By Gabriel Dike, Fred Ezeh, Abuja and Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Federal Government has made U-turn on the order that Vice Chancellors and Pro-Chancellors compel striking university lecturers to return to classrooms in compliance with the National Industrial Court (NIC) judgment.
National Universities Commission (NUC) in a memo last night directed the Vice Chancellors and Pro-Chancellors to disregard the earlier memo directing immediate reopening of campuses and commencement of academic and non-academic activities.
NUC’s Director of Director, Finance and Accounts, Sam Onazi, who signed the memo on behalf of NUC Executive Secretary, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, asked the VCs and Pro-Chancellors to await further instructions as the matter of ASUU strike.
Part of the letter read: “I have been directed to withdraw the National Universities Commission (NUC) Circular Ref: NUC/ES/138/Vol.64/135, and dated 23th September, 2022, on the subject of enforcement of NIC court judgment.
“Consequently, the said Circular stands withdrawn. All Pro-Chancellors and Chairmen of Governing Councils, as well as Vice Chancellors of Federal Universities are to please note. Further development and information would be communicated to all relevant stakeholders.”
Earlier, Rasheed, in a memo, had asked the VCs and Pro-Chancellors to ensure campuses are reopened as quickly as possible and return of normal academic and non-academic activities in the campuses as contained in the court judgment.
He also directed them to ensure ASUU members immediately resume and commence lectures, and also restore other daily activities and routines of the various University campuses.
The Secretary General of Committee of Vice-Chancellors (CVC), Prof. Yakubu Ochefu, told journalists that officials of the Committee would take a decision on the matter after a meeting.
But ASUU, in reaction had described the action as fruitless effort, stating that both the NUC and Federal Government representatives were aware that it had appealed the NIC judgment and nothing would be done by both parties till the matter is concluded at the Appeal Court.
It said Federal Government can reopen varsities but total strike continued and vowed that no one, not even the Federal Government, can cajole them to return to the classrooms when their reasons for the seven-months old nationwide strike have not been met.
ASUU Vice President, Dr. Chris Piwuna, told Daily Sun: “NUC is obviously doing a fruitless job because we won’t comply with the directive. NUC and other government officials are clearly aware that ASUU appealed the NIC judgement last week, and this means that all parties must hold on till the matter of appeal is concluded at the Appeal Court.
“Because we have appealed the NIC judgement, the basis of the letter from NUC doesn’t hold anymore. We expect that the NUC should write another letter informing the Vice-Chancellors and Pro-Chancellors that there’s an Appeal pending in Court. But we know they won’t do that for reasons best known to them.
“This is just effort in futility because nobody can force us to return to the classroom until the Appeal is concluded. There’s no amount of coercion by the government or anybody that will force us to return to the classrooms until the matter is concluded in the Court of Appeal.
“I have to re-emphasize that ASUU is not insisting that the matter must be resolve in their own way, and that’s why we are in negotiation with the government. We are always ready to find a middle ground to end the protracted crisis, but the representatives of Federal Government are not helping matter. Each time we hit a middle ground, they (government representatives) would shift the goal post. They keep setting up Committee upon cCommittee and discarding the report. We have realised that what shifting ground means to the government is that we return to the classrooms while the challenges are not solved, and that’s not acceptable to us.”
•FG can reopen varsities but total strike continues
Also reacting, Chairman of the University of Ibadan branch, Prof Ayoola Akinwole, argued that the union never shut down universities when it embarked on nationwide strike on February 14. He added that members of ASUU would not be in classes but would continue to do their researches and community services.
“We remain committed to our resolve to prosecute the strike and our members have resolved not to be caged by tyrannical orders. As you know, we have appealed the Industrial Court rulling. Our members will have nothing to do with teaching, supervision, nor attend statutory meetings, until our demands are met, and the strike is suspended by the leadership of the union.”
•NANS ready to resume lectures, NAPTAN reacts
The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has said students were ready to resume classes in line with the Federal Government directive for universities to reopen.
Coordinator of NANS Zone D, Stephen Tegbe, told Daily Sun that students and stakeholders were resolute about the reopening of universities and that government directive to VCs is a welcome development.
Tegbe said: “As long as ASUU members are ready to teach, we are ready for lectures. After staying at home for seven months, students are ready to storm the campuses to begin lectures.
“The NICN gave an order but ASUU leadership is not ready to comply with the ruling. Court orders are meant to be complied with and that is what students expect ASUU to do. We are ready for lectures and tired of staying at home. This government move is a welcome one.”
Parents under the aegis of National Parent Teacher Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN) said they cannot wait to send their wards back to school.
Deputy National President of NAPTAN, Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo, described government’s action as a welcome news but wondered if ASUU would obey the directive.