The ongoing strike by unions in the nation’s polytechnics and colleges of education comes on the heels of the over five-month-old strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
In a three-page letter dated December 18, 2013, President of the National Association of Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union, Mr. Asagha Nkoro, spelt out in clear terms why the union was embarking on the strike action it commenced last month.
In the letter, COEASU stated that the Federal Government had failed to honour its agreement with the union despite having a series of talks with it between September and December 2013.
“It is common knowledge that COEASU leadership had always felt that the talks held so far with government representatives were well-intentioned.
“While the government held series of talks with the union leadership between September and December 2013 (specifically six times; four of which were attended by the appropriate Minister of Education and also Labour and Productivity), evidences abound that the government does not wish to keep her side of the bargain in meeting the understanding reached at such meetings. This, without equivocation, is unacceptable to our union given the peculiar high nuisance and volatile nature of the colleges of education sector,” the letter read.
On December 18, 2013, COEASU embarked on the ongoing strike after the FG’s failure to meet its demands. “We declared the strike because we made a number of demands which have not been met. This also includes the issue of infrastructural decay, of which an assessment team has been set up to pursue that. We actually took the holiday period to declare the strike, hoping that the government would put its team together and tidy up before resumption in January, but there was no headway,” Nkoro told SUNDAY PUNCH.
On Wednesday, January 15, when the union also met with the team from the FG, it was still a deadlock.
“A meeting was scheduled last Wednesday, with the Federal Minister of Labour and Productivity, only for them (FG) to treat us as usual. They couldn’t attend the meeting, we were not told on time that the meeting was not going to be held. We spent huge money to bring our team in Abuja, only for the government to renege and it couldn’t hold. There were no apologies,” he explained, adding that such would only aggravate the situation.
The situation is not any different for the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, which resumed its strike for the second time. The union had suspended its strike on July 16, 2013, for a month, but went back on strike on October 4 after government did not honour the promises it made. Since then, the leadership of the union have met twice with government officials. Both meetings ended in a deadlock.
For ASUP President, Chibuzor Asomugha, this was a display of insensitivity by the FG. “Principally in 2009, we entered an agreement with the FG. Up until we started the strike, a lot of issue we entered into the agreement are still outstanding. We have tried to come to a meeting with the FG on this issue, because the system was gradually dying and needed check. That’s why we needed to go on strike,” he told our correspondent.
Asomugha further said the union had reduced its demand from 13 to only four after the National Assembly intervened.
“It was the government that made the proposal of having four points, since it felt the 13-points demand had varying degrees of importance. As a result, the government said it wanted to handle the ones it could resolve then while it continued discussions about the other issues raised. The government chose four out of the 13 point demands on its own and said it would meet it within two weeks, but we agreed on one-month duration. Three months after, they haven’t done it. It was only when we resumed the strike that the FG moved to resolve two of the issues raised, one is just half resolved,” he said, adding that the ones resolved by the FG were the constitution of the governing council and the commencement of the Needs Assessment of public polytechnics in Nigeria. However, Asomugha said the committee was working at a very slow pace due to claims of lack of funding.
“The other points are the release of the White Paper on Visitations to Federal Polytechnics by the government some months ago, the completion and comprehensive funding of the migration of the salary scale, which the government began in 2009 and abandoned in 2010. Since then, we have been asking them to complete this process, we would suspend the strike if they resolve these ones and we continue the discussion about the others gradually,” he said.
The Coordinating Minister for Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike, had stated that the FG had met over 80 per cent of ASUP demands.
According to Asomugha, the last meeting the leadership of the union had with the FG was on September 17, 2013, adding that the strike has taken cumulatively six-months off the polytechnic education system in Nigeria.
Before COEASU and ASUP, the country’s university system was grounded to a halt following the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities. Despite a series of meetings to resolve the crisis, ASUU only called off the over five-month old strike, after incontrovertible proof that the FG had released a part of the funding it promised in an earlier agreement.
For the leadership of COEASU and ASUP, government has not dealt sincerely with the union. Nkoro said there was a perceived discrimination against colleges of education.
He said, “The FG has shown clearly that it undermines the colleges of education and polytechnics in the country, in comparison with the universities, but it should not be so. That is even why we can’t even get university education right because the building blocks are very weak. If you don’t give these students a sense of belonging, it will definitely affect them psychologically.
“We hope that there will come a time in this country when colleges of education will be given their pride of place. In the UK, people are struggling to attend the institutes of technology because of the kind of attention their government gives to these institutions. Here we seem to be misguided. All tertiary institutions should be equal and given equal attention, whether it is a college of education, polytechnic or university.”
He called on the government to meet their demands in order for the students to resume for a new academic calendar.
An educationist, Dr. Ademola Azeez, said there should be a general improvement in the quality of education and teacher training in all tertiary institutions.
He said, “Just like the ASUU struggle, the Federal Government should also see the need to generally improve teacher education in Nigeria, which is very critical to our educational development. In doing so, they (FG) must be sincere with the unions involved so that all the issues involved will be addressed and resolved. All unions are important.
“We need graduates of colleges of education, just as we need graduates of polytechnics and universities for our national development. Colleges of education have teachers with expertise in education and no country can rise beyond the level of its teachers. That’s why the government must show sincere concern and proffer solutions to the issues. Things would be better if teachers demands are met.”
General Secretary, COEASU, Federal College of Education (Technical), Akoka, Lagos, Mr. Oje Ebenezer, said the strikes by the two unions were an indication that there was crisis in the education sector. “ASUU first went on strike, and it took almost six months before the strike was called off. Now, COEASU and ASUP are on strike. This development is not good for our education system. The students of these institutions have also lost quality time in their academic calendar,” he said.
He further added that government should address the perceived discrimination of graduates of polytechnics and colleges of educations. “In the first place, these institutions run different systems and were established to feed different sectors. So, if the government can give due recognition to all the three tiers of tertiary institutions accordingly, then it will be better for the country,” he said.