ASUP, COEASU Strikes Damages: Students Count Losses – Miss. Felicia Blessing was pensive when our correspondent met her at the gate of the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos on Tuesday. The student of Accountancy in the institution said she came to see if she could take some of her belongings home since the strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union had become protracted.
Blessing, who said she was considering sitting for the next Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, added that she had lost interest in polytechnic education.
She said, ‘’The Academic Staff Union of Universities embarked on strike for over five months last year and the entire country knew it. ASUP has been on strike since October last year and nobody cares. The Federal Government is not saying anything meaningful. We only loiter around since we have nothing tangible to do with our time. I doubt if many still remember what they learnt before the strike started. It is clear that the dichotomy between polytechnic and university education is manifesting hugely in this situation.’’
The student added that many of her colleagues now prefer university to polytechnic.
Also, a student of the Federal College of Education, Akoka, Lagos, who simply identified himself as Bright, said the prolonged strike was a reflection of the insensitivity of the government to the future of its youths.
He stated that it would be disastrous if the government continued to deny the youth both employment and education. Bright said, “We fear for our future in a country where the leaders care less about the future of students. I want to try my hands on something at least to make some money since the strike lingers but where are the jobs?”
He noted that the strike was draining both psychologically and emotionally.
On her part, a student of the Federal College of Education, Osiele, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Miss Adejoke Adebowale, called for a stakeholders’ forum to address the problems facing technical and vocational education in the country.
She said it was wrong for emphasis to be on university education when both polytechnics and colleges of education play crucial roles in empowering youths.
‘’The length of the strike has shown that students of both polytechnics and colleges of education mean nothing to planners of education curriculum in Nigeria. We are tired of sitting at home and wish the government knows the consequences of the duration of the strike by both unions on the students,’’ Adebowale stated.
A student of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Ojere, Ogun State, who gave her name as Oluwatosin, urged both the striking lectures and the government to consider the students in the lingering strike.
She said, ‘’The Federal Government and the lecturers should know that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. In this case, it is the students that are suffering and we appeal to the government to give in to the demands of the lecturers.’’
Also, the President, Students’ Union, Yabatech, Mr. Salvador Ganiyu, said the strike had become tiring. He added that it was bad that the students were in a helpless situation.
Ganiyu said, ‘’Our government is insensitive to the plight of polytechnic lecturers and students. If an agreement is reached, it is honourable for the parties to abide by the terms. The government is not ready to listen to our plight. Most of the demands of the two unions are for the good of the students. They want a new lease of life for the colleges of education and polytechnics.’’
National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign, Mr. Hassan Taiwo, stated that the group frowned at the snail pace at which the Federal Government and the ministry of education were handling the strikes.
‘’Both lecturers of public polytechnics and colleges of education have been on strike for 11 and six months respectively. It seems the Federal Government in furtherance of its discriminatory policy has a sinister agenda to kill these crucial subsectors of public education despite their strategic importance to Nigeria’s economic and social development, ‘’ Taiwo added.
He also stated that the group would fight to defeat what he described as anti-poor capitalist agenda because it believes that the demands of the two unions are genuine.
According to him, the group blames the extension of the strikes and the consequential suffering of the students on the Federal Government.
Earlier, the National President, ASUP, Chibuzo Asomugha, told SUNDAY PUNCH that that government’s insensitivity to the strike was rooted in the dichotomous mind-set with which government regards polytechnic education. He added that since the strike was not the sole decision of the union’s leadership, it was forced to interpret government’s attitude as a deliberate ploy to undermine its leadership.
Asomugha noted among other things that the government completed the constitution of governing councils of federal polytechnics and inaugurated the NEEDS Assessment Committee for public polytechnics.
The ASUP President said the outstanding issues include the removal of the stigmatisation of HND graduates in the public service; the renegotiation of the 2009 ASUP/FG Agreement; the release of the White Paper of the visitation to federal polytechnics; the establishment of a National Polytechnics Commission; the speedy passage of the Federal Polytechnics Review Bill which has been stagnated at the National Assembly including the appointment of qualified persons as rectors of polytechnics.
He added, ‘’It is also demanded that government should address the dilapidation in state-owned polytechnics; the discriminatory inclusion of polytechnics in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System scheme; a structured and comprehensive funding of public polytechnics; the lopsided distribution of Tetfund grants and other interventions in the tertiary sector and the full implementation of the salary structure approved for polytechnics in 2009.’’
Last month, the Ministry of Education said that it could not meet the financial demands of the striking polytechnic lecturers because there was no provision for their salary arrears in the 2014 budget.
The Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Mr. McJohn Nwaobiala, explained during a meeting with a House of Representatives Committee that the ministry could not pay the arrears without a budgetary provision.
Nwaobiala represented the Minister of Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike, at the session, chaired by the Chairman of the House committee, Mr. Aminu Suleiman.
Nwaobiala said, “If I had a pit where there is money in the ministry to settle this, as I leave here now, we will settle it. In this year 2014, we don’t have a provision for settling these arrears. The minister had required for a special budgetary intervention to enable us to settle it. I can’t make a commitment to say that I will or that the ministry will release these funds in April or July. What I will say is that my minister needs to consult with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Minister of Labour so that we can know how we can get the funds.’’
He further said there was need for a release of the White Paper which contains issues specific to each polytechnic and some that are generic.
On May 27, the Supervising Minister of Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike, said the Federal Government was in a “fix” on how to resolve the protracted industrial action by ASUP and COEASU.
Wike, who stated this at an intervention meeting with the House of Representatives Committee on Education and the leadership of the two unions, added that an agreed proposal to pay CONTISS-15 arrears of salaries to ASUP members in phases was facing complications.
The minister stated, “As of February when the arrears were computed, both ASUP and COEASU made a demand of N20bn each, amounting to a total of N40bn. We agreed that N20bn would be paid in April and another N20bn in September or October.’’
He noted that the two unions later wrote him after he had communicated the agreement to President Goodluck Jonathan, rejecting the phased payment proposal.
The minister added that a new dimension was introduced into the strike by the Salaries and Wages Commission which advised against the execution of the proposal.
Asomugha, however, noted that such submission was to peg the union’s demands to mere arrears of salaries.
“Our agitation is not just CONTISS-15; we had a 13-point demand. Essentially, our goal is to deepen the integrity of the people we produce. If you pay all the arrears and the situation in the institutions remains the same, nobody’s purpose would have been served,” he said.
The Secretary, Joint Action Front, Mr. Abiodun Aremu, said ASUP and COEASU should understand that they should not compromise certain things when making demands.
He said the unions must be combative before an agreement and after its implementation.
Aremu said, ‘’Corrupt public officers will not part with money easily because each time a demand is legitimately made, the amount they intend to steal is reduced. Government will always claim that there is no money but there will be money to fund private jets and for first lady’s expenditure. ‘’
He also lamented government’s uncaring attitude to education. (Punch)