By Joan Nwagwu, Abuja.
The Federal Government has expressed optimism that the decisions reached at its tripartite plus meeting with the university-based unions would start yielding fruits next week.
This is contained in a statement issued in Abuja on Friday by Mr Olajide Oshundun, Head, Press and Public Relations. Ministry of Labour and Employment.
Oshundun quoted the Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige as expressing the hope, while addressing newsmen at the end of the meeting on the on-going strike by unions in the education sector.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) are currently on strike.
Also on strike are the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT).
The unions are demanding improved welfare packages and better working environments.
Ngige said: “We had cordial and fruitful discussion; we looked at the issues dispassionately and reached some agreements, to the satisfaction of everybody in attendance”,
The minister said the discussion was moved out of the labour ministry to make it tripartite plus because the government brought in some interested parties, in a bid to resolve the disputes.
He said that the parties included the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) headed by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), led by Rev. Sampson Ayokunle, NIREC co- chairman.
“We discussed; everybody was happy. We reached some agreements and we hope that by next week, those agreements will start maturing.
“The four unions will also go and brief their members, so that they can call off the strike,” he said.
Besides, Ngige said that some issues such as the 2009 agreement, as it affected the re-negotiation of conditions of service and wage review, could be concluded next week.
Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, the Chief of Staff to the President and Chairman of the tripartite meeting, also informed the meeting that President Muhammadu Buhari had directed him to pilot the meeting.
He said that the team, which comprised the Ministers of Labour, Finance and Education, would work with ASUU leaders and stakeholders find a lasting solution to the perennial strikes in the nation’s education system.
He said that the perennial problems had culminated in the mutilation of the nation’s educational calendar.
“Not long ago, we had professors and students from universities in other countries coming to work in our universities.
“Not long ago, we had a calendar and predictability of when a student enters the university and when he or she can graduate.
“But we all know that all of that have changed, and the impact on our education system and even the reputation of our universities has been devastating,” he said.
Gambari assured that the President was determined to put an end to these negative developments.
“We need predictable and quality education, so that the human capital required to move our country forward will further be developed in a consistent manner.
“It is in this light that the meeting has been convened and I want to commend, on behalf of Mr President, the efforts made by the co-chairs of NIREC in having meetings with ASUU,” he said.
In his remarks, Abubakar said that all hope was not lost in the resolution of the strikes in the university system.
“Once we sit together to discuss a problem, we believe that the end is in sight, as dialogue is the best option in resolving all issues,” he said.
The Sultan said as NIREC, they came on board as a show of concern and with a determination to end the industrial disputes.
“I don’t think it will be so beneficial to us that while our children are at home and threatening violence across the country, blocking roads and airports and we, as elders, sit down watching.
“The best thing is to go back to the classroom and we continue negotiations. We will continue sitting together until the final solution is attained; it is not impossible.
“There must be a compromise. At the end of it all, there will be no victor, no vanquished. It is important to see us working to put our educational system back on track.
“It will be very dangerous to allow our children to sit at home for the next three weeks. That is why we plead with the unions to see the need to call off the strikes, while we negotiate,” he said.
Besides, Ayokunle commended the Federal Government for the confidence reposed in them to be part of the meeting.
He said that the poor funding of universities was borne out of long period of neglect, “which snowballed to where things are today”.
“If others funded the education sector as much as the present administration had done; maybe, we will not be where we are now.”
Ayokunle appealed to the unions to return to work, in the interest of children’s future and that of the country.
Also speaking, ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, urged the government to give quality attention to education, saying if it did that, all the problems would be amicably resolved very soon.