Govt has failed on its part of the bargain – ASUP president

Recently, the National President of Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Mr Chibuzor Asomugha, spoke to a select group of journalists on the 10-month old industrial action embarked by the union. AUGUSTINE OKEZIE was there

Ten months down the line, Nigerian Polytechnics are still under lock and keys, what is really the position of things now?
I think this question would better be answered by the Federal Government and government agents. As far as ASUP is concerned, we have done all that we think we should do as a compromise to actually bring this imbroglio to an end, but what we have is a government that has failed serially of its own part of the bargain, I think that is the problem.

Can you still enlighten Nigerians on the true situation of things now?
Actually, like you said, ten months down the line, we started this strike on April 29th , 2013 and after several intervention especially by the Senate committee on education, we suspended the strike on the 17th of July on the understanding that government was going to resolve four of the issues government choose by itself within two weeks, and three months into the suspension, government hadn’t done anything and that was why on October 4th, we resumed the strike really and since then I will say that government’s attitude, has been one of snobbery,  insensitivity, intimidation, and total disdain for the sector, the union , the students and their parents.

As a matter of fact until recently, something happened that perhaps made us believe that the officers that were supposed to take up this matter especially with the commander in-chief perhaps has not been taking up this matter with him. Because, recently we had to go to NLC and NLC has to write to the President to intervene in the matter and last week, President Jonathan had to direct the minister of Labour to intervene in the matter with a view to bringing it to logical conclusion.

Last week we had a meeting with the NLC, Minister of labour and our colleagues from the College of Education and we were able to give further compromises that will actually have this strike resolved and the minister, Wike last week promised that he will take our proposal to the presidency for ascent, and when ascent is given, that will be a platform for signing an MOU that will definitely lead to resolution of this strike.
We have given government a timeline of one week, that is how seriously we want this strike to end and we agreed with government that in one week, we should be getting the ascent from the president but I tell you that today is Wednesday and we just have two days to go and government has not called us, and we hope that this initiative will not end like the ones in the past, we just hope that government will be sincere and be focused enough to work within the time limit and resolve these issues.

If government does not play ball in the next two days, what is going to be your next level of action?
We are going to wait for the government as a matter of fact,  we have made some encouraging move but 10 months into the strike, instead of resolving, what government did was to unleash the no work no pay chastisement on our members, and we are saying that the order is a a very clueless move because it will not help the situation but rather aggravate the situation, instead of thinking of how to permanently resolving the crisis, they chosed to introduce that kind of a backward movement, it is like pouring petroleum in the fire.

We learnt that on Tuesday, the president met with the SGF, the minister and permanent secretary of education on the same matter but we don’t have the feedback of the meeting and nobody has told us where we factor in. so that is the issue we are talking about, if the president was going to hold a meeting with the same people who had been handling this situation for the ten months and have not been able to come out with a very a meaningful resolution and yet they are keeping us in  the dark continually, and we doubt if they are really feeding the president with main issue on ground.
We are actually supposed to be part of the meeting, yes we don’t want to be reducing any part of the engagement of the dialogue but we are saying, when ASUU was on strike, they were involved in the negotiation even with the president but they are keeping us in dark while shaving our head and with the same people who has practically done nothing on the matter in the past ten months.

Do you now doubt the sincerity of the government in resolving this matter?
Honestly, the body language of the government does not indicate any measure of sincerity because, this strike was unnecessary in the first place, and for it to last for ten months, honestly it is lamentable. It is just symptomatic of the general atmosphere of dysfunction and systemic rupture in Nigeria not just in the education section, but everywhere else. Ten months and students are still at home and nobody seems to bother on issue that borders on paper work? It is strange in a society that is serious with the education and future of its youths.

How do ASUP see the role of the supervising minister of education in this whole matter because the minister has given the public the impression that enough has been done by government and that the union does not want to bend a little?
We disagree with the minister and we do not agree at all on the way he has carried on concerning this strike, certainly he has worked at cross purposes with the union, at this point you think that if somebody who had a different disposition was in charge, the result would have been quite different by now, what the minister tried to do was instead of looking at the situation holistically he chose to look for away to blackmail us, you don’t politicize every issue, and all the minister is doing is to blackmail ASUP so that the public will say we are just asking for money, we are not asking for money, what we are asking for is the revamping of the system, the institutional framework, deepening the capacity of our students, making the polytechnic a preferable option for higher education but what the minister tries to do is to reduce the issue to mere asking for salary arrears that government owe the lecturers since 2009 as if there is anything to be ashamed of for asking for your salaries owed you since 2009.

The salary arrears is not the main trust of the issue for the strike, every attempt to get him even to set up a technical committee headed by the permanent secretary as we suggested, to start discussing the other issues, he didn’t give credence to our demand. And now, ten months into a strike, government should be thinking of closing it and addressing the issues surrounding the strike; rather he is reducing it to an ego fight and with our members, I don’t know where the ego fight will end and if we continue fighting in that basis, the students will continue to suffer, that is not our intention at all.

Has government commenced the no work no pay order?
Yes, it was implemented on March 21st 2014 and it is interesting because the proposal the minister made on the arrears of lecturers, he gave a March date, we were still arguing with him on that date, now on March, instead of paying he is giving us a ‘no work no pay’ order, so where is the sincerity of the government? He has not paid the first instalment and we are in April now, so where the sincerity in the way the minister is has carried on the issues of this strike? There is nothing on ground to indicate that government wants to pay and am telling you now, if there is any evidence in the ministry that they have made the first move to pay us, let them show the public. All we heard was that the ministry wrote to the presidency and the till now nobody has seen a copy of it, while we gathered that the presidency is just becoming acquainted with the matter on ground, in fact, we don’t know what the ministry is presenting to Mr President as a matter of fact.

Are you saying that ASUP has no confidence in the minister of education?
It is difficult to have confidence because ten months down the line, he has done anything to engender or boost our confidence.

What are basic things to be done to end the strike ASAP?
What to be done for the strike to end is to tackle the four issues we say could done in the immediate and government has met one of them which is the needs assessment, though this supposed to been taken care since February but this is April and we are still on it. Government has appointed the governing council of six polytechnics, so we said, one and half has been fulfilled, the white paper on the needs assessment is still where we don’t know, it was said to have been ready since past nine months but we are yet to see it so that implementation can start in the polytechnics.

Also full funding of the CONTIS 15 migration, that is the salary scale that was approved for the lecturers since 2009 has not been implemented, the implication is that, since 2009 till now, the poly staff has been under paid what is statutorily due to them and we are saying pay us, government said okay, it will do this four issues in two weeks but it has been up to four months and these issue are still pending and still, we are willing to compromise more if only government is sincere in resolving them, these are issues that are time bound. We are talking about salary here which is about 20.4b and that of colleges of education is 22b, don’t forget that federal pulled 40b to ASUU their allowances but ours is salary not allowances yet it is very difficult for government to pay us, even when the minister said government will pay us install mentally, we accepted and yet we have seen a kobo rather what we got was a no work no pay order, it doesn’t show a government that want this issue resolved.

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