Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) President Emmanuel Osodeke has criticized Labor and Employment Minister Chris Ngige and State Minister for Education Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba over their 2023 presidential candidacies.
Speaking in an interview with THE WHISTLEROsodeke described Nwajiuba as a suitor and comedian whose presidential candidacy could be described as a joke taken too far.
The ASUU president also chastised Ngige for recent remarks he made about the ongoing strike by university professors, describing him as biased.
Amid the ongoing strike, Ngige and Nwajiuba have declared their intention to contest the presidency on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), with Nwajiuba going so far as to pay N100 million for the ruling party nomination and expressions of interest forms.
For Osodeke, Ngige and Nwajiuba should not consider themselves capable of leading the country when the two ministers failed to resolve the persistent ASUU strike to allow thousands of Nigerian students to resume their studies.
Regarding Nwajiuba’s presidential ambition, Osodeke said, “You know, there are people you call comedians, they pretend a lot and they can do anything. I think that’s exactly what he (Nwajiuba) is doing. You cannot run a ministry as a deputy when the minister is not there and you want to run the country. We have wildcards in this country and that’s exactly what I think,” he said.
He added that it was because Nwajiuba accumulated a lot of wealth during his tenure that he could afford to pay the 100 million naira needed to buy the APC nomination and expression of interest forms.
“I thought it was just a joke until he paid, and that’s what we’re saying. They have too much money, they’ve accumulated so much money from the system, he doesn’t mind if he loses 100 million, that’s it. It’s just a joke,” he said.
The ASUU President also reacted to Ngige’s recent interview in which he described himself as a peacemaker who had done what many other officials could not to prevent the ongoing ASUU industrial action. .
Osodeke said the minister cannot be considered a conciliator because he is loyal to the government and a conciliator is expected to be independent of both sides on any issue.
“By all standards, this minister is not a peacemaker. A conciliator should be someone independent of both sides, but he is a government minister who even fights for the presidency.
“You can’t be on one side and say you want to solve a problem for both sides. He works for his employer, he is not a conciliator. If you call him a peacemaker, then he’s a biased peacemaker.
“A conciliator should be an independent body that will look at both sides honestly, not because you are already biased to one side. You are a candidate for the presidency of a country under the ruling party and you have said that you are a conciliator.”, he said.
He added that this is why the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) had advised the government to employ a team of impartial people to resolve the dispute, indicating that the ASUU may be unhappy with the renegotiation committee headed by Prof. Nimi Briggs and federally reconstituted.
“The NLC has told the government to put together a team of people with honesty and integrity, people we can trust, and ask them to solve the problem, they will solve it in two days, not those who are already biased. So every day that we have a committee of impartial, honest people who are looking at the situation as it is, then we will move forward,” he said.
In a recent interview, Ngige had said that the federal government could consider resolving the issue through the courts, particularly the national labor court or industrial arbitration board if reconciliation fails.
Osodeke, however, said that ASUU was waiting for whatever the federal government wanted to do, adding that this decision would not be successful as the government had gone this route once when Nigerian doctors were on strike and it did not have worked for them.
“Whatever they want to do, we wait. They did it with the doctors, did they succeed? They don’t learn anything from the past, that’s the problem we have with them. Instead of settling the matter , you talk about the court. When they sued the doctors over their salaries, did that solve the problem? Didn’t they come back and say let’s negotiate the issue?
“They just talk without looking at the implications on the country. Suppose they are able to force teachers back to school, what will happen to universities? Will the teachers teach well? Will they do their best like they did before? They don’t look at the system, they look at personal issues which are very bad for this country,” he said.
The ASUU President further said that there is no country in the world where trade union disputes are taken to court but Nigerian leaders are not bothered as it is a government issue.
“There is no other country in the world where people will talk about justice because of a trade dispute, they resolve it. By negotiation, not by force. If you do it by force, you destroy this industry.
“No businessman, no company will want to go to court with their workers to call off a strike because when they come back they will destroy this industry. But because it’s a government issue, they don’t mind, their children don’t study here. So no company worth its salt is going to say, ‘I want to sue my workers to call off a strike,’” he said.
Speaking about the deliberations of the renegotiation committee, contrary to what the Minister of Labor had said in a previous interview, the union had met with the renegotiation committee once but nothing significant came out of it.
“They invited us once, but they didn’t find anything. They said they went around to departments and parastatals to get their point of view, which makes no sense. The negotiation is between the ASUU and the FG, not the ASUU and the Ministries, so they don’t need to go to the Ministries. They were supposed to come to us either to sign this deal or to renegotiate, which they didn’t,” he said.
He added that the Minister had not called a meeting even though the 6-week deadline for deliberations had passed.
“The 6 weeks ended more than two weeks ago. The deadline was given to the committee on March 1, today it is April 29, more than 8 weeks. So they don’t do anything, they just pretend,” he said.
On Ngige’s earlier assertion that university lecturers were the ones prolonging the bargaining process and that only the ASUU could end the strike, Osodeke replied that this was untrue.
“We presented our case and we expect them to present their case and then the two sides will agree on something. This (strike) is something that has been going on for more than 10 weeks, we should have discussing it for a long time, and they say that we are the ones in the way, but they have not called us.
“So they are the ones who are creating the problem, thinking that they can use other means to make us call off the strike, which is not correct,” he concluded.
Ngige had also claimed that “last year alone, based on the timelines I put on the 2020 deal, they got N92.7 billion in terms of revitalization and academic/earned allowances for the university system,” adding that ending the strike is entirely up to ASUU because “the ball is in their court.”
Meanwhile, when accepting his presidential forms on Wednesday, National Education Minister Nwajiuba also claimed that the government had done whatever the union wanted, adding that although it was the duty of the government to bring the 2009 agreement signed with the union to life and ensure universities are well funded, government funding is very limited.
ASUU has been on strike since February 14, 2022 to escalate its demands, including the renegotiation of its 2009 agreement with the government and the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) to replace the Integrated Information System on Federal Government Personnel Payroll (IPPIS).
ASUU President Emmanuel Osodeke told THE WHISTLER in an earlier interview that the strike could be extended for another 4 months if the government does not respond to the union’s demands before the proposed end of the current one.
Some of the demands of university professors include payment of earned academic allowances, funds for the revitalization of public universities, promotion backlogs and insufficient funding of state universities.
The ASUU also insisted on the publication of the reports of the commissions of visit of the government in the federal universities and on the regular payment of the salaries of the lecturers.