Following the suspension of the 10 month long strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union Of Polytechnics, (ASUP) Life is gradually returning to polytechnics across the country. The strike, which began in October, last year, was called off by the union on July 12 for three months.
This is good news for polytechnic students nationwide, who had apparently become strike-weary as a result of the long duration of the strike. It is also good news for their parents who would now look forward to resumption of studies by their wards to keep them away from anti-social behaviours. Most importantly, however, the suspension of the strike is a major breakthrough for the new Minister of Education, Ibrahim Shekarau, who is also former governor of Kano State. ASUP President, Dr. Chibuzor Asomugha, who confirmed the suspension of the strike, said it was in deference to the new minister and the need to allow him settle down to appraise the issues so he could take informed decisions on them.
ASUP had gone on strike over a series of grievances, including what it calls the appointment of unqualified persons as rectors and provosts of polytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of education by some state governments, as well as the failure to implement the approved salary packages and the 65-year retirement age for the teachers. The union also wants the establishment of a National Polytechnics Commission and wants what it perceives as bias in the distribution of budgetary allocation to education sector which gives the universities about N188.4billion (47 percent) out of the N400billion approved in the 2012 budget redressed. The teachers’ demands include the release of the White Paper on the Visitation Panel to Federal Polytechnics as well as commencement of the polytechnics needs assessment. Only one of these demands concerning the constitution of Governing Councils for the schools has been met.
That the strike was called off after a meeting between the striking lecturers and the minister is instructive. What it tells us is that the problem might have been resolved a long time ago if the minister of state for education, Chief Nyesom Wike, who had been overseeing the ministry since the exit of the former substantive minister of education, Professor Ruquayat Ahmed Rufa’I, last year had been more committed to his work. Wike did not appear keen on seeing an end to the crisis, as he is more involved with dirty politicking in Rivers State where he is nursing the ambition of succeeding the incumbent Governor Rotimi Amaechi.
That such an important ministry as that of education could be left without a substantive minister for this long is a reflection of the importance that the government attaches to education. Indeed, that government could leave the ministry in the hands of an incompetent minister of state who, like Nero, fiddled while Rome burned, is a jigsaw puzzle. For sure, everything must be wrong with a system that allowed the prolonged paralysis that we have witnessed in the education sector in recent time. It does not inspire hope that we are in a hurry to catch up with the rest of the world.
We can only hope the minister would not betray the trust that ASUP reposed in him. Successive governments, including the Goodluck Jonathan administration, have the uncanny habit of reneging on agreements they freely entered into with academics, particularly ASUU. This has been a major source of friction between the government and ASUU. We implore Shekarau to remember his promise to the union that “we cannot afford to ignore the polytechnics… We cannot grow without the manpower being produced by the polytechnics”, just as we also admonish the polytechnic teachers to know that a matter like this requires give-and-take. So, both sides must be ready to imbibe that spirit because the polytechnics are the engine room of our technological growth and development.
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