President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday led a negotiation meeting with the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to end the protracted strike embarked upon by the union since 1 July.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports the 13-hour meeting started at about 2.30 p.m. on Monday at the Presidential Villa and ended at 3.30 a.m. on Tuesday.
The meeting had in attendance the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) led by their respective Chairmen Abduwaheed Omar and Bobbo Kaigama.
The ASUU team was led by the union’s President, Dr. Nasir Fagge, three former presidents of the union, professors Dipo Fashina, Abdullahi Sule-Kano and Festus Iyayi as well as professors Biodun Osiyemi, Victor Osodeke, Suleiman Abdullahi and Dr. Victor Igbum.
On the government negotiation team were, Vice President Namadi Sambo; Minister of Labour, Chukwuemeka Wogu; Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the Minister of State for Education, Mr Nyesom Wike.
Also on the government side were the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, the Chief of Staff to the President, Mr Mike Oghiadome, and the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Prof. Julius Okojie.
Emerging from the meeting, Fagge told State House correspondents that the president had given the delegation a message to its members which would enable the union to call off the strike.
“We have had a lengthy meeting with Mr President, rubbing minds on the ways to address the problems of university education in this country.
“We now have a message from Mr President that we are going to take to our members and we are expecting that our members will respond appropriately to the message of Mr President,” he said
Asked whether union would call off the strike and return to work based on the message from the meeting, Fagge said “that is up to our members.”
Wogu, who spoke for the government, said that the meeting ended positively and the message of the President to ASUU “is full of hope and high expectations.
“The message is full of hope and expectations and our prayer is that they come back with positive response.
“They might not even come back to meet us; they might even take decisions there that will meet your expectations.”
Wogu noted that the offer made by the president was in line with the 2009 agreement reached with the union.
“The offer is within the issues that led to the strike; the issues contained in the 2009 agreement and we did not go beyond the agreement,” he said.
He appealed to Nigerians to be patient with ASUU and gave an assurance that the outcome of the meeting would be positive.
NAN reports that the president appeared to be in high spirits when he entered the venue of the meeting.
While shaking hands with the ASUU president, he exclaimed: “My president! All the problems will be over today; our children must go back to school.”
The president proceeded to shake hands with everyone in attendance at the meeting.
Also, while shaking hands with Omar and Kaigama, Jonathan said: “My presidents, with you here, I am assured everything will go on well, it is signed and sealed.”
NAN reports that the meeting went into a 30-minute break at 6.20 p.m.
During the period, the ASUU delegation went out of the venue of the meeting to the road where the bus that conveyed them was packed and held consultations inside the bus for about 25 minutes.
Prior to the arrival of the ASUU and labour team for the meeting, the president held a closed-door consultation with members of his team.
The discussion, which lasted for about 40 minutes, was attended by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Mohammed Adoke (SAN).
The ASUU embarked on a strike on July 1 over the government’s failure to implement an agreement reached with the union in 2009 for improved funding for infrastructure development in the universities and payment of lecturers’ Earned Allowances.
Government had set up two committees to address the issues to resolve the crisis but the inability of the committees to reach agreements with ASUU led to the vice-president taking over the negotiation.
On 19 September the vice-president held a special negotiation meeting with the leadership of ASUU and offered an improved government position on the matter but the union rejected the offer.
Many Nigerians have appealed to ASUU to call off the strike