The Federal Government on Monday extended its deadline for striking university lecturers to resume work. The deadline was moved from December 4 to December 9.
The government, through the acting
Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, had ordered the striking members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to resume work on December 4.
The Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Julius Okojie, announced the new date while addressing journalists in Abuja on Tuesday.
Mr. Okojie explained that “Government decided to shift the deadline after it received notification of Prof. Festus Iyayi’s funeral rites slated for between December 5 and 7.
Mr. Iyayi, a former President of ASUU, died on November 12, 2013 in auto crash in Lokoja on his way to attend the association’s meeting in Kano. The accident was reportedly caused by the convoy of the Kogi State Governor, Idris Wada.
According to Mr. Okojie, the decision is also to avoid a situation where government and ASUU will have to deal with the ultimatum during the funeral of the former ASUU President.
“We just received information that the burial rites of Festus Iyayi begins on the December5 and would last till Dec. 7.
“Based on this information, government decided to shift the resumption deadline to December 9, to enable lecturers to participate in the burial,” the professor said.
The executive secretary said the directive had been communicated to the various university Governing Councils and Vice Chancellors for onward transmission to the academic staff.
Mr. Okojie added that there was no intention to victimise any lecturer for participating in the strike.
He said the victimisation clause which members of ASUU were using to discredit the government never came up when the unionists met with President Goodluck Jonathan on November 4.
“On the November 4, Jonathan had a meeting with ASUU. In attendance were senior government officials, the Ministers of Labour, Finance, Education, NLC, TUC, SGF, Chief of Staff to the President and a host of others.
“I recall the remarks Mr. President made that day that something has to happen, that all parties had to find solution to the nagging problems of our universities.
“ASUU came out from that meeting which lasted for over 13 hours, to say they would communicate with us through their principal officers.
“Let me also emphasise that the drafting of that communiqué had the input of ASUU,” he said.
The NUC boss said he wondered why ASUU would return three weeks later, after it had failed to get back to government on November 8 as agreed, demanding addition of new clauses.
“The 2009 agreement stipulates that any party that wants a re-negotiation should inform the Ministry of Labour.
“If ASUU had said they would resume, but the outstanding issues must be addressed, government would have no choice,” he said.
On the N200 billion Revitalisation Fund, which ASUU wanted government to disburse within two weeks; Mr. Okojie said the money had been deposited in an account in the Central Bank of Nigeria.
He explained that the money could not be disbursed based on ASUU’s demand because it was meant for capital projects.
According to Mr. Okojie, the order does not require students to commence lectures immediately.
“The school environment had to be made habitable for both students and the entire staff of the universities.’’
He said any lecturer who resumed work after the expiration of the new deadline would not have his or her salary arrears paid.
“You cannot pay someone who has failed to resume work. You are on strike and you want to be paid?
“What if some has already left the system? Some of our very bright lecturers may have got jobs elsewhere.’’
Mr. Okojie said government, as employer of labour, could not fold its arms while the institutions remained shut at the detriment of students.
The ASUU President, Nasir Fagge, had earlier explained that the union did not add any new demands in its letter to the president. Mr. Fagge, who said the strike would continue, condemned government’s ultimatum; same was condemned by other lecturers and civil society groups.
The ASUU boss explained that the government’s letter after the meeting with President Jonathan was not a total reflection of what transpired during the meeting.
“In the ordinary meaning of the word “resolution” the government’s letter was not a resolution. The document was a report of Government’s understanding of the decisions or agreement reached on the matters discussed with ASUU,” he said.