Hopes of undergraduates returning to the classroom anytime soon have again been dashed as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has ruled out any possibility of suspending its six months old strike.
Addressing journalists in Abuja on Tuesday, ASUU President, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, accused the Ministry of Labour and Employment, chaired by Chris Ngige as "Conciliator" for continuously creating more chaos in the resolution process.
ASUU had on February 14 embarked on a strike to press home its demand, including the government's investment in the nation's university infrastructure, and payment of members' salaries through the recommended University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), among several others.
At the end of the 30 days, the federal government failed to arrest the situation, which gave ASUU the impetus to roll-over the strike on March 14. More recently, the union declared another 12 weeks' strike, thereby keeping the students perpetually at home.
Osodeke said the union will never suspend strike but ensure it puts a permanent end to it.
"ASUU therefore makes bold to say that the Minister of Labour and Employment has taken upon himself the role of unabashed protagonist in our ongoing dispute with the government of Nigeria for some inexplicable reasons.
"Dr Ngige earlier told whoever cared to listen that he was not the employer of university academics and advised the union to march to the Ministry of Education. Nigerians may wish to know why he has suddenly turned around to constitute himself as an impediment to an amicable resolution of the ongoing crisis."
The union said it remains focused on its goal of making the Nigerian University system internationally competitive and getting its products to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their peers in any part of the world.
"We appreciate the teeming Nigerians for identifying with our vision in this respect. We specifically acknowledge the support and sacrifices of our students (including our members who are running their postgraduate programmes) as well as their parents; they are our critical partners in this transformation project. We in ASUU shall do our utmost best not to let you down.
"ASUU appreciates your concerns and sympathetic support. We are as bothered as you are because we share a common interest in the Nigeria project. However, ASUU shall continue to be guided by the sacred canons of integrity, objectivity, and responsibility to which both academics and media practitioners subscribe.
"It is our fervent hope and desire that the current groundswell of interests would culminate in a convergence of solutions to this avoidable crisis in the overall interest of Nigeria Together, we shall win. The struggle continues," he said.
Speaking further, Osodeke said if Ngige means well as a "conciliator, he won't be putting roadblocks on the path to completing a process that has dragged on for more than five years.
"The Ministry of Labour and Employment, as the chief labour ministry of the country, is principally expected to apprehend disputes between employers and employees with a view to settling such disputes.
"The Ministry shall normally await reports of disputes by either side to the disputes for settlement. When the Minister apprehends a dispute, he/she must communicate to the parties or their representatives his or her own proposal for the resolution of the dispute.
"However, ASUU has always had serious reservations about the claim of "conciliation" by someone who has taken sides in the dispute, or by an unabashed protagonist in the crisis such as the current Minister of Labour and Employment. It is antithetical to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions (98, 151 & 154) on collective bargaining.
"It is against the principle of natural justice and the doctrine of equality for Dr. Ngige who carries himself as if he has personal scores to settle with ASUU and shoots down the Union everywhere it matters to assume the role of conciliator," he added.
On the issue of funding of public universities, he said it has become the pastime of government officials to talk tough about billions and trillions of naira whenever the thorny issues of education and health sectors' funding come up for mention.
However, he lamented that various sums of money in the same region which could have been deployed for human capacity development and public good usually develop into the thin air at the end of the day!
"We are therefore, not surprised the leadership of the Ministry of Labour and Employment could condescend to the point of denigrating the import of massive injection of fund into the University Education sub-sector as they tried to miserably dismiss the vexed issue of funding Nigerian public universities and uplifting the country's intellectual capital. While the government and its agents, would like to look at the issue in the "here and now and funding as a one-off matter, we prefer to look at it longitudinally.
"ASUU believes that the idea of availability of funds is a dynamic process. For instance, the government can mobilize funds from different sources including non budgetary outlets like stamp-duty, GSM and alcoholic taxes.
"We are appalled by the recent calls by top government functionaries at both federal and state levels to establish more universities at a time agencies run by same chief executives are tightly squeezed for funding."
"We restate our opposition to the proliferation of universities and other tertiary institutions merely for political gains or electoral value. Nigerians should read through the intentions of hypocritic political jobbers when dangling the carrots of sitting institutions they have no intention of developing to compete with others in Africa and beyond."
Reacting to the acclaimed breakaway faction of ASUU, Congress of University Academics (CONUA), Osodeke said the union doesn't recognize any official faction.