■ Abia Poly workers, management at war
Okey Sampson, Aba
One of the ingredients that make a polytechnic perform optimally – peace, has become a costly commodity in Abia State Polytechnic, Aba, where members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics (SSANIP) and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) have again embarked on industrial action over 11 months unpaid salary.
This is not their first time. Indeed, industrial action by staff unions especially in recent years appears to be part of the institution’s academic timetable. But this time around, the strike took a different dimension as a result of it poor handling by the management who invited the military on the first day to ostensibly whip the workers into line.
That is apart from the threat to sack the workers who are demanding full payment of the salary arrears before they return to work.
Chairman of SSANIP, Mr. Nwachuckwu Chuks said the polytechnic management have decided to punish them and their families by not paying their 11 months salary.
He accused the management of using the subventions released to the school by the state government for workers’ salaries to pay contractors handling projects for their personal aggrandisement.
“We embarked on the industrial action to drive home our demand for the payment of our unpaid 11 months’ salary. We were last paid in April 2017. Since April 2017, no worker in Abia Poly has received any money as salary. Our union dues for 14 months which was deducted from source was not remitted to the union. The management converted it into private use.
“The most annoying part is that the Abia state government gave two months subventions from the Paris Refund to the management of this institution, but instead of paying suffering workers, they used the money to pay contractors handling projects within the school. This present management converted money meant for our salary.”
The union leader said workers had been patient and that after sending notice of strike to the management, instead of responding to the issues, they resulted to violence and intimidation.
“They used the money that should have been used as part of salaries to invite the army. Will the army drive the hunger in our stomach? Would they bring back our children who are out of school? Most of us have been ejected out of our houses by our landlords.”
Chuks added: “We can’t pay our medical bills and yet we work every day in this polytechnic. It’s either they pay us or we stop working. We are using this opportunity to call on the state government to do something serious. One is to release more money to clear the backlogs of our salaries; two is to probe this present management to ascertain how they have been managing this school since 2017 that they were appointed.”
The chairman of ASUP, Mr. Emma Godswill claimed the polytechnic management was involved in financial crime following their refusal to pay the staff what is due to them even after the fund were released by the state government through subvention given after the third trench of the Paris refund.
Members of NASU who joined the strike later are demanding, apart from their 11 months salary, payment of 18 months arrears for pensioners, payment of union dues which they deducted from our salaries but not remitted to the unions by management which is in arrears of 14, 15 and 18 months respectively. With NASU joining the strike, activities in the institution have been paralysed as nobody is allowed access into the campus.
It was gathered that to save its face by ensuring that the 24th matriculation went as scheduled, the management committed what the striking workers called academic sacrilege by allegedly robing messengers and cleaners to join in the rector’s procession since the academic staff were on strike. To cap it all, instead of a senior academic staff, a non-academic staff bore the mace of the institution during the procession.
The striking lecturers protested this absurdity, some of them carried placards which read; “Prof Eboh (rector of the institution) committted academic sacrilege, internal auditor bears polytechnic mace”, “cleaners dressed in academic regalia”, “our retired colleagues are dying, please pay their 18 months pension arrears”, and “stop intimidating union leaders for demanding the rights of their members”.
In separate interviews, chairman of SSANIP, Mr. Chuks and the vice chairman of ASUP, Mr. Emelike Ogbonnaya, condemned the engagement of non-academic staff like cleaners, clerks and messengers dressed in academic gowns for the matriculation. They said such had never happened in the institution.
“Abia State Polytechnic since inception had not been so ridiculed; it has never happened in any institution that messengers and cleaners would be given gowns to join in academic procession. It’s sacrilegious. What they have committed is academic sacrilege.
“When non-academic staff holds the polytechnic’s mace which is our symbol of authority, what could be more sacrilegious than that? Even the rector, Prof. Eboh has committed sacrilege. We can’t accept this. There will be another matriculation when we have a new management,’’ one of the union leaders said.
Demand for sack of management
The SSANIP chairman and his vice, Mr. Patrick Ufere said the three unions in the polytechnic would only call off the industrial action if the state government sacked the current management, institute audit committee to investigate the activities of the present management from February 2017 they came on board till date and appoint a member of the management that will domesticate their records of service year in the institution.
“Why does he still owe the staff when he has reduced the workforce by over 110? The three unions in the campus are demanding the government to sack the present management as constituted, they should audit the activities of the management from February 2017 till date. They should release money to pay all outstanding salaries and pensions owed retired staff of Abia Poly.
“We want them to appoint a rector that has a stake in this place, who can retire here. Who will feel the brunt of the staff and pensioners and who will be guided by the fact that they earn their salaries and will retire in the polytechnic? Bringing people from the university on secondment is not paying off. If the government must bring somebody from the university, let them come on full transfer of service so that they will domesticate their records of service year and feel the pains of serving in Abia Poly,’’ Chuks stressed.
In solidarity with the striking workers, students protested against the management on the alleged 11months salary owed the staff. They called on the state government to intervene and save their studies which was bound to suffer if the industrial action is not called off. The students went further to take the protest to a foremost traditional ruler in the commercial city for him to intervene as they feared the crisis if not resolved fast would adversely affect their studies.
As at Monday, April 23, the gates of the institution were still under lock.
The ongoing strike claimed its first casualty as a lecturer in the Department of General Studies, Mathematics Unit, Dr. Achi Godswill Uche died.
Uche, a native of Arochukwu in Arochukwu Local Government was said to have been ill and had no money to seek for medical attention due to the 11 months arrears of salaries owed him and others by the institution.
When contacted, the acting Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the polytechnic, Mrs. Chinyere Ezeh said the strike had not been called off, but that management and the union leaders would be meeting later to resolve the crisis.
He was optimistic it would be amicably resolved so that the institution’s gates would be reopened.