The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige said he has done what many other public officers cannot do to forestall the ongoing industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
ANgige also dismissed insinuations that he was responsible for the ongoing strike by the union.
The minister also expressed sadness over the death of former Minister of Labour, Alabo Graham Douglas, describing him as a quintessential politician who did his best while carrying out his functions at the Ministry.
Speaking on an interview monitored on Silverbird Television yesterday, the minister said he had successfully conciliated 1683 industrial disputes since assumption of office in 2015, and had been taking extra measures beyond his statutory responsibilities to forestall strike and ensure action is promptly suspended when workers’ unions make it inevitable.
Ngige also said the untiring efforts of his office towards peaceful national industrial peace were being undermined by an erroneous impression by some Nigerians over his role as a conciliator, and by the uncooperative, anti-labour attitude of ASUU leadership
The minister insisted that the role of the Minister of Labour was to conciliate disputes and does not include the implementation of agreements reached with parties.
“However, when conciliation fails, the minister is under obligation by Sections 9 and 14 of the Trade Disputes Act, Cap T8 , Laws of the Federation of Nigeria to transmit the results of the negotiation to the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) or to National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN)
“In the ongoing ASUU imbroglio, I’m the conciliator. I bring them to negotiate with their employers – the Ministry of Education and the National University Commission as well as IPPS, the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, all under the Ministry of Finance.
“At the end of every negotiation, we put down what everybody has agreed on in writing and add timelines for implementation.
“But let me tell you. There is nothing new about ASUU strike. It has been a recurrent decimal. In the last 20 years, ASUU has gone on strike, 16 times. So, there is nothing new as such.”
He said the new thing however was that he had done, “what Napoleon could not do.”
“You can ask them (ASUU leadership). I’m sure that in the innermost part of their hearts, they can’t sweep away my untiring efforts. I’m the only conciliator lately, who has conciliated and put timelines on agreements and pushed all the parties, the government side to implement and stick to the timelines. Such fidelity wasn’t there hitherto.
“Last year alone, based on the timelines I put on the 2020 agreement, they got N92.7 billion in terms of Revitalisation and Earned Academic/ Earned Allowances for the university system.
“I went out of the schedule of my office, to the Ministry of Finance, to the Office of the Accountant General myself, on occasions, to ensure these monies were paid.
“Yes, I did it. I did same for doctors and other health professional operating under JOHESU. I promised in 2015, when the president appointed me that the era when agreements were left to gather dusts were over and I have maintained it.
“I work even at odd hours, late night, at times far into morning hours to ensure things work.”
Ngige also recounted the experience in 2020 when ASUU went on strike and refused virtual meetings which COVID-19 imposed, adding that the union turned down all appeals by the federal government to call off the strike and engage the virtual teaching of their students as was done in private universities.
He said the federal government had no option but to invoke ‘No Work, No Pay’ in line with section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act after three month of the strike.
“ASUU should have by now called off the strike because that’s what the law says. I have earlier while we convened the National Labour Advisory Council in Lagos last month, urged the NLC to which ASUU is affiliated to, to intervene in this respect.”