NIGERIANS must be quite relieved that following the expiration of the two-week warning strike embarked upon to force the Federal Government to accede to its demands, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), last weekend, directed its members to resume work on Monday this week. ASUP had, on May 16, begun a two-week warning strike following the resolution of its emergency National Executive Council (NEC) meeting on May 11. The decision, it told Nigerians, resulted from the Federal Government’s refusal to fulfill some aspects of the Memorandum of Action (MoA) signed in 2021. The issues in contention include the alleged release of a contentious template for the appointment of principal officers by the Federal Ministry of Education, the non-release of the approved N15bn revitalisation fund for the sector, the release of arrears of CONTISS 15 migration for the lower cadre, the release of the scheme of service and conditions of service, and the continued delay in the appointment of substantive rectors for federal polytechnics in Adamawa, Kwara and Kaduna states.
Apparently jolted by the union’s resolve, the Federal Government began paying the arrears of the new minimum wage in the affected federal polytechnics. In addition, it approved and released regulatory instruments for the accreditation of institutions, management and programmes. Indeed, in a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Abdullahi Yalwa, the union explained that the government had met four of its demands so far. It explained that the decision to resume work was to give the government time to meet the remaining five demands. Of course, the senior academic union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), is yet to call off the strike it began on February 14, 2022; nor have the other unions currently on strike, namely the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions.
ASUU’s demands include the release of revitalisation funds for universities, renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU agreement, release of earned allowances for lecturers and deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) payment platform. The prolonged strike has caused considerable consternation in the polity and, as a matter of fact, the students of the affected universities have become quite restive, threatening to paralyse activities in the country’s airports and highways. They have in fact been making good their threat across the country. President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Sunday Asefon, recently led university students in Ekiti State to protest the continuous closure of public universities in the state over the industrial action embarked upon by ASUU. If anything, the fact that students are at home when they should be in school is unfortunate. It is also ominous. This is because the crisis will feed insecurity and compound the problems that the country is already battling with. It is a crying shame that the government has created a situation where virtually all unions in the tertiary education system are on strike. It should not allow the situation to degenerate further.
In this connection, it is good to know that discussions are ongoing between the government and the unions. The Federal Government had, on March 7, inaugurated a seven-man committee headed by the Pro-Chancellor of the Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ebonyi State, Professor Nimi Briggs, to negotiate with the unions. The unions should approach the talks with understanding and a sense of compromise, knowing that they may not actualise all of their demands in one fell swoop. On the other hand, the government, which seems to be bogged down by the ongoing primaries of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), must realise that it has been putting the education sector in jeopardy with its refusal to strike a workable deal with the aggrieved unions. If virtually all the unions in the tertiary education sector are on strike, it is a pointer to the fact that fundamental issues are at stake and the government has not done its job.
We urge the unions and the government to consider the plight of students and their parents who have been worst hit by the ongoing crisis and come to an agreement in time. Already, the students have suffered for too long due to no fault of theirs. It is unconscionable to torment them further.
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