The Nigeria Labour Congress has shunned the Two-week ultimatum imposed on them by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Mohammadu Buhari.
On Wednesday, the Federal Government and labour unions came to blows over the groups’ insistence on continuing with their plans for two days of nationwide protests, which are slated to take place on July 26 and 27.
No fewer than 40 unions, including aviation workers, will march in sympathy with the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities, which has shut down public universities since February 14 due to the government’s unwillingness to accept its demands.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said on Wednesday that the protest was illegal because the Nigeria Labour Congress had no pending disputes with the government.
Still, congress retorted that the protest would continue, citing the constitution’s guarantee of the right to protest.
On February 14, ASUU began a one-month warning strike to urge its demand for the execution of the ASUU/FGN agreement reached in October 2009.
The strike was eventually joined by the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, the Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Educational Institutions, and the National Association of Academic Technologists.
ASUU President Emmanuel Osodeke declared in May that the three-month long strike would be extended for another three months.
In response, Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, stated in March that the government had paid over N92 billion, including N40 billion for earned academic allowances for ASUU and other unions and N30 billion for university revitalization, as part of the implementation of the December 2020 agreement reached with the union.
In addition, the FG recreated a team to renegotiate the 2009 agreement with the varsity lecturers. Prof Nimi Briggs, Pro-Chancellor of Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike Ikwo, led the team.
To expedite the resolution of the situation, President Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) asked the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, on Tuesday to end the five-month strike within two weeks and report back to him.
In solidarity with ASUU, the NLC stated on July 17 that it would launch a nationwide protest to pressure the federal government to fix the tertiary education problem.
But, speaking to State House media after the President’s Federal Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, Mohammed accused Congress of being motivated by partisan interests, even though it was supposed to be “totally insulated from politics.”
“The NLC is not a political party,” he stated. If the rights of NLC members are at stake, the NLC may go on strike or protest.
The NLC’s plans for the coming days are all about generating interest. There is no disagreement between the NLC as a body and the Federal Government.
“Yes, there is an issue between some NLC, ASUU, and federal government members that is being investigated.” And the NLC is a member of the committee searching for a solution.
“So, calling out people on the street to demonstrate; you begin to ask, what is the NLC’s motive in this matter?” But, as you can see, we do not question what the NLC is doing here. By its own rules, the NLC cannot even distribute brochures. And the NLC is meant to be politically apolitical.”
NLC hits FG
While acknowledging the education minister’s request, the NLC spokesman claimed nothing had happened to change the intended protest.
He continued, “If the administration wants to resolve this issue today, I can tell you that they can do so in three hours.
Remember when airline operators prepared to go on strike but were prevented from doing so within hours?
“In summary, nothing has occurred that would cause us to reconsider our recommended action.” All I know is that we’re continuing with our plan.”
In response to the claim that the protest was illegal, Upah stated that the minister should be concerned about the harm done to the education system by the prolonged strike.
“Freedom of expression and protest is within the ambit of the law and guaranteed by the constitution; so, he (minister) cannot abolish them,” he said.
“ASUU is one of the unions that comprise the NLC, and we are all aware that over the past six months or so, ASUU has had concerns with the government, which the administration has yet to settle.”
“No political sentiment. We are guided strictly by national interest,” Upah said, insisting that the union was not partisan.
The minister of information should be aware that our children and wards have been absent from school for the previous six months, and the collateral damage is incalculable; it is mind-boggling.”
Abdulrasaq Saidu, Secretary General of the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals, told The PUNCH over the phone that the union’s solidarity strike would continue.
“We are compelled to follow the NLC decision because we are a part of it. We are an affiliate of the NLC,” he said.
The NLC’s national executive council called for the strike, which must be enforced. Only the national executive council may prevent it from taking place.
“Whatever Buhari stated is an afterthought because they have been there since ASUU went on strike—the ministers of education and labour as well.” All NLC affiliates will carry out the planned strike. We are cooperating with and carrying out the NLC’s instructions.”
In an interview with our correspondent, ASUU president Osodeke stated that any Nigerian citizen had the right to protest and that the NLC was not preparing a solidarity rally because ASUU was an affiliate of the NLC.
“Every Nigerian citizen has the right to protest, especially on this topic that affects our children and future generations,” Osodeke stated.
Nigerians have been far too quiet; given the state of Nigeria today, Nigerians should be on the streets protesting every day. The NLC will stage a protest and allow the police to arrest them.”
Mr. Ibrahim Mohammed, national president of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, also referred the government to the relevant portions of the labour laws.
“Lai Mohammed misunderstood the topic because all university unions are NLC affiliates. The NLC has mobilized all unions, and it is not just the university; approximately 40 affiliates have joined the protest.
He cannot state it is illegal on his own. Only an industrial court may declare it illegal,” Mohammed explained.
Mr. Ibeji Nwokema, President of the National Association of Academic Technologists, stated, “We are an affiliate of the NLC.
If we have negotiations with the government, we may request the NLC to come and be a part of it.” If there are problems, the NLC will step in; stating it is illegal is false.”
Mrs. Oyinkan Olasanoye, President of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance, and Financial Institutions, stated, “Both the NLC and the TUC have called for a demonstration.”
Indeed, every Nigerian who believes that education is critical to the country’s future would join the protest.”