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Minister: ASUU strike illegal, shocking

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, has described the ongoing two-week-old warning strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) as illegal and shocking.

Ngige said the announcement of the strike “came as a shock”.

Speaking at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting on Wednesday in Abuja, the minister said the last discussion the federal government had with ASUU was that the union should nominate a person to “serve (on) the IPPIS committee”.

ASUU on Monday asked its members in federal universities across the country to begin two weeks warning strike in response to the government’s decision to stop the February salaries of lecturers who have not registered on the salary (IPPIS) payment platform. The union is also protesting poor funding, the proliferation of state universities and non-implementation of previous agreements.

Mr Ngige said there is nothing like warning strike. “It’s the withdrawing of services from which you are being paid,” he said.

“I was shocked that on Monday, just like every other person, I read and saw some people coming out of the university system that their lecturers have gone on strike. It is not cheery news, they didn’t give us the mandatory notice before going on strike; so for a start, this strike is illegal.”

According to him, “the government has consistently made it clear to the union that based on peculiarities, IPPIS can capture you. The only thing is IPPIS does not allow you to take a double salary. It won’t also pay a BVN two times.

“So if you go on sabbatical, this is the government’s position, what you should receive in that other place is an allowance. And allowance has a different portal, that is the portal that doctors are using.

“You know that medical consultants have an arrangement by which they are employed at the universities as Lecturer 1, 2 until they ascend to become professors but hospitals are paying them allowances for clinical duties being done, the teaching of medical students, surgical operations, consultations in clinics if you are a physician. So these allowances are captured but IPPIS will not capture two salaries for one person,” he said.

Ngige also said it is the staff of the universities that will manage the IPPIS.

“To solve the dilemma I have invited them to the meeting for tomorrow (Thursday). I have invited the minister of education, their principal employer, the finance ministry and the accountant general of the federation so we will meet and discuss the way forward because no employee is empowered to dictate his employer on how he or she should be paid. There is an ILO convention on it.”

In the 19 years since Nigeria returned to civil rule under the Fourth Republic, university teachers in the country have embarked on strike 14 times that saw them stay away from work for about 40 months.

The last strike by the teachers was in November 2018.

ASUU has been locked in a protracted dispute with the Nigerian government over issues of poor funding of public universities. Every time the dispute boiled over to strike by the teachers, negotiations between the two parties always produced agreements.

However, the government’s failure to meet the teachers’ expectations within the context of the agreements has been a primary reason ASUU has been on strike almost every year since 1999.

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