The Federal Government, yesterday, raised the hopes of embattled students of public universities as it assured that the over three months strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) would soon end.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, in a chat with State House Correspondents at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC), said efforts were on to resolve the dispute largely caused by payment platforms.
He said contrary to insinuations that government was not engaging with ASUU, there have been series of meetings between all parties with the next one holding today.
ASUU began a strike on February 14 while SSANU, NASU and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) also commenced strike over inability of the government to address their concerns.
The minister said the government was interested in seeing the students go back to school.
“It will be resolved very soon. It will be resolved and very soon. To answer your question directly now…ASUU went on strike by 14th of February, we call Valentine’s Day lovers day. By 21, I cut short my trip to an African session conference holding in Botswana. And we held a conciliation on the 21st of February with the employers, the Ministry of Education and the National University Commission.
“As the issue is bordered on money, remunerations, welfare, we did another conciliation meeting inviting the Ministry of Finance, Budget Office of the Federation, National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission and again, with their employers on the first of March.
“After that, it became clear that two cardinal things were still keen: the issue of renegotiation of their welfare package, as in the 2009 agreements. That Agreement says you can review every five years. So that issue stuck out like a sore thumb.
“Then another issue arose in that agreement, the payment platform of University Transparency, Accountability Solution, which they say they’ve invented,. They said they don’t want to be on IPPIS, that IPPIS was amputating their salaries and taking off certain allowances. And so that it is not capturing their peculiarities.
“So two agencies are involved. The direct employer and university council, on the one side and Salaries, incomes and Wages Commission and Finance.
“Because the remuneration, the welfare package we’re talking about involves more fund on the side of government, two broad agencies are involved. There is also the payment platform, Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, and there are parastatals, the NIDTA, which approves every new portal or any digital platform we want to use in Nigeria now, especially in public service.
“So, NITDA has undertaken to look at that platform, and see if it can be useful and beneficial to government. No employee or worker can dictate to his employer how he or she will be paid. There are principles at work. But government gave this privilege in consonant with the Executive Orders three and five, for local content development, and I support it.
“So NITDA on their own was doing their test. And when NITDA gave their preliminary results, they said user acceptance was the one that they passed. But the whole thing is a total package of vulnerability, and stress test. Vulnerability – whether this platform or this system can be hacked into, without difficulty or stress, how many people can it carry.
“So, we now have to ask them to go back to these places, form committees with them. Education took them on the issue of 2009 agreement, which is renegotiation of their condition of service, emolument their remuneration allowances. Therefore, salaries, income and wages Ministry of Finance that produce the money are involved. So they went back.
“So that’s where they are, what we call tripartite plus meeting, based on presidential directive that the Chief of Staff, myself, finance, education, find the solution.”
He said today’s meeting would look at the progress report by the relevant bodies handling the crisis including NITDA on how far it had gone with the integrity test on the University Transparency and Accountability System (UTAS) which was proposed as an alternative platform by ASUU and the University Perculiar Personnel and Payroll System, (U3PS) proposed by SSANU and NASU.
Ngige said he was waiting the report of the Tripartite Plus Committee comprising the Ministry of Education, the Chief of Staff, Salaries and Wages Income Commission, the National University Commission, NUC as well as the striking unions.
Asked to confirm allegation that the government was planning to create a separate salary payment structure, he said: “It is work in progress. We have not given any preferential treatment to anybody.
“The remuneration is being looked at. If government decides to raise, which government is ready to do, it will be holistically done for all university unions because they’re all in the same environment. And we know also that once you do it in universities, the polytechnics will come, the Colleges of Education will come. They are all educational sector. And once you finish with the educational sector, we also know that health sector will come.
“So it’s complex, like you said, and so we are not afraid of handling it because government will do the needful. They have to do that within the available resources they have. So, I’m friend to nobody. I’m not friend of government and not friend to trade unions.
“There’s a rivalry. If you pretend there is no rivalry, it is a lie. Everybody knows there is a rivalry.”