It has often been posited in learned quarters that a nation does not build itself; that nations, wherever they are, are often the handiwork of people working in tandem to achieve set goals. For this purpose, some element of formal as well as informal training is often called into action to achieve the purpose. In the past, this has often seen a trial and error campaign with no references made to earlier attempts for paucity of references. These days, however, the effort calls for a fallback on trained manpower at the ready to provide the services for which they had received years of training for the purpose. Though here, the universities serve as the highest repositories of acquired knowledge, it is often at the mono- and polytechnics that the practical training for this purpose is often gained.
It is regarding this that the perennial battles between successive representatives and leaderships of the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) respectively have come to a point where a final solution to it should be found urgently. It remains a sine qua non if our nation can become the educational haven it ought to be as regards the attainment of the ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving skills’ necessary for the development of any nation. It comes against the backdrop of the ever-pending threat by ASUP of an impending crisis enveloping the sector unless the FG abides by the long-running agreement it had reached with the body that has remained outstanding ever since. According to ASUP, even attempts by them to have the problems discussed have often met the brick wall of governmental bureaucracy that leaves them with no alternative than to resort to otherwise extreme measures.
Like can be recalled, this was to reach a head under our immediate past government when the leadership of ASUP ended up striking a deal with the then education minister Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau and called off their 11-month-old strike. So much progress was made then that after his tenure, the then ASUP leadership had honoured him with a Distinction in Recognition of Service to Humanity and the Nation award. Led then by Chibuzo Asomugha of Federal Polytechnic Oko, ASUP was prevented from a return to the trenches in their quest for proactive action on our education after Shekarau, only by humanitarian considerations, following intervention by the National Assembly and the parents of their students, rather than government agreement to their proposals.
Sadly, echoing the same sermon as his predecessor, the current ASUP president Usman Dutse of Federal Polytechnic Bauchi is again up in arms, threatening that the government does all in its powers to return to the outstanding issues they have with the union. He is quick to point out that the last signed agreement between ASUP and the FG made adequate provisos for re-negotiations due since 2012, making it appear as though government has unilaterally reneged on it. In his words, the attitude ‘has further widened the gap of trust and entrenched mutual suspicion about government’s commitment to promoting technological development in the country.’
Prominent in the long list of action points to be tackled are the delay in the passage of the Polytechnic Act, review of the scheme of service and the non-implementation of the NEEDS assessment of public polytechnics and the resolution of the dichotomy between HND and degree holders. Others remain the apparent underfunding of the sector, lopsidedness in funds intervention by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and failure to release the White Paper of visitation panels to Federal Polytechnics. Also on the list is the non-implementation of the Consolidated Tertiary Institutions Salary Structure 15 (CONTISS 15) migration for lower cadres and other academic allowances following the direction by the FG in 2013 that that Federal Polytechnics and Colleges of Education compute its cost implication. It had then set up an inter-ministerial verification committee to check the authenticity of the information the institutions.
It is notable that in the interim, considering this CONTISS migration, their colleagues in the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) have called on the FG, in a letter to Minister of Education Mallam Adamu Adamu, not to be hoodwinked into the move. By them, the report of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the verification of arrears accruing by it in Federal Polytechnics and Federal Colleges of Education raised serious structural, administrative and fiscal issues that cannot be resolved so soon like the committee lasted.
All said and done, it is worthwhile that the current education minister revisit this issue soonest as a return to that eleven-month strike between October 2013 and July 2014, when the entire polytechnics in the country remained closed, will not augur well for our national development. It is for this reason that we at The Authority are also extending a call to the National Assembly to remember that they had during their unique intervention in July 2014 promised that they would see to it that the FG resolved the impasse within three months that has since elapsed. A stitch in time, it is said, saves nine.