Last week, students of the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, staged a peaceful protest to ventilate their anger over the prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), which has been on for five months now.
Government’s effort to address polytechnic teachers’ grievances and get them back into the classrooms has, so far, been ineffective. Students of various polytechnics across the country have continued to languish in boredom and despair about their future as ASUP and the nation’s education authorities flex their muscles.
Polytechnic lecturers commenced an indefinite strike in September 2013 to protest the deplorable state of the government-owned polytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of education; the failure of the government to release the White Paper on the Visitation Panel to federal polytechnics; and the non-commencement of the NEEDS Assessment of the institutions.
The teachers union is also seeking the full implementation of Consolidated Tertiary Institutions Salary Structure (CONTISS 15) and a stop to the discrimination against Holders of Higher National Diploma (HND). It also wants a lump sum payment of the N40 billion the government offered to pay as CONTISS 15 arrears to polytechnics and colleges of education teachers.
Although the Federal Government has reportedly since offered to pay the N40 billion in two equal instalments in March and September, ASUP has rejected the offer, leading to the stalemate which the government has since failed to resolve.
Whatever the circumstances surrounding the failure of the government to get the striking teachers back to work, it is apparent that the Federal Government is not treating this problem with the urgency that it deserves.
Polytechnic lecturers started the first phase of their strike long before university lecturers began theirs under the auspices of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). The strike was put on hold shortly before the end of the ASUU strike, which lasted almost six months. The polytechnic lecturers thereafter resumed their industrial action that has now been on for five months consecutively.
The poor response of government and the mismanagement of the ASUP strike that is almost nine months now, cumulatively, is a demonstration of the little premium it places on technical education. If it were ASUU that was on strike for this long, the whole nation would have risen in unison to condemn the development. But, when it is ASUP members on strike, there seems to be a collective disregard for their demands. Members of the society can well be accused of indifference, as nobody seems to pay serious attention to the disruption of the academic calendar of polytechnics in the country. This smacks of a conspiracy of silence by all.
We are constrained to ask: what are the issues in this interminable strike that cannot be addressed by both parties involved in the dispute? Do our education authorities know the far-reaching implications of endless industrial actions on the quality of polytechnic education and the country in the long run? This strike should be resolved immediately.
Whatever the issues, the contenders must shift grounds in the interest of the students and educational standards. The socio-economic fallout of these months of strike is better imagined than experienced. We cannot, as a nation, be complaining about the dwindling quality of graduates of our tertiary institutions and, at the same time, be nurturing the predisposing factors for scholastic decline. In this age of science and technology, Nigeria cannot afford to play with polytechnic education.
The protest embarked upon by students of Yaba College of Technology is an indication that they have become weary of staying at home and being exposed to all manner of delinquent acts. It further signals that they are ready for resumption of their studies. On the basis of this alone, government should listen to their cries and resolve their plight by sorting out their lecturers so that academic activities can flourish once more in these institutions. Continued prolongation of this strike can have damning consequences on the students and the country as a whole.
The issue of disparity between polytechnic and university students has been a sore point in the country’s educational system for a long time. Different attempts to resolve the difference have been ineffective. Even the Stephen Orosanye Panel, which recently looked into the matter, declared that there was no basis for comparison between the products of both streams of learning, pointing that their syllabi and training were not the same thing in any way.
Since the polytechnic community has again frowned at the discrimination and made it one of the points in its latest strike, we think this matter and others on the charter list can be reviewed while students return to their studies in the interim. A lot of time has been lost and every step must be taken right now to remedy the situation in the interest of all.
If it is absolutely impossible to meet all ASUP demands in one fell swoop, let there be a sense of responsible commitment to meeting them in phases so that the strike can be called off and studies resumed immediately. Too much time has been lost already.