A meeting between all parties went rowdy on Tuesday.
The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, has vowed to continue its three months old strike after its meeting with the federal government ended in a deadlock on Tuesday.
ASUP’s position was stated by its National Publicity Secretary, Clement Chirman, after a closed-door session of the meeting that lasted for over three hours at the federal secretariat in Abuja.
Prior to the closed-door session, journalists were allowed to observe proceedings of the meeting until it went rowdy; with all parties, including the National Association of Polytechnic Students, NAPS, invited as observers, having a go at one another.
The rowdy state of the meeting began when the NAPS president, Sunday Obonnaya, accused the federal government of neglecting students. Mr. Obonnaya also accused the polytechnic lecturers of using students to pursue their selfish interests.
“The union (ASUP) told us that both the FG and ASUP had met in 2009 for an agreement which the FG had not kept to their own side of the agreement.
“We were also told that the union and the FG had met several times and that 13 demands were made. Out of the 13 demands, only four were picked by the FG to attend to which up until now is not yet attended to,” the student leader said.
He accused the federal government of ignoring one of the demands, removal of the dichotomy between BSC and HND holders, which is central to students’ interest. He also accused the lecturers of only using the student angle to pursue their ‘selfish’ demands.
“Please stop using the students as your bait for your own selfish interest because we are at the receiving end,” he told ASUP. “Besides I keep getting calls, when will the strike be over and even when it is over will this discrimination be over. Please find a solution to it.”
Mr. Obonnaya’s statement infuriated the ASUP delegation. The union’s president, Chibuzo Asomugha, said he wondered if the meeting was called by the Education Minister, Nyesom Wike, to embarrass the union before the media or to be insulted by the students.
“The agenda presented to us is altered. Because in the agenda given to us, we did not see the entry for remark by the NAPS president and we want to point out that we were invited to this meeting officially.
“I think we were invited for the media to see us dramatize and to be insulted by the students we teach because it was all over the press that the minster was meeting with ASUP and we came here out of the deep respect we have for the FG.
“But if we are here for the student to insult us then I will say there is no meeting,” Mr. Chibuzo, who led the ASUP delegation said.
The Education Minister, however, said the agenda was not altered, saying the NAPS president’s remark was an insult not only to lecturers but also the government.
“You only picked out the part you were insulted because you teach them, did you not hear the part that the FG was also insulted.
“…. but it’s the government who is paying the salary and yet the students will heap all sort of accusations on us,” Mr. Wike said.
The minister defended the invitation to the media, saying, “To me, if the meeting with the members of ASUP and NAPS and the FG will hold, there is nothing there if we inform the media.
“We have never disclosed to the media any content of any meeting we are having; all we tell them is that there will be a briefing, so there is nothing wrong in what we have done.”
Mr. Wike also accused ASUP of making unfair remarks about the government to the media.
“In most cases in the television I have watched, you (ASUP) insult the FG, how the government is insincere and how the government does want the polytechnics to grow, have you ever seen us on the pages of newspaper abusing the union,” Mr. Wike said.
He also explained the reason NAPS was invited to the meeting.
“When the students insisted on seeing the minster, I was not on sit and I told the permanent secretary to listen to them. And part of what the student requested was to be part of the meeting to know what is really going on,
“Those at the receiving end should know were government stands, maybe the government is telling lies or truth because at the end of every meeting you go and present the story the way you want it and we do the same to and the students are at a loss. So this meeting is called for us to find gray areas and see how we can move forward, that’s why I called the media,” he said.
Mr. Wike also apologised on behalf of the students and asked the ASUP president not to go back to school to punish the student leader for the remarks made. He said the selection of the four out of the 13 demands of ASUP was collectively done by both the government and the lecturers, and not the government alone.
He said the Federal Government has addressed the issue of salary structure for the lecturers as it is included in the 2014 budget; and what is left is how the government will pay the N20.4 billion salary arrears to the lecturers.
It was at this point that journalists were asked to leave the meeting.
At the end of the three-hour closed door session of the meeting, Mr. Chirman told PREMIUM TIMES that the federal government said it would pay the arrears in two installments in March and September. He said the union would not accept that and would proceed with the strike.
Mr. Chirman said the ASUP strike was not all about the financial demands of the lecturers.
“So even if they pay that money and they have not been able to handle other issues contained in the 13 issues we presented to them, the issues have not been resolved,” he said.
ASUP has been on strike since October demanding among others, proper funding of polytechnics, and an end to discrimination of polytechnic graduates in the labour market.