The Federal Government on Tuesday extended its deadline for striking university lecturers to resume work. The deadline was moved from December 4 to December 9.
The government had last week Friday ordered the striking members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to resume work on December 4.
But, through the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission NUC, Julius Okojie, announced the new date while addressing journalists in Abuja on Tuesday.
Okojie said the “Government decided to shift the deadline after it received notification of Prof. Festus Iyayi’s funeral rites slated for between December 5 and 7.
Mr. Iyayi, a former President of ASUU, died on November 12, 2013 in auto crash in Lokoja on his way to attend the association’s meeting in Kano. The accident was reportedly caused by the convoy of the Kogi State Governor, Idris Wada.
According to Mr. Okojie, the decision is also to avoid a situation where government and ASUU will have to deal with the ultimatum during the funeral of the former ASUU President.
“We just received information that the burial rites of Festus Iyayi begins on the December5 and would last till Dec. 7,” the NUC boss said.
“Based on this information, government decided to shift the resumption deadline to December 9, to enable lecturers to participate in the burial,” the professor said.
He said the directive had been communicated to the various university Governing Councils and Vice Chancellors for onward transmission to the academic staff, adding that there was no intention to victimise any lecturer for participating in the strike.
He said the victimisation clause which members of ASUU were using to discredit the government never came up when the unionists met with President Goodluck Jonathan on November 4.
“On the November 4, Jonathan had a meeting with ASUU. In attendance were senior government officials, the Ministers of Labour, Finance, Education, NLC, TUC, SGF, Chief of Staff to the President and a host of others.
“I recall the remarks Mr. President made that day that something has to happen, that all parties had to find solution to the nagging problems of our universities.
“ASUU came out from that meeting which lasted for over 13 hours, to say they would communicate with us through their principal officers.
“Let me also emphasise that the drafting of that communiqué had the input of ASUU,” he said.
The NUC boss said he wondered why ASUU would return three weeks later, after it had failed to get back to government on November 8 as agreed, demanding addition of new clauses.
“The 2009 agreement stipulates that any party that wants a re-negotiation should inform the Ministry of Labour. If ASUU had said they would resume, but the outstanding issues must be addressed, government would have no choice,” he said.
Okojie said the N200 billion Revitalisation Fund, which ASUU wanted government to disburse within two weeks, has been deposited in an account in the Central Bank of Nigeria.
He explained that the money could not be disbursed based on ASUU’s demand because it was meant for capital projects.
He said the resumption order does not require students to commence lectures immediately, stressing that the school environment had to be made habitable for both students and the entire staff of the universities.
Okojie said any lecturer who resumed work after the expiration of the new deadline would not have his or her salary arrears paid.
“You cannot pay someone who has failed to resume work. You are on strike and you want to be paid? What if some has already left the system? Some of our very bright lecturers may have got jobs elsewhere,’’ he argued.
Okojie stressed further that government, as employer of labour, can not fold its arms while the institutions remained shut at the detriment of students.
Meanwhile, ASUU President, Nasir Fagge, explained in a television interview that the union did not add any new demands in its letter to the president.
Fagge, who said the strike would continue, condemned government’s ultimatum
He said the government’s letter after the meeting with President Jonathan was not a total reflection of what transpired during the meeting.
“In the ordinary meaning of the word “resolution” the government’s letter was not a resolution. The document was a report of Government’s understanding of the decisions or agreement reached on the matters discussed with ASUU,” he said.