ASUU President, Emmanuel Osodeke

Strike: ASUU set to appeal Industrial Court ruling, as NANS insists FG ‘can’t force lecturers back to work’

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Following a ruling, earlier Wednesday, by the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) directing the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and its members to halt their seven-month old strike pending determination of the suit filed by Federal Government against the public universities lecturers’ union, the latter has disclosed plans to appeal the judgement.

ASUU President, Emmanuel Osodeke

This is also as President of ASUU, Prof. Osodeke has urged to his colleagues to ‘remain calm’ in the aftermath of the court ruling compelling them to return to work.

It would be recalled that the Federal Government, Monday, September 12 dragged the ASUU before the Industrial Court for adjudication on the lingering strike embarked upon by members of the public universities lecturers’ union.

After listening to the application filed by the Federal Government, the court fixed Friday, September 16 for further hearing in the suit, but later postponed till Wednesday, September 21, as ASUU was expected to file its position at the resumed hearing.

Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, who disclosed in a letter addressed to the Registrar of the Industrial Court, dated September 8, as contained in a statement signed by Olajide Oshundun, Head, Press and Public Relations, said that the decision to head to court had become necessary following the failure of dialogue between parties to the trade dispute.

Negotiations between the Federal Government team and the lecturers had ended deadlocked over the former’s insistence on implementing the ‘no-work-no-pay’ rule, as ASUU demanded its reversal as one last hurdle before resuming work.

ASUU has been on strike since February 14, this year, over demands bordering on seven items, including; Signing of June 2022 agreement; Adoption of UTAS payment system; N170billion for NEEDS; N50billion for arrears; White Papers from visitation panels; Intervention on the Draft Bill; and Payment of salaries since March 2022.

In its ruling, Wednesday, Justice Polycarp Hamman granted the prayers of the Federal Government by ordering ASUU and its members to suspend their seven months old strike.

The judge held that the strike is detrimental to public university students who cannot afford to attend private tertiary institutions, adding further that the TDA mandates workers not to embark on strike once an issue has been referred to the industrial court.

“The balance of convenience tilts in favour of the applicant. I hold that this application is meritorious and this application is granted,” Justice Hamman ruled.

The court therefore restrained “ASUU, whether by themselves, members, agents, privies or howsoever called, from taking further steps and doing any act in continuance of the strike action pending the hearing and determination of the suit filed”.

However, reacting immediately after the court ruling, ASUU President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, said the union will take a decision after its meeting of the leadership of the union.

“We will meet and communicate our decision to you,” Osodeke.

Also, reacting, via a terse statement signed by the Chairman of Lagos Zone of ASUU, Adelaja Odukoya, the union urged its members to ‘remain calm,’ as it also disclosed that ‘its lawyer is already filing an appeal.’

“NIC Back to Work Order on ASUU: Be Calm.”

“Our Comrade President, Comrade Victor Osodeke, has urged members of our Great Union to remain calm as there is no cause for alarm on the back to work order delivered earlier today.

“Our lawyer is filing an appeal and stay of execution of the judgment. Members should remain resolute and strong. A people united can never be defeated. Solidarity without compromise.”

ASUU, therefore, urged its members and Nigerians to remain united, even as it suggested that the order would be vacated.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has rejected the court ruling directing striking university lecturers to return to classrooms.

A statement signed by its National spokesperson, Giwa Yisa Temitope, Wednesday, said the ‘judgement betrays equity.’

“Ordinarily, the Federal Government is not meant to have dragged ASUU to court.

“But, the fact that they had to drag ASUU to court is a signal that this government cannot handle crisis.

“And, we want to state categorically that the court cannot force members of ASUU back to lecture theatres.

“And, as it stands today, with that court judgment, we maintain that the court has not resolved the problem and we reject the judgment in strong terms.

“The court could have said that the Federal Government should go and pay rather than say that lecturers who are on strike should go back to classrooms.

“The only remedy to this strike action is for the Federal Government to accede to the demands of ASUU which the government willingly entered into with them and properly fund education,” the statement read.

The application by the Federal Government before the Industrial Court had asked; “The NICN to inquire into the legality or otherwise of the ongoing prolonged strike by ASUU leadership and members that had continued even after apprehension.

“It asked the court to interpret in its entirety the provisions of Section 18 LFN 2004, especially as it applies to the cessation of strike once a trade dispute is apprehended by the Minister of Labour and Employment and conciliation is ongoing,” he said.

He also said that the NICN are to interpret the provisions of Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act, Cap T8. LFN 2004, titled “Special Provision with Respect to payment of wages during strikes and lock-outs”.

Ngige said this ”specifically dealing with the rights of employees/workers during the period of any strike or lock-out.

”Can ASUU or any other union that embarked on strike be asking to be paid salaries even with clear provisions of the law.

“Determine whether ASUU members are entitled to emoluments or ‘strike pay’ during their period of strike, which commenced on February 14.

”Moreso, in view of our national law as provided in Section 43 of the TDA and the International Labour Principles on the right to strike as well as the decisions of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association on the subject,” he said.

He added that NICN should determine whether ASUU has the right to embark on strike over disputes as is the case in this instance by compelling the Federal Government to employ its own University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) in the payment of the wages of its members.

According to him, as this is universally used by the Federal Government in the nation for payment of wages of all her employees in the Federal Government Public Service of which university workers, including ASUU members, are part of.

”Or even where the government via NITDA subjected ASUU and their counterpart, Universities Peculiar Personnel Payroll Systems (UPPPS) software to integrity test (vulnerability and stress test) and they failed,” he said.

Ngigi also said the Federal Government further asked the court to determine the extent of fulfillment of ASUU’s demands since the 2020 Memorandum of Action (MOA) that the union signed with government.

The minister said their demands include the funding for revitalisation of public universities as per 2009 agreement, Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) payments, state universities proliferation and constitution of visitation panels, and release of white paper on the report of the visitation panels.

He noted that others are the reconstitution of the government renegotiation team for renegotiation of 2009 agreement, which was renegotiated 2013/2014, due for renegotiation 2018/2019, and the migration of ASUU members from IPPIS to its own UTAS, which is currently on test at NITDA.

”Consequently, the Federal Government requested for an order of the Court for ASUU members to resume work in their various universities while the issues in dispute are being addressed by the NICN in consonance with the provisions of Section 18 (I) (b) of the TDA Cap T8. LFN 2004,” he said.

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