Strikes in Polytechnics: Students Protest in Abuja
Strikes in Polytechnics: Students Protest in Abuja
ERC members actively participated
By Awe Michael
DSM Bida Branch
ERC members at Polytechnic Students Protest in Abuja, photo DSM
Members of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) the Federal Polytechnic Bida, Niger State Branch were among over one hundred students from different polytechnics in Nigeria who protested in Abuja on May 22, 2013 over the continued closure of polytechnics nationwide as a result of the failure of the government to implement the agreements it reached with academic and non-academic staff unions. The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic (ASUP) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics (SSANIP) had gone on indefinitely strike to drive home their demands after the government contemptuously ignored the earlier warning strike.
The Abuja protest, which lasted for about six hours and was organized by the National Association of Polytechnic Students (NAPS), was to call on the government to meet the demands of the striking staffs so that polytechnics can be re-opened nationwide.
The students marched behind the NAPS and ERC banners to the National Assembly Complex, Federal Ministry of Education and the Office of Chief of Staff to the President. Throughout the march there were police escorts trailing the protesters who also carried placards with various inscriptions like: “MEET ASUP AND SSANIP DEMAND NOW”, “FUND EDUCATION WITH 26% BUDGET”, “END TO DISPARITY BETWEEN HND AND BSC GRADUATES”, “ESTABLISHMENT OF NATIONAL POLYTECHNIC COMMISION”, “MEET ASUP DEMANDS NOW SO THAT WE CAN RESUME”, and so on.
The protesting students were addressed by the respective Permanent Secretaries of the Ministry of Education and the Office Chief of Staff who promised to pass on the message to the appropriate authorities. We however only able to submit our letter of demands at the National Assembly as the security operatives stubbornly prevented us from gaining access to the main premises, let alone meeting any principal staff or officer of the Parliament. Incidentally, we met three other protesting groups including the workers of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) at the National Assembly Complex.
While at the Ministry of Education, the President of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), who had shortly earlier joined the march with 3 other persons, said that if 60% of ASUP and SSANIP demands were met, activities would resume in the polytechnic campuses. This was a clear misrepresentation conjured and smuggled into the demands of the protesting students by the NANS President. There was no meeting of students where a decision was arrived at that once 60 percent of staff demands are met the normal activities would resume in polytechnics. Besides, the NANS president did not have the mandate of the staff unions, whose strikes have shut down polytechnics, to put forward such benchmark.
We of the ERC commended the NAPS leadership for the Abuja protest march. We however urged them not to make it a one-off action. Rather it should just be one of the mass activities to be held. We call on the striking staff unions and polytechnic students to organise joint actions at all the state capitals. The staff unions must not limit the strike to a just stay-at-home action.
About 1,000 copies of the ERC leaflet (text below) were circulated throughout the protest march. Apart from Abuja, in Oyo, Osun, Niger and Lagos states, the ERC members have been circulating the leaflet which argues for mass support of the general public and students for the striking unions, and also calls for mass actions like symposia, protest marches and rallies by the striking staff unions and students in order to force the government to implement the agreement with the staff unions. The ERC Bida Branch has fixed a protest march in Minna, Niger State on Wednesday May 29 which is the anniversary of the return to civil rule.
ON ASUP AND SSANIP STRIKE
Support The Strike! Don’t Break it!
For a Joint Struggle of Education Workers and Students
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) calls on polytechnic students and parents across the country to support the on-going strike action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics (SSANIP). We must not be divided by government’s propaganda. The demands of the unions are genuine. The strike became inevitable when government consistently refused to implement agreements reached with the unions years ago. Besides, the unions embarked on the full strike after the government had contemptuously ignored their 21-day ultimatum and one-week warning strikes. Therefore, it is the government that should be blamed for this strike and the consequent disruption of academic calendar. We call on the government to immediately meet the demands of the striking polytechnic unions so that the campuses can be re-opened for normal activities.
The ERC believes members of ASUP and SSANIP deserve a more dignifying condition of service and improved pay package. However this on-going strike is not about improved salary alone. It is also for improvement in Nigeria’s education sector most especially polytechnic education that has been relegated to a second-class status. This why the two unions put forward the demand for establishment of National Commission of Polytechnics (NPC)) basically to monitor the affairs of polytechnic education as against the National Board of Technical Education (NBTE) which does not give sufficient attention to issues of funding, facilities, standard and quality of polytechnic education.
We of the ERC call on Nigerian students to give concrete support to ASUP and SSANIP. Our support must not only be verbal; practical actions like mass mobilizations, rallies, protests and demonstrations of students are needed to pile pressure on the government to meet the unions’ demands so that academic activities can resume.
Fortunately, the National Association of Polytechnic Students (NAPS) has threatened to call out students on protest nationwide. We call on the NAPS to give concrete expression to this threat by beginning immediate mobilization activities like rallies, symposium and protests in all polytechnic campuses across the country. If NAPS can take these steps, it would not be long to force the government to meet the unions’ demands. Also the independent participation of NAPS in the strike will also provide opportunity for students to vigorously place their own demands on fee hike, under funding, attacks on independent unionism etc on the front burner such that government would be compelled to grant concessions.
We call on ASUP and SSANIP not to make this strike merely a “sit-at-action”. Instead the ERC urge ASUP and SSANIP to mobilize their members, students, parents and public for joint public activities like congresses, rallies, protests and demonstrations. This to us is the best way to give publicity to the cause the union is fighting for and also to win supports of students and parents whose rights to quality education this strike is meant to defend.
Nigeria is rich in both natural and human resources but unfortunately we are under a capitalist system whose ultimate aim is profit making, and not people’s needs. This is why despite the huge oil wealth the country is endowed with, our public education system is in decrepit conditions. We must not fold our hands while these capitalist ruling elite continue to ruin our future. Students have to begin to unite with education workers and fight back until all demands are met.