Shortly before lecturers ended their strike on Tuesday, the chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Kaduna Polytechnic chapter, Dr Aliyu Hassan Ibrahim, explained why it took a long time to reach agreement with government.
From Hassan Ibrahim, Kaduna
Your union initially refused to end its strike in spite of assurances from the government that an agreement was reached. Why?
We have not been able to get consistent attention from the Federal Government especially on needs assessment, salary shortfalls, intimidation of staff and a lot of other issues which were yet to be resolved then. That is why the strike went on for long.
Some of the demands of the union seemed unrealistic. Why didn’t you remove them from the list?
None of our demands is unrealistic because the essence of education is to develop human capital and if we don’t do that, the quality of our products will not meet the requisite demands of national development. That is why we say the Federal Government should invest appropriately in the needs assessment.
In 2009, a committee on needs assessment went round the polytechnics to see the basic infrastructure required and the estimated amount was N763 billion and that amount was not released for development of those projects. The projects included building of laboratories, supply of laboratory equipment and consumables and building lecture theatres where you find a classroom for 30 students with more than 100 students. These are what we are agitating for and appealing to government to deliver so that the products from the polytechnics sector would be able to compete favorably with their peers.
There would speculation that the amount of money you mentioned may not have been feasible?
The union has been considerate over time and we have written more than 43 letters to the Federal Ministry of Education without getting a single reply. That shows they are joking with the polytechnic sector since most of their children are in the universities – the children of the downtrodden are the ones that go to the polytechnics. But for any national development, the polytechnic sector is the developer of the power of middlemen and it is very pertinent for any nation that wants to succeed to develop its middlemen. However, the polytechnic sector was ready to reach agreement with government. They made series of promises and we signed series of agreements. We wanted to see change.
Recently, the Minister of Education Mallam Adamu Adamu were said the differences had been resolved but you took time to suspend the strike.
That statement was far from the truth. Government made an offer and even the national executives of ASUP have no right to call-off the strike until a NEC meeting was convened on Tuesday in Abuja where the proposal from the government was deliberated and accepted.
Strikes are affecting the future of students. Why can’t you adopt dialogue?
Strikes are also affecting the lives of our children because our children are also in the polytechnics but at the same time, the strikes were about improving the quality of polytechnic education.
The commitment from the government was genuine, that was why state chapters accepted to suspend the strike.
The polytechnic sector existed for over 50 years and up till now, we don’t have a condition and scheme of service that we can rely on. Every polytechnic in Nigeria is operating based on their own peculiarities. There is supposed to be a law, a guiding principle that is guiding all the polytechnics, unfortunately we don’t have that. We want to have a scheme embedded into the polytechnic system.
There is victimisation of union officials because whenever there was agitation or strike, managements unilaterally sack union officials or suspend them, and we want that to stop. There was also the issue of a bill for the amendment of the Polytechnic Act so that we have a National Polytechnic Commission rather than the National Board for Technical Education where technical schools are being merged with polytechnics whereas universities have the National Universities Commission and colleges of education have their commission too.
Some observers say the union is politicized. Is that true?
There is nothing like politics as far as we are concerned; we are not partisan, this agitation has been on since 2009. If somebody is reading meaning into it, that the strike is having political undertones was unfortunate. It may be because it happened during the period just preceding the general elections.