The question on the lips of thousands of students of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education is very much like the one above. Due to the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, Poly students have been at home for 206 days, as the strike embarked upon by the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union, COEASU, enters its 148th day.
It would be recalled that President Goodluck Jonathan had in a recent media chat, said that the striking lecturers “are being handled.” But what exactly does this statement mean to a student whose academic career hangs in the balance? And exactly what is being done to bring an end to the strilkes?
The Vice-President of COEASU, Mr.Smart Olugbeko gave Vanguard Learning an insight into the COEASU strike situation: ”There has not been any change since the protests two weeks ago,” he said in a telephone interview. “I am on my way to Abuja right now for a meeting with the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Colleges of Education, NCCE. It is at that meeting that we will schedule a meeting with the supervising minister of education.
Through it all, the government has been insensitive. Government has been insensitive and has not met any demands apart from the NEEDS assessment. If Government meets our demands, we are more than ready to make some concessions, but so far, our leaders have failed to be faithful in their dealings with us.
For example, concerning the payment of arrears, we demanded that the money be paid once and for all and not in installments. But Government insisted that it would pay in two installments, the first one in April and the second in September. This is May, and no monies have been paid.”
Also commenting on the President’s reiteration of the ‘No work, no pay’ policy towards the striking unions during the presidential chat, Olugbeko said: “It is ridiculous that that is the only response the President could give when asked about the strikes. Regardless, the no work no pay policy is not a threat to us. We are ready to continue the struggle without pay.
All the issues we are fighting for are very important, but we understand that they cannot be solved in one day. If Government had committed to even 50 per cent of the demands, we would have called off the strike by now. But our leaders do not seem to care because Colleges of Education are at the lowest rungs of the ladder and their children do not go there. At least some of their relatives go to the universities, that is why they would make some effort if the universities were on strike. But for Colleges of Education, the students there are children of the downtrodden. Many leaders do not even see the need for or importance of Colleges of Education.”
For Polytechnics, however, there just might be light at the end of this very dark tunnel. The ASUP Zone D coordinator told Vanguard Learning of a recent development: “A delegation met with the House of Representatives recently, and we are hoping to hear good news from them. A motion was raised at the floor of the House of Representatives during our last protest, so we finally got to meet with the House for the first time on the strike issue.
Vanguard Learning, however, gathered that the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Mr. Mc John Nwaobiala, told ASUP delegates that there is no budgetary provision to settle the arrears owed lecturers of federal polytechnics.
He said the ministry, however, plans to request for special funds from the President to be able to take care of the about two years arrears.
Nwaobiala also explained that the white paper of the much agitated government visitation panel to federal polytechnics would be released “between this week and next week.”
Meanwhile, commenting on the ‘No work, no pay’ policy, , the ASUP Zone D Boss said: “Government has no moral justification to enforce it. They have been owing some arrears since 2009, and we had been working prior to the strike. What about the no pay, no work policy?’
He said: “On a brighter side, the Federal Government has set a committee on dichotomy, and that of NEEDS assessment had been handled earlier. Of all the issues, we would like the white paper on the Visitation panels to Federal Polytechnics to be released, as well as the arrears of N20.4bn paid.
Government promised to pay in two installments. They said the first one would be paid in March, but later shifted it to April. Later we were told that they don’t have money. There has been no contention as to whether or not they are owing us, the issue is that of payment.”
When will these strikes be called off? No one can tell. But is is a question that thousands of students will keep asking until they can return to school.