…faults NLC’s call for high-powered panel
By Rita Ese
The Federal Government has once again appealed to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to call off their strike and resume academic activities without further delay.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, made the appeal on Thursday in Abuja, shortly after receiving notification letter of his nomination by Sun Newspaper Publishing Limited for the award of ‘Public Service Icon 2021’.
While noting that the federal government was committed to addressing all the industrial disputes by the various unions in the university system including ASUU, he explained that everything contained in the December 2020 agreement were religiously executed to the extent that the Federal Government aggregately paid N92b from the 2021 budget to cover the revitalisation funds and Earned Academic Allowances/Earned Allowances for non teaching staff.
He further faulted the demand by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) for a high-powered panel with requisite mandate to resolve all the disputes within 21 days, saying the President had already put in place his own high-powered team comprising his Chief of Staff, the Ministers of Labour, Education, Finance, Communication and Digital Economy.
On renegotiation of conditions of service of the university lecturers, Ngige maintained that the renegotiation must be guided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) principle of ability to pay.
He recalled that the former renegotiation committee headed by Prof. Jubril Munzali made a proposal of 200 percent rise in emoluments of university workers, but the Federal Government through the Ministry of Education said it cannot pay.
Ngige explained that the university system and the teaching hospitals consume two thirds of all the emoluments currently paid from the national budget of the country, meaning that an increase for the lecturers would occasion upward review of the salaries of allied professionals in the health sector, based on their different salary structures.
He said; “There is no point giving you percentages on paper that nobody can pay. Munzali worked out a percentage which placed the university workers on about 200 percent pay rise. The Federal Government through the Education Ministry said they cannot pay. The Ministry of Finance said they cannot pay. They came to me and I said nothing is wrong with renegotiation because even if a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is signed, it could be renegotiated.
“The document produced by Munzali was not signed by both ASUU and the Federal Government. It is a proposal. Manzali’s committee had elapsed. The Education Ministry didn’t act as I wanted. The Minister was away but his luietnants didn’t do anything for five months, contrary to my expectations. The minister has set up another committee headed by Prof. Nimi Briggs. They have been working and I have given them six weeks to come up with a proposal.”
On the payment platform for university lecturers, Ngige said NITDA informed him that UTAS proposed by ASUU passed user acceptability test but failed integrity and credibility test, which form the bulwark against hacking.
“NITDA said UTAS failed. ASUU said we didn’t fail. As we were discussing, ASUU went on strike.In the face of this disagreement between ASUU and NITDA, we are talking with NITDA to bend backwards so that there will be a handshake between UTAS and the government certified IPPIS platform. After embarking on strike, ASUU has gone back to what I proposed to them.”
The management of Sun newspaper led by its Managing Director, Onuoha Ukeh, described Ngige as a quintessential public servant whose contributions to national development started in his days as a staff of the Ministry of Health where he later retired at the management cadre.
Reflecting on his sojourn in politics, he described him as “an administrative czar and a nonconformist politician” whose thirty four months as Governor of Anambra revolutionalized the State.
“Ngige, as governor, transformed Awka to a befitting capital city during his tenure, tarring all the roads in the GRA Awka, dualised Nnamdi Azikiwe Road and put streetlights. The Agu Awka power station was given a big 60KVA sub-injector station to complement the Nibo Power Station under his government. He created the Ngozika Housing Estate and introduced reforms in the civil service
“He was one of the most visible senators of the 7th Senate, speaking in sup- port of motions and bills in favour of the Nigerian masses. A notable instance was when an anti-labour bill was smuggled into the Senate by the executive, as a Private Member Bill, and was almost scaling through to the third and final reading, he challenged the bill and inspired other senators to find their voices.”
He noted that as Minister, Ngige re-engineered the Ministry of Labour and Employment and the agencies under it while achieving peaceful industrial milieu despite huge national challanges.
“His labour diplomacy enabled the Ministry resolve through social dialogue, over 1700 industrial disputes while restoring Nigeria to the governing board of the ILO.”