Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and constitutional lawyer Mr. Femi Falana has accused Senator Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, of discriminating in the application of the federal government’s “no work, no pay” order against university lecturers who went on strike.
The Minister quickly responded, though, and denied the claims.
An ongoing lawsuit at the National Industrial Court in Abuja concerns the controversy surrounding the federal government’s order to withhold Academic Staff Union of the Universities (ASUU) members’ eight months’ worth of salary.
Payment of arrears on the salaries of ASUU members who took part in the protracted statewide strike was halted at the federal government’s request.
But Falana who is counsel to ASUU, said the minister has not displayed fairness in handling of the matter.
He alleged the minister had selected his colleagues in his home state, Anambra for special favour by causing their salaries to be paid for the period of the same strike.
Falana, also alleged that contrary to the claim by Ngige, the entire lecturers of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, joined the ASUU strike that took place last year.
He said: “The university management ordered the closure of the university on 21st March, 2022. Following the decision of ASUU to call off the strike, the management of the university ordered the resumption of academic activities with effect from October 17, 2022.
“Ngige has convinced the federal government not to pay ASUU members for embarking on strike in 2022. But he has decided to isolate his colleagues in his home state for special favour by causing their salaries to be paid for the period of the same strike.”
Falana further alleged that Ngige had taken a similar action when members of the National Association of Resident Doctors embarked on strike in 2021.
He said the federal government paid the salaries of the resident doctors for the period of their strike.
“The actions of the Minister run contrary to the provision of Section 42(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 which have prohibited any form of discrimination in the application of the law or policy of the government,” Falana said.
However, the minister refuted the allegation.
He said many institutions such as the Colleges of Medicine/ Health Sciences in Maiduguri, Bauchi ,Sokoto, Enugu , Nnewi , Benin graduated Doctors and other health professionals during the ASUU strike and they showed evidence that they were teaching and working during the prolonged industrial action.
Ngige said: “Their Vice Chancellors wrote to apply for the payment of their emoluments asserting they worked during the period and Labour Controllers in those States corroborated so the Minister of Labour and Employment in exercise of his powers under Section 43(2) of the Trade Disputes Act 2004 LFN authorised those lecturers to be paid their withheld remunerations.
“Falana is in court for those who didn’t work and are asking to be paid for not working. Judgement has been reserved for May 30th, he should stop his cheap blackmailing of the Minister and face the cases he’s doing for ASUU.
“Talking and bringing Anambra into the mix is a ploy to say Ngige is playing ethnic card. Nobody is fooled, let him face us in court.”