Days after the Academic Staff Union of Universities was dragged before the National Industrial Court, the Federal Government may consider an out-of-court settlement with the union, Saturday PUNCH learnt.
The seven-month-old strike initiated by ASUU was declared by the president of the union, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, on February 14, 2022 at the University of Lagos. The union said it had to go on strike after the government’s failure to honor previous agreements reached with the union.
Some of the union’s demands include the release of revitalization funds for universities, payment of lecturers’ earned allowances, deployment of University Transparency Accountability System as the payment platform for university lecturers, renegotiation of the ASUU-FG 2009 agreement among others.
In an attempt to resolve the strike and other contentious issues, the government has set up a panel led by Emeritus Professor Nimi-Briggs to head the government’s negotiating team.
The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, told State House Correspondents at a press briefing that the refusal of the government to agree to pay the lecturers’ salaries for the six months they spent at home stalled the strike. He said ASUU insisted that lecturers should be paid their salaries for the period they were on strike.
But the Minister of Labor and Employment, Chris Ngige, dragged the striking university lecturers to court.
In a letter dated September 8 and addressed to the chief registrar of the industrial court, Ngige asked that the case be heard speedily to resolve the dispute between the union and the government.
He asked the court to interpret the provisions of Section 18 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 in its entirety, especially as it applies to the cessation of strike action once a trade dispute is settled.
The case, which was initially heard by Judge Hamman Polycarp on Monday, September 12, 2022, has been adjourned until September 16, 2022.
Settlement out of court possible
Meanwhile, a source in the Ministry of Labor and Employment who spoke in strict confidence to one of our correspondents on Thursday disclosed that the government may consider an out of court settlement should the striking lecturers call off their strike and return to work.
The source noted that the reason the striking lecturers were dragged to court was because of their failure to return to work despite the efforts by the government.
The source said: “We can consider an out-of-court settlement if they agree to return to work. The reason we initially dragged them to court was because they refused our pleas to return to work. We met with them several times and made steps for reconciliation but they refused. The reason we initially dragged them to court was because they refused our pleas to return to work. We met with them several times and made steps for reconciliation, but they refused. The reason for going to court is that the court compels them to go back to work. If they agree to resume, there is no need to continue with the case .”
The suit continues on Monday
The National Industrial Court held hearing from Friday to Monday, September 19, in the suit filed by the Federal Government to challenge the ongoing strike by ASUU.
At the resumed hearing on Friday, counsel to the Federal Government, James Igwe (SAN), asked the court to grant the case an expedited hearing due to the urgency of the matter to enable the students to return to school .
He requested the court to order ASUU to resume work pending the decision of the case. But ASUU’s counsel, Femi Falana (SAN), opposed the request, saying it would amount to the determination of the substantive suit.
Igwe told the court that since the matter is already in court, it would be appropriate for the strike to be called off pending the determination of the case.
Counsel for ASUU, Femi Falana (SAN), argued that the matter was adjourned until Friday for further mention and not for trial. He said he had been served with the federal government’s motion for an interim injunction.
The judge said this was the issue for determination and therefore could not be resolved before trial.
Meanwhile, the application brought by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project to be added to the suit was not heard as the counsel filed another application which was only served on the party yesterday.
SERAP’s lawyer prayed the court to withdraw the earlier application and replace the same with the current one. The court subsequently struck out the earlier application.
The lawyer also argued that for the sake of justice his application should be heard before dealing with other matters relating to the suit.
Falana, on his part, agreed that in the interest of justice and clarity, it would be appropriate to hear the application brought by SERAP on the same matter before deciding other issues.
Falana added that ASUU is currently meeting with stakeholders to ensure that the ongoing crisis is resolved. He called on the federal government to work with the union to resolve the issue.