The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, has berated the former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega, over his comment on the ongoing strike embarked on by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Recalls that Jega, during an interview on Arise News on Tuesday, had accused Ngige of embarking on a personal vendetta against ASUU members.
Jega said instead of working on how to resolve the ASUU strike which has been on since February 14, 2022, Ngige by his actions has been creating more problems.
He said the actions being taken by the federal government including the registration of the factional Congress of Nigerian Universities Academics (CONUA) to rival ASUU are simply recipes for disaster.
But in a statement on Thursday in Abuja by his media office, Ngige advised Jega to stand on the truth on the face-off between the Federal Government and ASUU.
The minister expressed disappointment in the former INEC chairman over his statement and his failure to advise ASUU on the lingering strike as a result of his experience as s former ASUU leader.
He accused ASUU of using the strike to mobilize voters against the All Progressives Congress (APC) government in the 2023 presidential election.
The statement reads: “Trade unionism must exist for the good of the unions, and their members, just as it must lead the vanguard of the public good. It must protect the nation and its people just as it shelters union members. It is not a social club for academics to act to the detriment of the nation. This is the piece of advice we thought Jega would avail his former comrades from his presumed deep mine of experience and now a trustee and adviser to ASUU.
“We had thought of overlooking Jega’s darts as a sheer exercise in esprit de corps, but Jega is now the national chairman of one of the opposition political parties whose mission is to wrestle power from the APC. Should we then ignore him when it is obvious that he is hiding under the ASUU strike to egg Nigerians into rebellion against the ruling party? How can we stand akimbo when the President of ASUU, Prof Osodeke had on national television (AIT and Arise ) urged Nigerians to vote out the APC? The video is circulation for all to access on Youtube.
“If the present ASUU leadership has turned Labour agitation into hooliganism, how does Jega define such unionism? Is abusing Ministers and top government officials, and sometimes trying to physically assault them part of the unionism that Jega is defending?
“In early 2020 after a meeting in the Presidential Villa, in the forecourt of the President’s office, the present ASUU President attempted a physical attack on one of the female Ministers but was restrained by the security men. The Minister had told the meeting that IPPIS officials who went to Nnamdi Azikiwe to capture lecturers on the IPPIS platform were physically attacked by ASUU Exco members.”
It added: “In 2022 when this strike was declared, ASUU also threatened the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy with the withdrawal of his professorship from Federal University of Technology, Owerri, FUTO, while the present Director General of NITDA was equally threatened with the withdrawal of his Bachelor degree from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. The sin of these two government officials is that they discharged their function of testing UTAS as demanded by the government and presented reports which showed the platform failed integrity tests in March 2022.
“Though the union does not have such powers to withdraw certificates or impose similar sanctions, why did this go unnoticed by Jega? Encouragement of mischief, you may say because he belongs to the same constituency.
“Jega should also now know of the threat by some overzealous ASUU officials at the University of Lagos to the daughter of the Minister of Labour in September 2020, that she would be failed in her final MBBs exams if the father continued to support government positions. Ngige’s children are all products of medical schools of public universities – UNILAG, COUTH, Awka and UNIABUJA. Jega’s children are all overseas!
“Are all these part of decent unionism or sheer acts of intimidation deployed in negotiations? Professor Jega is now a full-blown politician and part of the opposition that wants the All Progressive Congress, APC, out and would rather not see this. Prof, permit us to tell you this straight. You are not in a position to judge or offer any unbiased opinion in this matter.”
ASUU Has Not Rendered Audited Accounts Since 2017
Ngige has claimed that ASUU has not rendered its audited accounts since 2017 in breach of Sections 40 and 41 of the Trade Union Act.
The minister also defended his action to register CONUA to rival ASUU, stating that more applications are being processed for other unions.
The statement reads: “Is Jega also aware that ASUU has not rendered its audited accounts since 2017 in breach of Sections 40 and 41 of the Trade Union Act, yet they have been collecting check-off dues of members from the Office of Accountant General of the Federation? So, how does the Registrar of Trade Union in the Ministry of Labour take measures to correct this infraction by issuing a query to ASUU tantamount to a personal quarrel by the Minister?
“It is therefore our considered opinion that the former INEC chairman should use his hindsight as emeritus ASUU leader, trustee and adviser to counsel its present leadership to operate like as a registered Trade Union bound by laws and not as a social club for lecturers.
“We have no apologies that today, three Unions exist for academics; CONUA, NAMDA and ASUU in the Nigerian universities. More applications are being processed for others. It is left for lecturers to choose which one they want to belong to – a social club for strikers or the one that will use the position to promote education and the future of the Nigerian child. This is democracy untrammelled.
“As to Jega’s imaginary rivalry in the Federal cabinet, let it be known that Senator Ngige has no personal quarrel with any of his colleagues on ASUU but will always insist on fair and equitable treatment to all categories of workers in the public and private sector.”
Ngige Has Been Fair To ASUU
The statement denied the claim made by Jega that Ngige has turned the ASUU strike into a personal quarrel, adding that the minister has been fair to the striking lecturers.
It added: ”All the minister’s actions as the nation’s Labour Competent Authority and chief conciliator of disputes, especially as they relate to the ASUU strike fall within the ambit of the law.
“Senator Ngige will continue to discharge his responsibilities as the Minister of Labour and Employment without fear or favour just as we assume that Jega discharged his, as Chairman of the INEC. Or does it mean that when he sanctioned political parties or candidates including cancellations of nominations and election results, he discharged such duties in bad faith because of personal quarrels?”