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Nigeria: Buhari orders Ngige to withdraw from ongoing negotiations with ASUU

The ASUU also blamed Mr. Ngige for being an obstacle in the wheel of the progress of the negotiations towards the resolution of the crisis.

President Muhammadu Buhari ordered Labor and Employment Minister Chris Ngige not to negotiate with strikers University Academic Staff Union (ASUU).

Mr Buhari, who gave the directive during a briefing of heads of various relevant ministries, departments and government agencies on Tuesday in Abuja, also endorsed Education Minister Adamu Adamu’s suggestion to resume negotiations.

Mr Adamu reportedly complained to the rally about the reason for his prolonged silence on the issue, saying his Labor and Employment counterpart had argued since 2016 ‘that only the Ministry of Labor has the mandate to negotiate with striking unions in Nigeria”.

The ASUU also blamed Mr Ngige for allegedly complicating the crisis and making resolution difficult.

The ASUU declared the position Tuesday during a press conference on the status of the negotiations. The union said the post had become necessary as part of its efforts to clarify conflicting positions allegedly linked to the union.

Adamu versus Ngigé

A senior source, who was at the meeting and spoke to PREMIUM TIMES confidentially, said that earlier reports that President Buhari ordered the Minister of Education to deal with the ASUU crisis in the two weeks were inaccurate.

The source said; “The president never ordered the minister of education to end the strike in two or three weeks. It was the minister himself who hinted at a possibility of ending the crisis in two to three weeks.

“But the Minister for Education said he walked away from negotiations following the position taken around 2016 when a similar issue arose and the Minister for Labor said it was his duty to resume negotiations and cited certain provisions of the ILO.”

The source said Mr Adamu said he was surprised that when his Labor counterpart presented the argument at a cabinet meeting at the time, none of the cabinet members contradicted him and the chairman said keep silent.

“Thus, education saw the president’s silence as an endorsement of Mr. Ngige’s position at the time,” the source added.

History of controversies

The latest conflict between the Minister of Education and his counterpart of Labor and Employment is not new.

The labor minister had in the past criticized his education counterpart, accusing him of not doing enough to address the manpower crises in Nigeria’s top institutions.

In April, while meeting with the renegotiation committee of the 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement chaired by Nimi Bŕiggs, professor, Mr. Ngige explained his challenges with the Ministry of Education.

In a statement distributed to the media by his ministry after the meeting, Mr Ngige said in the December 2020 agreement that he had given the government a timetable to return to the university unions who are their employees to settle everything.

He said; “I started pushing to get things done. What Munzali’s committee came up with is a proposal. Munzali and ASUU did not sign. In our last meeting in February before ASUU got together on strike, we said everyone should go back to their manager.

“As a conciliator, I have to use the working instruments at my disposal. The bosses of the Federal Ministry of Education do not feel the strike. There are things that are beyond me. I am not Minister of Education .

“I can’t go to the Minister of Education and tell him how to handle his place. But I told ASUU that you should bomb them at the Federal Ministry of Education to get this going. There’s several ways to do it.”

This was confirmed on Tuesday by the ASUU, which said Mr Ngige once ordered the union to “picket the Ministry of Education”.

Tuesday’s meeting

At Tuesday’s briefing, relevant government ministries, agencies and departments briefed the president on the status of the negotiations.

Those present at the meeting with the President were the Ministers of Education, Finance, Labour, Communications and Digital Economy, respectively Adamu Adamu, Zainab Ahmed, Mr. Ngige and Isa Pantami.

Others were Federation Service Chief Folashade Yemi-Esan; Chairman of the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, Ekpo Nta, and Director General of the Budget Office, Ben Akabueze.

A source present at the meeting told our correspondent that the president had ordered that the secretary of the federation government, Boss Mustapha, and Mr. Ngige serve only as observers and conciliators during the resolution meetings.

Plan of the Minister of Education

The source further explained that the Minister of Education promised to immediately start a series of meetings with ASUU to resolve the crisis as soon as possible.

The source said: “The minister has always explained that the agreement reached with the previous administration on the release of around 1.3 trillion naira to the university system is not realistic, but that around a quarter of this sum can be resolved.

“Furthermore, in the salary structure being negotiated, the minister is willing to pay a professor a salary of at least 1 million naira. unions can present them to their members for consideration.”

The source said that because the minister believes the speakers are patriotic Nigerians, the matter could be resolved.

“So the president, accepted that and asked him to take immediate action.”

The ministry keeps mom

The Department for Education, meanwhile, declined to comment on the matter, but pledged to make a statement available to the public on Wednesday.

In a telephone interview with our reporter on Tuesday evening, the press director at the Ministry of Education, Ben Goong, said he would not comment on the matter.

“I believe you know this is a sensitive issue, you wouldn’t expect me to just talk to you. But I can assure you that the ministry will issue a statement on Wednesday,” Mr Goong said.

The ASUU maintains its position

Meanwhile, in a statement on Tuesday, ASUU President Emmanuel Osodeke reprimanded the Minister of Labor and Employment.

The union has expressed reservations about Mr Ngige’s claim to be a peacemaker, accusing him of taking sides. The union said; “ASUU has always had serious reservations about asking for ‘conciliation’ from someone (Mr. Ngige) who took sides in the conflict, or from a shameless protagonist in the crisis like the current Minister of Labor and Employment It is antithetical to the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions (98, 151 and 154) on collective bargaining and tripartism.

“The Labor Disputes Act, the main labor relations legislation, does not empower the minister to assume the role of conciliator. This is to guarantee the principle of ‘good faith’ in negotiations, which involves to make every effort to reach an agreement, to conduct genuine and constructive negotiations and to implement them in good faith.