Constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, has accused the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige of discrimination in the implementation of the federal government’s ‘no work, no pay’ order against university lecturers for embarking on strike.
Earlier, in 2022, lecturers under ASUU embarked on an eight-month strike over the non-implementation of their demands by the federal government.
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.
On 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.
“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.
But in a swift reaction, the Minister refuted the allegations.
The dispute over the federal government’s directive to withhold Academic Staff Union of the Universities (ASUU) members’ eight months salaries is subject of an on-going suit at the National Industrial Court in Abuja.
Following the federal government’s order, payment of arrears of salaries of ASUU members who participated in the prolonged nationwide strike were put on hold.
But Falana who is counsel to ASUU, said the minister has not displayed fairness in handling of the matter.
He alleged the minister had selected his colleagues in his home state, Anambra for special favour by causing their salaries to be paid for the period of the same strike.
Falana, also alleged that contrary to the claim by Ngige, the entire lecturers of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, joined the ASUU strike that took place last year.
He said: “The university management ordered the closure of the university on 21st March, 2022. Following the decision of ASUU to call off the strike, the management of the university ordered the resumption of academic activities with effect from October 17, 2022.
“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 further alleged that Ngige had taken a similar action when members of the National Association of Resident Doctors embarked on strike in 2021.
He said the federal government paid the salaries of the resident doctors for the period of their strike.
“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,” Falana said.
However, the minister refuted the allegation.
He said many institutions such as the Colleges of Medicine/ Health Sciences in Maiduguri, Bauchi ,Sokoto, Enugu , Nnewi , Benin graduated Doctors and other health professionals during the ASUU strike and they showed evidence that they were teaching and working during the prolonged industrial action.
Ngige said: “Their Vice Chancellors wrote to apply for the payment of their emoluments asserting they worked during the period and Labour Controllers in those States corroborated so the Minister of Labour and Employment in exercise of his powers under Section 43(2) of the Trade Disputes Act 2004 LFN authorised those lecturers to be paid their withheld remunerations.
“Falana is in court for those who didn’t work and are asking to be paid for not working. Judgement has been reserved for May 30th, he should stop his cheap blackmailing of the Minister and face the cases he’s doing for ASUU.
Talking and bringing Anambra into the mix is a ploy to say Ngige is playing ethnic card. Nobody is fooled, let him face us in court.”