Permit me to start by stating that when the Academic Staff Union of Universities sneezes, President Goodluck Jonathan and his entire cabinet catch cold. In fact, all previous governments caught fever when ASUU sneezed. Well, this is not an understatement. Honestly, I admire the members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics for their doggedness, consistency, courage and sincerity of purpose. Everybody believes that tertiary education in Nigeria is synonymous with university education alone. But the reverse is the case. Every sectors of the tertiary education sector by virtue of the Decrees and Acts of Parliament establishing them has a noble role to play in the development of the Nigerian economy. All developed economies based their development on technological advancement. These technological advancements came only from technical institutions of which polytechnics are one. For Nigeria to progress, therefore, it needs to focus more on the development of the polytechnics and other tertiary institutions other than universities.
Decree No 33 of July 25, 1979, which established the polytechnics states some of their functions as to: provide fulltime or parttime courses of instruction and training in technology, applied science, commerce and management, and in such other fields of applied learning relevant to the needs of the development of Nigeria in the areas of industrial and agricultural production and distribution and for research in the development and adaptation of techniques. They are also responsible for organising conferences, seminars and study groups relative to the fields of learning specified above. If the government in its wisdom stated the above as the objectives of polytechnics when they were established in 1979, it is really amusing that such institutions will be on strike for almost 10 months, and there is a conspiracy of silence by all. Nobody is concerned. Nobody worries about the impact of a 10-month strike on the generality of the students who have been kept idle for 10 months now. And its effect on the lecturers who have been denied the opportunity to impact knowledge and advance solutions to the myriad of problems confronting Nigeria, and on the society who will at the end of the day depend on half-baked graduates from our tertiary institutions.
I am at a loss on the conspiracy of silence by the government, the society, the media, the Nigeria Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress, religious bodies, opinion leaders and Nigerians who contributed greatly to resolving the impasse between the Government and ASUU. What is the reason for the face-off between ASUP, Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union and the Federal Government? Why has the government considered some academic actors less important than others and some students more relevant to the Nigerian society than others? Everybody knows that the Federal Government enters into an agreement it hardly honours.
The bones of contention between ASUP and the Federal Government are on four issues which are germane to the technological development of Nigeria. There was a 2009 agreement which was meant to be honoured. Among the demands of ASUP are the non-release of the White Paper on the visitation panels to all the federal polytechnics, the non-release of funds for the implementation of CONTISS 15 migration and its arrears, the continued and embarrassing discrimination among the polytechnic graduates in both the private and public sectors of the economy and during job search, the non-establishment of the National Polytechnic Commission and the continued recognition of the National Board for Technical Education as a regulatory body for Nigerian polytechnics. Others include the slow stead in the review of the Polytechnic Act by the National Assembly; the gross underfunding of polytechnics, as well as the alleged lopsided disbursement of TETFUND grants, scholarships and other financial interventions in the education sector, which has been to the disadvantage of the polytechnics, and the worrisome state of state-owned polytechnics, coupled with the continued appointment of unqualified persons as Rectors of the polytechnics.
The prolonged strike which started since 2013 has led to the disruption of the academic calendar, truancy and other social vices among the many students who have been kept at home since 2013 (10 months). This prolonged strike has had a telling effect on the well-being of the Nigerian economy, the society and the education sector. It is puzzling why the government has acquired the unpopular reputation of a partner that cannot be trusted to keep agreements it voluntarily entered into with many unions and sectors of the Nigerian society. For many months now, the Nigerian society and most especially the students are getting burnt by this constant FG-ASUP face-off. Must there be strikes before agreements are honoured by the government? Must the government allow the strike to be prolonged up to 10 months? Everything concerning the ASUP strike has no personal monetary advancement reason, when it is glaring that a labourer deserves his/her wages. These constant and prolonged strike actions hurt the cause of technical education sector more than they advance it. Have the government and ASUP exhausted their options? Why are the general public and the civil society groups not interested in the ASUP strike? Is it a misplacement of priority that the government set up the polytechnics and is presently underfunding them? I am at a loss on why there is this conspiracy of silence by all in a prolonged strike that has extended to two semesters?
A couple of years ago, Prof. Wole Soyinka advocated for a closure of the universities for one year, so as to give room for a proper stock-taking, so that appropriate remedies would be advanced so as to bring back the lost glory of the ivory towers. Having spent 10 months on strike, it behoves on the government to close all those polytechnics, if suddenly it has realised that the sector is no longer necessary. Technological institutions in other countries are the bedrock of their scientific advancements. Can the government have a polytechnic of equal standing and standard with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States of America or the Cranfield Institute of Technology (now Cranfield University) in the United Kingdom? What has become of the plans of the Federal Government to upgrade the Kaduna Polytechnic and the Yaba College of Technology to degree awarding institutions, so that they can acquire the status of MIT or CIT?
The Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, has given the impression that government has exhausted its options in reopening the polytechnics again. There is an uneasy calm everywhere. The students have had cause to demonstrate in major cities of the country over the continued closure of their institutions. Honestly, it is not ideal for the polytechnics to continue being under lock and key for 10 months. Something must be done to break this deadlock urgently. A closer look at the demand of ASUP shows that it has not made any fresh demand apart from the implementation of the 2009 agreement it reached with the Federal Government which is to restore the lost glory of the polytechnics. Almost like ASUU did some time ago and was granted by government.
Proper funding is a necessity and not a luxury if Nigeria is to be ranked on the same level as the Asian tigers of Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, India and Japan. To back out of their demands now will be catastrophic for ASUP and the students. This strike has been mismanaged by the government; as this logjam would have been avoided, if government in sincerity had engaged in meaningful dialogue with ASUP, the same time it reached an agreement with ASUU. Long strikes do not help the educational advancement of a nation, and the rating of their institutions. There is a colossal waste in human and material resources, as the government will still pay the lecturers their salaries while on strike. This impasse would have been nipped in the bud earlier than now. There is indiscretion by the Supervising Minister and other government officials in favouring one academic sector against another. It has given the impression that the polytechnics and all that they stand for are not needed in Nigeria. If they are not needed, it is essential to close all of them.
It is not enough to celebrate the rebasing of the Gross Domestic Product of an economy whose government cannot fund its education to meet international standards. The time to end this face-off between ASUP and Federal Government is now!
–Ogechukwu wrote in from The Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, via [email protected] 07058267126