The President Muhammadu Buhari Federal Government, through the Minister of the Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, has said that the Federal Government may be forced to take legal action against the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, if it fails to respond to the offers made to resolve the lingering crisis, and call off its 8-month strike,
The Minister stated this in response to a question on the seeming intransigence of ASUU.
The latest meeting between ASUU and the Federal Government ended in a stalemate for the third time, on Wednesday, as the parties again failed to resolve the issues around the payment platform for salaries and other benefits for ASUU.
Besides, ASUU is insisting that the N30 billion Earned Academic Allowances offered by the Federal Government, would be for its members alone, a demand the government team said is not feasible.
The government had offered N30 billion to all the Unions in the Universities, and another N20 billion as revitalisation fund, totalling N50 billion, during their meeting on October 15.
Recall, that ASUU had on March 23, 2020, begun an indefinite strike, over the Federal Government’s insistence on implementing the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, IPPIS, which the government said that all its employees must adopt for their salaries to be paid.
Besides opposing the IPPIS, ASUU also accused the government of not abiding by the agreements both sides signed a few years ago.
At their resumed meeting in Abuja on Wednesday, which lasted for over two hours, the parties could not resolve the contentious issues around the payment system to be deployed.
It was gathered that ASUU was still insisting on the University Transparency and Accountability Solution, UTAS, which it developed as an alternative to IPPIS.
The Union submitted a document on UTAS for onward submission to the National Information Technology Development Agency for evaluation and testing of the software.
Briefing Journalists after the meeting, the Minister of Labour and Employment said that the University Lecturers had earlier demanded N110 billion, for the revitalisation of the university system, adding that the Federal Government offered N20 billion and N30 billion, for earned academic allowances.
He noted that the N20 billion was offered to ASUU as a sign of good faith, based on the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, entered into in 2013, as a result of the renegotiation they had with the government in 2009.
Ngige explained that the government is committed to the revitalisation of the university system, but added that it is constrained by the dire economic situation occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Minister said: “This government is not against revitalisation, but this government says that because of the dire economic situation occasioned by Covid-19, we cannot really pay in the N110 billion, which they are demanding for revitalisation.
“We offered N20 billion as revitalisation fund. On Earned Academic Allowances, the government offered N30 billion to all the Unions in the universities, making it N50 billion altogether.
“ASUU is saying that the N30 billion should be for Lecturers alone, irrespective of the fact that there are three other Unions. So there is a little problem there. We do not have any money to offer apart from this N30 billion.”
Ngige disclosed that the meeting made relative progress on the UTAS, as the Union submitted their document on the software for evaluation by the NITDA.
He recalled that the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, had approved that NITDA, National Information Development Agency, should subject UTAS to an integrity test.
He added: “As you know last week, the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy had approved that NITDA gets their system (UTAS) and subject it to integrity test. This test should be conducted without fear or favour and as early as possible. So today (Wednesday), they have submitted the document for onward transmission to NITDA.”
The Minister further pointed out that the transition period for the payment of the salary and other allowances had not been resolved, as a result of the disagreement over the payment platform.
He stated: “One other issue that has arisen is the issue of the transition period. How do you get the Earned Academic Allowances that is due to you or any other entitlement that the government want to pay you?
“They want an exemption from the IPPIS, and the government side headed by the Accountant-General of the Federation, said that IPPIS is the only government-approved payment platform. So that is where were are for now.
“So we are all going back to our principals, and they will receive from me the irreducible minimum of what the Federal Government has to offer.
“The government side will meet on Friday, and after that, they will communicate with ASUU, and in communicating with them, if there is a need for a meeting, a date will be fixed for it.”
The ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said that his Delegation would consult with the Stakeholders, and revert to the government on the resolutions reached at the meeting.
More news later…