The federal government has threatened to revoke the Academic Staff Union of Universities’ (ASUU) Certificate of Registration (CoR) in response to the union’s continued strike action.
The threat followed the government’s insistence that the National Industrial Court (NIC) ruling forcing university instructors back to the classrooms would have no bearing on discussions with the union.
The government has threatened to remove the union’s CoR due to its alleged inability to provide audited financial reports as required by law in the previous five years. It was learned that the government has asked the union, via the Registrar of Trade Unions, why its CoR should not be revoked for operating.
The minister said he has asked the Registrar of the Trade Unions not to allow the hammer of the law to descend on ASUU because of the prolonged strike as any action taken by the government would be wrongly interpreted. He noted that going by the provisions of the law, the leadership of the university based unions that collect check-off dues from their members were mandated to render an account on how the money was spent.
But ASUU President Prof Emmanuel Osodeke described the planned move to de-register ASUU as a trade union as an attempt by the minister to blackmail the university lecturers back to work. The ASUU boss urged President Muhammadu Buhari administration to investigate how the minister has used the ASUU strike to undermine the government and the interest of students.
Ngige alleged: “ASUU has not responded to the relevant Section of Trade Union Creation for submission of audited accounts. How do they utilise their money?
“The money they collect as check-off dues, should be accounted for. So, the Trade Union Act says that in June of any given year, unions should produce audited accounts at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.
“The Registrar of Trade Unions has written to them to show why we should not withdraw their certificate of registration. They have not responded to the letter. Rather, I learned that they came last Friday with bundles of papers and said they are the audited accounts.
“Of course, he rightly told them that ‘I didn’t ask you for your audited accounts anymore. I need you to respond to my query on why disciplinary action should not be taken against you.
“If disciplinary action is taken against ASUU now, although I am restraining it, they will say that it is because we are in court. They will say that we are being victimised because we are on strike. We are being punished. Whereas, they have been running foul of the law.
“Five good years, they have not tendered an audited account of their activities, at least, for the benefit of their members. For now, you are their members. They should give you an account of how they spent your money. They have not done so.”
Speaking of the ASUU strike, Ngige said: “You went on strike. The Minister of Labour brought you here one week after and we discussed seven items one after the other and agreed on five of the items.
“The two items we couldn’t reach agreement on are the usage of UTAS; we asked NITDA to go back and test. We met with the traditional rulers, Sultan and NIREC and asked NITDA to give us a report in six weeks.
“We asked them to go to Education Ministry to negotiate their conditions of service, which is the only thing outstanding in the renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement.
“When you say the government is not implementing the 2009 Agreement, it is not true. It was in the renegotiation of 2009 in 2013 that President Jonathan and his team agreed to pay you N1.3 trillion – N220b every year for six years. Maybe because they knew they were going away. But that was what they agreed on.
“By 2019, we had reconciled here again. But, we said this government is unable to meet your demand. What do we do? We structured a payment plan for one single tranche of N220 billion.
“This government started paying. They have paid N50 billion or so. I am not sure, but we asked them to go and reconcile the figures from the Budget Office and ASUU. When they say the 2009 agreement, the public is deceived. It is the 2009 revitalisation of the government of Goodluck Jonathan we couldn’t pay. It is not wrong for the government to say it is unable to pay.
“Let us restructure our debt or our promise to you. It was an agreement. A Collective Bargaining Agreement can be renegotiated anytime. That is where we are.
“Another thing to be renegotiated was their conditions of service, to include salaries scale, which is the CONUASS. We referred that one back to the Education Ministry, their primary employer.
The ministry (Education) invited Chairmen of Councils, with Prof. Mini Briggs to chair the renegotiation committee. What also will guide that negotiation is the availability of the fund and by extension, the ability to pay, which is the ILO principle in wage fixing mechanism.
“It is not enough to say I will give you N1.3 trillion and not pay it. That is why the negotiation went on and different proposals were made. Those proposals are now the subject of contention. When the committee on education gave them a proposal on what they can pay, they did not do enough consultation with the government.
“They did not consult the Minister of Finance. They did not consult the Budget Office of the Federation. They did not consult the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission.”