The federal government has given the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) a condition to resume talks with the union over its grievances that had led it to go on indefinite strike.

It pointedly told the union to suspend the industrial action, began in March despite universities being under closure as part of plans to combat the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, before the resumption of negotiations.

Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, told THISDAY at the weekend that the federal government has demonstrated enough goodwill by paying salaries of the striking lecturers, urging them to discontinue their strike to allow for peaceful negotiations of their dispute.

“It is immoral and despicable for those who should be conducting research as Nigerians for the discovery of new drugs and medical equipment that will be used during COVID-19 period to say that they are at home playing Ludo and Draft and other games,” he said.

The minister also asked those complaining about some shortcomings in the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information Systems (IPPIS) in the tertiary institutions that the issues would soon be satisfactorily addressed.

Both the federal government and ASUU have been locked in a lingering dispute over alleged non-implementation of some aspects of an agreement reached in 2009 between them.

The dispute was heightened when the federal government directed that IPPIS be implemented in all its tertiary institutions.

While few lecturers who complied with the federal government’s directive were paid their salaries on the platform, the February and March payments to others who failed to comply were withheld.

But President Muhammadu Buhari had directed the payment of the withheld salaries in what was seen as an overture to pave the way for a return to negotiations by both parties.

Ngige said the federal government had shown enough goodwill to ASUU by accepting to pay the university teachers despite being on strike, notwithstanding its policy of “no work, no pay.”

Ngige stated that the government’s offer of an olive branch to ASUU members should be reciprocated by calling off the industrial action.

“Government has shown goodwill to the lecturers; the expectation now is that ASUU should announce the calling off of their strike; go back to the classroom and get back to the negotiating table and continue negotiations,” he said.

According to him, he has made efforts to reach out to ASUU but due to the lockdown, such attempts at resumption of negotiations could not materialise.

The minister explained that there are two reasons why ASUU should call off the strike.

The first reason is that government has shown goodwill and has offered olive branch by releasing the salaries of the university lecturers without any conditions.

“Secondly, it is immoral and despicable for those who should be conducting research as Nigerians for the discovery of new drugs and medical equipment that will be used during COVID-19 period to say that they are at home playing Ludo and Draft and other games.

“Even if schools are not open, ASUU members, especially researchers, are supposed to be going into their laboratories, going to botanic gardens to get some shrubs and other plants to be used in producing drugs during this COVID-19 outbreak.

“Those who are pharmacologists, who are in the electronics department and software engineers, this is the time for research to manufacture ventilators or make some inventions. It is unpatriotic for them to even continue saying that they are on strike at this time. They should not be saying it,” he said.

On the protest by the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Academic Staff Union (NASU) over alleged discrepancies in the payment of salaries through the IPPIS platform, Ngige said the matter was being addressed.

He added that the shortcomings being complained of by the unions were normal at the initial stages of deployment of such payment device.

He said: “When IPPIS was introduced in the federal civil service, these hiccups were there. It took some time before they were rectified. We were being thorough. When I was in the National Assembly, we were complaining but the good thing is that the IPPIS desk in the Accountant General’s Office is listening and they are addressing the issues. It will be rectified and once this is done, they will pay the arrears or deductions,” he stated

The minister added that the system has been in use and there’s nothing like rushing in the implementation of IPPIS.

He stated: “What I am telling you is that they have started in the universities and it is a computerised system. Sometimes it recognises garbage in garbage out. How many of those over-paid have come out to say that they were over-paid because there was also overpayment? Why are they not shouting it?”