Forces deployed by the Federal Government, yesterday, in Abuja used water cannon and teargas to disperse striking members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, and College of Education Academic Staff Union, COEASU, and their students who took to the streets to protest government’s failure to implement agreements reached with them.
The aggrieved lecturers, who converged on the federal secretariat as early as 9 am, carried placards with such inscriptions as ‘Wike must go now’, ‘Spend money on tertiary institutions’, ‘Give priority to teacher’s education in Nigeria’, ‘Adequate funding, democratic management of all higher institutions’, amongst others.
It would be recalled that ASUP and COEASU had been on strike for the past 10 and four months respectively, over government’s inability to address four outstanding issues, including appointment of governing councils, release of white paper on the visitation panels, implementation of CONTISS 15, and the setting up of the NEEDs committee.
The protesting lecturers, after being addressed by the Minister of Labour, Chief Emeka Wogu, were on their way to the National Assembly to submit their protest letter to President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, and speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, unknown to them that security forces had already laid siege for them.
The police dispersed the lecturers and students with water canon and tear gas. Although the lecturers dispersed, they later regrouped but were again dispersed by the security forces.
The lecturers were seen using water and kerosene to rub their faces to cushion the effect of the tear gas.
In his earlier address, Minister of Labour, Emeka Wogu, said: “The truth is that we are almost there. I want to reassure you that the Federal Government is doing its best. And I want to assure you that immediately we leave here, I will go with your leaders to discuss and conclude. I cannot discuss with everybody.”
He appealed to them to allow the leaderships of both unions to discuss with him, saying: ”I am happy about the way you conducted yourself; you are not violent, so allow your leaders to discuss with me at the end of the procession. Before evening, you will get an answer.”
COEASU National President, Asagba Nkoro, said despite the treatment meted out on them by the police, the strike would continue until the Federal Government met all their demands.
According to him, “if you decide to attack us when we are peaceful and unarmed, it is a terrible thing. We are not going to give up, we will still find a way to submit our protest letters at the National Assembly. If they want to kill us, they should kill us.”