FG, ASUU Face-off Still Worrisome

<strong>FG, ASUU Face-off Still Worrisome</strong>

Public universities have remained under locks and keys since February 14 when their main labour unit under the auspices of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, began a dispute with the Federal Government, FG, over matters relating to their collective interest which dates back to 2009.

It is disturbing that the nation’s tertiary education sector beside the university system has been embroiled in one form of discord with the FG over labour matters. The polytechnic lecturers under their umbrella body, ASUP among other non-academic staff unions have intermittently down tools to press home one form of demand or the other. It may not be justifiable to consider these demands outrageous or otherwise. But as we have often stated in various instances, both parties in these disputes must find a common ground to sink their differences in the interest of the nation’s future which the students epitomise.

With the lingering dispute between the ASUU and the government, and each side sticking to its guns, the unexpected scenario was the recourse to the courts. The union had insisted that it must draw emoluments for its members in the period that the strike lasted. A position differed from the government’s disposition which was in favour of a ‘no work, no pay’ policy among other issues.

 In an unexpected twist, the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, NICN, in Abuja ordered the ASUU to suspend its seven-month-old strike in deference to the government’s application.

The judge, Polycarp Hamman, gave the order in a ruling on FGs application for an interlocutory injunction against the ongoing ASUU strike.

Counsel to the government, James Igwe, Senior Advocate of Nigeria ,SAN, had filed the application seeking the court’s order restraining the ASUU from continuing with the strike pending the determination of the suit initiated through a referral by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige.

Mr Hamman, in granting the order, dismissed ASUU’s objection to the application.

The union’s lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, had urged the court to dismiss the government’s application, and instead grant an accelerated hearing of the main suit.

Mr Hamman agreed with the government that irreparable damage was being done to the lives of students rendered idle by the ongoing strike.

He said not granting the injunction would only cause additional damage to the ambitions of young Nigerians.

He cited examples of the National Youth Service Corps and employment in Nigeria’s armed forces where age is a requirement for participation and employment.

He also said the Trade Dispute Act prohibits parties from engaging in an industrial action when disputes have been referred to the industrial court, the Industrial Arbitration Panel ,IAP, or when a conciliator has been appointed.

However, addressing reporters after proceedings, ASUU’s counsel, Edorjeh Edo, said the union has options and will study them for further actions.

“There are quite a number of actions open to the union. We will study with the legal team and then we will adopt the most appropriate action”, he said.

Meanwhile, the President of the National Association of Nigerian Students ,NANS. Usman Barambu, expressed delight that the striking university lecturers had been ordered to return to class, “On this note, we want to call on the government to fulfill its own part”.

We are perturbed by lingering impasse which has returned to the courtroom as it may be the beginning of another legal rigmarole that may last another length of time to the detriment of a system that has been dragged behind in many respects. This is worrisome as the ASUU’s body language does not seem it is ready for a truce despite the court’s pronouncement.

Should the ASUU decide to appeal the order or seek further legal alternatives, it could jeopardise hopes of the lecturers’ return to school and deepen fears of a likely restiveness among students already threatening to engage in some unusual activities to protest their long stay at home.

It would not be expedient for the ASUU to extend its position beyond the current status quo in the interest of the students for whom they are guardians in the place. From all indications, there are still tendencies to seek other options to get their remaining demands met. They should temper their stance with ‘parental sympathy’ and return to the classrooms.

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