The Federal Polytechnic Auchi has been deserted for weeks as a result of the strike embarked upon by various academic and non-academic unions in the institution.
Academic activities at the institution have been paralysed as a result of the strike action and lecture halls hitherto filled to the brim are now empty.
A number of students who could not travel to their respective towns stay with their friends and relatives in Auchi hoping the strike would be called off soon.
On February 6, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic (ASUP), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics (SSANIP) and Non-Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (NASUP) embarked on indefinite strike to press home their demands.
Some of the grievances by the unions are alleged failure of the management to enroll staff on Consolidated Tertiary Institutions Salary Structure (CONTISS) 15, withdrawal of negotiated allowances, non- release of promotion and non-payment of N1.8 billion owed the unions by the management.
Addressing members of the union, ASUP branch chairman, Mr. Justin Momodu, said the strike would be indefinite and lecturers would only return to classes when management heeds to their demands.
“We are on indefinite strike because the polytechnic management refused to negotiate with us. We have resolved that we would not return to the classrooms until all our demands are met,” he said.
On his part, the SSANIP chairman, Mr. Godwin Ikhide, said the polytechnic’s management had been paying workers from the welfare savings and union dues, which were deducted from their salaries.
Ikhide said members could no longer access loans from the union because of the huge amount of money already borrowed from the union by the management. He said the management had borrowed about N1.8 billion from the union.
Reacting, the Public Relation Office (PRO) of the institution, Mr. Mustapha Oshiobugie, said that the management could no longer pay CONTISS 15. He said salaries were paid from internally generated revenue and the payment could not be sustained because government hasn’t approved the salary structure.
“Management has nothing against CONTISS 15 migration, the problem is that migration is not approved by the Salaries and Wages Commission, and because there is no approval for that migration, the salary is not funded by the federal government.
“By November last year it was clear that the situation can no longer continue. So we put the union on notice that by January this year if the federal government is not funding it, management will have no option than to either stop, or suspend the payment.
“There is a ministerial directive to all polytechnics that are having problem in paying salaries to suspend further payment until the verification committee set up by the government comes up with recommendation on CONTISS 15 as it affects level 11 and below,” he said.
He said the money the union was talking about was used to pay salaries on an agreement and that management had set up an eight- man committee comprising of members of the union to work out the modalities of repayment.
Meanwhile, acting Rector, Dr. Jafaru Buraimah, appealed to the unions to shelve the strike in the best interest of the institution and the students.
He said for the purpose of clarity, the institution owes the unions N868.7million and not the alleged N1.8 billion.
On CONTISS 15 issue, he said the staff affected were those on grade level 11 downward and the institution had started the payment of CONTISS 15 from IGR.
He said the use of IGR for the payment of CONTISS 15 was what led to the accumulation of the debt.
“I don’t think it is proper for the polytechnic’s primary and secondary schools to be locked up, students of the polytechnic are denied their lectures. I am appealing to the unions to resume duties so that the system can function normally,” he said.
But despite the plea, the unions insisted that the strike must continue until there is commitment from the management.
One of the union leaders said, “since the strike commenced we only met once and the management wanted the strike called off without any commitment on their part. Even if they cannot pay the total money, they should show commitment even in writing but they are not ready to discuss that. All they are saying is that there is no money and we should go back to class.
“We are concerned about the plight of the students and if the management had called the union to a meeting before doing what they did probably there would have been a way out but there was no such meeting,”he said.
Angered by the strike, the students staged a peaceful protest and barricaded the ever-busy Benin-Okene-Abuja Expressway, thereby causing gridlock for several hours.
Some of the students who spoke to Daily Trust expressed concern over the inability of the management and the unions to reach a compromise.
A final year student, who only gave his name as John, called on the striking union to call off the strike in the interest of the students.
“If the school remains shut it would affect us because we would not meet up with the academic calendar and the land lords would demand another rent from us,” he said.
Another student Leonard Joseph said he was only squatting with friends in the town to see if the strike would be called off.
“I am supposed to graduate by October and I had already planned my activities for the year but with the strike, I doubt if that would be possible. I am just doing nothing; I need N7, 000 as transport money to Lagos. So, I decided to stay here while praying that the strike would be called off,”he said. Another student who gave her name as Modupe said the strike would put undue pressure on them whenever it is called off.
“When the strike is called off now, the lecturers would be rushing to finish the course work and we would not be able to learn very well. As final year students, we are supposed to carry out seminars, projects and researches, but all these have been put on hold,”she said.