FG apologises to Nigerians as ASUU ends strike

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• Explains Why It Headed To Cour
• Mixed Reactions Trails Resumption
• Students, Parents Express Delight, Lament Loss Of Academic Time, Resources
• We Suffered Most From Action — TETFund Boss
• Vice Chancellors Task FG On Trust
• NAU, TASUED Announce Resumption Dates

Students, parents and other stakeholders, yesterday, expressed mixed feelings over the suspension of the eight-month-old strike embarked on by the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU).

While some students expressed happiness that they would be going back to school following the suspension of the industrial action, others rued lost academic time and the additional costs they would have to bear to continue with their studies.

Many parents also said they were happy that their children would be returning to school, but appealed to the Federal Government to take steps that would forestall a reoccurrence.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government, yesterday, apologised to Nigerians over the delay in resolving the dispute, explaining that it dragged ASUU to court because negotiations failed.

ASUU had in a press statement in the early hours of yesterday announced the suspension of the strike and directed its members to resume all services hitherto withdrawn with effect from 12:01 on October 14, 2022 (yesterday).

The union, however, noted that the issues in its dispute with the Federal Government were not well addressed.

The statement, which was signed by the National President of the union, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, praised the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and other well meaning Nigerians for their interventions.

The statement read: “The National Executive Council (NEC) of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) held an emergency meeting at the Comrade Festus lyayi National Secretariat, University of Abuja, Abuja, on Thursday, October 13, 2022. The meeting reviewed developments since the union declared an indefinite strike action on August 29, 2022.

“During the intervening period, the Minister of Labour and Employment, through a referral, approached the National Industrial Court (NIC) for the interpretation of “the provision of sections 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 18 (1) of the Trade Dispute Act, Cap T Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, whether the on-going prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, which started since February 14, 2022, is legal even after statutory apprehension by the Minister of Labour and Employment. In addition, he asked for an interlocutory order against the continuation of the strike.

“The National Industrial Court in its wisdom gave an order compelling ASUU to resume work pending the determination of the substantive suit. Given the nature of the order, and in the opinion of our counsel, there was the need to appeal the interlocutory injunction granted against our union at the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal acknowledged the validity of the grounds of the union’s appeal, but still upheld the order of the lower court and ordered our union to comply with the ruling of the lower court as condition precedent for the appeal to be heard .

“NEC noted the series of meetings with the leadership of the House of Representatives led by the Hon. Speaker. Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajablamila, as well as intervention efforts of other well-meaning Nigerians both within and outside government and the progress made so far.

“NEC deliberated on the recommendations of the Rt. Hon. Femi Gajablanila-led Committee within the framework of the FGN/ASUU’s Memorandum of Action (MoA) of 2020 on the contending issues that led to the strike action. For the avoidance of doubt, the issues include: Funding for Revitalisation of public universities, Earned Academic, Allowances Proliferation of public Universities Visitation Panels/Release of White Papers, University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as a broad spectrum software to stop illegality and provide for an alternative payment platform in the university system, Renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement.

“While appreciating the commendable efforts of the leadership of the House of Representatives and other patriotic Nigerians who waded into the matter, NEC noted with regrets that the issues in dispute are yet to be satisfactorily addressed.

“However, as a law-abiding union and in deference to appeals by President Muhammadu Buhari, and in recognition of the efforts of Gbajabiamila, and other well-meaning Nigerians, ASUU NEC resolved to suspend the strike action embarked upon on February 14, 2022. Consequently, all members of ASUU are hereby directed to resume all services hitherto withdrawn with effect from 12:01 on Friday, October 14, 2022.”

Reacting to the development, a final year medical student of Bayero University, Kano (BUK), who simply identified himself as Deen, said he was very excited to go and complete his programme.

Deen said he was supposed to have graduated some months back, adding: “All the same, I’m happy that they have called off the strike. I can’t wait to be in Kano to rap up my programme.”

A female student of the Federal University, Lokoja, who pleaded anonymity, also said she was happy about the development.

According to her, she was supposed to be rounding up her 200 level, regretting that she was yet to write her 100 level second semester examination.

Another student of the same university, who also asked not to be named, lamented that she would have to pay another rent since the one she paid before had expired.

“I’m sad, because my parents have to look for another rent for me. I paid N150,000 for one year, now it has expired and I did not use it. I’m appealing to ASUU and the Federal Government to do everything possible to avoid this experience in future. It’s very unfortunate,” she lamented.

For a 200 level student of the Department of Microbiology at the University of Jos, Joseph Maxwell, staying at home for eight months was not an easy experience.

“The strike was very damning, especially when one would have been preparing to go to another level. This is coupled with the sit-at-home occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is too much to handle.

“ASUU has called off the strike. How are we sure this is going to be the last strike? What is government going to do to nail the issue of strike in institutions of higher learning permanently? Government should do something to that effect, at least before full resumption,” Maxwell said.

A 300 level student of the Department of Mass Communication in the same university, John Mamora, also said: “I am in Jos now believing that the school will resume on Monday. All I know is that I will not go back home until the school resumes. I have a friend; I will be squatting with him. I have stayed long at home doing nothing. I would have been preparing for NYSC now. Almost one academic session is gone,” he said.

On his part, Coordinator of NANS Southwest Zone D, Comrade Adegboye Emmanuel Olatunji, expressed joy over the suspension of the strike.

He, however, added: “At the same time, I’m not happy, because we are all going back to the suffering and hike in fees in our institutions.

“I believe we haven’t achieved anything and we should be preparing for another strike in months or years to come, as we have been experiencing before based on the current agitation by lecturers, as it has not been met by the government.”

Olatunji urged all institutions planning to hike tuition fees to shelve such idea. He suggested that school managements should instead liaise with the communities and landlords to assist students in reducing their house rent. He said this would avert the impending crisis that might occur between landlords and students.

A final year student of the Department of Pharmacy, University of Ilorin, Miracle Aliu, said: “I’m happy the eight months strike was called off; at least I would no longer be stagnant.”

She maintained that she was at a great loss, because the strike delayed her education. “My education was paused, which was not what I wanted for myself. I know where I could have gotten to without the strike and now getting job will be more difficult with the age limitation that is applicable for job seekers.”

A 500 level student of the Faculty of Law, Olabisi Onabajo University (OOU), Ibijoke Sanni, said students were at the receiving end despite the suspension of the strike.

“I have been a student of OOU since 2016 and till now, I have not graduated. It is pertinent to note that the Nigerian educational sector is now at the lowest ebb. Even though I learnt a trade to keep my self busy during the strike, our time during the period was wasted and the lecturers will still want to rush so that we can meet up with the academic calendars.”

Ada Anyafulu, a 400 level student of the University of Calabar (UNICAL), said she would start preparing to go back to school immediately, adding: “I was supposed to be nearing graduation, but because of the strike, I will have to spend more time in school. Nevertheless, I am happy that the strike has been called off.”

A parent, whose three children were affected by the strike, Alhaji Ismaila Ibrahim, told The Guardian that he was happy the lecturers have agreed to return to work, praying that it would not happen again.

“I’m happy that at last, the lecturers have agreed to go back to work. My children are happy; I have three of them in the university. The children have not been happy staying at home. It’s my prayer that this will not happen again,” he said.

An academic, Prof. Olajumoke Familoni, also said the suspension of the strike was a welcome development.

“The spiraling effect is negative for the country. It damages the society. The chunk of the students’ time has been rendered redundant and useless,” he said.

Amid the lamentations of students and parents, the Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Sonny Echono, in an interview yesterday, said the Fund had been waiting for when the strike would be suspended.

He added: “The truth is that we have been waiting for them. We are one of the people that suffered most from the ASUU strike, because they are very important partners in what we do. We like to get feedback from them.

“They have the right structure in every campus. So, we even involve them in the monitoring of our projects, similar to what we did in the ministry with our needs assessment, which they were very pleased with.

“So, we borrow that formula and we are waiting to commence our monitoring programmes with them and other unions because we want to be assessed and evaluated by our stakeholders so that they can give us advise.”

He called for financial autonomy for Nigerian universities as a way to address the incessant industrial actions, saying there was need to rethink the entire idea of education funding in the country.

According to him, government should not only grant universities autonomy, it should also take another look at its own policy regarding the funding of university education in the country.

“We need to rethink the whole idea of education funding to expand it to include all those grade levels and the participation of all actors; universities working extremely hard to generate internal revenue, attract grants, endowments and through the internally generated revenue (IGR), work towards self-sustenance.”

“Government should grant them autonomy. It should also take another look at its own policy. When you say ‘free tuition in tertiary education’ what does that mean? Because somebody has to pay and government should not take up burdens it cannot meet up with.

“So, if it needs to share those burdens, government can limit its involvement to those who are vulnerable, very poor, the indigents, and also encourage the very best, the most brilliant so that they can also excel and contribute to the development of the country.

“But government must admit that it cannot bear the burden alone but collectively; we should design a new funding architecture for tertiary institutions to address these issues,” Echono said.

The National President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Dr. Tommy Okon also welcomed the suspension of the eight months industrial action.

He described the suspension of the strike as a soothing balm to students and parents.

“We are very happy as a union that ASUU has suspended the action because an injury to one is an injury to all. But more than that is the fact that as parents, we are concerned. Having young adults at home for eight months doing nothing tangible is a worry. Having said that, I want to admonish government to do all within its powers to ensure that all the areas of disagreement are sorted so that there won’t be any reason for ASUU to reconsider its decision to suspend the action,” he stated.

At a briefing in Abuja yesterday to commemorate 60 years of leadership in Nigerian universities by the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVCNU), the Federal Government was encouraged to address issues of trust between it and the unions functioning in universities throughout the nation.

Secretary General of the CVCNU, Prof. Yakubu Aboki Ochefu, said it was the Committee’s desire to see a situation where Nigeria would never have disengagement of academic activities and see all issues that drove the process of 2022 strike in Nigerian universities resolved.

“We stated right from day one that there is a fundamental trust issue between the Federal Government and the ASUU, the unions operating in the universities. That trust issue arises from the fact that the Federal Government will agree on issues that have caused the strike and make commitment to pay or deliver certain reports, they commit themselves to resolving issues that have caused the strike and then they implement that position onto a point and they go to sleep.

“But we are happy that finally, ASUU and the Federal Government have been able to reach some agreement and what we desire is a situation whereby never again Nigeria will have disengagement of academic activities and fundamental issues that drive the whole process of strike should be sorted out,” Ochefu added.

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, who apologised to the nation in Abuja while commenting on the suspension of the strike, lauded the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, the immediate past President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Supo Ayokunle and all members of Nigeria Inter Religious Council (NIREC) whose wisdom and intervention raised a ray of hope while the strike was at infant stage.

A statement by the Deputy Director Press of the Ministry, Olajide Oshundun, reassured Nigerians that with the steps the Federal Government was taking, students would no longer experience intermittent, prolonged industrial actions in future.

The Minister also formerly apologised to Nigerians, students and parents for the unpleasant hardship the strike caused them.

“We were forced to migrate the matter to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) created by the 1999 Constitution as amended, for the settlement of industrial disputes because every channel of negotiation including the tripartite plus, in which eminent Nigerians participated in, failed. We were left with no other option than to trigger Section 17 of the Trade Disputes Act .CAP T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 on dispute resolution mechanism in seeking the intervention of the National Industrial Court.

“Now that ASUU has decided to obey the judgment of the National Industrial Court by calling off the devastating action, we apologise to all students and parents, of which the Minister is one, for this unduly prolonged strike, which is unwarranted ab initio.

“We wish to assure that with the decision, steps and measures being taken by the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, in holistic repositioning of higher education, a groundwork is being laid, of which we are confident, will save Nigerians this unpalatable experience of incessant strike in future,” Ngige said.

He added that now that strike has been suspended, government hopes that the National Industrial Court would deal with the substantive issues as contained in the referral letter by the Minister, noting that this would ensure that justice is given to all parties including ASUU and their employers – the Federal Ministry of Education who acts on behalf of the Federal Government.

Sequel to the suspension of the strike, the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, has announced that academic activities would resume on campus on Monday, October 17, 2022, following the suspension of the strike.

An internal memorandum by the Registrar of the institution, Philomena Okoye, dated October 14 and seen by The Guardian, read: “This is to inform staff and students of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka that following the suspension of the strike actions by all the university staff unions, the university management has directed that academic activities in the university resume immediately in order to complete the 2021/2022 academic session.

“Consequent upon this, students are to resume academic activities with effect from Monday, October 17, 2022.”

The Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijagun, Ogun State, also announced that the matriculation ceremony for students admitted for the 2021/2022 would hold on Thursday, October 20.

The Registrar, Adesanya M.B., in a memo to all students dated October 13, 2022, said: “Sequel to ASUU’s decision to suspend the national strike action embarked on since February 14, 2022, I write to inform all students of the university that the resumption date has been fixed for Friday, October 14, 2022.

“All newly admitted students are expected to perfect their processes of admission at the Admission Office.

“You are also to be informed that Matriculation Ceremony for 2021/2022 session admitted students is scheduled to hold on Thursday, October 20, 2022 at 10.00am while First Semester examination timetable will be released with the next week.”

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