The nationwide strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) since October 14, 2014 over some 13 issues that it wanted the federal government to address is still ongoing, 6 months after. The strike has gone on for far too long it should be called off; otherwise the union’s action could wreak irreparable damage to polytechnic education, achieving the very opposite of what the teachers said they wanted.
An entire academic session has been wasted; students due for national service have been frustrated. The announcement by the Minister of State for Education, Mr Nyesom Wike, at a Kaduna retreat that a “big step” had been taken to meet ASUP’s demands is a light at the end of a long dark tunnel that should not be allowed to go out; it should end the anxiety of parents whose children and wards are sitting at home expecting the teachers and government to settle their differences so that studies can resume.
It is inconceivable that the dispute over the issues took all of half a year to resolve, because with deft handling a number of the demands need not have caused the ASUP to walk off the classroom in the first place.
For instance, delay in the re-constitution of the governing councils of polytechnics, release of white paper on the visitation panels of federal polytechnics and appointment of “unqualified” persons as rectors of polytechnics easily lend themselves to resolutions without precipitating a prolonged closure of the entire polytechnic system. The ASUP leadership should have been able to make the government, through the ministry of education, to expedite the constitution of governing bodies through measures that would not entail closure of the institutions.
Of course, the government mush share in the blame for not taking reassuring steps to address the contending issues. In its prevarication until the ASUP took measures leading to the disruption of the smooth running of the academic programmes that the government, wittingly or unwittingly, contributed to the current messy situation.
The alleged appointment of unqualified persons as rectors of polytechnics or provosts of colleges of education, if proved to be true is another way of government jeopardising the smooth running of the polytechnics. In many cases, the appointees are usually politicians or their relatives with no commitment to academic excellence or welfare of staff.
The ASUP is on solid ground on the issue of curbing brain-drain in polytechnics, which it says is a result of differences in salaries and emoluments between university teachers and their polytechnic counterparts, and the perception of inferiority that this fosters in them and the students.
Differentials in salaries and emoluments, the demand for the white paper on needs assessment for Nigerian polytechnics as well as state governments’ refusal to pay commensurate compensation rates obtaining in the federal polytechnics, and a few germane others, should not have been lumped with less weighty ones tabled before the government. Doing so made the ASUP demands unwieldy and uncoordinated, and suggests fishing for reasons to justify the strike action.
To imbue the polytechnics with good academic standing, everything should be done to make them keep their best brains, including paying enhanced salaries and emoluments.
On the other hand, however agitating that those with the Higher National Diploma (HND) should draw the same salaries as university graduates, and using this as alibi to go on strike, is patently disingenuous and untenable. This is because the issue is not only outside the remit of ASUP; it is also not a realistic demand to make, particularly when the government is known to be considering the parity issue that may lead to a policy statement on it.
Wike’s statement indicating that all stakeholders were agreed to ensure the polytechnics reopen for regular studies soonest should not be one that would only give false hope to the students and their parents. This undertaking should rightly be understood to mean that government would discharge all obligations necessary to meet the demands of ASUP in order to persuade its members call off the strike. It is about time it did so.
ASUP should call off its strike forthwith.
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