With the indefinite strike action embarked on by the Staff Unions of the Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), stakeholders are appealing to the governor to ensure that the administration gives peace a chance and honour all the various agreements reached with the unions in the interest of industrial harmony so that students can resume classes. Funmi Ogundare reports
There seems to be no end in sight yet to the indefinite strike action embarked upon by the three Staff Unions of the Lagos State Polytechnic(LASPOTECH); the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics (SSANIP) and Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) who have been at loggerheads with the Rector, Mr. Oluyinka Sogunro.
The unions had embarked on an industrial action basically on the issue of CONTISS 15 Migration arrears for staff, while attributing it to the end result of the rector’s misadministration and insensitivity to the issues that affect their welfare in the polytechnic community.
They alleged that his administration reneged on the previous tripartite agreement reached on March 7 this year, by the administration, governing council, officials of Ministry of Education, as well as the staff unions of the polytechnic, to commence the payment of CONTISS 15 migration arrears before its 25th convocation ceremony, held on March 9.
The unions had also reached an agreement with the polytechnic’s governing council on May 25 , giving a 21-day window for the payment of CONTISS 15 Migration arrears and the resolution of other issues of which the polytechnic administration and the governing council reneged upon.
The Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of the Polytechnic(ASUP), Comrade Akinrinlola Ibitoye in a statement said, “ at the congress held on April 20, 2017, the Deputy Rector(Academic) who represented the rector at the meeting, said that ‘ the administration had saved N343,000,000, only as at April, 2017 and are only waiting for the approval of the government to commence implementation.’ This amount could pay 16 months arrears at the first instance.
“The union is however aware that the approval of the council is enough for the payment of the arrears since it could be paid from the funds within the coffers of the polytechnic. The union is at a loss on why the officials of the ministry who were party to the tripartite agreement on March 7, 2017 are now singing a different tune. The union is also disappointed that officers of the ministry which we hold in the high esteem and respect cannot keep to an agreement mutually agreed to by the three parties. The unilateral decision of the officials of the ministry to pay only six months of arrears is against the earlier agreement.”
The union had expressed disappointment over the constant violation of law establishing the polytechnic saying that it is not allowing its governing council to function effectively as a result of perceived connivance between the polytechnic administration and the officials of the ministry.
The authority and the power of the governing council, the union stated, consist of a broad spectrum of stakeholders, inclusive officials of ministry clearly spelt out in the polytechnic enabling Law of 2012; Section 4, Subsections 1 and 2; that there is established for the polytechnic a Governing Council (referred to in this law as the council) which shall be the governing authority and be charged with the general control of the policy, finance and property of the polytechnic.
“And the council shall manage the affairs of the polytechnic in such a manner as it deems fit to promote the interest, objectives and functions of the polytechnic’.
“That the council shall regulate the salaries/emolument and determine the condition of service of all staff employed by the polytechnic’, and the council shall regulate the salaries/emolument and determine the conditions of service of all staff employed by the polytechnic according to Section 8 Subsection (n). ”
It is as if the laws were violated , as the union observed with dismay that, “ the polytechnic administration recently procured arms and ammunitions to the tune of over N10,000,000 and also hired within the institution ‘AWOL’ (Absent Without Leave) /armed soldiers numbering over 50 and member of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) numbering over twenty 20 with charms and amulets, after the industrial unrest of October, 2016.
“We believe that the state security is unaware of such development which to say the least, could lead to breakdown of law and order, loss of life and property. Despite the militarisation of the school, life and property are still not safe. For instance; the electric armoured cable close to the third gate of the institution was stolen twice, Konsult, procurement and Alumni offices were burgled.
“The office of the School of Part Time Studies Evening (SPTSE) burgled with millions of naira both in cash and property carted away. Smoking of Indian hemp beside the office of Chief Security Officer (CSO) is also a common scene. The above ugly incidents leave one to wonder the essence of the engagement of these so called security officers. The union pleads that these ‘security forces’ be withdrawn from the campuses immediately.”
The union however demanded the immediate commencement of the payment of the arrears of CONTISS 15 migration , adding that the issue of arrears has gone beyond the stage of what, how and when to pay.
“In this regard, we humbly plead with the council to assert its authority and powers vested in it under the Laws of the polytechnic 2012. We further plead with the council to direct the administration and supervise the payment of arrears,” it said, while suggesting the following options for payment:
“The agreement on March 7, 2017 signed by the representatives of council, administration, the unions and officials of the ministry immediately after the convocation ceremony and the next phase in December, 2017, while the outstanding is to be negotiated between the unions and the administration; the immediate payments of 16 months arrears based on the availability of 343,000,000 only from the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the polytechnic as announced by the rector and corroborated by the Deputy Rector (Acad.) 71 months , will be paid within a maximum period of two years, as well 87 months of arrears to be paid at once.”
As at last week, the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Polytechnics (SSANIP) of the polytechnic had staged a protest to the State House of Assembly, seeking intervention in the ongoing crisis rocking the institution.
The protesters, who chanted different solidarity songs, carried placards with various inscriptions including; ‘Reversal of all academic allowances to our members’, ‘TETFund denial of scholarship, Conference/ Book Publishing and Research Grants to staff members’, had accused the rector of highhandedness and taking decisions without recourse to the management staff.
According to the Chairman of the association, Mr. Awoyemi Abiodun, “ Sogunro does things without recourse to the governing council or to the executive management that are on the campus. As we speak, we used to conduct elections for the offices of the Deans but as soon as he got to power, deans are either selected or appointed because elections into the offices have been put to rest.
“He has incited the students and cultists against the staff union in the polytechnic. We had a barbaric situation, where a member of the academic staff union executive was beaten to point of coma by the cultists. Our vehicles were also vandalised. We are tired of all these. We have been so peaceful, Sogunro has taken away the peace we once enjoyed on the campus within two years. We now have crises regularly.”
THISDAY gathered that the unions had held a meeting with the House Committee on Education at the State’s House of Assembly on June 16, but a conclusion was yet to be reached as at the time of filing this report.
The General Secretary of ASUP, Comrade Uthman Olayinka who confirmed to THISDAY in a telephone conversation said, “we are yet to reach a conclusion, unionism is all about congress men, its not about the executive alone and we have to get back to them to take a final decision because they were the ones who called for the strike. Most likely we are having a congress by early part of this week.”
Asked whether he sees an end to the strike action when the congress meets, he said , “the executive has just sent members, the congressmen are over 300 and I cannot say whether there will be an end to the strike or not. The congress has the final resolution. We are on our way to take a decision on when the congress will hold, we will converge on Monday as executive to take a position on what day it will hold.”
Meanwhile the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Lagos State Chapter, has called on the state government to find a quick and amicable resolution to the ongoing strike action of workers’ unions of the polytechnic so that students can resume their studies.
The state’s Coordinator, Mr. Nurudeen Omomeewa, in a statement described the demands of the workers unions as legitimate saying, “ this demand if met will enhance workers’ productivity and quality service delivery. Therefore, ERC Lagos supports the striking workers unions in LASPOTECH and urge the state government as the funding authority of the institution to immediately pay up the 87-month arrears of CONTISS 15 migration so that the workers can return to their duty posts and students can resume their studies which have been suspended since the strike started.”
He also condemned the invitation of armed soldiers from the 174 Battalion by the rector of the institution to assault the striking workers and students who had gathered at the school gate on June 7, for a peaceful protest.
“ERC Lagos condemns the army for this reprehensible assault on citizen’s rights to freedom of expression and association. We urge the army to stick to its constitutional role of defending the country against external aggression and not to turn its officers into the paid thugs of despotic heads of higher institutions to assault workers and students fighting for their legitimate rights.
“ERC Lagos understands that LASPOTECH students need to return back to class as soon as possible given that they have spent a whole year for an academic session that ordinarily should not last more than 7 to 8 months. We therefore urge students to join hands with the striking staff unions in order to compel government to meet their demands. But while joining the striking workers, it is important for workers and students to use this strike as a basis to beam light on all the crises afflicting LASPOTECH with a view to calling state government’s attention to all these issues.
Omomeewa said if these huge resources the state gets from IGR are democratically managed by a pro-working people government, then it would not only be possible to provide the funds required to meet the striking workers’ demands, it would also be possible to adequately fund LASPOTECH and other state-owned institutions so as to ensure that decadent teaching infrastructures are improved and modernised for quality learning.
“Therefore while fighting for payment of the 87-month arrears of CONTISS 15 migration, the struggle must also be used to begin to raise demands on the chronic underfunding of the institution, the high fees, victimisation and attack on democratic rights as well as the terrible welfare conditions under which students study. This is the only way to ensure this struggle leads to real and substantial progress for LASPOTECH in terms of the welfare of both students and workers. We also call on members of the public for them to solidarise with the struggle of the staff unions with demand on the state government to meet workers’ demands so that students can go resume their studies, ” the coordinator stressed.