On September 21, 2022, the National Industrial Court of Nigeria in Abuja in its ruling on the impasse between the Federal Government of Nigeria and Academic Staff Union of Universities ordered that the latter should discontinue its over seven months strike action immediately.
The Judge, Polycap Mamman, added that part of the grounds on which he gave the ruling was in the national interest of not allowing a continued injury and suffering of the Federal Government as the employer and the Nigerian and non-Nigerian students who have been forced to stay at home since the strike action.
ASUU went on strike to press home its demands on revitalization funds, Earned Academic Allowances, implementation and signing of renegotiated agreements and deployment of the University Transparency Solutions in place of the fraudulent IPPIS among others. Having read the copy of the ruling, l understand that the lead Counsel for ASUU and renowned Human Rights activist, Femi Falana (SAN), had urged the court not to grant the interlocutory injunction filed in the Referral Letter by a representative of the FGN, in the person of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, partly on the grounds that the FGN was principally responsible for the strike action and had neglected ASUU and allowed the industrial impasse to drag for that long.
Justice Hamman, however, argued against Falana on grounds that ordering the lecturers back to work was in the interest of the nation and tilts towards serving justice and preventing further injury to the FGN and students.
He said this was expedient as the main suit, where all issues raised in objection to the Interlocutory injunction by the defendants, would be determined, was set to commence shortly. The judge finally dropped a disturbing development when he asked that the case file should be returned to the President of the Industrial Court and be re-assigned to another judge as he is on vacation. In response to this ruling, National Association of Nigerian Students in a press statement, rejected it, on grounds that it was unfair to ASUU.
The aggrieved students said they were expecting a fair judgment that would order FG to implement agreement it reached freely with ASUU, while also ordering ASUU to return to classrooms. Describing Mr. Hamman’s ruling as black market judgement, the students called on government to do the needful and meet ASUU’s demands immediately as the lasting solution to the industrial impasse.
By rejecting the ruling, the students have punctured one of the grounds given for the ruling of the court, which holds that it was in their interest or done not to allow them to face further suffering from the strike action.
A factional NANS, whose view has not held any water anyway, was also reported to have welcomed the NICN ruling, urging its members to stand down nationwide protest.
Meanwhile, ASUU on whose head the hammer of the ruling has fallen, has opted to appeal it and seek a stay of execution of the ruling, meaning that we may soon be back to square one in spite of the rush by FGN to force lecturers back to the classrooms without seriously and responsibly settling its dispute with Union.
An interesting development to the whole drama currently unfolding, is a tweet by a Nigerian student, which says: “Please o, l don’t want a lecturer who has not been paid his 7 month salaries to mark my exam script o. FG should meet ASUU’s demands o.” The message from the student above aptly lends credence to the reality on ground, courtesy of the NICN ruling against ASUU.
The truth is that lecturers are not happy with the ruling and naturally, cannot be and not expected to be, because it has only satisfied the yearnings of just one party out of the two involved and that is the FG.
More so, that the FG is withholding their salaries for up to seven months now (last salary was paid to lecturers in February, 2022), in strict adherence to the rule of No work, No Pay” has been a most annoying disposition of the government of the day, which hurts the lecturers the more. ASUU has faulted this “No Work, No Pay rule , saying it negates the operation of a university system where it is the reality that a lecturer’s job is in three phases, Teaching, (which is only withheld during ASUU strike), Research ( which must be going during strike actions and must be done for promotion and proper teaching) and community service.
One wonders how government expects each member of ASUU to feel now, you forced the union to go on strike to protest against your irresponsible, insensitive and nonchallant attitude towards implementing agreements you freely entered into, foot-dragged on taking concrete decisions during several dialogues to end the impasse for over seven months, imposed deprivation, hunger and starvation on the lecturers during this foot-dragging tactics for over seven months and then bring the biggest hammer by making the NICN to force them back to work! How cruel can this government be? The question to ask is, would the students get the best from a disillusioned lecturer? A mind that would impart the best of knowledge into the students and do so brilliantly, has to be one that is settled emotionally, psychologically stable, relaxed and comfortable.
That way, he would teach with passion and give his or her best. Most of these lecturers have borrowed to feed themselves and families and meet other inevitable needs and have become heavily indebted to banks, food stuff sellers, landlords, school proprietors, friends and associates etc, who are expecting the refund when the strike is over and government expectedly, settles the lecturers. And they are in the real sense, broke!.
Many of them have even since relocated to their villages to reduce the burden of living the exotic life of the city and leave a Spartan life of the village where feeding is easier. How would they get transport fare back to the cities where their Universities are situated? Even if they find their way back to the campuses, how would they feed and feed their families without salaries paid? How can anyone in his right sense expect that lecturers going through such trauma would impart knowledge properly into the students, many of whom would even need thorough reviews of what was earlier taught them? Apparently not bothered about these issues, the FG is insisting that it would order Vice-Chancellors to reopen the Universities (which were not even entirely closed in the first place because sketchy administrative work was on going in spite of the strike action) so that lecturers can be forced back to teach even if on empty stomachs, empty bank accounts, broke, disillusioned and psychologically disturbed!.
Pray! Is this the best a government that indeed, has the wherewithal to settle an Industrial dispute once and for all, could do? ASUU President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, exposed the double, (or do we tag it triple) standards of this government by saying while President Mohammadu Buhari has met with Pro-Chancellors and promised to consult further and settle the impasse, the nation’s Judiciary, the House of Representatives, have also met with ASUU and even reached resolutions with them and promised to meet other parties and get the President’s approval on the resolutions to end the impasse, Minister of Labour brought this latest twist by getting NICN to order lecturers back to work without anything on the table for them.
I have warned earlier in my first article on this impasse, entitled: “ASUU: Is Buhari toeing ignoble path of IBB?,” that this path is ignoble and wouldn’t end well. It will further deepen the crisis as it did in former President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida’s military era. Worst of all, it will destroy the image of this current occupiers of the seat of power in the history of our dear country the same way it did to that of IBB and his co-travellers in power then, the FG, and particularly those behind the latest twist in the unfolding drama.
I had also advised that our leaders should learn from history and cautioned that the unhealthy habit of failing to learn from history has become one of the greatest tragic flaws of our leaders. It is time our President on whose table the bulk passes, learnt from history and stop this drama about FG/ASUU impasse and choose the noble path of settling out of court by yielding to recommendations/resolutions by the Committee of VCs and Pro-Chancellors and the House of Representatives as those will guarantee amicable and more reasonably enduring settlement of this dispute in place of the tortuous legal journey already set in motion by the Mr. Ngige’s orchestrated Court ruling aiming at fanning the embers of the impasse further by forcing lecturers back to classrooms on empty stomachs and empty pockets.
It is unarguably, not yet Uhuru with this Court ruling against ASUU.
. Balogun is a young Nigerian, who can be reached via [email protected]