There seems to be no end in sight to the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities as the Federal Government says it is still studying the fresh demands made by the union.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, disclosed this on Wednesday while responding to an enquiry by one of our correspondents.
The correspondent had, in an SMS, asked if a date had been fixed for a meeting between the Federal Government and ASUU.
Ngige, who responded through an SMS, said, “No. Government side is still studying their new demands with the Vice-President (Prof. Yemi Osinbajo) as mandated by FEC (the Federal Executive Council).”
Although both the Federal Government and ASUU failed to disclose the fresh demands by the university teachers, there were reports on Wednesday that the union asked the Federal Government to pay the shortfall in salaries in the universities.
The reports also indicated that the union wanted universities to manage their internally generated revenue and grant a waiver to Universities Pension Management Company.
At the August 17 meeting with ASUU, the Federal Government rejected the demand of ASUU that universities should be exempted from the Treasury Single Account.
ASUU, on August 13, began a nationwide strike over the failure of the government to implement an agreement it reached with the union in 2009.
The union also alleged that the Federal Government did not implement the Memorandum of Understanding the two sides signed in 2013.
I’ve not been invited to any meeting –ASUU president
When contacted on Wednesday, ASUU said the Federal Government had responded to its August 28, 2017 letter.
The union had, in the letter, listed the minimum demands that must be met before it would call off the ongoing strike.
The ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, stated that the government had responded to the fresh letter, adding that the union would deliberate on the response before accepting or rejecting the offer.
“Yes, they (government) have responded to our letter and we are discussing with them. We will discuss their offer with our members and then get back to them,” he said on the telephone, but declined to provide further details.
When asked if the union had a meeting with government officials on Wednesday, Ogunyemi said, “No, I have not been invited to any meeting, we have only received a response to our letter.”
ASUU had, on Tuesday, boycotted a scheduled meeting with a Federal Government delegation in Abuja.
Asked if the government had paid the N23bn, a source stated, “No, I didn’t think they have paid anything. They have an offer to what they said they would pay and ASUU gave what it said was a counter position.”
The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, had said on August 18, 2017 that the Federal Government had offered to release N23bn to ASUU.
The government had insisted that the sum of N30bn released to the universities should be subjected to forensic investigation.
Investigation by one of our correspondents revealed that there were no signs that the meeting scheduled to hold between the union and the government on Wednesday or Thursday would take place.
Officials of the ministry, who confided in The PUNCH, said there was no mention of the meeting from the office of the Minister of Labour and Employment.
It was learnt that the minister would have a meeting with the National Association of Resident Doctors in his office at 10 am on Thursday.
The PUNCH could not get the Deputy Director in charge of Press, Mr. Samuel Olowookere, and the Special Assistant to the Minister, Mr. Nwachukwu Obidiwe, to comment on the issue as they did not return calls to their telephones on Thursday.
The Federal Government’s negotiation team with the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities will now be headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, said this during an interview with State House correspondents at the end of Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Ngige said the government would ensure that an agreement was reached so that the striking university teachers could return to work.
The minister stated, “The government thanks the parents and even the students, who are supposed to take their examinations now but have been forced by circumstances beyond their control to stay at home. I have one of my children at home as we speak.
“Government will make sure that we reach a conclusive agreement with ASUU so that they can go back to the classrooms. This is the first national strike that this government is facing and we want to discuss.
“At council today, the Vice-President has taken over some of the aspects of the negotiations and discussions. So, we are continuing the meeting in his office and when we finish meeting, we will get back to ASUU for another round of meeting.
“We are hopeful that we will be able to go to an appreciable extent to solve some of the outstanding issues that are preventing them from going back to work.”
Four ministers on minimum wage panel –Ngige
Meanwhile, Ngige announced that the National Minimum Wage Committee on the government’s side had been constituted with four ministers as members.
Although he said the chairman had been nominated, Ngige said the nominee would only be unveiled after all members of the committee had been named.
He added that the government was still expecting nominees from the private sector. This is responsible for the delay in the announcement.
Ngige said, “The National Minimum Wage committee on the government’s side is ready.
“We have on the government’s side four ministers – ministers of Labour and Employment; Finance; and Budget and Planning. I can’t remember the last one now but we have our team ready.
“We also have the Head of Service of the Federation and the acting Secretary to the Government (of the Federation) on the government’s team. The chairman will be unveiled when we have full component of the committee.
“The aspect that is delaying us from inaugurating the committee is the organised private sector. The organised private sector has eight representatives of which Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association has four nominations; we have not got their nominations.
“The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria has two nominations; its nominations just came in yesterday.
“Nigeria Association of Small and Medium Enterprises has one; it has not sent in its nomination.
‘‘The Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industy, Mines and Agriculture has not sent in its nominations. So we are waiting for these nominations. ‘‘When they come in, the government will nominate the chairman and inaugurate the committee.”