In this interview with ARUKAINO UMUKORO, the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, Chibuzo Asomugha, says the Federal Government should address the issues raised by striking lecturers
What is the current state of negotiations with the government and what are your expectations?
I will optimistically describe the current state of negotiations with government as ongoing. Our expectation is that government will eventually get round to doing the needful in order to end this unfortunate impasse.
The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics has been on strike since October, last year. Why has the strike lasted for this long?
The strike has persisted, in my own opinion, because the government has failed to keep faith with the union regarding the 2009 agreement signed between both parties.
Do you think the FG is deliberately undermining the ASUP leadership?
It is my opinion that government’s insensitivity to the ASUP strike is rooted in the dichotomous mindset with which government regards polytechnic education. Since the strike is not the sole decision of the union’s leadership, we are hard put to interpret government’s attitude as a deliberate ploy to undermine the union’s leadership.
The Coordinating Minister for Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike, had reportedly stated that the FG had met over 80 per cent of ASUP demands. What’s your reaction to this?
We have maintained that the Supervising Minister of Education has adopted a reductionist strategy in addressing the grievances of ASUP. Let it be put on record that out of 13 core issues in our list of demands, government has been able to merely address two. How that amounts to 80 per cent still befuddles us.
What are the two issues that have been addressed and the others that are yet to be addressed?
Government has completed the constitution of governing councils of federal polytechnics, even if it came two years after they were due. Government has also inaugurated the NEEDS Assessment Committee for public polytechnics. 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; the appointment of qualified persons as rectors of polytechnics; addressing the dilapidation in state-owned polytechnics; addressing 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; the full implementation of the salary structure approved for polytechnics in 2009.
Some have alleged that academic unions embark on strikes for selfish reasons rather than a genuine concern for students’ welfare and development of tertiary institutions. What’s your reaction to this criticism?
It is a wild allegation. In my opinion, this is no longer an issue that should attract our defence. However one looks at it, trade unions are principally driven by the compelling need to provide better conditions at work for their members in line with global best practices. But in contemporary Nigeria, the enduring academic environment – legal, institutional, policy, capacity, infrastructure, funding, and so on – has deteriorated to such a compelling extent that the selfish interests of academic staff has become subsumed under these other dominant issues. A simple test will be to look at the 13 issues we have presented for discussion and tell me which of them are for the selfish interests of academic staff.
Polytechnics are established to produce graduates with hands on experiences in various fields. But it seems this is not presently the case in Nigerian polytechnics. Why is this so?
The objective of polytechnic education at the outset is clearly spelt out: To produce graduates at professional levels in technology and engineering, in applied sciences and in commerce. The emphasis, though, indeed 70 per cent, is supposed to be dedicated to the sciences, technology and engineering. Unfortunately, the current trend is that the emphasis is skewed away from science and technology to commerce. Perhaps, this trend can be traced to such factors as the need to augment the sparse funding from proprietors as well as the low supply of candidates for sciences and technology courses at the admission point. One may also factor in the deplorable state of infrastructure and equipment in our polytechnics.
What is the solution to the incessant strikes by academic unions in tertiary institutions?
In real terms, it is erroneous to say that strikes in tertiary institutions are incessant. Indeed, in our own case, there has been no strike in four years. And never in the history of ASUP has there been any strike as drawn out as the present engagement. However, to approach a near ideal state of curbing strikes in the tertiary sector, government should muster the political will to take education seriously and make real commitment in terms of funding and infrastructural input in the system. The legal and institutional frameworks of the tertiary sector should be strengthened. The government should also factor in a proactive and sincere approach to the agitation in the system to curb these grievances at gestation.
How should the government tackle Nigeria’s education woes?
The way our system is presently structured, government is playing a central role in providing education. Our level of growth at this time compels the government in power at all levels of governance to accept responsibility for providing clear-cut direction in funding, policy, monitoring, quality assurance and legislation of education. A multi-sectoral synergy will provide the leverage for a focused and purposeful redirection of the education of Nigeria’s youth. While the government drives the initiative, the private sector should also come in with motives that are not entirely profit-oriented. For a start, we can resolve to dedicate the UNESCO recommended 26 per cent of the annual budget to education. Yet, we can do better than that.
What is the way forward in resolving the crisis?
It is our utmost focus in ASUP at this time to bring this strike to an immediate resolution. In this regard, we have bent over backward to the point of breaking our back. We still believe that government must walk the path of integrity and keep its own part of the bargain. Government must show concern for the pains of millions of Nigerian students who have been out of school all this while. (Punch)
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