The police disrupted yesterday in Abuja a peaceful protest by members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) with teargas.
The police used teargas and water to disperse the protesters, who were calling for government’s resolution of their demands and 10-month strike.
The unions began their march at 9am at the main car park of the Federal Secretariat. They marched to the Ministry of Education, carrying placards with various inscriptions.
The protesters called for the sack of the Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike.
Attempts to get the minister or a senior official of the ministry were futile.
Security operatives, especially the police, barricaded the entrance to the ministry to prevent the protesters from entering.
They disallowed the unions from going ahead with the protest. But the unions insisted that the action was their civic right.
After waiting for a while without a positive response from the ministry, the unions’ leaders, alongside those of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), became agitated.
ASUP President Chibuzor Asomugha said the union would push the government to resolve the lingering crisis.
He said nobody could intimidate ASUP.
Asomugha said: “Is it right that somebody would spend five years to get an HND (Higher National Diploma) and when he wants to go to the university, they make him a second year student? If the government is sensitive and it means its transformation (agenda), then it should start transforming the Education sector.”
COEASU President Asagha Nkoro corroborated Asomugha’s statement.
He said: “The Federal Government should arise and solve the problems of COEASU and ASUP so that they can go back to school. Since December 18, 2013, when COEASU declared its strike, the Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike, has never called us for any meeting. He is calming that he has met with us.
“We challenge Wike to tell us the date and where he met with COEASU and the letter that conveyed that meeting.
“The truth is that their children are not schooling in the country. It is the children of the poor that are here. Most of these students are not even sure of a job after school.
“We are calling on President Goodluck Jonathan to intervene. How can this be happening for over 10 months and nothing has been done? But if there is a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rally, he will be there. He got to that position by the power of God.”
NLC President, who was represented by the Assistant Secretary, Industrial Relations, Nuhu Toro, said: “We are with you in this struggle. If it means to mobilise all workers for this cause, we will. We will stand by you until the right thing is done.”
The unions also marched to the Ministry of Labour and Productivity where the minister, Emeka Wogu, assured that President Jonathan had intervened in their case.
The minister said the unions’ issues with the government would soon be resolved.
He urged the unions’ leaders to meet with him after the protest for further discussion on how to end the lingering strike.
Wogu said: “I came out to you as a Nigerian. I want to reassure you that even last night, your grievances were discussed with the leadership of your unions. We are almost there. I want to commend your patience and perseverance. You have done it the best way without disrupting anything.
“Why I came out is because I was told to tell you that we are almost there. The government has not been silent over the months. What is important is that I am bringing you a message from the highest point. That I came here shows you that we are not running away from the problem.
“I want to reassure you that the current government, under the leadership of President Jonathan, has directed me to come and speak to you and tell you the truth, and the truth is that we are almost there. I know that you want us to hurry up and conclude. I want to reassure you that immediately we leave here, I will go with your leaders to my office so that we conclude this issue. I have the authority. I am speaking to you for the first time. Or, have I disappointed you before? If not, then give me this opportunity now.”
The unions’ members were marching to the National Assembly to submit their protest letter to the lawmakers when the police started firing teargas and spraying water on them.
The police warned the protesters not to go near the National Assembly.