Students of the Federal Polytechnic, Oko in Anambra State, are frustrated over the strike embarked upon by members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) in the institution and hike in tuition fees. CHIBUIKE NWACHUKWU (UNN) reports.

These are not the best of times for students of the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Orumba, Anambra State. They are frustrated by the industrial action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) in the institution. Not only that, they are also unhappy that the management had increased fees at a time the economy is inclement.

The atmosphere on campus is that of  anger, frustration and despondency. Lecture halls and offices are shut. Apart from the few people that come for non academic activities and freshers still on their registration and clearance processes, there is an unusual quietude in the institution.

ASUP Oko chapter had, on July 14, resumed its suspended industrial action over the management’s inability to pay the excess workload arrears owed its members.

In a memorandum to its members on July 13, the union said it had given the management two weeks, beginning from July 1 to pay at least six months, out of the outstanding 20 months of excess workload arrears.

The ultimatum expired on July 14 without any action from management, hence, the industrial action.

The union instructed members to comply, noting that a task force had been set up to monitor them. Consequently, academic activities  were crippled.


Students lament strike, stage protest

Last week, students who could no longer bear the situation,  protested the ASUP internal strike.

The protesters, numbering over 100, also made other demands. They asked for a new date for the cancelled Students Union Government (SUG) election and reduction in fees.

The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and the National Association of Polytechnic Students (NAPS) also took part in the protest, registering their displeasure.

The students marched from the popular Total petrol station junction to the Administrative Block also known as Aso Rock. They held placards with various inscription such  as “End ASUP strike now,” “give us new date for SUG election,” “Stop the extortion,” “ICT fees and EED exhibition fee na scam,” and “Stop playing with our future”, among others.

A final year student who pleaded anonymity said: “This is a very bad time to be a student at Federal Polytechnic, Oko.

“School is empty because students are in their hostels. Some have even travelled home as a result of the strike.

“We are frustrated. They first increased fees and have now added strike that would make us stay in school more than necessary. They are wicked.”


Students react to management’s lack of funds despite hike in fees

One of the notable things the Rector, Dr. Francisca Nwafulugo, had done since she took office was the upward review of fees and introduction of N10,000 fine on late payment.

The fine is a sanction on students who failed to pay their fees within a month of school resumption. After  protests in the institution, the fine was cancelled.

On January 11, this year,  the school management announced, in a memorandum, new fees for new and returning students at the National Diploma (ND) and Higher National Diploma (HND) divisions.

While the fee for new students was increased by 50 per cent (N30,000 to N45,000), that of returning students rose by 43 per cent (N23, 000 to N33, 000).

The memorandum also announced over 100 per cent increase in consultancy (N6,000 to N15,000) and Information and Communication Technology (ICT)  (N3,000 to N7,500).

With the increment, which the management said was necessary for the smooth running of the school, students are shocked management would complain of dearth of funds.

A HND final year Mass Communication student who pleaded anonymity said the management was “being unnecessarily mean” because students had spent a lot of money in the current session that went straight to the school’s purse.

“It is not possible they don’t have money.

Students paid N1,800 for Entrepreneurship Education (EED) practicals and N500 for certificate of participation in a business summit organised by the school.

She said from what she saw, the cost of the practical per head wasn’t up to N100.

She said: “So, there’s no justification for such extortion.”

“I heard Rector said the certificate was not compulsory, but they made us pay for it. Now, they say they don’t have money. Where did all the money go?”

Supporting the position of the student, Chima Eze, a  Banking and Finance student, alleged that management extorted students, hence they have no reason to complain of lack of funds.

He said: “When they increased fees, they said it was to enable them run the school well. We paid and now they say there is no money. Does that even make sense?”

A fresher, Chiamaka Okeke, who was yet to complete her registration  found the situation disheartening. She was convinced that the management was lying about being broke.

She said: “It  is either the management embezzles money as it comes or they just want to frustrate ASUP and the students.

“Let’s assume old students haven’t paid a dime. What about the money new students have been paying into the school’s account?”


School management in dilemma

The ongoing strike has put the management in a difficult situation. They are faced with the choice of raising money, which they say is unavailable to pay lecturers their arrears or risk another round of protest from the aggrieved students.

According to Dr. Nwafulugo, the strike was not entirely her administration’s fault as efforts have been made to ensure things run smoothly in the polytechnic.

She noted that she inherited 33 months excess workload arrears from the past administration, of which she had paid 14  months since she came to power in 2019.

“I was able to pay 10 months straight in 2019, three in 2020 and have paid one more this year. I’m the only Rector that has paid that number of months across the federation. The issue of owed arrears is not peculiar to the Federal Polytechnic, Oko. Lecturers in most Federal Polytechnics are  being owed as well,” she said.

She further explained that the chairman of the Governing Council, Mallam Kale Kawu, had approved payment of three months arrears to the lecturers earlier.

“We don’t have enough money. That’s why they embarked on strike,” she added.

She, however, said she would make efforts to see the issue was resolved so that students could return to class.


ASUP sympathises with students

ASUP Oko chapter knocked the management for not being proactive in handling the issue. The union said the management had the opportunity and time to avert the strike, but failed to do so.

Speaking to CAMPUS LIFE, its Secretary, Benjamin Obioha, said apart from the two weeks ultimatum given to the management to pay workers, the union, on March 3, wrote  to the rector, threatening strike.

He stated that the letter also addressed the management’s inability to respect the agreement reached by them and the union in September 2021, on how to pay the excess workload allowances. He, however, refused to give details of the agreement.

Obioha noted that despite the Governing Council’s approval of three months payment in March, the management did not pay workers or meet with the union till the strike began.

Obioha, noted that despite the governing council’s approval of three months payment in March, the management did not pay workers or meet with the union till the strike kicked off.

“After the strike commenced, the rector met with the union for dialogue. In the meeting, she explained that there was no money to pay us and the union told her to go and source for funds.

“We asked for six months, but they paid one. That’s below our demand,” he said.

Obioha, sympathised with students who bear the brunt of the ongoing industrial action. He said the strike by the  union is not an act of hatred because without students, there won’t be lecturers.

“We (ASUP) are deeply concerned about the plight of the students. It is very disturbing, but we had no choice.”

“We couldn’t embark on it earlier because of the students. We tried to avoid having it close or in exam period. We equally did not want to delay graduation for the final year students,” he said

There is indication that if the strike is not called off soon, students will protest again. Some students expressed their willingness to protest every day till the strike is called off.