Federal Govt, SERAP Head To Court Over ASUU Strike
Following unresolved and prolonged industrial dispute between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and its employer, the federal government, the latter has filed an application dragging ASUU before the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN).
The move appeared to be the last resort to be employed by the federal government in a bid to end one of the longest strike actions embarked upon by Nigeria’s university lecturers.
Similarly, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and five university students have sued President Muhammadu Buhari before the National Industrial Court seeking an order to compel the federal government to honour the agreement it reached with ASUU.
SERAP and the students asked the court to order the government to implement forthwith the terms of the Renegotiated 2009 Agreement and the 2020 Memorandum of Action in order to put an end to the strike action and desist from further violation of the rights of the Nigerian students to quality education.
ASUU members have been on strike since February 14, 2022, and all negotiations avenue to end the strike proved abortive as the union insisted on the renegotiation of 2009 agreement, implementation of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), earned allowance, among other demands that bordered on refurbishment of Nigerian universities.
In a letter addressed to the chief registrar of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, dated 8th September, 2022 seen yesterday, minister of labour and employment, Dr Chris Ngige, obliged the court to give the issue an accelerated hearing in order to bring the dispute to an end.
Dr Ngige said ASUU had refused to call off the action despite several apprehensions.
Citing Section 17 of the Trade Dispute Act, CAP. T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 2004), the minister added that the referral instrument is raised in line with powers vested on the minister of labour and employment by trade dispute resolution mechanisms.
The letter reads, “Dear chief registrar, Forwarding of a Referral Instrument in the Trade Dispute Between Federal Government /Federal Ministry of Education and the Academic Staff Union of Universities. Please find attached three (3) original copies of a Referral Instrument regarding the trade dispute between the Federal Government of Nigeria/Federal Ministry of Education and The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for adjudication by the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN).
“The referral instrument is raised in line with powers vested on the honourable Minister of Labour and Employment by trade dispute resolution mechanisms and the provision of Section 17 of the Trade Dispute Act, CAP. T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 2004). In view of the fact that ASUU members have been on strike since February 14, 2022, and have refused to call off the action despite apprehension of the same it would be appreciated if this dispute is given an accelerated hearing in order to bring the dispute to an end”, the letter added.
Other defendants in the SERAP suit, which is yet to be assigned to a judge, are the Minister of Labour, Employment and productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, and the attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN).
The applicants are also praying the court for an order mandating the defendants and their agents to immediately release and pay all the withheld and outstanding remunerations, salary, allowances and other emoluments both for the period and outside the period of the current strike action to all members of ASUU.
They are further urging the court for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants and their agents from unlawfully reneging, rescinding and/or refusing to implement the Renegotiated FGN-ASUU 2009 Agreement and the 2020 Memorandum.
The applicants also want a declaration that the refusal of the defendants to implement the terms of the FGN-ASUU Renegotiated 2009 Agreements and the 2020 Memorandum of Action which has occasioned the prolonged strike action is unlawful, inconsistent and incompatible with Nigeria’s human rights obligations and violates the students’ right to quality education.
They are further seeking a declaration that the acts of the defendants and their agents in withholding the remunerations of the members of ASUU for the period of the strike while at the same time paying members of sister staff unions is discriminatory and in violation of ASUU members’ right to freedom of association, right to strike and collective bargaining.
In an affidavit attached to the suit, the applicants argued that the disruption of classes undermines both the quality and duration of students’ education.
They also maintained that the situation has aggravated existing disparities in access to university education in the country, further marginalizing economically disadvantaged parents and students.
The applicants averred that the federal government has failed to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to quality education, and the right to freedom of association through the principle of collective bargaining.
They also submitted that, “Although Nigeria has ratified several human rights treaties, which guarantee the right to quality education of Nigerian students, the Federal Government has over the years refused to meet the demands by ASUU, and to address the poor environment in the country’s universities.
“The students who are co-claimants in the suit are Dongo Daniel Davou; Oyebode Joshua Babafemi; Ejie Kemkanma; Peter Itohowo Aniefiok; and Imam Naziru. They are students of Plateau State University, Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Port Harcourt, University of Uyo, and University of Ibadan, respectively.
“The failure to implement the agreements with ASUU is also a fundamental breach of the right to education without discrimination or exclusion, as strike actions continue to penalize economically disadvantaged parents who have no means or capacity to send their children to private schools.
“Equal access of Nigerian children and young people to quality and uninterrupted education including at the university level would contribute to producing citizens who are fundamentally equal and people who actively participate in society.
“It would enable people to enjoy the rights as well as fulfil obligations that are associated with citizenship,” the applicants stated.