Saturday, 16 July 2016

Saving our mono- and polytechnics: A stitch in time

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. 

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