The National President, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Comrade Chibuzor Asomugha, on Tuesday said polytechnics in the country should start awarding degrees. He said the prolonged discrimination suffered by HND certificate holders would be addressed if polytechnics were granted the autonomy to award degrees in their various academic programmes.
Comrade Asomugha made the appeal in Kano when ASUP members conferred an award of excellence on the former Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, in recognition of his service to the nation’s education sector. He said Mallam Shekarau’s brought a human face to leadership, recalling how he gently disarmed ASUP of its tools of confrontation during the 12-month strike that paralysed the polytechnic sector.
The award ceremony, a small family gathering made up of stakeholders from the education sector, the national leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and a host of associates and aides, was held at his Bompai residence in the ancient city.
Asomugha demanded an end to the age-long discrimination suffered by the polytechnic sector, as he explained how HND certificate holders were treated as second-class graduates in the labour market.
“We have pleaded with government to actually grant the polytechnics the right to award degrees – we are saying this because we know that government is a continuum and that there are people in this hall, whom we know will, again, control the reins of government in this country and we are praying that when the time comes, they would remember our plea,” he said.
The ASUP President recalled how the former governor, Shekarau, had invited the members of the union for discussion on resolving the strike that crippled federal polytechnics nationwide. Surprisingly, few weeks after that meeting, President Goodluck Jonathan drafted him to head the education ministry.
He further stated: “We don’t know how to praise people but honestly, our experience with Mallam is more than somebody being in office as minister and he did well. No! He touched our individual lives by his lifestyle more than he touched the education sector of Nigeria. In his personal life, we learnt humility. We leant the fact that you could have been anything, but you still know you are a human being and you need to relate with people,” he stated.
He explained further, “We have met ministers, we have quarreled with ministers at the negotiation tables, ministers have even walked out on us, but I am telling you that we found it impossible to get angry when we were negotiating with Mallam. As union leaders, we like to get angry so that we can prove that we are union leaders. But Mallam had always denied us that opportunity.
“There was no matter we brought before him that he did not set out to do something about. We had problems with our superiors, our Rectors and heads of our supervisory agencies; and we discovered that Mallam was one person who will tell these people the truth without getting them angry and also be able to tell us where we got it wrong.”
He gave another example of some of the ways of Mallam Shekarau: “We had a polytechnic where people became power drunk really and quite oppressive and the chairman of our union in that polytechnic was suddenly sacked, dismissed from service after 26 years of service.
“We went to Mallam and he promised us that he would bring him back. And we were angry at a point because Mallam never directed the man, he never called him and said ‘common bring him back’. He never wrote and said “common bring him back”.
“He would call the man, talk to him quietly, try to convince him, but the man would go back, he would not do it and we would worryingly go back to Mallam again,” he recalled.
“Four days to his exist as Minister, nothing happened! Three days to the end of the administration!! Two days!! And on the day of his exit, Mallam said, “Look even as I leave, this man must be recalled. Don’t worry. He has been recalled after four months and his entitlements paid. Mallam kept putting the pressure until he was recalled.”
Asomugha further decried the troubles of polytechnics in Nigeria, saying: “We want to say that the problems of polytechnic education lingers. We have had issues of our HND graduates not given the same recognition as people who graduated with what they call B.tech”.
“They are producing graduates using their own facilities and their own lecturers but they are doing it in affiliation with the universities. You train a graduate, give him a Bachelor’s degree in Kaduna Polytechnic or Yabatech or Oko, and the certificate would bear ABU or BUK.
“But this same person has been taught by the same lecturers and the same facilities as the HND holders and these HND holders move into the market with the same people who have passed through the same class and they are discriminated against,” he lamented.
“They are said to be lower in intellect and acumen and they had been in the same class with these people taught by the same lecturers and at a point in their career, they are stopped at Grade level 14 while their colleagues would go ahead of them, manning them. These are issues that have remained.
“Government has not paid proper attention to these issues. And if we are going to develop in Nigeria, there is, no doubt, that we must look at these things. If you go around Kano now, the textile mills have closed up, the same thing is happening in Kaduna. And in Anambra, where I come from, industries are closing shops.
“The manpower to man these industries, the core technical experts to man industries is not there anymore. People would prefer to go and read Philosophy or Public Administration, instead of studying engineering in the polytechnics just because they would not like to have HND. I think that government would have to do a rethink.”
The ASUP President condemned the imposition of outsiders on polytechnics as rectors, but such people decline to take up full time teaching appointments in those institution at the end of their tenure.
Instead, he suggested: “Let people choose a career path and let them get to the top of the career path. And this is an issue we would continue to present to the government, that they should stop making the polytechnics colonies of the universities, but allow us to stand on our feet and move on.
Mallam Shekarau expressed gratitude to Allah for the award and guidance during his tenure as the Education Minister.
He shared his challenging experiences while negotiating with the union to end the strike, saying: “When I had meeting with your leadership, the number one problem, after agreeing on all issues – as at that time, salaries were withheld for about five months- was if they agree to go back to the class room, how am I sure your salaries would be paid.
“I found myself in a very serious predicament because I was not having the salary. The salaries were with the government and technically, the president had to approve, because the President’s directive was that no work; no pay.”
“And right inside me, I was worried. If I give them my words that they would get their salaries and they went back to work and the salaries were not paid, I will be in soup because it was not totally under my control. But I still took the risk”.
“I accepted that they suspend the strike. I had to rush to Mr. President. He had closed from office but I insisted that I must see him. I was able to cross the hurdle of the gate keeper and I was granted audience.”
“I shared with Mr. President my discussion with the union, that we went through XYZ. But I added that there is a problem. But the president asked what was the problem since you said that they have agreed? I said the problem was their salary. But he said, ‘No! They did not work for it’.
But I replied, “Yes, they did not work for it, but they had their reasons! And I totally agree with their argument and they also agreed with my argument that none of the issues started with your administration. It was a carry -over and as your former national president said, unions will keep pushing for their case regardless of whoever is in office.
“We went through it and at the end, Mr. President graciously agreed to pay. And he said, they are your colleagues; let them be paid at least for your honour and recognition,” said Shekarau.
“And I said here and now. I will put a call to the Minister of Finance. And he agreed and I put a call and she said the salaries are with the institutions, they were only told not to pay. Do we have the authorities to get them to pay? And she was told to go ahead.”
Mallam Shekarau also narrated the saga of the sacking and reinstatement of ASUP Chairman in Federal Polytechnic Oko, Comrade Godson Okeoma, noting that despite the previous posture of the Rector of the polytechnic, he had since appreciated he made some mistakes too.
He recalled: “I told him that it was not in your honour not to recall him. What would you gain by dismissing an officer whose case had not been thoroughly investigated and treated? What would you gain putting out of job someone who had served the system for more than two decades and denying more than 10 lives under him their own bread?”
“And I said that in the next two, three years, you are going to leave office and if you look back, what honour would you have that you have ruined the lives of others? “I narrated to him one philosophical saying of the Late Mallam Aminu Kano that I have been sharing with many people. Mallam Aminu Kano used to say that when someone comes to ask you for a room for him to sleep overnight. You have the opportunity to give him the room. But if you refuse, you will still see that person in the morning. He said after all even he stood on the street, he would still pass the night and you will see him in the morning…”
“And I said Rector, if you don’t restore this man, your tenure would finish and this matter would still be on the table, whoever comes would still see that you did it erroneously, he would be restored and you will still meet him on the street. What have you gained?