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On Tuesday April 29, members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP and Colleges of Education Staff Union, COEASU, embarked on a peaceful protest to the Federal Ministry of Education, Federal Ministry of Labour and the National Assembly over their lingering strike actions.

That peaceful protest more than any other statements made in the past, re-emphasised the truth concerning the strike actions. It threw up the fact that the only issue left un-resolved was that of the payment of arrears to members of the striking unions.

It also re-emphasised the fact that the Federal Government more than ever before has been committed to the timely resolution of the issues that led to the strike actions. The union leaders publicly admitted that they were offered two installmental payments for the arrears to be defrayed.

For the purpose of this discourse, it is necessary to touch on other demands placed before the Federal Government by the striking unions.

The unions requested that the Federal Government set up Needs Assessment Committees for Polytechnics and Colleges of Education to address infrastructural challenges in the school, they asked for the inauguration of Governing Councils for Polytechnics that hitherto had none, they also requested for the release of the White Paper on Visitation Panels and the payment of their arrears. These immediate pressing demands were arrived at after several meetings were held, one at the instance of the National Assembly. Later, ASUP insisted that the bridging of the gap between HND and First Degree be added to list. This was at a meeting called by the Supervising Minister of Education, Barr. Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, with students and journalists in atttendance. This particular meeting was thrown open because of the unbearable frequent volte-face by the union leaders.

The Federal Ministry of Education went to work to address all these demands. The Ministry after the approval of Mr President set up the Needs Assessment Committees for the Polytechnics and Colleges of Education. All unions are represented and work has been concluded. The committees with the active participation of the union leaders are putting finishing touches to the reports.

The Governing Councils of the remaining Federal Polytechnics have since been inaugurated, while the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation is in the process of concluding work on the white paper for the visitation panels. It must be noted that the release of the White Paper also includes Federal Universities.

Mr President has graciously approved the setting up of a committee to bridge the gap between HND and First Degree. The Minister is billed to inaugurate this committee. It is necessary to point out that a gap that has been in existence for decades cannot be bridged in few weeks. It requires extensive work which will involve the National Universities Commission and the National Board for Technical Education.

The issue of the establishment of the National Polytechnics Commission is before the National Assembly and not within the purview of the Federal Ministry of Education. Even the union leaders accepted this fact, hence it was not amongst their demands for immediate attention when the different harmonization meetings were held.

This brings us back to the issue of the payment of arrears, which has been the only lingering issue. On Sunday, April 27, 2014, both unions addressed the media, stating that they had accepted the offer of two installmental payment of the arrears. On Monday, April 28, 2014, officials of the Federal Ministry of Education waited in vain for this to be official communicated to the Ministry vide a letter.

The unions in March truncated the process of installmental payment vide a letter written by the ASUP leadership shortly after the memo on the payment had been approved. It is only logical that they communicate their acceptance through another letter which will form the premise of the new course of action.

All major stakeholders have been involved in the process of resolving this lingering strike actions. The Supervising Minister of Education has met at different times with the unions, the governing councils of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, the Rectors and the Provosts. He has also met with the students. Several other technical sessions by top management officials of National Commission for Colleges of Education, National Board of Technical Education and the officials of the Federal Ministry of Education and the unions have been held.

It is gratifying to note that at last a head way has been made with the unions accepting the way forward as proffered by the Federal Ministry of Education.

Beyond the sponsored personalised attacks and name-calling in the media targeted at the Supervising Minister of Education by the union leaders is the irrepresible fact that there is now light at the end of the dark tunnel. Like was the case with the strike by the universities lecturers, we have arrived at the moment of truth. It has come to the fore that these strike actions ought to have been resolved long ago, since the Federal Government has met all the immediate demands of the unions and also committed itself fundamentally to resolving all the other long-term issues.

Indeed, even before the strike actions started the revival of infrastructure in the Polytechnics and Colleges of Education had started. Where other previous leaders turned a blind eye, President Jonathan made massive investments to improve facilities and learning environment in these schools. To say otherwise would be promoting ingratitude.

Supervising Minister of Education, Barr. Wike held public town hall meetings in all six geo-political zones of the Federation where Provosts and Rectors of Federal Colleges of Education and Polytechnics outlined several fresh academic and infrastructural projects. They all confessed that this was the first time this was happening in decades. These engagements had students, jounalists and members of the civil society as participants.

Written By Simeon Nwakaudu

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