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ASUU strike: Falana kicks as Ngige asks FG to pay withheld salaries of UNIZIK lecturers

BY James Ojo

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Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), has opposed the move by Chris Ngige, minister of labour, to facilitate the payment of withheld salaries of some lecturers at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK).

The salaries of the lecturers were withheld as a result of the eight-month nationwide industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) last year.

BACKGROUND

In 2022, lecturers under ASUU embarked on an eight-month strike over the non-implementation of their demands by the federal government.

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Members of the union have been at loggerheads with the government since the strike ended over non-payment of their salaries for the period the industrial action lasted.

The federal government had insisted that the union members would not be paid for the period they were on strike, citing it’s ‘no work, no pay’ policy.

But members of the union had condemned the move. The matter has remained a subject of intense conversation since then.

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‘UNIZIK MEDICAL LECTURERS WORKED DURING THE STRIKE’

In a letter seen by TheCable and dated March 30, 2023, Ngige had asked the minister of finance, budget and national planning to pay 204 lecturers of medical faculties at UNIZIK their withheld salaries.

The minister, in the letter, said records jointly signed by the deans of medical science, basic clinical sciences, and basic medical sciences faculties respectively at UNIZIK showed that the said lecturers  performed their duties while the strike lasted.

Ngige said this was further corroborated by the vice-chancellor of the institution as well as independent findings of the labour ministry’s state controller in Anambra.

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“In view of the above, please direct the accountant-general of the federation to exempt the two hundred and four (204) lecturers of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, College of Health Sciences whose names are attached herewith from the application of Section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act and be paid the outstanding arrears of their full salaries during the strike period from February 14, 2022 to date,” the letter read.

FALANA: NGIGE VIOLATED THE LAW

Reacting, in a statement, Falana argued that the minister’s action contradicts the law.

The lawyer, who is the counsel to ASUU amid the lingering face-off, said contrary to Ngige’s claim, the entire lecturers of UNIZIK joined the eight-month strike last year.

“Dr. Ngige has convinced the federal government not to pay ASUU members for embarking on strike in 2022. But he has decided to isolate his colleagues in his home state for special favour by causing their salaries to be paid for the period of the same strike,” Falana said.

“Dr. Ngige took a similar action when members of the National Association of Resident Doctors embarked on strike in 2021. The federal government paid the salaries of the resident doctors for the period of their strike.

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“The actions of the minister run contrary to the provision of Section 42(1) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap A9, laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 which have prohibited any form of discrimination in the application of the law or policy of the government.”

Emmanuel Osodeke, ASUU president, and Nigige did not respond to calls seeking comments on the matter.

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