It’s not impossible to reach agreement with union –Minister
Union: Govt yet to demonstrate seriousness in resolving issues
Students: FG, union to resolve crisis in our interest
Polytechnic lecturers under their group, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), are currently on strike to protest refusal of the Federal Government to implement agreements with the union over the years. REGINA OTOKPA examines the crisis and its implications
When the nation’s education sector is yet to recover from the long lull that characterised the Nigerian university system for almost 10 months following an indefinite strike declared by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), again the polytechnic system is back in the trenches.
The polytechnic lecturers, under their umbrella group, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) on April 6, declared a nationwide indefinite strike that has not only paralysed academic activities in the system, but also undermined the nation’s technological development.
The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics had over the years been at loggerheads with the Federal Government over failure to meet the union’s demands and implement the various agreements reached with the polytechnic lecturers.
ASUP had in March 2020 during the closure of all educational institutions in the country due to COVID- 19 pandemic lockdown issued a 15-day ultimatum to the Federal Government with which to meet the union’s demands or its members would withdraw their services immediately schools were directed to reopen.
But, the union was aggrieved that despite the ultimatum, the government refused to address the issues ever since all institutions of learning in the country had opened and resumed normal academic activities. ASUP has vowed not to suspend the industrial action until the Federal Government is ready to engage the union positively towards resolving and meeting its demands.
Meanwhile, the students and their parents, who have continued to count their losses, are also calling on the Federal Government to address the union’s demands in order to avert a situation in which the strike would be allowed to linger for as long as the case of ASUU.
Some students of the Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH), who spoke with New Telegraph, however, condemned the strike, and appealed to the government and other meaningful stakeholders to intervene in the crisis before it would be allowed to degenerate beyond redemption.
The students, who lamented that they had suffered enough, noted that they have been in one class since 2019. “We have been in HND I since 2019 due to COVID-19 pandemic, and now all plans to cover the lost ground and commence examination in May have been thwarted by the strike. How many years are we going to spend in HND I.
This is ridiculous,” they said. ASUP National President, Anderson Ezeibe, in a statement issued on Friday, noted that the union declared the industrial action on April 6 to draw the attention of the government to the deplorable state of public polytechnics and monotechnics in the country.
“This is with a view to cause a reversal of the misfortunes of the institutions and placing them on a strong pedestal towards meeting their obligations to the Nigerian people. We are determined to pursue this position to a logical conclusion for the benefit of the sector, the nation and in favour of the rule of law,” he had said.
According to Ezeibe, the strike since it was declared on April 6, had so far recorded strong compliance level by chapters of the union in federal and state polytechnics across the nation.
Thus, ASUP listed some of the contending issues that necessitated the job boycott to include the refusal of the Federal Government to release or pay 10 months arrears of New Minimum Wage; refusal to constitute Governing Councils for federal polytechnics since the last Councils were dissolved in May
of 2020; attempts by the AGF to divert N19 billion from federal polytechnic staff salaries to pay unverified and unreconciled taxes that staff have long paid; refusal of state governments to fully implement the Federal Polytechnic Act 2019 (amended) and the 65 years retirement age for polytechnic lecturers in line with the Polytechnic Act.
Other grouse of ASUP include failure of the Integrate Personal Payroll Information System (IPPIS) to remit funds deducted to third parties such as the FMB and cooperatives, among others; non-payment of promotion arrears for federal polytechnics and annual increments for state polytechnics; and refusal of the Federal Government to inaugurate the National Polytechnic Commission to replace the National Board For Technical Education (NBTE); stalemated ASUPFGN Renegotiation Agreement of 2010. ASUP is also at loggerheads with the Federal Government over nonimplementation of the 2014 NEEDS Assessment Report; non-release and payment of CONTISS 15 arrears for lower cadre; non-release and payment of salaries by some state governments in their polytechnics including Abia, Bebue, Cross Rivers, Edo, Ogun, Plateau States, among others; as well as attempts by ARCN to force academic staff in Colleges of Agriculture to vacate ASUP.
Piqued by what the union described as the insensitivity of the Federal Government to the development of polytechnic and technology education, Ezeibe explained that although upset with the government over its ineptitude especially as it concerned polytechnic education development, the decision not to embark on the strike at the time as threatened, was to allow the government more time to meet the union’s needs.
According to him, the strike was shelved out of concern for students, who had been forced to stay at home for almost one academic session due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The President had expressed regret that despite the series of letters written to relevant authorities, including the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu as well as Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, none was responded to appropriately.
Against this background, the polytechnic lecturers’ union according to him was forced to direct all its members to withdraw their services beginning from April 6 in all public polytechnics across the federation until otherwise directed.
But, the President, however, said that the union and the Federal Government, represented by top officials of the Federal Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour and Employment had met twice on April 6 and 14, 2021 respectively, while the third meeting scheduled for April 15 to resolve the crisis was postponed to a later date.
Ezeibe, who further explained that the meetings had resulted in some significant outcomes, insisted that the union would continue to press for appropriate documentations and for process-led actions, as well as practical steps for those demands requiring immediate action. As part of the demands of the
union, Ezeibe noted that the Federal Government had appointed new Governing Councils for all the federal polytechnics, which would be inaugurated on April 20, 2021. He also hinted that the Federal Government had constituted Visitation Panels for federal polytechnics, despite strong reservations by the union over the composition of the panels.
Though, he expressed the union’s optimism that the outcomes of the visitation panels would mark a departure from the previous practices of non-release of reports. ASUP, which expressed dissatisfaction over the recent appointment of unqualified persons as Rectors of some federal polytechnics, also declared the appointment as illegal, insisting that the beneficiaries fell short of the prequalification criteria for the appointment as stipulated by law.
Thus, efforts by the Ministers of Education and his Labour and Employment counterpart to appeal to the lecturers to suspend the strike had failed. Adamu had at one of the meetings expressed confidence that it was not impossible to reach an agreement with the union, as most of the demands were already being looked into with promise that all other issues would be carefully appraised and attended to.
Top on ASUP’s list of demands are the non-implementation of NEEDS Assessment Report of 2014; non-release of revitalisation funds to the polytechnic sector despite repeated assurances from the Federal Government since 2017. Meanwhile, the hope for earlier resolution of the face-off, last week Thursday, received a setback following the cancellation of a planned meeting by the Federal Government with striking polytechnic lecturers.
Though the Federal Government did not state any reason for the cancellation of the parley, which stakeholders believed would have charted a way for ASUP to call off the indefinite strike.
The lecturers had earlier kicked against non-reconstitution of governing councils for polytechnics, arguing that lack of governing councils was leading to disruption in governance and administrative processes in the polytechnics since May 2020. “This has undermined the renegotiation of the ASUP’s 2010 Agreement with the Federal Government as this was unilaterally suspended by the government for over two years now.
“Our union has continued to demand for the deployment of developed capacity from the sector over the years in this process and need to reconstitute the councils in line with the amendments in the Polytechnics Act,” Ezeibe lamented.
Despite the presidential directive for payment of arrears of minimum wage since December 2019, he added that this had not been implemented and therefore resulting in 10-month arrears owed federal and state polytechnics, with some states owing between five and 24 months’ salary.
Other critical issued raised by the aggrieved lecturers include the continued victimisation of union officials, non-establishment of a commission for polytechnics to bridge regulatory gaps in the sector, non-implementation of the approved 65 years retirement age by some state governments, purported tax liabilities, opaque operations in the deployment of IPPIS.
The President also hinted that the union was aggrieved over nonrelease of arrears of promotion, renewed attempts to insert “offensive” provisions in the scheme of service and conditions of service, as well as alleged plans to force ASUP members in some monotechnics out of the union.
Ezeibe explained: “These issues as communicated to the government represent matters of industrial conflict in the sector with some assuming intractable dimensions and robbing the sector of the desired impact in the nation’s quest for technological development.
“We, therefore, appeal to the all well-meaning Nigerians and the general public to show understanding and support the effort of our union in this direction as the government is yet to demonstrate any seriousness in resolving the issues as listed.”
Again, the agitation of the union was heightened, when about a week ago the Federal Government announced the appointment of Rectors into some federal polytechnics, a development in which ASUP claimed was in disregard to a ruling by a competent court.
According to ASUP, which expressed dismay over the Federal Government’s action, out of the six rectors appointed, five of them were unqualified and failed to meet the stipulated requirements for the position. Enraged by the appointments, ASUP expressed disappointment in the Federal Ministry of Education, accusing it of violating the ruling of the National Industrial Court (NIC) in Abuja and vowed to ensure that due process was followed in the appointment of principal officers of the nation’s polytechnics.
The union said: “The appointment of Rectors for these polytechnics are in violation of provisions of the Federal Polytechnics (Amendment) Act, 2019 as five out of the six newly appointed Rectors are not qualified for the positions having fallen short of the requirements captured in Section 8, 2 (a) i of the Act.
“A rundown of the profiles of the beneficiaries of this latest act of impunity shows that five out of the six persons do not fit into the requirements of the law for appointment of Rectors in federal polytechnics in the country.
“It is regrettable that the government through officials of the Federal Ministry of Education has become principal violators of the laws governing the operations of Nigerian polytechnic system.
“This latest assault is despite the contents of a recent ruling of the National Industrial Court in Abuja, where the provisions of the Federal Polytechnics (Amendment) Act, 2019 was affirmed by the court and the Federal Ministry of Education and its officials undertaking to observe the provisions in totality.