The Federal Government on Monday extended the deadline for striking university lecturers to resume work to December 9.
The government had earlier ordered the striking members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to resume work on December 4.
The Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Julius Okojie, announced the new date while addressing journalists in Abuja on Tuesday.
Okojie explained that “Government decided to shift the deadline after it received notification of Prof. Festus Iyayi’s funeral rites slated for between Dec.5 and 7.
Iyayi, former President of ASUU, died on Nov 12, 2013 in auto crash in Lokoja on his way to attend the association’s meeting in Kano.
According to Okojie, the decision is also to avoid a situation where government and ASUU will have to deal with the ultimatum during the funeral of the former ASUU President.
“We just received information that the burial rites of Festus Iyayi begins on December 5 and would last till December 7.
“Based on this information, government decided to shift the resumption deadline to December 9, to enable lecturers to participate in the burial.
The executive secretary said the directive had been communicated to the various universities Governing Councils and Vice Chancellors for onward transmission to the academic staff.
Okojie added that there was no intention to victimise any lecturer for participating in the strike.
He said the victimisation clause which members of ASUU were using to discredit the government never came up when the unionists met with President Goodluck Jonathan on November 4.
“On November 4, Jonathan had a meeting with ASUU.
“In attendance were senior government officials, the Ministers of Labour, Finance, Education, NLC, TUC, SGF, Chief of Staff to the President and a host of others.
“I recall the remarks Mr President made that day that something has to happen, that all parties had to find solution to the nagging problems of our universities.
“ASUU came out from that meeting which lasted for over 13 hours, to say they would communicate with us through their principal officers.
“Let me also emphasise that the drafting of that communique had the input of ASUU’’, he said.
He wondered why ASUU would return three weeks later, after it had failed to get back to government on November 8 as agreed, demanding addition of new clauses.
“The 2009 agreement stipulates that any party that wants a re-negotiation should inform the Ministry of Labour.
“If ASUU had said they would resume, but the outstanding issues must be addressed, government would have no choice.’’
On the N200 billion Revitalisation Fund which ASUU wanted government to disburse within two weeks, Okojie said the money had been deposited in an account in the Central Bank of Nigeria.
He explained that the money could not be disbursed based on ASUU’s demand because it was meant for capital projects.
According to Okojie, the order does not require students to commence lectures immediately.
“The school environment had to be made habitable for both students and the entire staff of the universities.’’
He said any lecturer who resumed work after the expiration of the new deadline would not have his or her salary arrears paid.
“You cannot pay someone who has failed to resume work. You are on strike and you want to be paid?
“What if some has already left the system? Some of our very bright lecturers may have got jobs elsewhere.’’
Okojie said government, as employer of labour, could not fold its arms while the institutions remained shut at the detriment of students.