The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) have been on strike for eight months.
ASUP’s strike is five months old; that of COEASU is three months. The unions are angry about the government’s silence on their demands and its seeming preference for universities, which, they claim, are getting ‘all the attention’.
ON Monday, polytechnic students grounded traffic on Ikorodu Road in Lagos, for hours. They were protesting their continued stay at home – for five months – because of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) strike.
The Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) has also been on strike for the past three months. Despite protests by the union in various parts of the country, the government appears not ready to accede to its demands.
ASUP went on strike in June, last year, about a month before the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike which was suspended past December.
Chairman of the Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi ASUP chapter, Comrade Aliyu Danladi Hina, told The Nation that the strike was suspended in October, last year when the Joint Committees on Education of the Senate and House of Representatives intervened.
The union voted to resume the strike in November when the Federal Government allegedly failed to implement its agreement with the unions.
Students and lecturers from the polytechnics and the colleges of education are accusing the Government of neglecting them and favouring universities, given its seeming lack of interest in their case.
During Monday’s protest in Lagos, a student of the Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH), Jide Bankole, blamed the government for the neglect and the HND/BSc dichotomy, which placed preference on university degrees than certificates awarded by polytechnics and other tertiary institutions.
“We are protesting because it seems the Federal Government has neglected the polytechnics. If not, how come we have been on srike for nine months? We are tired of staying at home. We also want the government to equate the HND with university degrees,” he said.
Another student, Lateef Ibrahim, said students were the biggest losers in the strike.
“Some of our lecturers are also engaging in other teaching businesses. Some teach part-time students and as we are speaking, the part-time students are still receiving lectures. So, the strike does not affect them,” he said.
In an interview with The Nation, the National ASUP President, Dr Chibuzor Asomugha, said the government’s favouring of universities over other tertiary institutions was not new.
“That is a forgone issue. There is no point discussing it. It is clear that the government has a clear disdain for polytechnics and other tertiary institutions,” he said.
He said the strike had not ended because four of the 13 demands the Federal Government agreed to implement since last October have not been met.
Shedding more light on the demands, Hina said: “A number of issues were presented to the Federal Government. They included: the establishment of a National Polytechnics Commission; review of the Polytechnic Acts; reconstitution of the governing councils; the worrisome state of state-owned universities; appointment of unqualified persons as rectors of federal polytechnics; release of the white paper of visitation panels to federal polytechnics, among others.
“Along the line, the Federal Government decided to immediately implement four in the interim, which include the migration of lower cadre from Consolidated Tertiary Institutions Salary Structure (CONTISS) 16 to 17; release of the white paper of visitation panels; constitution of governing councils and the release of a scheme of service. The government has not lived up to 50 per cent implementation of the four demands. They had promised to do so in two weeks, but that was four months ago; and nothing has been done.”
Though the Supervising Minister of Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, announced that the Federal Government would pay part of the arrears of the workers migrating from CONTISS 15 in March and the remaining in November, Asomugha said there was no evidence to that effect.
“There was no proposal. If they were going to make a proposal of that magnitude, you would see the process. Evidences on ground show that even the documents have not been sent to the appropriate places,” he said.
He accused the government of blackmail by reducing the union’s demands to issues concerning remuneration alone when it had raised weightier ones that have not been addressed.
“Government is just trying to use blackmail to make it seem like the union is only concerned about money. The aim of the Minister is to reduce the whole gamut of our agitation to one issue – money. Meanwhile, we have raised the issue of the HND/BSc dichotomy; comprehensive funding of polytechnics; establishment of polytechnic commission; the introduction of the Integrated Personal Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and the impending negotiations of the last agreement,” he said.
Since the strike started, some federal and state polytechnics have withdrawn from it.
Debunking claims that it is not effective across the country, Asomugha said all chapters of the ASUP voted that the strike should continue until the government responded positively.
“Both state and federal polytechnics were involved in the democratic process to determine if we should continue the strike. It is a collective decision of the union and no chapter can claim not to be a part of it. So, if one or two break away, it does not mitigate its effect,” he said.
In consonance with his claims, the former chairman of ASUP, Federal Polytechnic, Offa chapter, Comrade Kadiri Kamoru, said the institution pulled out in February to complete the 2012/2013 academic session after which the chapter would rejoin the national strike.
“We pulled out of the strike in the interest of the system. We started the 2012/2013 session in December 2012 and till now have not finished the session. So, we want to wrap up the session in a few weeks’ time and rejoin the strike.
The strike was called off at the Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti, for the same reasons.
A statement from P.A. Osakinle of the Information Unit of the institution stated: “The ASUP strike is a national action by the union since late April, 2013.
However, the Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti (FPA), temporarily withdrew from the strike in November, 2013 to help the students conclude the 2012/2013 academic session. With the session concluded last month, ASUP Ado-Ekiti branch had since rejoined the strike, vowing not to suspend or call it off until it receives necessary directive from the national body.”
As ASUP battles the Federal Government for attention, COEASU is also accusing the government of neglect.
The National Public Relations Officer of the union, Comrade Salami Ademola Rauf, accused the government of “insincerity,” adding that three memoranda of understanding (MoUs) were signed at different times, yet the government has refused to fulfil its own part of the bargain.
“We just returned from Abuja three days ago where government in their usual manner made a lot of promises. Just three days after, they are now singing another song. Government is just dilly- dallying That is just to tell you how insincere our government is.
But we are hell-bent on our resolve,” he said.
He continued: “Of all academic staff unions, COEASU appears to be most lenient because hardly would Nigerians hear us embark on strike often, but now we have been pushed to the wall.
“There are certain aspects of the 2009 negotiation that are long overdue for renegotiation; but government continues to plead for more time. On COEASU’s part, we have been patient with government more than enough. Now we have run out of patience
“Unfortunately, majority of students in our institutions are from poor background and I think this accounts for the government’s lackadaisical posture to our demands.”
Last week, over 200 COEASU members at the Federal College of Education (Technical), Umunze in Orumba South Council Area of Anambra State, protested the continued closure of Colleges of Education across the country.
The protesters said the industrial action would continue till the government responds to their demands.
The protesters, wearing black dresses, carried placards bearing various messages, including: “Release of white paper on 2012 visitation panel to colleges panel of education”; “migration of lower cadre in colleges of education should be implemented”; “We teach degree programmes, so why can’t the gov’t grant us autonomy to award degree certificates?”; “COEASU says no to IPPIS.”
The union’s chairman, Comrade Obi Williams, said COEASU was mourning the rot in the education sector, especially in the colleges of education. He lamented that the government has refused to negotiate with them since the strike began three months ago.
Williams, who accused the government of ignoring the union because of its interest in 2015 general elections, wondered why the issues connected with colleges of education and polytechnics are always overlooked unlike those of the universities.
He noted that various people, civil groups, traditional institutions and the press discussed ASUU’s strike till their demands were met. He asked for the same gesture to be extended to polytechnics and colleges of education with a view to repositioning the tertiary education sector.
The COEASU protesters urged the government to allow colleges of education award autonomous degrees since they train the students, questioning why the glory should be given to universities which only present the certificates.
Similarly, they disclosed that the IPPIS introduced by Jonathan’s administrations should be scrapped, as it causes delay and non-payment of monthly salaries of their members. They noted that the inconsistencies always forced victims to travel to Abuja for correction, despite the locations of their institutions.
Responding to the allegations of neglect levelled against the Federal Government, Simeon Nwakaudu, Special Assistant (Media) to the Supervising Minister of Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, said his boss has made efforts to end the strike and urged the unions to accept the government’s offer.
“Only one principal demand is yet to be finalised, but the Federal Government through the Minister has placed before the two unions the payment of arrears of CONTISS 15 put at over N40billion. The Federal Government has proposed two installmental payments, which the unions rejected.
“Last week, further negotiations were held and there hope that in the coming days the outstanding issues will be resolved.
“However, the most important effort of the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Education has been the setting up of the Needs Assessment Committees for Polytechnics and Colleges of Education. The two committees are in the process of concluding their reports have done field assessments. ASUP and COEASU officials participated in the two committees.
“These reports will lead to the required fundamental improvements in targeted areas that will be exposed by the reports about to be concluded. Based on the reports, the Federal Government will directly intervene, the way it did to the universities.”
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