After six months on strike, Nigerian universities are re-opening. But technical school teachers remain defiant, saying they will not go back to work until their demands for higher pay and better facilities are met. Strike leaders say millions of young people are out of school and the government has abandoned students seeking practical skills that would improve the quality of the national workforce.
Technical schools are where students go to learn practical skills, like fixing cars, building roads or managing offices.
Chibuzo Asomugha heads Nigeria’s union of teachers for technical schools, which he said are literally falling apart. “It is really scandalous. That is how I would put it. The position of our polytechnics is really scandalous and the government must pay attention before the system dies completely," he explained. "That is our warning.”
The Kaduna state chair of the union, Mustapha Yahaya Bidda, said technical skills do not just help individual students find jobs. He says improving the quality of the work force ultimately could help develop the economy and drag Nigeria out of poverty.
Instead, he said, the schools are underfunded with equipment as old as 50 years. “The polytechnics are really languishing seriously. The laboratories in terrible condition," stated Bidda. "The workshops are in very bad shape.”
The strike for better facilities and a pay increase began in late April, but was suspended for nine weeks to give the government a chance to respond to the teachers' demands, Bidda said. Nothing was done, he adds, and the teachers walked out again in early October.
In contrast, Nigerian university teachers ended a six-month strike in December after the government promised to invest billions of dollars into the university infrastructure.
A student at Kaduna Polytechnic in northern Nigeria, Mohammad Abdullah, has been at home for months, waiting for classes to resume. He said universities have been promised funding because, in general, they cater to more wealthy families. The children of those that are in power are not with here in the school. That is why they have neglected us,” he stated.
Abdullah supports the strike, despite the interruption in his education. But some parents blame the teachers for the strike, not the government.
Walter Uba has three children enrolled in technical schools. He said allegations there has been no response to strikers’ demands are false, and that leaving young people un-occupied and unemployable could lead to a rise in crime. “They are just there. They are just there. And this could lead people into vices. They could lead children into vices. They are just there doing nothing,” he said.
Officials said the government is working to meet the union’s demands and nearly all have been met. But some teachers said if that were true, they would already be back at work.
Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna.