by Oladepo Kazeem Adebowale
Technical education is widely accepted to be a key driver for sustainable economic growth and development. As a result, the new government is expected to renew efforts to promote technical education and training. This should be through the enhancement of the polytechnic sector of education.
The thrust of this development has been a major concern of the academic staff union of polytechnics (ASUP), the umbrella body of all academic staff teaching in polytechnics.
In a battle to rescue polytechnic education from neglect, ASUP developed a 12 point demand portfolio for negotiation and implementation. Most of these demands were carried over from the 2009 agreement between the government and the union and included: implementation of CONTISS 15 migration with arrears from 2009 to categories of workers not yet benefiting from the salary structure; release of the white paper on visitations to federal polytechnics; an end to the discrimination against polytechnic graduates in the public service; establishment of a National Polytechnic Commission; prompt review of the Federal Polytechnics Act, and; improved funding of polytechnic education.
The failure of government to attend to these demands led to series of strike actions between 2013 and 2014. In July 2014, the union suspended its nine month strike which had started in early October 2013. This was in reaction to a plea from the then new minister of education, Ibrahim Shekarau, who requested for a three month moratorium to enable him tackle the lingering problems. Unfortunately and sadly too, since the suspension of that strike and despite the repeated assurances from the minister of education, none of the issues have been properly addressed.
Worse still, in a strange twist, without recourse to the content and spirit of understanding on which the union suspended the strike, the federal ministry of education on January 26, 2015 under the guise of a proposed verification exercise, issued a circular directing the suspension of the CONTISS 15 salary structure.
The delay by the minister of education to keep to the promise coupled with some other ugly developments in the polytechnic sector compelled the union to issue a threat of resumption of the suspended strike in February 2015. The union, in the ultimatum given to the government, specifically condemned the withdrawal of CONTISS 15. The union equally frowned at developments at the federal polytechnic Oko and Ado Ekiti. In these two institutions management were brazenly entrenching a culture of intimidation of staff. This included arbitrary deployment of their power to fetter the union and weaken unionism.
In the spirit of struggle however, within days of frantic engagement with the federal government, the union has been on top of the situation. The battle not only reversed the purported proscription of the union in Oko and Ado Ekiti, but it equally forced the government to withdraw the circular suspending CONTISS 15 migration. These developments have led the union to suspend its planned strike while singing a meritorious song of victory with the renewed hope that the struggle continues to ensure the full implementation of all its demands by the new governments.