Striking lecturers of polytechnics and colleges of education gathered in Abuja on Tuesday for a protest march, but they got more than they bargained for.
The lecturers from across the states were protesting over their long-drawn strike which they embarked on to demand for improved working and learning conditions in their institutions.
They met an armed police force ready for them with water cannons and tear gas.
The teachers converged under auspices of their unions, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU).
Carrying placards with various inscriptions that include ‘Wike must go’, ‘no to intimidation’, ‘save polytechnic education now’ and ‘bring the students back to school’, the protesters first gathered at the Eagle Square and then proceeded to the ministries of education and labour, but they were barred from entry by a combined team of police and civil defence personnel.
The lecturers chanted various slogans against the supervising minister of education, Barrister Nyesom Wike, which include, ‘Wike must go’, ‘Wike is wicked’ and ‘Wike is Wizard’ among other slogans.
The Minister of labour, Mr. Chukwuemeka Wogu, who addressed the crowd, reassured that the FG is working around the clock to solve the ASUP and COEASU problems.
But the Wike did not address the protesters. Instead, his spokesman Simeon Nwakaudu issued a statement in which he said the Federal Ministry of Education remained committed to the resolution of the strike by the two unions. He said already government has met over 90 per cent of their demands.
However, trouble started shortly after the minister’s speech when the protesters attempted to proceed to the National Assembly to convey their letter of protest.
Armed policemen stationed at the federal secretariat’s junction barricaded the road and used teargas and water cannons to disperse them.
Motorists and other road users around the area were also affected by the polluted air caused by the teargas as people ran helter-skelter for safety.
Addressing the crowd at the ministry of education, ASUP president Chibuzor Asomugha said the union will not succumb to what he called blackmail by Wike, who he said continued to treat members of the union with disdain and as second class workers in the education sector.
“The union is suspicious with the seriousness of government negotiating team led by Wike; government hasn’t appeared serious about the polytechnic education. We have been on strike for 10 months now but nothing tangible came from the government to end the strike,” he said.
“ASUP struggle started since April 22, 2013 when a seven-day warning strike was declared and government has since then continued to play lip services. Our strike is not all about money as government always made it look. Rather we are doing it for the children of those that cannot afford to send their wards abroad for study.
“But we have noticed that there is no sincerity in the way government has been dealing with this union and each step government takes has been unfortunately characterised by repeated insincerity, failed promises and ineptitude.”
He said some time back the strike was suspended based on promise from the government that it will address the issues but government did not do anything about the issues.
On his part, COEASU president Emmanuel Asugha said the FG’s insensibility to the challenges threatening teaching and learning in the Colleges of Education compelled the union to embark on the strike since December last year.
Asugha said rather than government making efforts to address the issues for the overall benefit of all, some persons are feeding fat on the strike to the detriment of the nation.
He lamented that “the Minister of Education and his paid agents have embarked on campaigns of calumny against the union with a view to discrediting the strike but this will not work as we have uncovered their plans.
“We are in a civil and democratic society, our future is doomed if we continue this way keeping kids out of schools. This is causing serious concern for us. This is the first time we are asking for the release paper and it is not forth coming.”
Vice President, Nigerian Association of Technologists in Engineering, Ahmad Muhammad, said “as I am talking to you now, for over 12 years, I have been stagnated on level 14 because I have HND. Is it a crime to go the polytechnic? Then why is FG stagnating us? This is one of the questions the FG should answer. The constitution of this country has made it clear that the minimum qualification for a person contesting for the office of the president is school certificate.
“Now you have gone to the polytechnic. You spent five years. You got HND but they said you must not go beyond level 14. So Mr Minister, we want you to convey our message to President.”
Also, the National Coordinator of Education Right Campaign, Hassan Taiwo Soweto, called on the ASUU and university students to join the struggle of the polytechnic and college of education lecturers as it is for the good of the country.
“These are warning signals to the universities that they can also be this bad. So, nobody should be happy that the polytechnics are in this state,” he said.
“I am calling on ASUU, NANS and the students in the universities to also support ASUP and COEASU. I am calling on the NLC that the fact that our students have been at home for 10 months demands that the NLC comes out and demand the FG to do what is right. A general strike is important at this period,” he said.
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