For many years, the status of polytechnics vis-à-vis their university counterparts has been a source of controversy.
This is partly the reason for the lingering strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, who among other things, are asking the Federal Government to accord polytechnics the same status as universities.
But while a six-month strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities in 2013 attracted uproar from different quarters in the country, forcing the Federal Government to enter into a negotiation with ASUU, ASUP’s grievance, which culminated in its strike that has gone on for about 11 months, has largely been ignored.
During every strike by higher institution lecturers, the focus is usually on the obvious victims – students, who lose periods of their lives when they could have advanced in their studies.
A case in point is that of 20-year-old Adesegun Oluseye, who got admission to study at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, in 2013.
“I had written matriculation examinations at least four different times before I was able to secure admission to Yabatech,” he said.
Oluseye, who had been working hard to secure admission into a Nigerian higher institution in the last four years was head over heels in joy when his name came out on the admission list of Yabatech.
But hardly had he finished his registration process than ASUP went on strike and his life came to a standstill again.
“I am really sad. It’s like I am the only one suffering the effect of this strike. I just want to get my studies over with,” he said.
The agony of people like Oluseye is understandable, considering that getting an admission into a Nigerian higher institution is a tug of war. Thousands of other young Nigerians are in the same shoes as this young man.
However, visits to federal polytechnics in the South-West by our correspondents revealed larger consequences of the strike. Families, commercial activities and the economic prosperity of host communities suffer.
In Ogun State, the ongoing strike seems to have taken a huge toll on the economic wellbeing of the host community of the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro.
Ilaro, a vibrant small community, whose main commercial activities revolve round the institution, seemed to have gone into hybernation when one of our correspondents visited the community.
Inside the campus, apart from the security men at the gate and a few academic staff members at the administrative building of the polytechnic, only very few people were seen moving around.
The shopping malls, stalls and commercial areas of the campus gave a testimony of loss of livelihoods in the last 11 months.
One of our correspondents sighted some okadariders, who shuttle the campus at the commercial motorcycle park. Waiting as there were no passengers, they were engaged in banters and conversations.
The motorcylists’ association’s chairman, Mr. Yakubu Oke, told one of our correspondents that the cyclists decided to come to the campus to see if they could make some money by picking passengers among the candidates of the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination writing their exams on the campus.
Oke showed our correspondent his hands as he said, “Look at my hands, I had to go into farming to survive the last 11 months. My hands were not this rough before the strike. We are hungry.
“There is a UTME centre here. When the matriculation examination started, we were really happy because we knew we’d get some money by picking some candidates. But life has not been the same. We only get few people. You won’t understand how bad things have been for us because of the strike until you speak with our children. My daughter could not write the junior school certificate examination because all avenues through which I could get money have been blocked.”
One of the okada riders at the park told our correspondent he had to postpone his wedding due to the strike.
“I’ll make some money after the strike. Then the wedding can take place,” he said.
The okada rider who transported our correspondent round the campus said his son was a Year Two Ordinary National Diploma student in the institution.
“It is money I get from this job that I use to finance his education. I had to put my savings together to send him to a computer training school because I don’t want him to stay idle at home and engage in vices,” he said.
Like theokadariders who had scampered into the campus in search of livelihood during the ongoing UTME after months of strike had displaced them, our correspondent met two food vendors also, who said they had to shut their shops in the campus for many months.
“What I make from sales to these UTME candidates is not even up to 10 per cent of what I make on a typical day on campus before the strike. To make matters worse for me, I don’t have another shop anywhere else in Ilaro. I had to resort to hawking since the strike started just to ensure my family survives this period,” one of them, Mrs. Bello, said.
Out of the two banks on the campus, only one, UBA, was open for operation.
A manager at the branch, Mr. Mohammed Adebesin, said the only reason the bank was still open for business was because the branch was not for students alone.
He said, “The level of activities in this branch has really been affected. But we service other people outside the campus and we don’t want to compromise our standard as a result of the strike.
“But the truth is that students make up the larger percentage of those who come to this branch and we are really underutilising our facilities because of the strike. You know we have to fuel generators, keep them running, keep our air conditioning units functioning and our ATMs running even though not many customers are coming around.”
At Ede town, the host community of The Federal Polytechnic, Ede in Osun State, the atmosphere was equally gloomy.
Food vendors and other small businesses, which depend on the institution for survival, are dormant.
Although a branch of Skye Bank located within the campus is still in operation, only fewer customers were seen making transactions there.
An operator of a boutique at Christ Baptist Shopping Centre in front of the school gate, who identified herself as Joy, told our correspondent that her business had been on the downside since the beginning of the strike.
A commercial motorcycle operator in the town, Tajudeen Jimoh, had the same sad response about how the strike had affected his business.
“Currently, what I make now is not up to 10 per cent of what I made on a normal day before the strike. How do I survive this way?” he said.
About 10 students were seen reading in a classroom while almost all the lecture halls were shut.
At the Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos, the situation was not any different. Though the institution is known as perhaps one of the busiest in the country in terms of academic and extracurricular activities, the opposite was what one of our correspondents noticed during his visit.
Apart from the presence of a few people seen on campus, it would not be an exaggeration to say the campus has turned into a ‘graveyard.’
A handful of full-time students at the Students Union Government building told our correspondent that they were only around because they were tired of staying at home.
Some of them, who are HND 2 students, said it was only about two months to their graduation when ASUP went on strike.
One of the students said frankly that his brain had been “redundant” since the strike began.
Lawal Akanbi, who is an HND 2 Mechanical Engineering student, said his life had been pathetic ever since the strike started because he thought he had almost become a graduate 11 months ago.
“I am frustrated,” Akanbi sighed.
At 28, Akanbi said the most pathetic part of his case was that he still saw himself as a liability to his parents because he was still a “student” even though he should have graduated 11 months ago.
“Some of my friends that gained admission to other higher institutions have graduated. I cannot just believe I am still where I am today,” he said.
Like Akanbi, Kazeem Omolade, another HND 2 Mechanical Engineering student at Yabatech, has resorted to selling recharge cards to the few part-time students on campus.
“This is what I do now to keep myself busy these days. It is better than idling away at home. But I never planned to do this all my life,” Omolade said.
President of the Students Union Government of the institution, Salvador Babajide, also said although it was unimaginable, he learnt playing chess, draught and ludo as a result of the strike.
“People don’t usually read during strikes. The only thing we are asking of the government is to save our future, save our lives. We are tired of staying at home, living idle,” he said.
At the Federal Polytechnic, Offa in Kwara State, life seems to have simply evaporated too.
The only food vendor seen selling biscuits at the usually busy commercial part of the campus, expressed the suffering she was going through.
The trader, Mama Risi, said, “It has not been easy. I survive through this trade, but since this strike started, business has been very terrible. There are many days I will come and would not sell up to N500. Only few lecturers and other administrative staff occasionally patronise me.
“In fact, I cannot even feed myself and my family, let alone paying the school fees of my children and footing the bill of other important domestic expenses. I pray that this strike should come to an end.”
President, Student Union Government of the institution, Mr. Festus Ayodeji, who is an HND 2 student of Mechanical Engineering said students had lost a lot to the strike.
He noted that the outgoing HND 2 students who were supposed to have been mobilised for their National Youth Service Corp scheme last November were still at home.
“Some students who were about 29 years last year may no longer go for the service year as they would have passed the limit 30 years,” Ayodeji said.
The place of polytechnic in the education sector of Nigeria cannot be over-emphasised, considering the reason for its existence.
The Federal Polytechnic Statute enacted as Decree No. 33 of 1979 and amended by Decree No. 5 of 1993, which gives legal backing to polytechnics’ existence, explained that they were meant to turn out middle-level manpower needed for industrial and technological development of the country.
This seems to be in keeping with recent clamour by the Federal Government for the diversification of the Nigerian economy, which has hitherto depended largely on oil exploration and exportation.
The Minister of Trade and Investment has recently said that industrialisation is the key to diversifying the Nigerian economy.
But if the state of polytechnics in the country is anything to go by, one may conclude that only lip service is being paid to the needed industrialisation of Nigeria.
The 35-year-old Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, is dotted with buildings that can best be described as those fit for a secondary school. The same goes for the 22-year-old Federal Polytechnic, Ede, which still occupies a temporary location with buildings and facilities in poor state.
But the cost of the strike seems to go beyond the economic downturn in the host communities of the institutions.
At the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, an official told our correspondent the strike would force the school administration to spend millions of naira to replace many facilities after the strike, which might have decayed as a result of many months of disuse.
Security officials in the institution would not allow our correspondent to gain access to some laboratories to assess their present state. They said it was only the head of department that could give access at the time our correspondent visited the campus.
The registrar of the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, was approached on this issue but he said enquiries should be directed to the school Rector, Dr. Raheem Oloyo, as he was not authorised to speak with the press.
But the rector was said to be unavailable when our correspondent visited his office.
The Chairman of ASUP at the institution, Mrs. Margaret Olowofila, also said she could not grant an interview until the outcome of a meeting of ASUP with the national Assembly during the week was known.
But ASUP Chairman at the Federal Polytechnic, Ede, Mr. Adeyemi Komolafe, told one of our correspondents in an interview that the Federal Government did not seem to be interested in the calling off of the strike.
Komolafe said that the government had met four demands partially out of the 15 tabled before it.
He said, “The government is not ready to ensure that we suspend the strike. The strike does not bother the government from the look of things. The Minister of Education (Mr. Nyesom Wike) is not helping matters. Last week, when our members protested right in front of his office, despite that he was in the office, he refused to attend to them.
“The permanent secretary of the ministry also did not come out whereas the minister of labour addressed the union members and empathised with them.
“There is no issue of increment in all our demands. We are only concerned about the payment of the arrears owed us.
“Monarchs should speak out on this strike, non-governmental organisations should advise the government to accede to our demands. We are asking for removal of disparity between HND and degree holders, we are asking that the government should set up a Polytechnics Commission, we are demanding the composition of governing councils and adequate funding of polytechnics, I believe that all these do not require money.”
The Rector of the Federal Polytechnic, Offa, Dr. Mufutau Olatinwo, said indeed, the strike had negatively affected the academic activities of the students.
“Of course if the students are not in session, it will negatively impact on their education. They will be the first to feel it. Generally, the nation will be affected,” he said.
Olatinwo claimed that the institution had enjoyed cooperation from members of ASUP.
He said even though the strike started with the national body, ASUP in his polytechnic considered the plight of the students because the session started in 2012 and had prolonged to 2014.
According to him, with an arrangement with ASUP, the students took the final exam for the session which was supposed to have ended in 2013, which ended in 2014.
Olatinwo claimed that the school had been able to reduce the negative impact of the strike as lecturers had been attending to the final year students who were writing their projects.
He appealed to the union leaders to give the Federal Government some time to sort out the demands, stating that government bureaucracy could be affecting timely response.
The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, and Colleges of Education and Academic Staff Union, COEASU, have been on eight-month and six-month strike respectively.
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