ASUU’ll call off strike soon, says Ngige

The Federal Government on Wednesday said the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities would soon be called off.

This was as it said there are no plans to establish an alternative payment platform for all the labour unions in tertiary institutions.

Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, disclosed this while fielding questions from State House Correspondents at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by the President Muhammadu Buhari, at the Council Chambers of the presidential villa, Abuja.

“It will be resolved very soon. It will be resolved and very soon,” Ngige said on Wednesday.

Despite four months into the strike already, he assured Nigerians that efforts were underway to resolve the ongoing dispute largely fueled by payment platforms.

ASUU, which grounded academic activities in Nigerian universities since February 14, 2022, had insisted on the use of its own generated payment platform, the University Transparency and Accountability Solution.

It premised its demand on claims that the government-backed Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System was shortchanging its members.

However, the Federal Government, last March, claimed that UTAS was unfit for wide-scale use as it failed three integrity tests. According to Ngige, UTAS only scaled through the user acceptance criteria but performed poorly in stress tolerance and immunity to cyberattacks.

Aside from UTAS, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities and Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Educational Institutions also proposed their payment platform: Universities Peculiar Personnel Payroll System.

Ngige argued that the Federal Government was indeed engaging with ASUU, despite notions that it has been snubbing the union.

He, therefore, revealed that deliberations would resume on Thursday to consider the progress made by the various agencies involved in the months-long negotiations.

Part of those involved is the National Information Technology Development Agency who has run further tests on UTAS and the University Peculiar Personnel and Payroll System proposed by the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities.

Explaining the state of the strike, Ngige said, “To answer your question, ASUU went on strike by February 14. By February 21, I cut short my trip to an African session conference holding in Botswana and we held a conciliation 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. No employee or worker can dictate to his employer how he or she will be paid. But the 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 tests. Vulnerability, whether this platform can be hacked into without difficulty or stress, how many people can it carry?

He said deliberations would continue at the State House on Thursday.

“So that’s where they are based on what we call tripartite plus meetings, based on the presidential directive that the Chief of Staff, myself, finance and education find the solution. That meeting was held in the Banquet Hall. We gave an instruction again for them to go back and come back to terms.

“So as I speak to you, as the Arbitrator or Conciliator-in-Chief, I have not gotten back any of the reports from education, from salaries, incomes and wages, nor from ASUU because they’re supposed to report to me. I have not gotten any report. But on the government side, we’re calling up a meeting tomorrow so that everybody on the government side can report if he has a problem, so we know how to address it.”

On the allegation that the government has been snubbing the unions, Ngige said, “It is not true that nobody is talking to ASUU, we are talking to ASUU. Other unions are accusing us of preferential treatment because these other unions have also claimed that they have developed their own payment platform and that they will not use UTAS even if it is good. And they are putting it down in writing and say they have developed their own platform.

“So what the government has done at the last meeting was to say, NITDA, test the three platforms and rate all of them and give us reports. Their term expired last Friday, the time they were given. That’s why we’re calling them to come tomorrow (Thursday) and brief us.”

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