The Academic Staff Union Of Polytechnics, ASUP and College of Education Academic Staff Union, COEASU, embarked on an indefinite strike to press home the implementation of their demands from the federal government since October 4, 2013 and December 18, 2013, respectively.

The big question on the lips of concerned parents and students of polytechnics and colleges of education is: when will this prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) end?

This is a million-dollar question that nobody can provide an easy answer to, not even the leadership of ASUP and COEASU. But the truth is that when academic staff in the polytechnics and colleges of education on October 4, 2013 and December 18, 2013, respectively, embarked on an indefinite strike to press home the implementation of their demands from the Federal Government, not many students, parents and Nigerians expected the industrial action to last this long.

The strike has set the record of being one of the longest in the history of industrial actions in tertiary institutions in Nigeria, as it enters the eighth month.

Before this time, the seven-month old ASUU strike of 1994/1995 academic session was regarded as the longest.
Prolonged ASUP strike

ASUP Zonal Coordinator (Zone C), Comrade Babatunde Dosumu, in response to Education Review enquiry about the prolonged strike, said it has become difficult for the union to appreciate government’s sincere commitment in addressing the demands despite repeated notices and appeals, which led to the initial suspension of the strike on July 17, 2013.

Dosumu revealed in a six-page document made available to our correspondent that within the period when the industrial action was suspended, up to the point of resumption of the strike, government had ample opportunity of addressing the demands that led to the strike and of restoring normalcy on the campuses.

He explained that ASUP engaged government on a wide range of demands that culminated in the issuance of a 21-day ultimatum on March 25, 2013, an ultimatum which expired on April 22, 2013 and which subsequently led to a declaration of a one week warning strike.

An indefinite strike that commenced on Monday, April 29, 2013 was later temporarily suspended on Wednesday, July 17, 2013, after the government pleaded for two weeks to meet ASUP’s demands.

Dosumu argues that the union was considerate enough to give government four weeks. But without positive results, it was left with no other option than to resume the suspended strike on Friday, October 4, 2013.

ASUP’s 13 demands
Of the total 13 demands of the union, about four have been met. They include the need to constitute the Governing Councils of polytechnics (done), migration of members from the lower cadres on the CONTISS 15 salary scale (done), release of the white paper on the visitations to federal polytechnics, commencement of the Needs Assessment of polytechnics so as not to allow the sector to collapse totally (done). But those yet to be met include addressing the worrisome state of some of the state-owned polytechnics in the country, like Kwara Poly, all ICT polytechnics in Ogun State, Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo, Ondo State, where ASUP members are being victimized, harassed and paid cut salaries, reluctance of the Office of the Head of Service to approve the Revised Scheme of Service for polytechnics.

Others are the continued appointment of unqualified persons as rectors and provosts of polytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of technologies by some state governments, imposition of professors from outside the polytechnic sector as rectors, refusal of most state governments to implement the approved salary packages (CONPCASS) for their polytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of technologies and the 65-year retirement age, the insistence of the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation to include federal polytechnics in the IPPIS module against the union’s protestations, while other arms of the tertiary education sub-sector are allowed to maintain the status quo, the continued recognition of the National Board for Technical Education as the regulatory body of Nigerian polytechnics as against the union’s repeated call for the establishment of a National Polytechnics Commission (NPC), the snail pace of the review of the Polytechnics Act, and the non commencement of the re-negotiation of the FG/ASUP agreement as contained in the signed agreement.

Dosumu stressed that the thrust of these demands are instructive and conceived in good faith, and geared towards the creation of broadened and balanced options that would ensure proper development of polytechnic education in Nigeria. “It is unfortunate that government has not given enough attention to addressing them even when it is ultimately clear that Nigeria’s growth prospects will be determined, not by its natural resources, but by our human resources and quality technological education which is the springboard for economic growth and shared prosperity,” he lamented. “Too much cannot be said about the fact that knowledge is a fulcrum of growth and development, and countries with higher technical skill levels are better equipped to face new challenges and master technological discoveries.

Nigeria cannot be an exception. Over the years the polytechnic sector in Nigeria has groaned under a myriad of burdens, and these have inevitably hampered the creation of a viable platform for the sector to grow and develop as is obtainable in developed and developing global economies.’’

COEASU’s six-month strike
Like ASUP strike, there is no doubt that this is the longest strike ever embarked upon by lecturers in the colleges of education and from every indication they are prepared to take it to another level as they are not thinking of suspending it until government meets their demands.

A four-page document made available toEducation Reviewby COEASU leadership, titled,The issues in contention with government: A synopsis, disclosed that the union’s agitation for government, both at the state and federal, to pay attention to teachers’ education especially the colleges of education as well as the welfare of the staff, predates the agreement reached in 2009 but signed in 2010 with the federal government. The union described the 2010 agreement as a product of compromise and concession offered by COEASU.

The document signed by COEASU National President, Mr. Emmanuel Nkoro and the General Secretary, Mr. Nuhu Ogirima respectively, categorized the issues in contention in two fold, one, the haphazard manner of implementation of the 2010 agreement, noting that “the only aspect of the agreement government agreed to implement was the upward review of salary’’. But it observed that government’s directive to Governing Council to pay the Peculiar Allowances with a promise to incorporate it into the budget has not been done since 2010.

The second categories of demands are basically on the working environment of colleges of education as dictated/engendered by the emergent policies of government. They include: decay in infrastructure, non-accreditation of NCE programmes since 2010, need for dual mode (autonomy to award degrees in core education programmes along with NCE), non-harmonization of conditions of service for academic staff of tertiary institutions, non-implementation of migration of members from lower cadres, non- release of white paper on 2012 visitation panel report, non-provision of funds for teaching practice and governing councils, insecurity engendered by out-sourcing policy, unpaid death benefits to families of deceased colleagues and threat of imposition of IPPIS.

Nkoro and Ogirima explained that after series of steps taken to get government to implement the demands without success, COEASU wrote a letter dated July 26, 2013, informing government of its intention to proceed on a national strike if it fails to address the issues in contention within 21 days. In addition, two reminders were sent to the Minister of State for Education prompting the Minister of Labour and Productivity to intervene. According to COEASU leaders, the union on September 9, 2013 began a three-day warning strike while its Expanded National Executive Council (ENEC) meeting resolved to proceed with the strike if the demands were not met. So, on December 18, 2013, COEASU declared a full industrial action, blaming its action on government’s insincerity in resolving the issues.

“It is sad, indeed, that the union was never informed of the outcome of the feedback from Mr. President hence, the resort/recourse to a public peaceful protest,” it noted in pubic statement. “It should be noted that while the union commends the Minister of Labour and Productivity for the challenging expediency with which he handled the crisis towards resolving the impasse, the Minister of State for Education, whose office has direct responsibility, never deemed it expedient to even meet with the union since the national strike commenced on December 18, 2013. This is, indeed, quite unfortunate and remains reprehensible. Hence, the need for urgent intervention by well-meaning Nigerians to save the education sector of our dear country from total collapse’’.

Commenting on ASUP, COEASU and FG face-off, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) through its National Coordinator, Hassan Taiwo, said the prolonged strike testifies the complete failure, incompetence and anti-poor disposition of the Jonathan Presidency. “This is almost an entire year lost by polytechnic students. The COEASU strike is equally almost five-months old.

Nothing better exposes the clueless nature of the federal government than the fate of these two vital education sub-sectors: public polytechnics and Colleges of Education,’’ he said.

“All that ASUP and COEASU are saying is: that polytechnics and colleges of education are vital to national development and should, therefore, be given their due in terms of funding, infrastructure, staff welfare and elimination of all discriminatory policies and practises against the two sub-sectors. It should not take a responsible government months to do the needful. Unfortunately, President Jonathan, his cabinet and members of the National Assembly are some of the most irresponsible leaders Nigeria has had’’, he argued.

He observed that the Supervisory Minister of Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike, gallivants around making political speeches and fighting political battles in his home state, while his principal responsibility is left unattended to.

“The man will go down on record as one of the worst education ministers. He is an embarrassment to the sector. The ERC shall continue to stand with ASUP and COEASU until all their demands are met,’ he noted.

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