LASPOTECH: Time to go back to classrooms

Academic and Non-Academic staff of the Lagos State Polytechnic are currently on strike over sundry matters, chief of which is the issue of CONTISS 15 Migration for staff on CONTISS 11 and below.

Their agitation on the salary scheme is based on a circular issued by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) which the polytechnic received in year 2014 but was meant to take effect from July 2009.

The workers were at the Lagos State House of Assembly on Thursday, 8th June, asking lawmakers to intervene in their face off with the Samuel Sogunro-led administration of the institution. They were received in audience by the Speaker, Hon. Mudasiru Obasa who assured them that the House would look into their grievances. They dispersed thereafter without any untoward incidence.

The same could not be said of the earlier protests they staged at the Ikorodu Main Campus and its precincts, one of which resulted in confrontation between them and security personnel.

Students of the institution who are getting increasingly tired of staying at home have also on their part staged an anti staff union members protest during which they barricaded the highway by the entry point to their campus. The protest was later hijacked by street urchins who hauled missiles at soldiers who were driving by and attempted to clear the highway.

Thankfully, the soldiers in response merely chased the students and street urchins away rather than resorting to the use of force.

It should be noted that the agitation for the new salary scheme has been protracted since 2016, one year after Sogunro became the rector from his former position of Deputy Rector (Administration).

That year, 2016, staff unions activists stormed a meeting of members of the Polytechnic Governing Council ,literarily holding them hostage. They told them that they would not be allowed to leave the campus until they gave a firm commitment on payment.

Flustered by the development, members of the Council made spirited phone calls to officials of the Lagos State Government and they were asked to assure the union members that payment would commence by October 2016.

The Governing Council and management kept to the promise. Now the unions are asking for payment of arrears of 87 months –July 2009 to September 2016. That roughly amounts to two billion Naira ( N2 billion) which management says has not been appropriated for in the current budget. The school authority added that it would need government approval and support to pay.

The unions however want the payment now. This has put both the management and government in a quandary, with the latter saying it needed more time to look into the matter in the face of the parlous economic situation in the country.

Throwing light on the fracas, the Deputy Registrar (Information and Public Relations) of the polytechnic, Mr Olanrewaju Kuye stated that “The position of the State Government as contained in a letter dated 31st May,2017 was communicated to the Unions through the Governing Council of the Polytechnic where the Government appealed for more time to be able to address the issue holistically. Unfortunately, the Government’s position did not go down well with the Unions as they wanted the issue resolved on or before Monday 5th June, 2017.

“As a result of these conflicting positions the Unions decided to embark on a fresh indefinite strike action.”

On his part, the Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic (ASUP), LASPOTECH branch, Mr. Akinrinlola Ibitoye said: “We would like to place on record that the on-going industrial action is avoidable. It is as a result of the administration of the polytechnic reneging on the previous tripartite agreement reached on March 7, 2017 by the administration, Council, officials of Ministry of Education and the Staff Unions of the Polytechnic, to commence on the payment of CONTISS 15 migration arrears before the 25th convocation ceremony of the Polytechnic held on March 9, 2017.”

The Lagos State Polytechnic has been crisis-ridden for too long.

The staff unions should sheathe their swords, moreso as they have taken their grievances to the State House of Assembly which has promised to look into their demands and broker peace between them and management. The lecturers should go back to the classrooms and non academic staff to their desks in the interest of the students.

Although the striking staff insist that their agitation is purely for the welfare and entitlement of their members, their latter-day demand for the removal of the barely two-year-old-in-office Mr Sogunro is giving fillip to insinuations that they are being used to cause confusion by some elements who lost out in the contest with him to be Rector.

Their demand that management must stop the enquiry into complaints that some lecturers were involved in sexual harassment of female students is also ridiculous. Is that not an admission of guilt already? Would they adopt same postures if their children and wards were the victims of such harassments by lecherous officials ? Methinks what the unions should be asking for is a fair and transparent enquiry into the allegations.

Also worrisome is the grouse they have with the beefing up of security on a campus notorious for student cult activities and in an area prone to kidnapping. Are they not by their demand for withdrawal of security personnel and vigilance group lending credence to insinuations that some staff members are the godfathers to the cultists?

Lagos State Polytechnic will be 40 years old by November. That is just a few months away. What all the stakeholders should occupy their energies with right now is how to take the institution to greater heights and not stagnate its enormous potentials through protracted bickering.

All said and done, the crisis over the salary scheme is another example of the problem with the Nigerian brand of federalism where the federal government and its agencies, this time the NBTE, would usurp the right of the federating units to fix the salary and emoluments of their workers. More of such bickering as between the current one between the staff unions of Lagos State Polytechnic are on the way as Nigeria gears up for another round of fixture of a new minimum wage. It is needless to say that we will not get of the problem until we have the much talked-about “true federalism.”

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