‘Negotiations Deceit’: Reps knock ASUU chairman, say Speaker never committed to offset of members’ salary arrears

From the left: Former ASUU president, Dr. Nasir Fagge; ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and Vice President ASUU, Chris Piwuna at the end of one of the meetings.
Photos Credit: Punch

The House of Representatives has knocked the Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, for accusing the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, of deceiving the university lecturers into calling off their eight-month strike.

Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, in a statement issued on Wednesday, also stated that at no time did Gbajabiamila agreed with ASUU that lecturers would be paid for the period they downed tools.

In the statement titled ‘House of Representatives Response to Osodeke’s Allegations of Deception against Mr. Speaker,’ Kalu pointed out that the Federal Government legitimately withheld the salaries for the period universities were shut down.

ASUU had begun an indefinite strike on February 14, 2022. Gbajabiamila had led the intervention in the lingering crisis between the government and the lecturers, leading to the calling off of the strike in October.

The House is, however, faulting some of the claims made by the ASUU president in his recent media interview.

The statement read, “On Tuesday, 27th December 2022, the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, granted an interview, accusing the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep Femi Gbajabiamila, of using deception to convince the union to call off its strike action. He specifically alleged that the Speaker failed to deliver on his written commitment that the government would, without delay, offset the arrears of salaries owed to members of the union for the time they were on strike. 

“For the record, at no point did the Speaker of the House of Representatives commit to offset the arrears of salaries owed to union members for the time they were on strike. The House of Representatives helped resolve the strike by making commitments to improve the welfare package of university lecturers and revitalisation funds to improve the infrastructure and operations of federal universities. These commitments are reflected in the 2023 Appropriation Bill, which includes N170,000,000,000.00) to provide a level of increment in the welfare package of university lecturers and an additional N300,000,000,000.00 in revitalisation funds.

“Furthermore, the House of Representatives continues to work with stakeholders – the Accountant General of the Federation and the Academic Staff Union of Universities to facilitate the adoption of elements of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution into the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System. This effort is being supervised by the Chairman of the House Committee on Tertiary Education, Rep. Aminu Suleiman.

“Professor Emmanuel Osodeke knows that the Federal Government of Nigeria is under no obligation to pay university lecturers’ salaries for the duration they were on strike. This is a settled matter in law. See S. 43(1)(a) Trade Disputes Act, Cap T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN). The Executive decision not to pay salaries to lecturers for the time spent on strike is warranted by the government’s legitimate interest in preventing moral hazard and discouraging disruptive industrial actions. Nonetheless, the Speaker has made interventions for an exemption in this regard, and Professor Osodeke is well aware of this.”

The House spokesman stated that the public interest in ensuring a well-functioning tertiary education sector is a matter of paramount concern for all who understand the transformational role of education in any society.

He stressed that it was for this reason that the 9th House had been consistent in its efforts to explore avenues for reform and improvement to the framework of public education in the country from primary education through tertiary.

“Our objectives in this regard will not be achieved when stakeholders choose to ignore substantive issues and the consideration of bold ideas in favour of cheap blackmail and immoral propaganda,” he stated.

The statement further read, “Professor Osodeke’s bad-faith approach to negotiations and his affinity for political brinkmanship are significant reasons the universities were on strike for so long. His ongoing interventions continue to threaten the progress being made to preclude the possibility of further disruptions to the academic calendar of the universities.

“Therefore, I call on him, in his capacity as President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities to desist from making further misleading statements against the House of Representatives and the Speaker, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila. There is no place for hostility and selfish agitation in this critical moment. This is the time for calm heads and steady hands, working together for the common good.”
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