Parents and other stakeholders in the education sector have expressed mixed reactions as the Federal Government referred the dispute with the Academic Staff Union of Universities to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria.
Many of the parents said that it was unnecessary for the Federal Government to raise a referral instrument to the NICN to settle the trade dispute, while others also blamed ASUU for the prolonged strike.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, had in a letter addressed to the Registrar of NICN, called for a referral instrument following the failure of dialogue between the union and the Federal Ministry of Education.
The court is to inquire into the legality or otherwise of the ongoing prolonged strike by ASUU leadership and members that had continued even after apprehension.
A statement by the Head, Press and Public Relations at the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Olajide Oshundun, indicated that the matter was referred to the registrar of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria by the Minister, Ngige on Thursday, September 8.
When the matter came up on Monday, the NICN adjourned it to September 16, 2022.
At Monday’s proceedings, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project sought to join the suit as an interested party.
SERAP’s lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, said his client had filed a similar suit to compel the Federal Government to honour its 2009 agreement with the striking lecturers.
He said SERAP’s request to join in the matter is based on the need to forestall the duplicity of outcomes concerning the industrial dispute.
However, counsel to the Federal Government, Tijjani Gazali, SAN, opposed SERAP’s application to consolidate the suits.
He told the judge that SERAP’s application was premature as the case was billed for mention on Monday. Counsel to ASUU, Femi Falana, however, argued that he was aware of the efforts by lawyers to file court papers in the suit on Monday.
The judge ruled that the suit is not ripe for consolidation by SERAP. The judge said he was only presiding over the matter as a vacation judge and that the case would be assigned to another judge for adjudication.
He ordered the parties in the suit to file and exchange court documents as he adjourned the matter to Friday, 16 September 2022.
Speaking to journalists outside the court, counsel to ASUU, Falana, berated the Federal Government for going to the court.
He said the Federal Government should stop trying to blackmail ASUU, maintaining that university lecturers have not stopped working.
On his part, the counsel to the Federal Government, Tijanni Gazali, said ASUU cannot dictate to the Federal Government what platform its members are to be paid.
He said the agreement reached between the Federal Government and ASUU has been substantially implemented and that details of their agreement will form part of the papers they will be filing before the court.
Mark Yohanna said, ”taking ASUU to court was a waste of time at this point the industrial court had been there, why didn’t they think of it since the beginning of the strike which had lingered for seven months.
“The issues that need to be addressed are well spelt out by the striking lecturers before they can call off their strike, then why take them to court.
“I do not think the industrial court will address those issues, except the Federal Government will comply with the agreement entered with ASUU.
“I want to say that the government is playing with time and the future of the Nigerian children which are their responsibility to charter for their interest and welfare, ‘’he said.
Emmanuel Ejike, another parent, said that it was unfortunate that the children of the poor had lost an academic session due to the ongoing strike.
He said that the victims of such strikes were the students and their parents, while the students’ programmes would be extended, parents have been put under pressure and confusion.
“So, for me, this going to industrial court is neither here nor there, because I do not know what the aim is or what it intends to achieve,
“If their intention is to order ASUU to stop the strike, then the Federal Government would have done it earlier, is it even possible that whatever the court is going to say, the union will abide by it.
“By going to court, I think the government wants to use it to buy time, because people are not sure if the government is ready to address the issues and ASUU wants the government to be honest about them, ‘’he said.
He urged that the Federal Government should find an honest way to stop the strike rather than going to court.
Mrs. Kemi Olusola, a parent, said that referring the trade dispute with ASUU to court by the Federal Government would compound the problem.
According to her, ASUU itself has said that if the Federal Government wants to resolve the issues within a day, that they have the capacity to do so.
“If government feels that the education of the Nigerian children of poor parents is paramount and important to them, if they believe that human capital development is critical to the development of the nation, they should do whatever it takes to resolve the issues soonest.
“ASUU is saying that they have not fulfilled the promises that they made so they cannot call off the strike until they see genuine commitment
“I think the government should try and see it from ASUU’s point of view, because they want to save the university system in this country,” she said.
Olusola said that no Nigerian university ranks among the first one thousand Universities in the whole.
She added, “This should be a great concern to the Federal Government, because in the past, the public Universities did compete in the international space and also ranked very high.”
Also, Mrs. Elizabeth Olajide, another parent, said it was commendable that the Federal Government had taken the striking lectures to court and that probably would make the issues resolved speedily.
According to Olajide, “our children have lost one year and they should not lose the second one, because the children are tired of staying at home and they are angry and almost frustrated.
“So, I think that going to this court will achieve meaningful purpose, I hope the court will find a proper way of dealing with the matter, so that everyone can have rest of mind,
“That is both the students, parents and the teachers themselves,” she said.
John Osita, another parent, said that the strike was long overdue and that the Federal Government’s move was laudable.
“I am very happy with the government for finally taking such a decision, I think the court will do justice to the issues in contention.
“I am pained about this whole prolonged strike and I pray that the court will resolve the dispute between the parties as quickly as possible,” he said.
Also, Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights, condemned the Buhari-led government’s lawsuit at the court, saying “this latest step by the Federal Government is a continuation of the antics to arm-twist the union and possibly lay the legal basis to attack ASUU and its members.”
In a joint statement signed on Monday by its national chairperson, Rufus Olusesan and the national publicity secretary, Chinedu Bosah, respectively, CDWR also condemned the government’s neglect of public education and refusal to meet ASUU’s demands.
While pointing out that education is an important aspect of society and should be given utmost priority, CDWR regretted that the “Buhari-led government just like its predecessors are not interested in protecting public interest. Allowing public universities to close down for 7 months clearly shows the anti-people character of the Buhari-led government.”
It stressed that at this stage, “the solidarity of the trade union movement (Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress) is most needed. We call on the leadership of NLC and the TUC as a matter of urgency to begin the mobilization for a 48-hour warning general strike backed with mass actions to demand government meet the demands of ASUU and other unions and protest the under-funding of public education and healthcare, rising cost of living, hike in fuel prices, hike in electricity tariff. With this, the government can be forced to meet the demands of the striking university workers, increase funding for public education and retreat from other anti-poor policies.”