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FG/ASUP showdown: Can we ever get it right?

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By Gabriel Chy Alonta

In Nigeria, the stories emanating from tertiary institutions usually revolve around one industrial action or another by either the teaching or non-teaching staff. To be precise, in recent times, it has been strike after strike in Nigerian tertiary institutions.

It is worrisome that successive governments in Nigeria have failed to tackle the rot in the education sector, often orchestrated by inadequate infrastructure, poor staff welfare, lack of conducive learning environment among others. This has led to wanton interruption of academic calendar as unions resort to strike to press home their demands.

On April 6, 2021, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) downed tool following the inability of the federal government to meet up with the 12-point demands of the union. ASUP’s position is that meeting their demands is capable of giving a facelift to polytechnic education in the country. This is barely two months after their counterparts, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) suspended its 12-month strike over similar issues.

Some of these demands, according to the National President of ASUP, Comrade Anderson Ezeibe, include non-release of the 10 months arrears of minimum wage owed members in federal polytechnics and non-implementation of same in some state-owned institutions; non-reconstitution of governing councils, leading to disruption of administrative processes in polytechnics since May 2020, and victimization of officials of the union in some state polytechnics.

Others are non-implementation of NEEDS assessment report of 2014 in the sector and non-release of any revitalization fund to the sector despite assurances since 2017.

This inability of the federal government to live up to these expectations, according to many education stakeholders, is dragging the polytechnic, a technical hub, back from achieving its core mandate of job creation in the country. The resultant effect is the exponential rise in the number of unemployment figures, concomitantly leading to high cases of criminality, security challenges, banditry, kidnapping, and many other ills bedeviling the society today.

According to a report published by the National Bureau of Statistics on its website in March, 2021, the unemployment rate in Nigeria rose to 33.3% in the three months through December, from 27.1% in the second quarter of 2020, the last period for which the agency released labor-force statistics of unemployment. The more the federal government fails to pay adequate attention to polytechnic as a technical hub, the more this figure would continue to go up.

The Federal Government had, in its usual way of speaking during dialogues with academic staff unions, promised to address the issues that led to the ongoing strike by the ASUP. Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu had, at a meeting with ASUP executives in Abuja, stated that some of the issues had already been resolved.

Adamu also disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the constitution of the governing councils and that their inauguration would be done soon.

However, Comrade Ezeibe expressed displeasure that the Federal Government had not responded to a series of letters written to this effect since the expiration of the union’s ultimatum issued in March 2020. He explained that the union embarked on the strike over the sorry state of public polytechnics and mono-technics as well as general decay in the polytechnic sub-sector. Ezeibe said the strike would continue until the demands of ASUP are met. He expressed the readiness of the union to dialogue with the government on how to save the polytechnics system from total collapse.

As the polytechnic students groan over continued closure of schools, something needs to be done urgently to avoid wanton destruction of properties by irate students, who obviously are tired of incessant federal government and ASUP feud. Some polytechnic students, under the aegis of National Association of Polytechnic Students (NAPS), last Thursday, barricaded the federal secretariat in a protest, calling for immediate negotiation to end the lingering strike by the ASUP. The visibly disgruntled students were obviously tired of the seeming government silence on the strike.

They urged the Federal Government to listen to their cries and meet the demands of their lecturers. Speaking with newsmen, the President of NAPS, Mr. Sunday Asuku, called on both parties to reach a compromise or risk nationwide protest by the students.

Meanwhile, the Minister of State for Education, Mr. Chukuemeka Nwajiuba, while addressing the students said that everything that had to do with ASUP had been settled. Nwajiuba said the onus now lies with the union to be fair on the students by calling off the strike. According to him, On May 23, we communicated to ASUP and we have given them a catalog of everything that they said we should do that we have complied with,” he said.

Contacted, a former ASUP chairman, Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra state, Comrade Godson Okeoma, said the federal government had never been sincere with the union. “Frankly speaking, Nigeria has failed as a nation and all you witness now are the signs of a failed state,” he remarked.

Polytechnic teachers have been on strike for two months over the government’s inability to meet their demands. Whether the federal government is truly committed towards addressing the issues raised by ASUP on the status of polytechnic education in Nigeria will be seen in the days ahead even as stakeholders eagerly await the call off of the ASUP strike.

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