Following the decision of the Nigerian government not to pay the full salaries of lecturers, members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the University of Jos chapter have resolved to stay at home, though not on strike.
The ASUU UniJos chapter had a congress on Friday, November 4, 2022, where it reached the resolution to down tools pending when the backlogs are paid.
It would be recalled that ASUU had on February 14, 2022, embarked on a nationwide strike over the failure of the federal government to meet their demands. After a series of negotiations that ended in stalemate, the government through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, filed a suit at the National Industrial Court which ordered ASUU to suspend the strike while negotiation continues. Meanwhile, the government had also withheld the salaries of the striking lecturers which the union said must be paid before they call off the strike.
In the midst of the controversy, the speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila led a delegation that mediated on the matter and some resolutions were reached.
On October 14, the union suspended its strike and directed members to resume work immediately, in obedience to the court order.
In a statement signed by the ASUU chairman, UniJos, Lazarus Maigoro, released on Friday, November 4, 2022, it said one of the issues agreed upon at the meeting with the House of Representatives leadership was that 50 per cent of the backlog of eight months will be paid to the lecturers.
It said members of the academic body were shocked to see that the government reneged on the agreement upon which they suspended the strike, by paying them half salaries for the month of October. The statement said the lecturers were only paid for 17 working days in the month of October by the office of the Accountant General of the Federation.
Part of the statement reads: “One of the issues agreed at the meeting was that 50% of the backlog of eight months arrears of our withheld salaries will be paid to our members immediately but as at the time of writing this press release, only 17 days prorated October salary was paid to our members by the office of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF).
“Having stayed for about nine months running now, our members in the University of Jos considered this an insult to them by the Accountant General of the Federation. Is the Accountant General of the Federation actually answerable to the Minister of Labour?” the ASUU Unijos chapter queried.
The union said that Ngige is working behind the scene to frustrate efforts to pay their salary backlogs, by writing to the AGF asking that they should not be paid. It also accused Ngige of taking the matter personally and wasn’t happy with the House of Representatives leadership’s intervention in the matter, adding that his actions have given credence to what former ASUU chairman and INEC chairman, Prof. Atahiru Jega said about his attitude.
“We wonder why Ngige is only keen on withholding the salaries of ASUU members because staff of some Agricultural Research Institutes have been on strike for almost a year but they have been receiving their salaries regularly. Is this policy only for ASUU members?
“So, if today the Minister of Agriculture directs the Accountant General of the Federation to withhold the salaries of the staff of the Agricultural Research Institutes who have been on strike for over a year, will he obey that?
“We are also aware that the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige wrote a memo to the Accountant General asking him to pay our members only from the day we suspended the strike against laid down policy. By this singular act, the Minister of Labour and Employment has casualized the work of the University Lecturers, unfortunately. This further creates doubts in our minds as to whether the understanding reached with the leadership of the House of Representatives on some of the issues will be implemented at all by those who are saddled with the responsibility of doing so in order to avoid further needless strikes.
“From all indications, the Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige has personalized the matter between him and our union and is on a mission for vendetta. It has become crystal clear now that he wasn’t happy that the House of Representatives brokered a truce on some of the issues we went on strike for and has gone behind to undermine it. It is also very clear to us now why he shamelessly walked out on the leadership of the House of Representatives at one of the meetings with all stakeholders to the glare of all Nigerians because he never wanted any form of resolution to be reached on the issues being discussed and is having no stone unturned to frustrate it, even though he piously prides himself as chief conciliator of the nation.”
It further revealed that the Labour Minister had directed that some ASUU members at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Bauchi (ATBU) be paid eight months of withheld salaries which according to it, was paid to them earlier this week, adding that such was done “with the hope of causing confusion among our ranks but has failed dismally.”
It argued that university lecturers are under the direct supervision of the Minister of Education “but for some very strange reasons,” the Minister of labour directed that their salaries be stopped and not the Minister of Education, and queried whether Ngige has become the president of the country that his directives to stop their salaries and to pay them prorated salaries were being obeyed.
“In view of the bottleneck placed by Ngige towards paying our members the backlog of our salaries, the congress of ASUU University of Jos met today, November 4, 2022, and resolved to stay at home, though not on strike until the withheld salaries are paid.
“For the avoidance of doubt, our members are back to work, willing and ready to work but are unable to work. Based on the revised academic calendar for the 2020/2021 session approved by the senate of the University, lectures should have started already but the challenge of lack of payment of salaries has constrained our members from going to the classroom to teach.
“What this implies is that the students who have resumed already will have to wait indefinitely while we wait for our withheld salaries to be paid to us, unfortunately,” the ASUU UniJos chapter stated.
The federal government is, however, yet to clarify on the issue of half salary payment to the university lecturers.
The ASUU national president, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke who has reportedly confirmed that they were paid half salary for the month of October, expressed shock at the turn of events. The union has consequently, called for an emergency meeting apparently to decide the next line of action regarding the half pay. According to some media reports, the date for the meeting is not yet known.