…We ‘ll consult with our members; insist on not joining IPPIS
…We ‘re not aware of any strike action-FG
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabimaila has appealed to the striking members of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU to call off the industrial action for the sake of the students and country.
He also urged them to consider its psychological effect on the students and return to the negotiating table with the government to find a lasting solution to the crisis.
The Speaker made the appeal in a meeting he brokered between the leadership of the House, ASUU and the federal government in Abuja on Thursday.
Gbajabimaila, however, lambasted the government for not honoring the agreements between it and the university teachers which ASUU said were reached in 2009.
The Speaker equally asked ASUU to give heed to the directive by government of joining the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System, IPPIS with the intention of ridding the public service of corruption.
He said that the intervention of the House was hinged on its previous successful efforts which had averted many industrial strikes, citing those of the Resident Doctors and the Electricity workers as worthy examples.
The Speaker, however, exuded confidence in the efforts of the House leadership to end the ongoing ASUU/FG face off.
Recall that there had been a lingering face-off between ASUU and the Federal Government on the 2009 agreements and the IPPIS, prompting another bout of strike by the University teachers on Monday.
He said: “We have tried to avert strikes and we have been successful at it: Medical strike and electric strike. It does not speak well of the country. It has become almost perennial that at every point, somebody is holding somebody somewhere.
“There are basically two main issues here. Agreement and IPPIS. The law says you should give 15 days notice. The law is not there to be broken. The notice is to delay the inevitable. It does not in any way affect the strike.
“On the other issue, agreements are not meant to be disobeyed. There has to be something called sanctity of agreements. There are situations where agreements are no longer feasible through no fault of govt. That breach is excusable.
“We are calling the meeting so that we the national assembly can be a part of this agreement.
“ASUU, on the issue of IPPIS, I have heard and read you. Much as you may be right that ASSU should not be part of IPPIS, but we don’t live in a jungle. If the government has come out with a policy and for the good reason, you should obey.
“I think the optics may not be good for you. Government is saying register for this and an organization is saying, we don’t want to do this. There has to be equal application of the law. You don’t have to say we have defeated govt policy, well-intended policy.
“On your argument, every policy has to be tailored to the environment and policy of that country. We know there is corruption in every area of this country including ASUU, The Executive arm, Labour Union, Nigeria has its peculiarities and we must accept those peculiarities.
“I totally disagree with the government on the issue of agreements and violation of agreements, will-nilly. Maybe, If you were insufficient contact with your committee (House Committee), they could have made a case, to say no, we have to make a budget.
“I want to appeal to you; we cannot go on like this. I know government is ready and willing to listen to you and I want you to be able to listen to the government as well. There is a 2pm meeting. The chairman of the Education Committee should be at the meeting. Whatever agreement that is reached will be known to the whole world.
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“I called this meeting as a peacemaking effort to find solution. Give us the opportunity to be part of the negotiations with government. It is not a fight. It is a question of us listening to each other.
“It is almost embarrassing. National Assembly is appealing to you for the sake of us children to call this off, let’s see what we can achieve. It is a tripartite agreement. Please, give us that opportunity and confidence to deal with the situation. Schools are shutting down because of coronavirus. Let it not be said that we are closing school because of ASUU strike.”
In their response to the Speaker’s request, the National President of ASUU, Professor Abiodun Ogunyemi who came in the company of the immediate predecessor, Professor Fagge and other serving officials of the academic body said that the leadership cannot unilaterally call off the strike.
He said that the leadership would have to consult with the structures and membership of ASUU in all branches nationwide before the strike could be called off, however promising next week
He said that the strike was not a fresh one, recalling that the federal government has failed to honour the agreements of equipping the universities it entered with it in 2009.
On the IPPIS, Ogunyemi said that it was not possible for ASUU to join, saying that it would impede scholastic researches and image of the Nigerian universities both home and abroad.
He said: “We are not starting a fresh strike. On 7 Feb 2019, we signed a memorandum of action. Every item has a role assigned and timeline attached. We found that for much of last year, nothing concrete was done about the memorandum of action. Three letters sequentially, stating some of these. We have written and stated the issues. We highlighted and we agreed on the memorandum of action.
“On the legality of the action therefore, we are saying that they (Govt) are not unaware of what was going on.
“On January 9, we had the privilege of meeting with the President. We left that we should follow up on our action.
“We want to acknowledge the Hon. Minister of Education had met with us 3 times. That culminated to the suspension of the 2009 agreement. If we signed an agreement 2009, more than 10 after, no implantation, I think we should all be worried.
“My immediate precede is here. It was in 2013 that the issue was first brought to us. We told them it will not work. We wrote to them in 2014 to say, this cannot work. They said we should set up a committee, come up with your proposal, let’s consider. We did.
“Over 140 million dollars was borrowed to fund IPPIS. We have asked them to give us the challenge. We give them a system that will not cost them a kobo.
“We don’t allow the minister of finance to impose IPPIS on us. It is a matter of what is reasonable. Let them tell us the global best practice that informs that. It will shut the door against scholars and researchers that we need. Vice-Chancellors do go to other universities to ask
“We have told them, it is not about us. We have no reasons to cover up corruption. The IPPIS will localize our universities. It will bring us further into the abyss of low ranking. We have come up with a propose on university transparency. We have written to the ministry to tell them how we can resolve this strike.
“It is until when you say you are going on strike that there will be committees. Let’s look into this agreement that we had, the memorandum that we had and our universities system and Nigerian systems will be better for it.”
Earlier, the Minister of State, Labour and Productivity, Barr. Festus Keyamo had told the leadership of the House that the government was not aware of the strike by the lecturers.
He said that a meeting had been fixed by 2pm on Thursday for continued deliberations on the matter.
“We are extremely happy about this invitation by House. The issue is about the teeming youths at home following the strike.
“We in the ministry of labour up till this moment, we have not received any notice of any strike from ASUU. According to labour laws, ASUU should us give a 15-day notice of any strike. No agency of government received any notice. You must comply with the provision of the law.
“It is an illegal strike because it has not complied with the law. Government is not aware. It will be irresponsible of govt to take notice from newspaper reports.
“Government has been very proactive. It is our responsibility to apprehend any strike. A meeting is fixed for 2pm today. Everybody will be there. We are anchoring the meeting at the ministry of labour by 2pm.
“If I hazard any guess now, perhaps, I will be jumping the gun. On IPPIS system. If we want to go to the nitty-gritty of this issue, it may take a whole day here.
“We all know that the system is designed to fight ghost workers, corruption and all that. Government has said there will be a separate portal for allowances and salary. The BVN will not pay twice. That has been done for doctors. In IPPIS, they are fully covered. It is our appeal to them to help us cooperate”, he said.
In his remarks, the Minister of State for Education, Barr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba who was physically present at the meeting corroborated Keyomo’s position on the matter, saying that the Federal Government was handling it.