Issues at stake are neither legal nor judicial, say stakeholders
There is fresh confusion and disquiet in public universities over moves to resolve the prolonged strike, particularly given last week’s judgement of the National Industrial Court (NIC) compelling ASUU to resume work. While stakeholders berated the Federal Government for the action, it is insisting that ASUU, which has since appealed the ruling, should obey the court order
…stakeholders fault FG, NIC judgement
FG’s court action bound to backfire – Ex-VC
Court judgement should be obeyed – Group
Going to court is not going to be helpful – Don
Almost eight months after the closure of the nation’s public university system, the public university education is steadily drifting to a precipice. The Federal Government has set the final onslaught for the imminent collapse of the system, inadvertently in its deliberate move to further implant and cause more confusion in resolving the crisis besetting Nigeria public universities.
Presently, there seems to be no letup in the prolonged industrial action and face-off between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) if the last week judgement of the National Industrial Court (NIC) and orchestrated plots by the Federal Government to de-register the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are anything to gloss over.
But, worried by the new twist of events, stakeholders have criticised the action of the government in dragging ASUU before the National Industrial Court (NIC) and its preemptive judgement directing the union to resume work, without recourse to the government implementing the demands of the union.
They, however, described the judgement and decision of the government to resort to legal action in resolving the nationwide indefinite strike declared by the union on February 14, 2022, as worrisome development that instilled more confusion and anxiety over the future of the students and the ivory towers.
The crisis assumed a new dimension two weeks ago, when on September 12, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, dragged ASUU to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), Abuja for its refusal to suspend or resolve the lingering strike.
According to the government, its action followed the failure of the union to reach an agreement through a series of dialogue over the ongoing seven-month-old strike.
Stakeholders condemn FG, court ruling
Meanwhile, hordes of criticism have since continued to trail the Federal Government’s decision to drag ASUU before the Industrial Court, and particularly the judgement of the court, which ordered and compelled the union to resume work without any concrete step to address the union’s demands for the enhancement of the quality of university education.
To the stakeholders, the government rather than resorting to the “unnecessary legal option,” should at least exploit tangible and amicable resolution of the logjam and enthrone a healthy university system, and not to take steps that will further prolong the strike and annihilate the university system.
“Knowing fully that this is a government that neither believes nor has regard for rule of law and doesn’t obey court order, the judgement will not bring any workable solution to the conundrum in the system, but rather prolonged it against the expectations of students,” they stated.
Speaking on the development, the former Secretary General of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of NigerianUniversities (CVCNU), and Co- Coordinator of The Sustainable Peace Team, a team of elders constituted by the Committee to intervene and ensure speedy resolution of the ASUU/Federal Government face-off, Prof Michael Faborode, said the court judgement should be obeyed, in the first instance, by the striking ASUU.
But, he added that “it is one thing to force the horse to the brook, but forcing it to drink is another thing entirely,” urging the Federal Government to pursue and embrace a more elegant solution to the problem for a more sustainable and reasonable solution in the overall interest of our education system and national development. Stating the position of the Team in a WhatSapp chat with New Telegraph, the former Vice-Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Faborode noted: “As for the court directive; being a court order, it should be obeyed.
However, it is one thing to force the horse to the brook, but forcing it to drink is another thing entirely. “The Sustainable Peace Team has made recommendations in this regard that should not be ignored, but adopted as a stepping stone towards a comprehensive and holistic solution,” he said.
Reacting to the judgement, the former Vice-Chancellor of Ekiti State University (EKSU), Prof. Dipo Kolawole, said he didn’t believe that seeking a court short-cut to compel ASUU to suspend the strike was a wise decision, insisting that it is bound to fail and backfire.
According to him, the issues at stake are neither legal nor judicial, as they are largely administrative, demanding collective bargaining on a prism of mutual trust and respect. The former Vice-Chancellor added: “I do not believe seeking a court shortcut to compel ASUU to call off its strike is a wise decision. It, however, may be expedient for a government that is neither receptive nor responsive to educational advancement in a world of knowledge competitiveness. But it is bound to backfire.
The issues at stake are neither legal nor judicial. They are largely administrative demanding collective bargaining on a prism of mutual trust and respect. “My fear is that if a face-saving approach perhaps through the ever docile National Assembly is not employed by the government, the strike will be more prolonged with more damaging consequences than hitherto witnessed. “There is no responsible and responsive government that could have allowed such prolongation of the strike to the detriment of our children and the future of our country.”
Expressing similar disenchantment, a don at the Lagos State University and former Dean School of Transport and Logistics, Prof Samuel Odewumi, bemoaned the decision of the Federal Government to drag ASUU to court, saying that going to court, in the first instance, is not going to be very helpful. Rather, he said he would have advised that the intervention of the Pro-Chancellors be allowed to mature as it would have ended the face-off.
“It is the better approach that would yield a win-win situation for all. The gamble to rush to court while negotiation is going on and very likely to succeed, is going to be counterproductive and fruitless,” he said.
The don added that ASUU is not likely to rush back to campus, and if the lecturers do they won’t go to class or forced to teach, even as he stressed further that “even if the government drag them (lecturers) to class, force them to teach or if they are by any method forced to teach they will not do it happily and we all know what that means in teaching.”
“Let the Federal Government give the Pro-Chancellors Committee the chance to succeed in its intervention towards finding the best solutions to the crisis in the university system,” Odewumi added.
On his part, Pro-Chancellor of the University of Abuja, Prof. Ahmed Modibbo Mohammed, however, advised the Federal Government to apply caution in handling the crisis with the union, explaining that a court order would not resolve the crisis. He, therefore, appealed to both the
government and ASUU to embrace dialogue in order to find a lasting solution to the strike, but insisted that resorting to force was not a solution, as dialogue remains the best means to resolve the crisis rather than just giving a fiat order. Also expressing concerning over the Industrial Court judgment and the government decision to go to court, the former Dean of Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Prof Demola Dasylva, described the recent development in respect of the NIC judgement as really “sad and least expected” of a government that is determined at finding the lasting solutions to the crisis confronting the university system. On the order that ASUU should resume work, the don stated that “the horse may force to the river, but it cannot be forced to drink,” even as he pointed out that dragging the union to court is a desecration of the nation’s jealously guarded institution, such as the National Industrial Court, and some other government agencies. Dasylva said: “How logical is it to focus on ASUU and ignore what occasioned the strike? The failure on the part of the Federal Government to implement the agreement it willingly signed and going to court is a deliberate act that made a nuisance of genuine efforts, and as such wasted the precious time of various Committees set up by the same Federal Government, but failed to do anything on the reports. Consequent upon this, the don described the action of the Minister and government as an unwise decision to abuse the privileges at their disposal to resolve the face-off. “A clear demonstration of what the judiciary has done can be likened to a sacred tree owned and sustained by a community because of its mutual benefits. Then one morning it was discovered that it has been hewed down by some wanton adult. The foliage that used to provide shade for the people at the market square began to wither. It is illogical to blame the felled tree and its withered leaves for not providing the usual adequate shade and protection, instead blame the adult delinquent for cutting down the tree,” he added. What the court has done in its curious wisdom, in the case of ASUU, according to him, is to shift the blame on ASUU (the sacred totemic tree) rather than the Federal Government, which decided to renege, and refuse to implement the 2018 signed MoA, or respect and implement the Nimi Brigg Committee’s report and recommendations. He said: “All my life, I have never seen a government as careless as the one being run by General Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC). They demonstrate nothing but cluelessness and discordant voices; what I call political cacophony. “Unfortunately, Ngige will say something today, and Mallam Adamu Adamu will say another thing next. One keeps wondering who really is in charge of this country. It is the case of the falcon that no longer hears the falconer. It is a brazen anarchy playing out here, a government in which everyone does whatever he or she likes. Indeed, something has to be done to check the drift of the ship of the country, before something calamitous happens. Unfortunately, these folks are unwittingly and gradually demarketing the ruling party.” While calling on ASUU to remain resolute in the struggle to save the university system from the jaw of imminent collapse, the don expressed delight that critical stakeholders, including the likes of Are Afe Babalola (SAN), Femi Falana (SAN), parents and students, among other Nigerians have faulted the decision of the Industrial Court, even as ASUU has also challenged the Industrial Court’s “notorious decision.” Towards this end, ASUU, he said, should insist on the implementation of the Nimi Brigg Committee’s report and recommendations.
ASUU, NANS reject court judgement
But, no sooner than the judgement, which threw spanner into the whole saga and caused a fresh confusion in the face-off, was pronounced, ASUU vehemently rejected and appealed the judgment. The union, however, urged its members to “remain calm” even as the Federal Government insisted that the union should obey the court ruling by going back to work, saying nobody won or lost in the ruling. In a tacit statement issued immediately the judgement was delivered, ASUU through the Chairman of ASUU-Lagos Zone, Dr. Adelaja Odukoya, titled: “NIC Back to Work Order on ASUU: Be Calm,” said: “Our Comrade President, Comrade Emmanuel Osodeke has urged members of our Great Union to remain calm as there is no cause for alarm on the back to work order delivered earlier today. And that the union had already filed an appeal and the stay of execution of the judgment. Members should remain resolute and strong. A united people can never be defeated. Solidarity without compromise.” Also, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) immediately issued a statement rejecting the court judgement, and threatened that it would continue to mobilise Nigerian students nationwide to obstruct the free flow of traffic in major cities except the government honours its agreement with the striking lecturers. According to NANS National Public Relations Officer (PRO), Giwa Yisa Temitope, in the statement, the only solution to end the strike is for the government to resolve its differences with ASUU. The statement reads: “Ordinarily, the Federal Government is not meant to have dragged ASUU to court. But, the fact that they had to drag ASUU to court is a signal that this government cannot handle a crisis. And, we want to state categorically that the court cannot force members of ASUU back to lecture theatres.” The students had in the last few weeks trooped to major roads across the country disrupting vehicular movements along the highways in protest against the continued closure of their institutions. The student body’s fresh threat is coming even as political parties are preparing for the commencement of election campaigns tomorrow (Wednesday) ahead of the 2023 general elections. According to NANS, Nigerian students would continue to unleash their “anger and frustration” on the Federal Government until public universities are reopened.
ASUU appeals court judgement
Consequently, ASUU as its moves to appeal the judgement, had last Friday approached the Court of Appeal, sitting in Abuja, asking the court to set aside the judgement of the National Industrial Court that ordered the union to call off its over seven-month-old strike.
The union, in a 14-ground of appeal, lodged through its team of lawyers led by Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), applied for a stay of execution of the judgement. ASUU, in its appeal insisted that Justice Hamman “erred in law and occasioned a miscarriage of justice when he decided to hear and determine the Respondents’ motion for an interlocutory injunction when he knew or ought to have known that the substantive suit was not initiated by due process of law.”
It further argued that the mandatory steps and procedure stipulated in Part 1 of the Trade DisputeAct(TDA) werenotfollowed by the Federal Government, stating that the trial judge acted ultra vires and misdirected himself when he unlawfully assumed jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
“What was granted as an interlocutory order was the same relief the Federal Government sought in its substantive suit. The findings of the trial court were contrary to and against the weight of evidence led at the trial,” it said. The appellate court, ASUU hinted showed “uncontroverted and irrefutable evidence” that the Federal Government waited for about seven months before approaching the NIC for the order of interlocutory injunction.”
Thus, ASUU noted that it was totally “dissatisfied with the decision” of the trial court which it said should not only be stayed from being executed, but also set aside in its entirety.
In the appeal said to have been lodged “both on grounds of law and on grounds bordering on fundamental human rights,” ASUU said: “This honourable court should not shut out the Appellant and thousands of its members desirous of ventilating their grievances pursuant to section 6 (6) (b) and 36 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended”. It relied on Section 243 (3) of 1999, as amended, to apply for leave of the appellate court to lodge the appeal.