ABUJA – The National Industrial Court (NIC) sitting in Abuja yesterday refused the prayers of the Federal Government to direct the striking Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU) to resume classes pending the determination of a suit challenging the strike.
This was even as President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday met with the Chairman and select members of Pro-Chancellors of Federal Universities, promising to engage in further consultations with relevant stakeholders towards ending the protracted strike by the university teachers.
At the resumed sitting, Counsel to the Federal Government, James Igwe (SAN) requested the court to direct ASUU to resume work pending the determination of the suit.
However, the defendant’s counsel, Femi Falana (SAN), opposed the request, stating that it would amount to determining the substantive suit.
Justice P. l. Hammam, who agreed with Falana, said it was the issue for determination and therefore could not be resolved before hearing.
Meanwhile, the application brought by SERAP seeking to be joined as an interested party in the suit was not heard as the counsel filed another application, which was only served yesterday on the party.
SERAP’s counsel prayed the court to withdraw the earlier application and substitute same with the current one. The court subsequently struck out the earlier application.
The lawyer also argued that for the sake of justice, his application should be heard before entertaining other matters related to the suit.
On his part, counsel to the defendant, Falana, agreed that in the interest of justice and clarity, it would be proper to hear the application brought by SERAP pertaining to the same matter before the determination of other issues.
He, however, added that the defendant (ASUU) was making moves to meet with stakeholders to ensure that the matter was resolved and asked for adjournment for completion of the process of filing that has commenced.
In response, counsel to the Federal Government asked the court to give the substantive suit brought before the court accelerated hearing because of the urgency of the matter to enable students to return to their schools.
He also contended that SERAP’s application was not ripe for hearing because it had not been served to him.
The court, in its ruling, agreed that SERAP’s application was not yet ripe for hearing since it was only served yesterday to the party through the Ministry of Justice.
The judge consequently adjourned the suit to Monday, September 19, for hearing.
President Buhari, who met with the Pro-Chancellors at the State House, Abuja, said without necessarily going back on what was already an established policy, “I will make further consultations, and I’ll get back to you.”
The Pro-Chancellors were led to the meeting by Prof. Nimi Briggs, who said they came to meet the President “as President and Commander-in-Chief, as father of the nation and as Visitor to the federal universities.”
He added that despite the pall cast on the nation by the over seven months industrial action, “the future of university system in the country is good,” citing as example the recent listing of the University of Ibadan among the first 1,000 universities in the world, a development occurring for the first time.
Briggs commended the Federal Government for concessions already made to the striking lecturers, including the offer to raise salaries by 23.5 per cent across board and 35 per cent for professors.
He, however, asked for “further inching up of the salary in view of the economic situation of the country,” according to a statement signed by Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, and made available to newsmen.
The Pro-Chancellors also asked for a reconsideration of the No-Work, No-Pay stance of the government, promising that lecturers would make up for time lost as soon as an amicable situation was reached and schools reopened.
Minister of State for Education, Goodluck Nana Opiah, said all the concessions made by the Federal Government were meant to ensure that the industrial action comes to an end, lamenting that ASUU has remained adamant.