THE National President of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, Mr. Chibuzor Asomugha, while commenting on the ongoing strike by the members of the union, laments, “Each day this strike lasts leaves an increasingly irrevocable damage on the tertiary sector of the nation’s education. For instance, just on Saturday, the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board conducted the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination for candidates seeking admission to the nation’s tertiary institutions in 2014, yet in most polytechnics, the intakes from last year’s UTME have yet to start school.
“Those in the final year of their Higher National Diploma programme have not been able to graduate and proceed on National Youth Service. In the colleges of education, the situation is very much the same as the backlog of final year students has put pressure on the dearth of qualified teachers in basic education, especially. The ripple effect of this very avoidable slowdown in the tertiary sector will not go away in a long while”.
Such comments no doubt, cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand. As a stakeholder, the ASUP helmsman is no stranger to developments in the sector.
Today makes it 185 days that members of the union have been on an industrial action, leaving the gates of the nation’s public polytechnics shut and their students in a state of hopelessness.
Beyond the industrial action in the polytechnics, teachers and students of the nation’s colleges of education have also been “enjoying” at home, as it were, courtesy of the strike. The Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union – the umbrella body of teachers in colleges of education – has been on strike since December 18, 2013.
That the ongoing strikes have huge damaging impact on the sector is not only the thinking of Asomugha as many stakeholders also agree with this view. They wonder, for instance, how the universities are going to get sufficient direct entry candidates for admission this year when their major sources of supply – polytechnics and colleges of education – have been lying prostrate for many months. They are also bothered about the socio-economic implications of the action, such as satisfying the teaching and the technical labour needs of the country. Again, they point to the threat that a full academic session is on the verge of being wasted, especially as these schools have yet to complete the 2012/2013 academic session.
According to a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Dr. Fidelis Okoro, it is high time the country started taking seriously the huge social and financial impact of the many avoidable industrial disputes. He notes that, in many instances, the losses from each dispute outweigh the benefits after it is resolved.
Appraising the ASUP/COEASU strike in particular, he says, “We can only imagine the social impact of unoccupied young people, coupled with the huge financial drawback this would be for the host towns of these schools. Students and their lecturers would be rusty by the time they come back. The impact on university admission this year will be enormous.
“Filling the direct entry slots of the universities would be an uphill task. Our fire brigade approach to solving labour issues is to blame for much of our woes. It is bad to put out the fire of a blaze we could have avoided and worse to scoop the ash of a blaze we started. Both the government and the labour leaders should be proactive in forestalling the strikes.”
Interestingly, as stakeholders express these concerns, the Federal Government says it remains committed to ending the strikes soon. The latest of such assurances came when the Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, told journalists in Abuja on Saturday that the government would soon resolve all lingering strikes in the sector.
“No government will be happy that students are roaming the street. We must promise what is practicable. Not just making promises without fulfilling them. Be rest assured that it will be resolved,” Wike notes
But, in his reaction to Wike’s claim, the National President of COEASU, Mr. Asagha Nkoro, to Wike’s claim. According to him, the minister of neglecting the colleges of education because the high and the mighty have no stakes in the system.
He also accuses the minister of being insensitive and refusing to meet with the COEASU leadership since December 2013.
An ASUP official, who was privy to the last meeting convened by the Minister of Labour and Productivity to resolve the crisis, also doubts the commitment of the government to the peace process.
The official, who craves anonymity, notes that because the issue revolves around education it has no place in the government circles. “Look at the way the President Goodluck Jonathan quickly intervened in the crisis among warring factions in Ekiti State PDP, less than two weeks after their governorship primaries. The President urgently summoned them to Abuja to bring peace to the party,” he explains.
He adds, “Consequent on the demand made by the Nigeria Labour Congress for President Goodluck Jonathan to end the lingering strike by ASUP and COEASU, the Minister of Labour, on March 26 convened a meeting with the striking unions, with the NLC President, Abdulwaheed Omar, present.
“At that meeting, the union granted further compromises signalling its commitment to bring the strike to a resolution. There was a consensus that the payment of the salary arrears will be in two instalments, between April and July. We also agreed that an inter-ministerial working committee be set up to address the outstanding issues and bring them up to actionable positions within two months. The understanding at that meeting was that the minister within one week would come back with the President’s approval.
“This understanding was to be a working plan upon which a review of the strike would be predicated. It was our expectation that NEC would have met last week to review the strike based on the understanding. Sadly, up until now, we have not received the expected Presidential approval. The minister has not invited us; nobody has briefed us about the real reasons why the President’s has not assented to it. We are confounded and embarrassed at the turn this strike has taken.”
Nkoro agrees no less with the ASUP official. The COEASU boss says, “The minister keeps misinforming Nigerians that he has made an offer to us. The continued neglect of the colleges will be counter-productive. Why will the government not release the 2012 White Paper on the implementation of the migration, funding of accreditation of programmes, harmonisation of conditions of service and granting of autonomy to the colleges to award degrees, among others?”
Nkoro, who says members of the union cannot forcibly return to work, warns that they plan to carry out mass protests in Abuja and other major cities in the country. Already, the striking ASUP and COEASU lecturers as well as their students have been protesting in their different schools, urging the Federal Government to address their grievances.
The striking polytechnics teachers are seeking, among others, the removal of what they regard as discrimination against polytechnic graduates, review of the Polytechnics Act, the establishment of a National Polytechnics Commission and the release of the White Paper of the visitation to federal polytechnics.
They are also kicking against the poor funding of polytechnics, deplorable condition of state polytechnics, appointment of unqualified persons as rectors of polytechnics and the review of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System and the funding of the CONTISS 15 Migration.
Meanwhile, the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions has accused the Federal Government of not making enough efforts toward implementing the migration of officers on CONTISS 11 as well as other demands that prompted the union to suspend its industrial action last December 9.
In a communiqué issued on Monday, the union, which resumed its strike on March 24, also noted that the implementation of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System would erode the autonomy of the colleges.
The Deputy President and the Deputy General Secretary 11, Colleges of Education and other Trade group Council, K.M. Adenekan and Tunji Carroll, respectively signed the communiqué.