Police officers threw tear gas at the protesting lecturers and students.
The striking lecturers of Nigeria’s polytechnics and colleges of education on Tuesday held a protest at the Federal Secretariat in Abuja to press home demands for better welfare for their institutions, a stop to the discrimination between their students and university graduates, and the removal of the Supervising Minster of Education, Nyesom Wike.
The aggrieved protesters also demanded that the government meets their demand so they can call off their strike action. The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, and Colleges of Education and Academic Staff Union, COEASU, have been on an eight-month and five-month strike respectively. Hundreds of students also joined their lecturers for the protest.
The Chairman of COEASU, College of Education, Zuba, Ahmed Lawal, told PREMIUM TIMES that both the students and the unions were protesting because the strike is long overdue and they want Nigerians to hear their cry
“We came out here today to inform Nigerians of our issues that have been lingering for years now because it’s been on since 2009. The recent strike started December 18, which is five months old now and ASUP is nine months old. We want our education system to be in line with other system globally.
“Take a look at our infrastructure in schools, it is a write-off. The teachers do not receive training like other lecturers do; but then again the Minster of Education has always told Nigerians the he has met us and we have reached certain level of agreement which we refuse to adhere. This is not true, that is why we are here today to tell him to his face that he never met with us since the beginning of the strike. He met us once before the strike and that is all”, he said.
He said Mr. Wike was lying to Nigerians about negotiations between ASUP, COEASU and the federal government.
A lecturer at one of the Colleges of Education, Talala Phibe, said the discrimination between graduates of different tertiary institutions should stop and that the Federal Government must look into the Nigerian Education system properly.
“We want this discrimination that exists among colleges of education, polytechnics, and universities to stop. Is it because their children are not in the Nigeria universities, polytechnics or colleges of education? They do not care about infrastructure in the schools. It is an eyesore, the students stand while writing in class, no good chairs or tables. It is rather bad that the government has neglected us,” she said.
Police disperse protesters
About one hour after the rally started, police officers fired tear gas at the protesters. This, however, did not deter the protesters. Even angrier, they carried their placards, shouting harder- “Wike is weak, we do not want him again. Wike must go”.
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES at the protest ground, Lukman Tunde, a polytechnic student called on the Federal Government to ensure the resolution of the strike so that students can get back to class.
“We came around for a peaceful protest for the demand that the federal government should meet the demand between ASUP and COEASU so that both colleges of education and polytechnics can be opened and students can go back to the class rooms. We are just at home doing nothing, in the end, they will say students are roaming about the street doing nothing,” he said.
The National Publicity Secretary of ASUP, Chirman Clement, told PREMIUM TIMES at the protest venue that the rally was meant to be a peaceful one. He said the rally kicked off with protesters carrying placards and dancing towards the National Assembly to drop protest letters.
He added that the Police were informed about the protest a day before.
“I was surprised when I realised they started throwing tear gas at us and splashing water at us because I personally delivered the letter to the inspector General of Police yesterday. We were at the FCT police command to inform them, they were trying to tell us how we should hold our own rally.
“But we said no, all we want is a peaceful, non-violent protest; we need to go pass our messages. It’s so unfortunate that in a country like this we can’t speak our mind peacefully,” he said.
Mr. Chirman said Tuesday’s protest was only a phase in actions planned by the lecturers.
“We are happy now that we have finished stage one. We will go back and decide how to go about the next stage, now we know that we have come out enmasse to tell Nigerians the real issues going on,” he said.
Ahmed Balaraba, a lecturer at the Kaduna Polytechnic also condemned the action of the police officers.
“I am highly surprised that these police men could fire tear gas at us, lecturers and students. It is really ironic because I have police officers and their children as students in my school.”
“They also went as far as pouring us water, meanwhile there are places in the county that do not have water. It is sad. We are here to fight for the rights of students of these police officials and they are fighting us,” he said; adding that people who attend polytechnics and colleges of education are mostly the children of the poor.
After the protest, the Education Minister, Mr. Wike, in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES, said almost all the demands of the lecturers had been met.
He said the Federal Ministry of Education remains committed to the resolution of the strike actions embarked upon by ASUP and COEASU.
He also announced that the Committee on Bridging the Gap between HND and First Degree holders will be inaugurated next week with the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education as Chairman.
The Minister noted that with newspaper reports that the two unions have finally accepted Federal Government’s offer to settle the CONTISS 15 arrears in two instalments, the next step would be for the unions to officially communicate to the Ministry for immediate action to be taken.
Mr. Wike said he believes that with the progress already attained after series of negotiations between the Federal Ministry of Education, the Federal Ministry of Labour and the unions, the strikes will be resolved in the coming days.
He urged the unions to call off their strike actions and resume academic work in the interest of the nation.
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