It is disheartening that while many Nigerians are yet to come to terms with frequent strikes by both academic and non-academic staff in our public universities, the polytechnic lecturers have threatened to embark on their own indefinite strike. They are currently on a two-week warning strike which started May 16. But, as the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Anderson Ezeibe, put it, the union might declare indefinite strike from June if the Federal Government failed to meet its demands.
ASUP is angry that the government failed to implement a Memorandum of Action signed with the union after the suspension of its two-month industrial action in June 2021. The government also ignored its one-month ultimatum given in April this year to address its demands.
The contentious issues are not different from those of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). ASUP listed about nine of them after its emergency National Executive Council (NEC) meeting on May 11, 2022. Some of them include non-release of the approved revitalisation fund of N15 billion for the sector; non-release of 10-month arrears of the new minimum wage; non-release of the reviewed normative instruments for institution/management and programmes accreditation; sustained infractions in implementation of the provisions of the Federal Polytechnics Act as amended in 2019; delay in appointment of rectors and non-release of the scheme of service for Polytechnics.
We feel the demands of ASUP are legitimate. The union went on a two-month strike in April 2021 to protest the inability of the government to meet its demands. It suspended the strike in June after President Muhammadu Buhari reportedly approved N15 billion as part of revitalisation funds. The government has failed to release the approved funds and address other issues.
ASUP sees this as a mark of irresponsibility and a clear absence of commitment by the agencies and functionaries of government on issues concerning the union. As if to confirm this allegation, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, complained recently against the attitude of the officials at the Federal Ministry of Education. He blamed the ministry for the continued strike by ASUU, saying the bosses at the ministry felt unconcerned about the industrial action. No doubt, the country’s education sector is in a serious crisis. In 2020, ASUU went on strike that lasted for nine months.
It has been on another strike since early this year. And there is no hope of it being called off soon as the union, earlier in the month, extended the strike by another three months. It accused government of being a serial defaulter with regard to honouring the agreement it reached with it since 2009. The agreement revolves around welfare of academic staff and better funding of public universities. So far, the present government has paid a total of N92 billion to cover revitalisation funds to federal universities and earned allowances. This is far short of the about N1.3 trillion government promised to release for revitalisation of public universities in six tranches starting from 2013. It had earlier released the first tranche of N200 billion in 2013 as agreed but failed to release the N220 billion each year for five subsequent years as agreed. It cited paucity of funds.
The Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) are also at loggerheads with the Federal Government. The unions accused the government of failing to honour agreements reached with them. Like ASUU and ASUP, they have threatened to make their own industrial action indefinite.
What these strikes indicate is that there is lack of trust between the government and the unions. The common complaint by all the unions is that government will promise something but will renege on fulfilling it. Why will government promise what it knows it cannot fulfill? Paucity of funds is always cited, but this is no excuse. Most of the money stolen by government functionaries can solve some of these problems. We only need to put our priorities right.
Simply put, we are appalled at what is happening to our education system and unless drastic measures are taken, there is no way Nigeria will move forward as a nation. There is need to call for education summit to trash out some issues bedeviling education in Nigeria. Most advanced countries are where they are today because they took education seriously. Our own government takes educational issues with levity.
It is important that government nips the problems in the bud. Part of the problem we have is that sometimes, we are not proactive in tackling issues. ASUP has given its warning. But government may not do anything until the situation degenerates. Government should listen to the voices of reason and dialogue with ASUP and address its grievances.
The crises in our tertiary institutions need the direct intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari now. He should personally ensure that all the promises made by his government to the unions in our tertiary institutions are fulfilled. We know this is doable if we put our priorities right.