By G9ija

President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, to hands off negotiations with the striking [b]Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

Mr Buhari, who gave the directive during a briefing by the heads of the various concerned ministries, departments and agencies of government on Tuesday in Abuja, also okayed the suggestion by the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to take over the negotiations.

Mr Adamu was said to have complained to the gathering the reason behind his prolonged silence on the matter, saying his labour and employment counterpart had since 2016 argued “that only the labour ministry has the mandate to negotiate with striking workers unions in Nigeria.”

ASUU has also blamed Mr Ngige for allegedly complicating the crisis and making resolution difficult.

ASUU stated the position on Tuesday at a media briefing on the status of the negotiations. The union said the position became necessary as part of its efforts to clarify conflicting positions allegely linked to the union.

Adamu versus Ngige
A highly-placed source, who was at the meeting and spoke with PREMIUM TIMES in confidence, said earlier reports that President Buhari ordered the education minister to address the ASUU crisis within two weeks is inaccurate.

The source said; “The President never directed the education minister to end the strike in two or three weeks. It was the minister himself who hinted of a possibility of an end to the crisis between two and three weeks.

“But the education minister said he distanced himself from the negotiations following the position taken sometime in 2016 or thereabouts when a similar issue arose and the labour minister said it was his duty to take over negotiation and quoted some ILO provisions.”

The source said Mr Adamu expressed surprise that when his labour counterpart made the argument at a cabinet meeting at the time, none of the cabinet members contradicted him and that the President maintained silence.

“So the education saw the President’s silence as an approval of Mr Ngige’s position at the time,” the source added.

History of controversies
The latest conflict between the minister of education and his labour and employment counterpart is not new.

The labour minister had in the past criticised his education counterpart, accusing him of not doing enough to resolve the labour crises in Nigeria’s higher institutions.

In April, while meeting the 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement renegotiation committee headed by Nimi Bŕiggs, a professor, Mr Ngige explained his challenges with the education ministry.