Nigeria: FG’s threat and the UNILORIN example

Nigeria: FG’s threat and the UNILORIN example

After being seemingly driven to the wall by the insistence of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to continue with the strike it started on July 1, the Federal Government, on Thursday, bared its fangs, as it asked the striking lecturers to resume work by December 4 or risk being sacked.

Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, who made this known during a press briefing in Abuja, described the continuation of the strike by the lecturers, despite several meetings held with representatives of the Federal Government and, even President Goodluck Jonathan, as an act of sabotage.

Wike said at the meeting between the president and the leadership of ASUU, firm commitments were made to address the concerns of the lecturers, but added that three weeks after the meeting, the lecturers were predicating their return to work on new conditions.

He, therefore, directed university vice chancellors to declare the positions of those who refused to return to work by Wednesday next week vacant.

While the concern of the Federal Government over the fate of students who bear the brunt of the industrial action is understandable, as many Nigerians are even angry with ASUU for allowing the strike to drag for long, the question is: is this act different from the 2001 UNILORIN fiasco?

In 2001, while a strike called by the national body of ASUU to ensure adequate funding of education, university autonomy and better condition for lecturers was on, authorities of the University of Ilorin opened a register and asked lecturers willing to return to work to sign.

Many of the lecturers complied, but a group of 49, led by the chairman of the union in the institution, Dr Taiwo Oloruntoba-Oju, refused to sign. The authorities of the university declared their positions vacant and subsequently dismissed them.

But the lecturers, believing that the dismissal was improper, contested it in court. The Federal High Court, Ilorin, presided over by Justice Peter Olayiwola, on July 27, 2005, nullified the dismissal of the lecturers and ordered their reinstatement.

The institution was not satisfied with the judgment and challenged it at the Court of Appeal, Ilorin division. The appellate court, on July 12, 2006, in a 2-1 split decision, held that the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the case and reversed its decision, holding that the dismissal of the lecturers was in order.

But that was not the end, as the lecturers took their case to the apex court in 2007. They prayed the court for an order reinstating them to their positions and the payment of their salaries, allowances and all other entitlements from the date of their purported sack to the date of the reinstatement.

In a unanimous decision, the apex court, in December 2009, upheld all their prayers and directed the university to reinstate them with full benefits.

It was a tortuous journey but the sacked lecturers were victorious at the end. The court even went ahead to rule that those who died during the struggle should be treated as staff who died in active service and their entitlement paid in full to their families.

It is interesting to note that the Supreme Court knocked the bottom off the argument of the management of the university that it had the right to hire and fire by stating that it failed to give the sacked lecturers a fair hearing.

If in complying with the minister’s directive, recalcitrant lecturers are sacked by vice chancellors after Wednesday, will they have given the lecturers a fair hearing? Will it not be akin to repeating the same mistake made by the authorities of the University of Ilorin 12 years ago?

Source: Nigeria Tribune

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