ASUP AND COEASU STRIKES: THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER
Of recent, Nigerians have been served with an over-dosage of sponsored propaganda by politically minded unions leaders and their drum-beaters who deliberately seek to mislead the unsuspecting education loving people of our great nation on the prevailing issues concerning the prolonged strike actions by Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP and Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union, COEASU.
They take advantage of the fact that most Nigerians refuse to ask critical questions about half truths and outright falsehood presented to them by union leaders during trade disputes. These union leaders also exploit the stereotype that whatever goes wrong must be placed at the doorstep of the Federal Government and her officials.
The simple fact about the extremely prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP and Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union, COEASU is the fact that the ball has remained in the court of the union leaders for over four months.
Clear-cut agreements have been repeatedly reached for the strikes to be called off. However, on each occasion, the union leaders after assuring that the concessions made by the Federal Government would lead to the end of the strikes, turned around prolong the strike.
At every step of the way, the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Education made critical concessions aimed at resolving all the key four demands reached after the unions, Education Committees of the National Assembly and the Federal Ministry of Education met at the beginning of these prolonged strike actions.
Of the four key demands agreed by all parties for the resolution of the strike actions, the Federal Government has resolved three. What is outstanding is the payment of arrears for migration to higher levels for staff and CONTISS 15.
The demands that have been resolved by the Federal Government include
the establishment of Needs Assessment Committees and the setting up of governing councils. The office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation has concluded work on the White Paper. The white paper of the Polytechnics and Colleges of Education will not be released in isolation. They are to be released alongside those of universities.
Contrary to what the public is being misled to believe, the payment process of arrears owed the ASUP, COEASU and other staff, which stand at over N40billion has been concluded. The Federal Government has placed an offer before the two unions in terms of the payment. Right in the presence of journalists, the Supervising Minister of Education, Barr. Ezenwo Nyesom Wike announced the Federal Government offer to pay the striking workers in two installments. The unions agreed at the beginning, only to renege through a letter written by ASUP. Prior to this public meeting which ASUP objected, the ASUP President had claimed that the Federal Government ignored the unions.
The Federal Government has severally engaged the striking unions through officials of the Federal Ministry of Education and Federal Ministry of Labour. Countless meetings have been held at both levels of top officials and at the Ministerial level.
The Supervising Minister of Education has met with the unions repeatedly as well as meeting with leaders of National Association of Polytechnics Students in very key steps to resolve the strike. He has convened a public meeting with union leaders, students and Journalists in attendance. The meeting agreed that the onus was on the union leaders to act in favour of the development of the education sector.
At present, the Federal Ministry of Education of Education is implementing a new framework to comprehensively address other concerns raised by ASUP and COEASU leaders at the meeting with officials of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Federal Ministry of Education.
It is necessary to bring before the public court once again, several progressive steps that the Jonathan administration has taken to improve Polytechnics and Colleges of Education. These are hard facts.
The Jonathan administration released a grant of N12.4 billion to all 51 Federal and State for the equipping of their laboratories to enhance their ability to deliver quality Technical and Vocational Education.
Staff members drawn from the institutions have also gone through training to enhance their competence in the management of the new facilities. In addition, N2.6 billion has been provided for the rehabilitation of existing laboratories in the institutions.
Aside the above investments, eight Polytechnics and eight Colleges of Education have benefitted from the TETFUND High Impact Fund to improve critical infrastructure in these schools. They are spread across the six geo-political zones. Each of this school got N1billion.
Under normal TETFUND interventions, the Jonathan administration raised the bar. More than any other time in the past, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education are now better funded. For Polytechnics, TETFUND support for each institution increased from N240million in 2011 to N337million in 2012 to N443million in 2013. As for Colleges of Education grants increased from N190million in 2011 to each school to N319million in 2012 to N390million in 2013.
The Federal Government under President Jonathan has also expended N12billion for the construction of teaching laboratories for State and Federal Colleges of Education. This in addition to the several training local and international training programmes that academic and non academic staff participated in to improve their capacity.
In the course of the last four weeks, the Supervising Minister of Education, Barr. Wike and officials of TETFUND held town hall meetings in the six geo-political zones on TETFUND investments in Federal Universities, Federal Polytechnics and Federal Colleges of Education. At every meeting, civil society officials, students, parents and media practitioners witnessed first hand the massive improvement that have been associated with positive investments by the Jonathan administration in all the nation's tertiary institutions. These town hall meetings witnessed unrestricted question and answer sessions. While ASUU participated in two of these meetings, ASUP and COEASU instructed their members to stay away.
The ASUP President, Chibuzor Asomugha has embarked on an unproductive negative false productive to the effect that the Federal Government cares less about technical and vocational education. Nothing could be further from the truth. Development of Technical and Vocational Education is one of the focal areas of the Federal Ministry of Education Four Year Strategic Plan. Nigerians are witnessing the on-going construction of vocational schools for Nigerians in the South-East and South-South zones.
Nigerians must know that Polytechnics and Colleges of Education are having the best treatment under President Goodluck Jonathan. The investments by the administration have been targeted at lifting the institutions from their hitherto neglected conditions.
Nigerians should begin to ensure that union leaders account for their actions. The power to strike is a critical asset that must not be used frivolously. These strike actions have down to the issue of payment of the arrears, which the Federal Government has committed to pay in two installments. Discerning Nigerians would have clearly discovered that aside hauling of insults at the Supervising Minister of Education, the union leaders bring nothing to table.
Restoring the Polytechnics and Colleges of Education to their days of glory is a process that the Jonathan administration started since 2010. Before then, these schools suffered two decades of total neglect. The facts as outlined above speak for themselves.
In the coming days, all education stakeholders must demand as a right that these union leaders respond positively to Federal Government's offer of paying the outstanding arrears in two installments. The future of Millions of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education students is at stake. This can no longer be left in the hands of these union leaders. Nigerians must ask critical questions and demand immediate answers. There is no reason whatsoever why these strike actions should continue.
Simeon Nwakaudu is the Special Assistant (Media) to the Supervising Minister of Education.
Written By Simeon Nwakaudu