Sir Babatunde A. Olowu is the chairman, FGN Team (Polytechnic Sector) which re-negotiated the 2001 Agreements with the various unions in the polytechnic system. Suffice to state that the Federal Government entered into various agreements on 11th October, 2001 with the following polytechnic unions:
* Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP)
* Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics (SSANIP)
* Non-Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Polytechnics (NASU)
Some provisions of the 2001 Agreements were implemented while some were not, hence the need to update and re-negotiate new demands, terms and conditions.
The Federal Government Team to re-negotiate the 2001 Agreements with the unions was inaugurated on 1st March, 2007 with the union leaders in attendance, while negotiations commenced from 22nd march, 2007 to July 2008 at NBTE Liaison Office, Abuja.
Olowu, one-time, Chairman of Governing Council, Federal Polytechnic, Bida, and also chairman, committee of Chairmen of Governing Councils, Federal Polytechnics, and former lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University, talked extensively on what went on, decisions reached, resolutions taken in the course of the re-negotiations, the crisis in the tertiary system, the ongoing strike actions, and how peace and normalcy can return to the tertiary institutions.
For some time now, there had been agitations by unions in the polytechnic sector asking for several things, culminating in a recent protest in Lagos. What is the situation so far?
First of all, I want to say something on the strikes. Strike is cruel, most Nigerians of school-going age, are now familiar with disruptive and destructive actions of lecturers. It has also destroyed the intellectual urge in our children, which in most cases prolong duration of studies and course specialisation. For instance, in Nigeria today, it is not uncommon for a 4-year programme to last 7-8 years. Why do we wonder that none of our tertiary institutions is rated among 500 in the world.
So that been the case, the unions came up with agitations demanding review of the 2001 Agreements with Federal Government. The Federal Government set us up as a negotiating organ on its behalf with the three unions in the Polytechnic sector.
To what extent has the negotiation reached?
Negotiation commenced, and I must say, I had the privilege of working with Professor Emeritus S.O. Igwe, former Chairman of Federal Polytechnic, Kaduna, now pro-chancellor of University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). Our team was solid. We gave the unions opportunity to submit their new demands which we looked into along with the 2001 agreements.
They had written submissions and we painstakingly went through each of their demands, item-by-item.
From our findings, it was obvious that part of the 2001 Agreements had been implemented. So we now considered outstanding issues with their new demands. And we came up with some resolutions.
Sir, the unions claimed they had agreement, but youâ€™ve now saying these were resolutions. Can you throw more light on this?
Yes. The negotiating teams, be it unions, Federal Government team, observers, advisers, etc,Â were very explicit in total unison that what we were doing will require actions by three main organs – legislature, Executive and Unions/Governing Councils.
It will be pre-emptive for us to say, for instance, age 65 years for retirement as demanded by the unions be taken as agreement. We can only resolve that, your academic counterparts in the university asked for 65 years.
It is up to the legislative arm to pass it into law, knowing fully well that the action will also require amendments to the National Pension Act, because if you want to talk of retirement age, it is provided for by law. And bear in mind, that from the onset, we noted that the negotiation generally will be governed by the public service rules and regulations.
For our team, we can only say this is how far weâ€™ve gone. It requires legislative action. There is a federal pensions commission, for instance. It is a process.
What followed since then?
We separated what had been implemented from the new demands. Part of the new demands included salary in crease, migration or entry to CONTISS 15, National Polytechnic Commission, Funding.
Can you be specific?
Our recommendation to the Minister of Education, for example, the establishment of National Polytechnic Commission.
We cannot, but only recommend to the visitor. It must go through legislative action. The Federal government, as far as I know, has initiated moves to the National Assembly for ratification.
Any progress made on the National Polytechnic Commission?
Yes. You see, the unions were advised that in their own interest, can proceed to verify that the Federal Government has taken such steps. And if not, they can go to the National Assembly themselves to facilitate the various bills to be passed into law.
The Federal Government has said that the bills are with the National Assembly, so the unions should go and lobby for the passage. Hence the unions also have a role to play. Nobody will do it for them.
How is the state of funding in the polytechnics?
Individual polytechnic as we have it, need funding. But look at private polytechnics: how are they funded? Federal and State Universities have avenues to ETF, UNESCO, ADB, banks in respect of funding. They can also go into private partnership to build hostels and other things that would cost colossal amount of money.
We recommended that ETF should solely fund tertiary institutions – the purpose for which tax is collected.
But the fund had been spread thin because money is given to primary, secondary schools, etc. The original purpose is for the funding of universities, but government gave a ratio.
There are two areas of funding – (i) For capital projects,
(ii) Recurrent expenditure. The Federal Government takes care of both. In addition ETF (Education Trust Fund) gives annual grants to Polytechnics. They can source endowment fun for their own development.
ETF within billions of naira in its account, such idle funds should be used to finance tertiary education needs and so complement statutory allocation.
Is Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) not buoyant enough to meet challenge of adequate funding?
Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) is personal to each polytechnic. It is controlled by the governing council and management of the polytechnic. I believe IGR is very robust. For example, in Federal Polytechnic, Oko, it had enrollment of 20,000 students, but only 5,000 are full time – running humanities, which have less technical contents.
So ofcourse, the whole academic system went out of control. I can recall that Dr. Obaji, as Minister of Education, came up with a policy for NBTE (National Board for Technical Education) that admission ratio be 70% science/technical and 30% arts and humanities others.
She is one of the best education ministers of our time. Admission requirements have been reviewed stipulating that candidates should have six (6) credits.
This has drastically reduced the incidence of frivolous part time programmes and consequently IGR.
How do you check abuse, misuse and possible diversion of funds from IGR?
The Act setting up Polytechnics put the responsibility for financial prudence and due process on the governing council.
Itâ€™s the apex body and has nothing to do with award of degrees, teaching or learning, but making of policies and by laws are the sole responsibilities. Infact to the extent that chairmen of councils must sign the audited accounts of polytechnics.
Can you explain what migration means?
Migration means looking at the structure of the academic profession â€” from lecturer to chief lecturer. In the University structure, you have lecturer, reader, associate professor and professor.
The equivalent in Polytechnic is the chief lecturer. And what are the requirements? For chief lecturer, librarian, registrar and bursar, – they on CONTISS 14.Â Must have masters degree, written two (2) text books, have four (4) recent additional publications after the last promotion, four (4) conference papers, as chief lecturer. Also, membership of a professional body and evidence of community service.
Is there any terminal point?
The terminal is CONTISS 15. There was a meeting in Kaduna in 2004 which spelt out conditions to migrate to CONTISS 15. Probably at the time, there were not enough people with doctorate degree in polytechnics.
Even as of now, most of the rectors have masters. Currently, the Federal Government has taken steps to convert some polytechnics to degree-awarding universities of technology. for example, Yaba College of Technology, Kaduna Polytechnic, and others in eachof the geopolitical zones, as pilot projects.
We recommended that in view of the possible academic calendar disruption and brain drain from Polytechnics to universities, some chief lecturers who have doctorate degrees in addition to the requirements of conditions set at the stakeholders meeting – if you have Ph.D, be free to migrate to CONTISS 15, which is the equivalent of professor. This will bridge the discrimination between degree and HND holders.
Tertiary education, especially university system, is in crisis with no end seemed to be in sight. How can the crisis be resolved?
We have to be nationalistic in our way of thinking, our way of life and so on. The constitution and flag of our country identify us as a people.
There is no organisation, and the tertiary institutions asÂ example, that do not have staff manuals which spell out conditions of service and discipline.
When students enroll or matriculate, they get the students Hand Book, see the dos and donâ€™ts, behaviour in campus, etc. In case of staff, staff manuals spell out conditions of service, discipline, pension.Â Do they sign agreement with government detailing all those things? What the present striking people should do is to get whatever have been approved for them so far, use these to updateÂ their staff manuals.
Do you have any advice for government?
The federal government should, as a matter of priority, undertake the review of the existing scheme of service which was last reviewed in June, 1989, in order to create a new scheme of service for federal polytechnics.
What is the implication of the strike for human capital development?
I will quote my contemporary in the committee of pro-chancellors of Nigerian Universities, Chief Afe Babalola, OFR, SAN. He had said.
â€œOur lecturers should appreciate the fact that they stand in loco parentis to the students. If they do, they wiull come to a realisation, belated as it might be that most of their strikes are cruel and unjustified because it is like a father abandoning his child at the latterâ€™s hour of need.â€
The academic community should through imparting knowledge, show affection to students and protect them as their own children.
Any message for the polytechnic sector?
I can assure you that my committee in close liaison with Dr. Igwe Aja Nwachukwa and the executive secretary of NBTE worked tirelessly to ensure that the cost of migration to CONTISS 15 was incorporated in the 2009 Budget. What is left is 20% and 40% increase approved by Mr. President. And he has directed the Minister of Finance to present same for appropriation at the National Assembly.
In view of the various increases in salaries and Allowances granted to the three unions (ASUP, SSANIP and NASU) since the Agreement of 2001,the last being 15% effective 1st January 2007 resulting in consolidated Tertiary Institutions Salary Structure (CONTISS), Mr President further approved some increases conveyed to us on the 9th July, 2009 by the permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Education as follows:
i) 40% increase on the total emoluments for academic staff of all tertiary institutions;
ii) 20% increase on the total emolument for non-academic staff of all tertiary institutions.