By Gabriel Dike

The immediate past President, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Anderson Ezeibe, in this interview with Daily Sun looked at the education sector and shared his expectations of the sector in 2024.

Ezeibe also spoke on how polytechnic fared, government decision on IPPIS, situation at Abia Poly, TETFund grants, demand for polytechnic commission and the issue strike in the system.

What are your expectations for the education sector in 2024?

The expectations for the education sector in 2024 are high when the new administration took over in May 2023. However, the outlook currently is dampened due to the underwhelming sectoral allocation to education in the 2024 budget as well as the persistent harassment by the Federal Ministry of Finance through circulars on internally generated revenue deductions.

Governing Councils were unceremoniously dissolved in tertiary institutions and six months after, the council’s are yet to be reconstituted with serious implications on the running of tertiary institutions as activities like staff promotions and appointments endangered. Equally, the government released an a document showing the unilateral award of a 35% and 25% salary increase in the tertiary sector for professors/chief lecturers and others respectively but four months after, there’s no implementation.

The intimidating and humiliating disposition of the government to academics as shown in the handling of the issues arising from the strike action of university workers is also a cause for concern. Indeed, the sector continues to witness manpower flight (Japa syndrome) as academics are leaving in droves. We are however encouraged by the ambitious and robust roadmap developed for the sector by the ministry of education for 2024 to 2027. We believe that a diligent implementation of the roadmap as approved will help Nigeria’s education and polytechnics in particular.

How did the Polytechnic sub-sector fare last year?

The Polytechnic sub-sector went through difficult times in 2023. The non- conclusion of the ASUP/FGN renegotiation implied that lecturers and other workers in the sector continued to earn salaries negotiated since 2010 despite the multiple devaluation of the naira and hyperinflation in the country. The sudden dissolution of governing Councils and their non- reconstitution meant that appointment of principal officers suffered avoidable disruptions and staff promotions cannot be concluded. Incidences of shortfalls in personnel releases traced to poor budgetary practices and exclusion of staff allowances from the budget were again witnessed towards the year-end leading to delay in payment of November and December salaries. The sector equally witnessed unwelcome intrusions in the management of polytechnics by the supervising ministry and by state governments particularly in Osun State. Many polytechnics could not employ needed manpower due to unnecessary bottlenecks in the process. Many polytechnics are witnessing low enrolment figures due to the refusal of the government to end the needless dichotomy against polytechnic products. A lot of polytechnics are actually endangered, as polytechnics are not preferred tertiary education destination for young Nigerians. 2023 was rough for the sector.

With the IPPIS gone, how is the Federal Government paying poly lecturers?

The removal of polytechnics from IPPIS is still at the level of the announcement made in December. There’s no policy document yet on the new option available to the polytechnics and other tertiary institutions to the best of my knowledge. December salaries were still paid by IPPIS. As a matter of fact, polytechnics are not celebrating the move yet as there are no guarantees yet that whatever option to replace IPPIS will improve the system significantly. We sincerely hope that the expected gains from the exit from IPPIS will not be overshadowed by a resurrection of old challenges particularly as it affects personnel shortfalls in polytechnics.

Without TETFund, how would Poly look like?

Without TETEFund, the polytechnics would be predictably worse off. In fact, with the meagre capital allocations to polytechnics in the budget (which hardly meet 50% execution), TETEFund grants remain the only source of significant infrastructural development in polytechnics. In some states, only structures executed through TETFund remain the only signs of physical development in such polytechnics. Without TETFund, the significant improvement in academic staff qualifications in polytechnics in the last 10 years would not have been possible at all. TETEFund has been the light at an otherwise very dark tunnel in our polytechnics as the different intervention lines has impacted positively on polytechnics.

Have things changed for your members at Abia State Poly?

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Yes. In Abia State Polytechnic, things are looking up for our members, as the new administration has been faithful in the prompt payment of salaries since May 2023. The new government of Dr. Alex Otti has been diligent in this regard and has really shown that the non-payment of the salaries during the past administration in the state was just a display of incompetence, lack of compassion and lack of commitment to education in the state. We are hoping that the government will also pay up the 36 months arrears of salaries shamelessly accumulated by the last administration in the state.

What has become of ASUP’s demand for the Polytechnic Commission?

The demand for the establishment of a dedicated Commission for Polytechnics in the country is still on. The establishment of the commission featured prominently in the 2024-2027 roadmap for the education sector as developed by the Federal Ministry of education. Same as the degree awarding status for polytechnics. We look forward to the implementation of the roadmap so as to actualise these two demands of our union. Equally, a private member’s bill on the establishment of the commission has already passed the first reading in the House of Representatives as sponsored by Hon. Idu Igariwey of Ebonyi State. We believe that all these efforts will yield the desired fruits and improve polytechnics in Nigeria.

Has the government released the N15billion to federal polytechnics?

The N15billion released as the beneficiary polytechnics are still accessing part of the needs assessment of Polytechnics. A lot of the polytechnics have already completed the execution of the initial 60% released and are also accessing the next tranche if 30%. We expect an improvement on the amount, as the N15billion is too meagre in view of the spiralling inflation in the country.

Is ASUP still in court with FG over the appointment of new rectors?

The National Industrial Court ruled in favour of our union on the matter of appointing persons without requisite qualifications as rectors in polytechnics in Nigeria. The court declared that the persons currently parading as rectors of Federal Polytechnics in Monguno, Ohodo, Ugep, Shendam and Wannune are unqualified and unfit to be rectors. Unfortunately, the Federal Ministry of Education has surprisingly appealed the sound judgment of the court. They even went ahead to appoint another set of persons without the requisite qualifications to head new polytechnics in Kano and Delta State. This is a sad commentary for us as a nation as the affected polytechnics continue to suffer from the poor administration expected from unqualified persons. ASUP is therefore still in court at the appellate level as defendants in the suit. I am sure that the new leadership of ASUP will pursue the matter diligently to a conclusion.

Are your members among stranded lecturers abroad on TETFund grants for PhD?

Yes, some members of ASUP are amongst the stranded scholars abroad as they have been caught up on the wrong end of the devaluation of the nation’s currency. These scholars on PhD and Masters degree sponsorship are really suffering and we look up to TETFund to hasten up with their review process to ensure that these scholars do not abandon their studies.

Why are people not applying for private polytechnics?

How will people apply to private polytechnics when the public polytechnics are suffering from low enrolment? It’s difficult to rationalise. Some federal polytechnics are so under serviced with students that you wonder why new ones should be established if not for political convenience. Some federal polytechnics still have less than one thousand students in all their programs after more than 10 years of existence. The poor enrolment figures in polytechnics are a huge issue that needs to be addressed.

Is strike the last resort to dispute between unions and the federal government?

Strike is the last resort to disputes between unions and employees not just in the education sector. We have seen this with even the NLC and TUC in recent times. The government and employers should simply respect agreements or renegotiate such agreements when they are unable to fulfil their part in good conscience. That is what obtains in civilised climes. Deploying hunger and reliance on judicial interventions are not sustainable solutions to labour disputes in the country.