The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has vowed to continue its indefinite strike despite the order by President Muhammadu Buhari that the withheld salaries of lecturers in federal universities be paid.
ASUU called the strike on March 23 after the government in February stopped the salaries of federal university teachers who failed to enrol in the centralised payment platform for federal government workers.
But at a meeting with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, on Tuesday, President Buhari directed that the withheld salaries be paid urgently, according to a report by Vanguard newspaper on Wednesday.
The minister also said vice-chancellors had been asked to revalidate the affected lecturers’ Bank Verification Numbers and forward them to the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation for the payments.
ASUU has been locked in a protracted dispute with the Nigerian government over the refusal of the university teachers to join in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).
The IPPIS is the government’s accountability software that has been made compulsory for all public institutions, mainly for personnel payroll. ASUU is opposed to the use of IPPIS for lecturers, saying it does not consider some of the peculiar operations of universities.
The lecturers’ union then developed a prototype of the IPPIS, called University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), which it wants the government to adopt for universities.
Angry with the government for not implementing their agreements and other issues, the union embarked on an indefinite strike, arguing that the implementation of the IPPIS was against the FG-ASUU 2009 agreement.
Reacting to the payment of withheld salaries, the National President of ASUU, Abiodun Ogunyemi, in a phone interview with PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday afternoon, said the payment would pave way for meaningful engagement with government.
“In the first place, there was no reason to stop the salaries of our members. Our members worked in February and partly March so they are entitled to their salaries and so why should they stop the salaries of our members except for victimisation for IPPIS,” he said
According to him, we can now discuss without an atmosphere of intimidation. This will lead to a meaningful dialogue between both parties, he added.
Asked about the strike, the ASUU president said payment of salaries was not part of their initial demand.
“The ongoing industrial strike action by the union is still on. We had issues that we placed before the government and those issues are still on. However, we are open to discussion on these issues.”
Mr Ogunyemi said the union members would not submit their BVNs to the vice-chancellors,” let alone forward it to the Accountant General of the Federation for the payments.
“I am believing the government will agree to pay our members using the old platform because we don’t submit BVN before. Our members will not accept BVN and I believe they will see our point,” he said
Although condemnation trailed the declaration of the indefinite strike by the ASUU amid the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the union said there is no wrong time to embark on a strike because people would also complain if a strike was declared after the coronavirus pandemic is over.
In the 21 years since Nigeria returned to civil rule under the Fourth Republic, university teachers in the country have embarked on strike 15 times that saw them stay away from work for about 41 months.
The latest strike by the teachers under ASUU began on March 9 with a two-week warning strike and there is yet no end in sight, in spite of several rounds of meetings between leaders of the union and the federal government before the union declared an indefinite strike on March 23, amidst the lockdown of schools to contain the spread of coronavirus.
President Buhari last October issued a directive for the implementation of the IPPIS for the payment of salaries of all federal government workers.
The president said any worker who is not on the platform would not receive a salary after October 31 last year, a move strongly opposed by the university lecturers. Also, the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, earlier said out of 137,016 academic and non-academic staff members of universities, 96,090 had been enrolled in the IPPIS. But the union said it was not bothered as anyone can brandish any figures.
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