The Federal Government’s no work, no pay approach does not seem to be helping the situation. The Academic Staff Union of Polyechnics, ASUP, has taken a solidarity stance. Frustrated students and other concerned citizens have embarked on mass protests. Policemen have attacked many of these protesters, and many Nigerians, with deeper issues to worry about, do not even know that COEASU is on strike.
In the midst of all these, two questions are most pertinent: Why is COEASU on strike, and what will it take to end the strike?
In September 2013, COEASU went on a seven-day warning strike, threatened to go on a full-fledged strike action if the Federal Government failed to meet its demands.
Few weeks before the now six-month old strike began, Vice-President of the union, Mr. Smart Olugbeko, in an exclusive interview, gave Vanguard Learning some insight into the issues:
Olugbeko argued that government had refused to implement an agreement signed with the union in 2010 which was due for a renegotiation in 2012. Some of the features of the agreement include addressing the infrastructural deficits in Colleges of Education (CoE) as well as the peculiar academic allowances to the tune of N5 billion which the government has refused to pay the lecturers.
COEASU’S fresh demands
It would be recalled that apart from the agreement, the union also laid some fresh concerns in 2013: “One of our grievances is that government has not released funds for the accreditation of courses in CoE since 2009 and the importance of accreditation in any tertiary institution cannot be overemphasized.
“Government also owes some of our members monetisation arrears to the tune of N1 billion since 2010. Despite correspondence with the government offices involved, this issue is yet to be resolved. There is also the issue of under-funding as it relates to teaching practice. Teaching practice is to CoEs what a teaching hospital is to a college of medicine. As a result of under-funding, teaching practice is not producing the desired result and is bound to have an adverse effect on the education sector as a whole.”
COEASU also called upon government to carry out a National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy, (NEEDS) assessment of CoE to accurately access the dilapidation and infrastructural deficit across the campuses.
Though government sent a visitation panel to the CoE in 2012, but is yet to release a white paper to that effect.
Another issue that CoEs have hammered on for years is the harmonisation of the conditions of service in tertiary institutions. The union believes that this will, to a large extent, help stop the brain drain from the CoE.
“CoEs are the lowest in the tripod of tertiary institutions. Lecturers from our colleges run to the universities because of the poor conditions of service here. The management of these colleges find it difficult to sponsor lecturers to further their education because as soon as they get their PhDs, they want to go to the universities.
Olugbeko also rejected FG’s proposed Information Payroll Personal System (IPPIS) where government plans to pay all its workers from a central point in Abuja. He argued that the system will be fraught with irregularities, cripple the recruitment efforts of tertiary institutions and put lecturers’ sabbatical at a disadvantage.
The situation today
Flash back eight months after COEASU’s warning strike, and six months into its full-fledged strike, the solution to the union’s strike is just in its infant stages.
The government had earlier said that it would pay 50 per cent of the arrears by March and the remaining 50 per cent in April. Olugbeko in a more recent interview said: “When the Government brought that option on the table, we took it back to our congress and the house accepted it. This is June and none of those monies has been paid.”
Olugbeko also revealed that at a meeting with the National Assembly, the union and the Supervising Minister of Education, the house directed the minister to set up a committee to look into the issues. “The committee will have other sub-committees that will look into issues such as salary arrears, degree- awarding power of the colleges, etc. It is the outcome of the committees that will determine whether or not we will have a congress to discuss on the next steps to take.
We know that the outcome of some of these sub-committees might take time, but we are interested in seeing their genuineness and capacity first and foremost.” (Vanguard)