By Dele Owolabi
In Nigeria, people are internally displaced for many reasons amongst which are: terrorism, militancy, natural disaster, territory conflicts, civil war, etc. Whatever reason that may be responsible for internal displacement, the situations at all settlement camps remain the same. Neglects, malnutrition, mental and physical abuse, vulnerability, diversion of funds/aids from donors, even intermittent external aggressions. In some cases, the persons prefer the enemies’ camp to the IDP camp if given the opportunity to choose.
This situation in any typical IDP camps is not different from the harrowing experience that has plagued the Lagos State Polytechnic ( LASPOTECH) students. The 40-year-old institution has witnessed up to four strike actions in the last 40 weeks for numerous faulty reasons. Hence disrupting and prolonging the academic years of the innocent students.
The industrial dispute that was said to have started in July 2016 had led to total shut down of the polytechnic at different occasions, starting from Thursday 20th -31st October, 2016; 20th April – 15th May, 2017; 5th -21st June, 2017 and 1st August – 15th. At different periods, the strike actions had featured demonstrations, press conferences, media appearances, visits to the Lagos State House of Assembly, visits to the Governor’s office, letters to the Governor and even invasion of the campus by armed military men which attracted public outrage. In all of these, the students languish in pains while the governor seems to enjoy the rhythm of their silent screams. Till today, nothing has been done to investigate the bestial treatment of the students by the soldiers who earn their living through the taxes paid by parents.
No doubt, there is a structure put in place by the Governor to mitigate in situation like this. The structure starts from the Rector, who believes that the staff unions cannot force him into the payment that is yet to be domesticated. In such situation, one would have expected the Governing Council who is to serve as the representative of the Governor to mediate between the warring parties, but got enmeshed in the dirty mud. Next is the Special Adviser on Education to the Governor whose intervention has fallen below average and yielded more confusion. The latest wrong move of the SAE was the court summon from an industrial court to the Unions, which is a clear reflection of his bad handling of the protracted industrial disharmony. As at today, all parties are at limbo and waiting endlessly for the final sound of the gavel. The Permanent Secretary in Lagos Ministry of Education and his counterpart in Ministry of Establishment could not salvage the situation as their interpretations of policy continue to summersault in their faces. The House Committee on Education’s intervention looks promising but has only handed the students another row of strike action.
One year after, if the structures put in place to see to the smooth running of the institution fail, the Governor needs to start questioning the competence of his men and complicity in the seemingly unending drama. The students and their parents did not vote for their Lecturers, Rector, Governing Council members, SAE or Permanent Secretaries. Guardians and parents don’t also pay their taxes to the same set of people, but to Lagos State Government under the leadership of Governor Akinwumi Ambode. Another electioneering starts in earnest, ‘Ambo lee kan si’ and we can not afford to close our eyes to the harvests of votes that could come from any angle. The students pay and they deserve quality service delivery. Afteral, when the strike actions were called off, the rector and the staff still received their pay packs. Who pays for the wasted years of the innocent students?
Enough of this conspiracy of silence by the powers that be. The students should be treated as future of Nigeria not as IDPs that are mentally wounded and physically brutalized. It may interest his Excellency to know that, the Ikorodu medical centre of the polytechnic at the just concluded 2016/2017 second semester examination in the month of September recorded highest number of casualties in the history of the Polytechnic – no thanks to the examinations that were cramped into eight days to forestall possible fresh industrial strike by the staff unions. Avoidance and denial do not work in a matter of this importance, the Governor just need to face it and rest the matter finally.
From all indications, the Governor seems to trust his boys, but it won’t be out of place if he raises an independent panel of inquiry to look critically and holistically into the issues affecting the polytechnic. What if the issues go beyond arrears? What if there is an issue of integrity deficit on the part of the stakeholders? What if the Governor has been fed with wrong information? What if the only thing that staff, students and pensioners want is an assuring words from the amiable Governor? What if this is an opportunity for the staff unions to learn a better approach to conflict resolution without ‘placards’? What if the managers of the polytechnic need the ongoing crisis to learn modern business intelligence and better handling of men, machine, money? What if the staff and their unions meant good for the polytechnic? What if it is time for the Governor to reposition the polytechnic as the hub and bedrock of technological excellence in Africa? What if?
Taking your employee to court is not a strength sir, it is a weakness in conflict resolution because all internal avenues have not been exhausted. You have only succeeded in creating more disgruntled elements, recalcitrant, and vulnerable victims of the IDP camp. Unless there is a miracle, getting injunction on “no work, no pay” won’t stop further agitation and industrial disharmony. No good father transfers his domestic affairs to his neighbour or village chief and earn the respects of his children after settlements.
Yes, the staff unions goofed by not trusting her Excellency, the Deputy Governor and the House Committee on Education’s efforts to mitigate in the crisis. The unions and all other actors in this avoidable crisis deserve corrective spanks and not destructive spites. As there is no alternative to peaceful co-existence, I also believe it is not too late for the father of all in person of Governor Akinwumi Ambode to restore permanent peace to the polytechnic of excellence. As the polytechnic clocks forty this year, all hands must be on deck to move the Institution to a lofty height and not the current palpable animosity that envelopes the bedrock of technology. The products of a peaceful family are always the harbinger of progress in every society.
Owolabi, a public commentator, lives in Ikorodu