliation is ongoing;

“Provisions of Section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act. CAP. T8. LFN 2004 titled, ‘Special Provision with Respect to Payment of Wages during Strikes and Lock-Outs’ specifically dealing with the rights of employers and employees/ workers during the period of any strike or lock-out;

“If members of ASUU or any union that embarked on strike can be asking to be paid salaries even with the clear provision of the law;

“Whether or not ASUU members are entitled to emolument or ‘strike pay’ during the period of the current strike, more so in view of our national law as provided in Section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act and the International Labour Principles on the Rights to Strike as well as the decisions of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association on the subject;

“Whether ASUU has the right to embark on strike over disputes as is the case in this instance by compelling the Federal Government to deploy the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) in the payment of the wages of its members as against Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) universally used by the Federal Government for the payment of wages of all its employees (workers) in the federal public service of which university workers, including ASUU members, are a part of.”

The government also asked the court to determine the extent to which it had fulfilled ASUU’s demands since the 2020 memorandum of understanding was signed.

The areas it wants the court to look into concerning the agreement are:

Funding for the revitalisation of public universities as per the 2009 agreement;

Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) payments;

Proliferation of state universities;

Constitution of visitation panels/release of white paper on the report of visitation panels;

Reconstitution of government renegotiation team for the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement which was renegotiated in 2013/2014 and due for renegotiation by 2028/2019;

Migration of ASUU members from IPPIS to UTAS developed by ASUU which is currently on test at the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

When contacted by The Nation on the latest development, ASUU President Osodeke said: “We will attend the court session today.”


Govt’s earlier efforts to end the strike

In 2017, the government set up the Wale Babalakin committee to renegotiate the 2009 agreement on lecturers’ conditions of service.

The committee was disbanded and replaced with the Prof Jubril Munzali committee in 2020.

The Munzali committee reached a draft agreement with ASUU in May 2021.

After a year of silence from the government, the Munzali committee was replaced with the Prof Nimi Briggs Committee in 2022.

In June, the Briggs committee reached another agreement with ASUU. But the government said it could not implement the agreement, citing harsh economic realities.

After over six months of horse-trading, Education Minister Adamu Adamu unveiled the government’s offer to the university teachers last week after a meeting with Pro-Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors of federal universities.

The government, he said, can only afford a 23.5 per cent salary increase for lecturers and a 35 per cent raise for professors.

He said the government will provide N150 billion in the 2023 budget for the revitalisation of federal universities to be disbursed in the first quarter.

Adamu said N50 billion, which will be provided for in the 2023 budget for the payment of outstanding earned academic allowances, will also be paid in the first quarter.

According to the minister, the government was determined not to repeat the mistakes of signing an agreement it cannot implement.

Subsequently, a 14-man panel was set up to resolve some of the “contentious issues.”

The committee, headed by Adamu, was mandated to look at the no-work, no-pay policy and the lecturers’ conditions of service.


Court as the last resort

Adamu said the Federal Government had done all it could to end the strike.

He added that he met with the ASUU leadership at his home, office, and its (ASUU) secretariat in a bid to find a solution.

He said: “To be frank with all the unions, especially with ASUU, one major issue over which the government and the unions could not reach an amicable agreement was the issue of the law on ‘no-work, no-pay.

“In the spirit of sincerity, the government made it clear that it would not break the law.”

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