Sunday, 20 June 2021

ASUU Threatens To Embark On Another Strike Over Unpaid Salaries


 A fresh strike by university lecturers seems to be looming after the Academic Staff Union Of Nigeria Universities (ASUU) threatened on Saturday to down tools over alleged refusal of the Accountant General of the Federation to pay the salaries and remit the check-off dues of over 1000 staff for 13 months.


The Chairman of the University of Jos branch of ASUU, Dr. Lazarus Maigoro, dropped hint of the fresh strike in a statement in Jos.


He accused the AGF of fanning the ember of discord between the federal government and ASUU, which he said is capable of triggering a strike action.


Corroborating Maigoro in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents yesterday, ASUU President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke said: “As we speak, they are still owing many of our members in many of the branches between two to 16 months salaries without pay by the Accountant-General’s office.


“As we speak, they are using that (alleged withholding of salaries) to blackmail our members to enroll into the IPPIS. There are lecturers that they will pay this month, after one or two months they will stop, and all sorts of funny things.


“We have met with the minister of labour and employment. We even cascaded it to the level of the office of the Chief of Staff to the President, but they (OAGF’s office) seems to be adamant on punishing our members.


“On the issue of the next line of action, our union has a procedure. When it is time, we know what to do. There is a procedure for embarking on a strike and the union will follow that procedure.”


Asked if the union had made any attempt to meet with officials from the OAGF, Prof Osodeke said: “We have our principle of engagement with government.


“The agreement we reached in December was brokered by the Minister of Labour and Employment, and we also agreed to meet from time to time to look at the issues.


“We met in May and raised all these issues with the Accountant-General’s Office present at that meeting.


“They tried to deny the fact that anybody was owed. And we were able to prove with available data that they were lying and they accepted and agreed to implement.


“If any of our members enroll in IPPIS today, they (OAGF) will pay you the next day, which means that what they are doing is deliberate.


“We have sent the data of our members to them more than four to five times – complete data. They will request for one today we will send to them, and the next month our members will still not be paid.


“But if any of our members decides to register, they will pay all their arrears. It is a deliberate attempt. They know the situation.


“They even came last month to request for data and we also sent to them. As we speak, more than a thousand of our members are still being owed 16 months.


“The bursars of each university have sent their documentation and all the corrections to the office of the Accountant-General, yet they are not paying our members. It is a gimmick.


“What they are trying to do is to see how they can blackmail our members by using hunger as a weapon to get them to register on IPPIS.


“It is very unfortunate that they are trying to kill the university system. They are trying to downgrade our university system because of personal reasons, and I think it is wrong.


“We will meet, get reports from all our branches, get all the available data and the union will take the next action.


“We will follow the process, but we are still relating with the government to see if they can direct the Accountant-General to do what is correct and not what pleases them.”


Members of ASUU recently resumed work after a prolonged strike caused by a dispute with the federal government.


The ‘indefinite strike’, which commenced in March last year, arose from the union’s rejection of what it called the use of force on its members to enroll on Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS), a payroll software mandated for all public officials.


Labour Minister Chris Ngige expressed shock yesterday over the fresh threat of strike by ASUU.


He said he would find out the true position of things with a view to resolving the matter.


According to Maigoro, the AGF is insisting that lecturers must go to Abuja and register for the IPPIS despite the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari.


He said that “despite the directive given by Mr. President to pay the salaries of all lecturers, the AGF has refused to pay their salaries ranging from four to thirteen months respectively.


“Many of our members in University of Jos and across the country have not been paid salaries from February 2020 to date.”


He said by this single act, the AGF has completely violated the terms of agreement signed between ASUU and the FGN.


The AGF, Maigoro said, “is bent on withholding the salaries of over 1,000 members of ASUU spread across the country with more than 100 of such lecturers being members of our Branch in University of Jos.


“More worrisome is the fact that while the AGF is refusing to pay these salaries, his staff in the OAGF are busy calling the affected lecturers and insisting they have to register with IPPIS before they are paid.


“Some are even asked to forfeit a part of their salaries in order to be paid. So it is very clear that this is a deliberate act on the part of the AGF and his staff.”


Continuing, he said: “In view of this evil ‘war’ orchestrated by the AGF, some departments are closing down and some new departments in some new federal universities cannot take off because of lack of manpower.


“The union  views this refusal to remit deducted check-off dues by the AGF as a deliberate attempt at preventing the union from  being able to assist those of its members whose salaries have been unduly and illegally withheld thereby forcing them to  submit to the underhand tactics of the OAGF and IPPIS.


“This we believe is also aimed at deliberately frustrating the implementation of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), the sophisticated payment platform developed by ASUU and accepted by FGN for implementation.


“The AGF is not just victimising some of our members but also waging a war of attrition against the Nigerian university system and by extension the educational sector.


“These actions are capable of creating disenchantment and possibly brain drain in the already weakened university system. We see this as a deliberate and systematic affront on the future of education similar to the war terrorists are waging against the nation.


“The Union has gotten to a stage where it may be forced to take drastic measures to save the lives and families of its members because their despair is also our collective despair.


“Whatever decision the UNION takes, we hope it will not be misconstrued by the Nigerian public, especially seeing the seeming silence of the public and the government over the complete violation of our 2020 MoA.


“While our leaders have prevailed on us to await the outcome of their engagement with the Chief of Staff (COS), Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, we are sorry to report that at our branch, we cannot wait any further as our members are going through very harsh conditions.


“We call on the Chief of Staff to act quickly to save his name by calling to order those breaching the MoA.


“It is also clear to us that Dr. Chris Ngige, the Hon. Minister of Labour and Employment, has only one interest: an opportunity for photo-op and pretends he has ‘apprehended’ industrial disputes.


“He has demonstrably failed to follow up on these issues and ensure the survival of our MoA. Currently, an ominous cloud is gathering over the Nigerian university system due to the lack of implementation of the 2020 MoA.


“We call on all well- meaning Nigerians to advise those responsible that this path will force us to take very drastic measures.


“In the end, it is the children of all Nigerians in these universities that are suffering and not just ASUU members. In addition, third party deductions like union dues have not been appropriately remitted over the past 13 months.


“The Union views this refusal to remit deducted check-off dues by the AGF as a deliberate attempt at preventing the union from being able to assist those of its members whose salaries have been unduly and illegally withheld, thereby forcing them to  submit to the underhand tactics of the OAGF and IPPIS.


“This we believe is also aimed at deliberately frustrating the implementation of the university Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), the sophisticated payment platform developed by ASUU and accepted by FGN for implementation.


“The AGF is not just victimising some of our members but also waging a war of attrition against the Nigerian university system and by extension the educational sector.


“These actions are capable of creating disenchantment and possibly brain drain in the already weakened university system.


Ngige: ‘I thought the matter had been sorted out’


Contacted yesterday, however, Labour Minister Chris Ngige said he would find out the truth about the matter immediately.


He said: “I am just hearing that (threat by ASUU to resume strike) now. The check -off dues issue I think has been sorted out.


“At some point two weeks ago, they (ASUU) talked about some of their members who were skipped, but I know that the Office of the Accountant General has been looking into that and solving the matter as they occur.


“When work resumes (on Monday) I will find out.”


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