Gabriel Dike and Bianca Iboma-Emefu
Lecturers in public colleges of education nationwide may down tools any moment soon due to non-implementation of outstanding demands, including the N441billion NEEDS Assessment for the colleges.
Ahead of the industrial action, the College of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU), declared a trade dispute with the Federal Government last month. It is also mobilising members for the national strike.
The Education Report learnt that the declaration followed the expiration of the ultimatum issued for the implementation of COEASU demands pending for years. The Expanded National Executive Council (ENEC) would meet on Wednesday, September 16, 2020, to give the nod for the industrial action in over 80 government colleges of education.
Local chapters of COEASU had earlier conducted emergency congress to mandate the national body to call a national strike. Some chapter chairmen of the union confirmed that their congresses endorsed the proposed industrial action.
COEASU OUTSTANDING DEMANDS
COEASU said it kicked against over politicised administration; non-implementation of statutory policies on salary structure; retirement age; denial of promotions and administrative recklessness; imposition of Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS), stoppage of salary payment to members on sabbatical leave; imposition of non-negotiated Personal Income Tax; excessive deduction for the contributory pension scheme and double standard by government against colleges of education. It demanded that the N441billion NEEDS Assessment for the colleges be implemented.
President of COEASU, Mr Nuhu Ogirima, disclosed that, on issuing the current ultimatum, aside the concerns expressed by the Committee of Provosts and the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) at separate meetings with the leadership of the union, as well as phone conversation he had with the Special Adviser on Technical Matters to the Minister of Labour and Employment, no other agency or functionary of government reacted to the ultimatum.
He observed that similar fate befell some of the state colleges of education: “The issues with which they have been grappling remain unattended except for the governments of Ogun and Oyo states which took unprecedented steps in addressing issues pertinent to their respective COEs.
“Of particular concern in this regard are Abia, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, and Enugu states. Others are Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Osun and Plateau states.
“NEC expressed dismay over government’s penchant for reneging on commitments toward resolving issues of industrial concern and the development of education, as evident in the 2018 resolutions it has unilaterally refused to implement, and the concerned state governments for neglecting the COE system.
“NEC also resolved that chapter chairmen should proceed on mass sensitisation and mobilisation of members of the union towards the ENEC meeting, slated for September 16, 2020, in which the appropriate industrial action that may have been agreed at the chapter congresses will be reported for discussion and decision.”
PREPARATION FOR STRIKE
Worried by the Federal Government non-response to the ultimatum, a National Executive Council (NEC) meeting was held on August 27, 2020, in Abuja. It was attended by delegates from 52 chapters of the union. They deliberated on the ultimatum given the Minister of Education and copied Minister of Labour and Employment, to press home the demands of COEASU on lingering and emerging issues of grave concern to the colleges of education sub-sector.
Public Relations Officer, COEASU, Dr Lawan Abazza, debunked report that the union directed its members on August 27 to commence strike: “We have not asked our members to embark on any strike. The directive will be given after our ENEC meeting on September 16.
“The Federal Government has failed to address numerous pending demands of the union for years. It is over one year we sent a document detailing the deplorable state of public colleges of education in the country to the Presidency.
“Despite seeking President Muhammadu Buhari’s intervention on the various issues militating against public colleges of education, nothing has been done and members are agitated about government lackadaisical approach to colleges of education.”
Chairman, COEASU, Federal College of Education (Technical), Akoka, Lagos, Mr Ebenezer Oje, acknowledged that ENEC would meet on September 16 to take a position on the proposed strike which he said is long overdue because of failure of the Federal Government to address any of the demands.
He said FCE Technical congress would be conveyed in compliance with directive to COEASU chapters nationwide to sensitise their members on the impending industrial action: “Government has neglected the colleges of education for long.”
Chairman of COEASU, College of Education, Zing, Taraba State, Dr Muhammadu Hassan, told The Education Report: ‘’We just finish our congress. If the Federal Government fails to do anything before September 16, we will go on strike. We suspended our last industrial action in 2018 after government promised to implement some of the demands. Up till now, the government has not addressed the outstanding issues. We have not been given listening ears.
‘’Some of our demands are similar with our counterparts in the universities. The Federal Government has addressed many of theirs and colleges of education have been abandoned. We gave government the required ultimatum and nothing has happened. My congress has given me the mandate to vote for strike. Our members are not happy about the plight of colleges of education.’’
Chairman, COEASU, Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo, Oyo State, Mr Oladeji Nureni, said: “The fourteen-day ultimatum ended without any positive action from the Federal Government. Our members are tired of unfulfilled promises. Our colleagues in Ondo and Abeokuta have endorsed strike. COEASU members are not happy with the situation.’’
STUDENTS’ POSITION ON STRIKE
A student of College of Education, Warri (COEWARRI), Delta State, Onome Rex, said it is sad that after government shut down schools occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, they have not been able to put its house in order: “Why will the government not attend to the needs of lecturers and the COE sector, when it is a veritable venture?’’
Rex added that government ought to solve the problem before it deteriorated: “How can students spend more time at home when a better part of the year has been spent already?
“I think what the union is demanding from government is meant to improve and develop colleges of education in Nigeria. Strike is not welcome at this moment. I want government to know that education is the bedrock of development. But unfortunately education in Nigeria is faced with myriad of problems.’’
Another student from the Federal College of Education (Technical) Umunze, Anambra State, Nonyelum Egwuonwu, expressed concern over the proposed strike by COEASU. She described the situation as unfortunate because “government is making things difficult for students when they have missed a lot due to COVID-19 pandemic.
“Already, the academic calendar has been altered. Why should government want things to move from bad to worse by increasing the problem at hand. Government should employ dialogue and do everything possible to prevent the strike from taking place.
“Government should take the running of schools serious and ensure the regular payment of salaries, basic allowances, provision of facilities because the education is a big industry. So they must ensure that all the benefits that are due to lecturers are paid regularly.’’
Daniel Edeh, also student of FCET, Umunze, appealed to COEASU not to embark on the strike: “It will disrupt academic activities, considering the fact that the academic calendar has been disrupted since March 2020. Government should look into the plight of lecturers because if their demands are not met, the union will go on strike. Government needs to act fast on their demands.
“The Federal Government needs to address the demands of COEASU immediately. They have to reach an agreement on the way forward. Government must compromise so that education will move on. Education sector and the welfare of students should be accorded top priority.”
He reminded COEASU and government that students have spent close to six months at home already: “This has affected academic calendar and there is nothing again students will gain from staying at home. This will affect the future of students. Government should act fast and listen to COEASU and meet its demands.’’