Last week Wednesday, on a sunny afternoon, while their lecturers carried placards in solidarity with the nationwide protest called by the executives of the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union, some students at the Federal College of Education (Technical), Akoka, Lagos, were in one of the classes in the science department, taking self-organised tutorials.
It is one of the ways some ‘serious-minded’ students have kept themselves busy since COEASU embarked on a full-scale strike action last year December.
When our correspondent visited the school, a first year student was seen teaching his peers Practical Physics. He was talking about the mathematical constant and how it affected equations.
Now in its third month, the COEASU strike, despite not being a constant, has affected the school calendar of not only students at FCE, Akoka, but also those in other federal and state colleges of education nationwide.
“I don’t want to stay at home doing nothing. So, I decided to come to school and study with my group,” said one of the students among the few our correspondent met in the class. A handful of students loitered around the school’s premises, which was devoid of the usual hustle and bustle found on campuses during an academic session.
“I’m tired of the strike. We have been at home for too long. I’m supposed to have started my project, but it’s on hold. I’m really angry. I want the Federal Government to grant the request of our lecturers so that they would call off the strike,” said Oladele Olayinka, a part three student in the Accounting department.
For business education student, Iyanu Leke, many students in colleges of education are ‘wasting away’ because of the strike. “The government should consider the future of these students. Most of us are at home doing nothing. I’m pleading with the government to answer the lecturers,” she said.
Indeed, the strike has affected the students negatively, said Mr. Oje Ebenezer, a lecturer in the Fine and Applied Arts department, and General Secretary, COEASU, Akoka chapter.
“Recently, the Students’ Union Government president said many of their female peers got pregnant during the period of the strike action. That is one bitter side of it. And whether they like it or not, the strike means an additional year for the students, if we are not able to cover the curriculum. Some students have been organising tutorials among themselves to keep themselves busy academically, because, like they say, an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. The students have pleaded with us to call off the strike, but this is not a local strike, but a national one. There is nothing we can do until the government accedes to our demands,” Ebenezer said.
FCE, Akoka is a microcosm of the current situation in the federal and state colleges of education nationwide. The national body mobilised all it chapters to adhere to the nationwide protest, which it said may last for a week.
“We are hell-bent on ensuring that our students return to the classroom. It is a critical condition. But there is no going back on the demonstration. The next step is that we would march the entire stakeholders to Abuja. We pray it doesn’t get to that extent,” COEASU National President, Mr. Asagha Nkoro, told SUNDAY PUNCH.
He decried the fact that the Federal Government had failed to respond to its demands, despite the several meetings the union executives held with it. “We met with the FG in February, but nothing came out of it, nothing has been done so far. The government pleaded that we give them till March 18. That meeting could hold and the government would say that we should wait till April. It is not their children that are out of school, but children of the less privileged,” he noted.
One of the issues in contention between the FG and COEASU is the 2010 agreement, which the former said the FG has refused to fully implement. These include the non-integration and payment of peculiar/earned allowances, non-implementation of life insurance to families of deceased members, and the non-implementation of the retirement age of 65 in many states’ colleges of education.
The other issues include poor infrastructural development in colleges of education nationwide, poor funding, neglect of teachers’ education, non-accreditation of National Certificate of Education programmes, non-release of the whitepaper on the visitation panel reports, and the imposition of the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System.
“All the needs we have raised so far are all important. No one is less important than the other. We can only excuse the government if they say the money is not there, but we know the money is there to carry out other projects, why not do so for the development of education? The government has simply not set its priorities right,” said the chairman, COEASU, Akoka chapter, Mr. Olayanju Abolaji.
Abolaji further said that the government seemed to have taken the union for granted for so long. He said, “The union has gone on strike repeatedly in the past but it has always called it off in no time because we are a responsible union. We are also mindful of the plight of our students and the consequences of the strike on them and nation at large.
“That is what the government is capitalising on; this is why it has not taken us seriously. But this time, we are not going back until our demands are met. We don’t mind how long it would take, it is not for our selfish gains, but it is for the interest of the entire populace. If our children are well educated, we will all enjoy it.”
He described the nation’s education sector as comatose, adding that the government was not sensitive enough to urgently address the needs of the tertiary institutions. “If the government would be objective and look at the issues sincerely, it would realise that if these demands were not addressed, it would have far-reaching consequences on the country,” he noted.
It took an over five months strike for the Federal Government to finally agree to the demands of the Academic Staff Union of Universities. When asked if the COEASU strike may last that long, Nkoro said, “We are not measuring our strike with that of ASUU. We have different issues, that is why we didn’t declare our action when ASUU declared its. We thought we could continue the dialogue and the government would listen. But, they have failed us.
“That is why we have declared our strike and we don’t know where it would take us to. ASUU strike lasted for over five months, this strike is now in its third month, and nobody is saying anything. We hope this strike doesn’t continue, and it doesn’t get to the ASUU situation, but it starts little by little.”
He urged the government to ensure the strike does not linger.
Speaking with our correspondent, the Special Assistant (Media) to the Coordinating Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, Mr. Simon Nwakadu, said the government had tackled most of the issues raised by COEASU.
He said, “The Federal Government met with them (COEASU) repeatedly and has issued a position paper. The main issue is the payment of their allowances and the FG has given them an option of payment in two instalments, that’s the only issue left. There is no other issue the FG has not tackled.
“Our expectation is that the strike would end soon because the engagement with the Federal Ministry of Education and Federal Ministry of Labour has been total, the NEEDS assessment is also there. We are expecting their (COEASU) National Executive Council to come out with their position. It’s not the position of one or two officials.” (PUNCH)