Two months after academic activities resumed in federal and state owned universities, following the suspension of the 8 month strike embarked on by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), students and lecturers have come under intense pressure to cover lost grounds.
This is even as the students staying off campus are now in talks with their landlords to write off the rents when the strike lasted as well as some others count their loss as a result of their apartments being burgled when they were away on forced holiday.
The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ASUU called out its members to embark on a total and indefinite strike on February 8, 2022. This was after the breakdown of talks with the Federal Government on revitalization of the universities in the country which had gone comatose.
However, life returned to the campuses after the National Industrial Court (NIC) ordered the lecturers to go back to work while the substantive hearing of the suit between the FG and the ASUU goes on.
Also, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, waded in and pleaded with them to go back to work while they mediate in the log jam.
From Sokoto to Benin City, from Ibadan to Jos and Port Harcourt to Minna, students are under pressure to write examinations even as some of them who missed lectures as a result of inability to resume when others did are playing catch up.
Sunday Telegraph checks revealed that morale among the lecturers are at their lowest ebb as the issues which made them go on strike in the first place have not been addressed.
Lecturers still agitated, as FG hasn’t shown good fate
ASUU members in the Imo State University (IMSU) and the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO) are still agitated that the substantive reason, for which they embarked on strike, has still not been addressed, after they shelved the strike.
The ASUU Chairman, IMSU Chapter, Ejiogu said that the union only suspended the strike and did not call it off. He added that the Federal Government has not shown any good fate in their engagement with ASUU.
He dismissed the new unions founded in the heat of their agitation as mere distractions he may not wish to talk about.
He said: “We did not call off the strike. We suspended it. We suspended the strike on the order of the court. We went to court. Our relief was granted. Then, the Federal Government appealed and their appeal was upheld and the court directed us to obey and return to work while the hearing continues.
So, we suspended the strike based on court judgment and the intervention of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila. The reason we went on strike has not been addressed up till this moment. Only time will tell if the government will address our grievances, as for us as a union, we are now pursuing our grievances through the law Court. For now, the substantive issues are still there and not addressed.”
The ‘no work, no pay’ policy is diversionary to the core issues of our agitation and in addressing the policy of ‘no work, no pay’ , it does not apply to academics. This is because immediately after the strike, the lecturers went back to work and covered lost grounds.
No academic session has been cancelled on account of the strike action. We have been graduating students and we’ve been marking our scripts and doing our bit as academics. So ‘no work, no pay’ does not apply with academics. To that extent, we do accept the policy and that is why we are calling on the Federal Government to see reasons and pay the academic staff for the period of the strike.
He continued: “CONUA and NAMDA were obvious distractions intended to subvert the genuine demands of University academics for the revitalization of the University system in Nigeria.”
His counterpart in FUTO, Comrade Chinedu Ihejirika, said: The union would continue to protest if the Federal Government failed to address their demands, including paying all the withheld salaries, which according to him span more than 7 months.
He said: “You will recall that ASUU embarked on a strike action on 14th February, 2022, to press home her legitimate demands to save the Nigerian University education system and by extension this nation.
“Unfortunately, rather than address the contentious issues, the Government, through her numerous agencies, resorted to heavy blackmail, falsehood and highhandedness, including the weaponization of hunger by withholding the salaries of our members and dragging us to court without exhaustive negotiations.
“The most recent of such Government antics is the casualization of academics through the devilish pro-rata payment of October salaries, even after ASUU had listened to well-meaning Nigerians, obeyed court orders and suspended the strike action.”
Ihejirika continued: “We vehemently reject the casualization of Academics through the devilish pro-rata payment of half salaries to our members. We urge the government to stop forthwith, the weaponization of hunger to whip academics into submission and pay us all our withheld salaries spanning more than 7 months.”
At the Federal University of Technology (FUT), Minna and the State owned Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University (IBBU) Lapai, Niger State, the situation is no less different as both students and lecturers took up the gauntlet to complete the second semester 2020/2021 Academic session which had since commenced.
Even though the resumption of academic activities at IBB University met some opposition from the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) which announced a rollover of the ongoing strike action indefinitely, our Correspondent gathered that students have been receiving lectures and are currently preparing for their second semester examinations.
Same thing applies to the Federal University of Technology FUT Minna, where lectures have since begun and students have adapted so fast even though some who resumed later needed to update their notes.
Public Relations Officer of the University, Lydia Legbo, said, ever since the institution resumed academic activities after the strike was called off, lectures have started and students are all back in school.
However, a student who gave his name as Rashidi Abdul, lamented the level of rush in the lectures as ever since he resumed. He and some of his classmates who resumed later are finding it difficult to catch up with missed classes and notes.
He said: “Some of us resumed a week after the strike was called off. During the strike, I got a part time job and I needed to officially give the organization prior notice and then stop working. When I resumed classes, they had gone far and I had to start borrowing notes.”
Another student, Mauruf Ahmed, who lives off campus noted that the situation was not palatable as he and other affected students pleaded with the Student Union Government (SUG) to appeal to landlords and Agents to give certain waivers as some of their rents expired and others due in a few months.
While the FUT, Minna off campus students are sourcing negotiations for solutions to their rents, those in IBB University Lapai are lamenting that their apartments were burgled.
Landlords, students bicker over rents in UNIJOS, PLASU
In University of Jos and the state owned Plateau State University, the bid to clear the backlogs of admission exercise in order not to cancel any academic calendar has put the authorities of both Ivory Towers in a race against time as they have to combine admission of students.
The Senate of Plateau State University Bokkos, also approved the academic calendar for 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 Academic Sessions.
The approved Calendar, which started on Monday 18th October, 2022, had urged Students to complete their registration on resumption.
Sunday Telegraph findings revealed that Lectures have since resumed on Monday 24th October, for returning and fresh Students which will end on Saturday, 17th December for the Christmas Break.
Meanwhile, some students, especially those living off campus are engaged in squabbles with their landlords over house rents.
Some of them, who paid before the strike started are now being asked to renew the same while they claimed that they were away while the strike lasted.
Parents too find it difficult to meet the demands. No thanks to the dwindling fortunes due to the economic hardship.
A 300 Level Political Science undergraduate, University of Jos, Temchang Paul said: “I had paid for my rent, but couldn’t stay during the strike and now my landlord is demanding another payment, my parents are farmers and they don’t have money to give me again.”
However, investigations revealed that some landlords understood the conditions of students and didn’t ask for another rent, but others demanded fresh rent.
Students under pressure in UNIPORT
At the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), where lecturers resumed duty a few days after ASUU called off the strike, students returned to campus and the academic work resumed.
Due to the long stretch of the strike, which affected the academic calendar, they are behind schedule as examinations started in some departments immediately after school re-opened. The examination pressure has cut down social activities on campus as students struggle to catch up on lost reading time. For example, Alakahia, a residential area with a high student population near the school that is renowned for its liveliness is normal and a bit quiet these days.
In a few departments, where lectures resumed, students are being rushed by the lecturers. Some of them complain that most of the lecturers appear demoralized over the half pay salary action of the Federal Government.
Some students complained that some of the lecturers they used to look forward to attending their classes due to the vibrant and lively way they teach “are a shadow of their old self” says one 300 level Medicine student, who declined to give his name.
As for CONUA and NAMDA, they have taken root at the institution, as most lecturers remain with ASUU, which they bank on to continue to fight for their interest.
Currently, lecturers in the university are united in a common fight for the Federal Government to pay them their full salary while they embark on strike.
But a lecturer said that even though CONUA and NAMDA have not taken root at the University, there are a few lecturers that have since been carrying out membership recruitment drives. He said: “It is very early to know whether they will function and give ASUU a good run for its money. It is the next ASUU election that will determine whether or not these new bodies excel or not.”
Workers morale low at UniBen
The Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) UniBen Chapter, Prof. Ray Chikaogu, said workers of the University are currently suffering from low morale occasioned by the way the Federal Government handled the eight months strike.
Chikaogu said: “We have resumed lectures, but the morale of workers, not just lecturers, is very low. People are not as committed to their jobs as it used to be, because of the way the government handled the last ASUU strike, and even after calling off the strike, their salaries were withheld unjustly and I am aware that many are not committed to their jobs as before.
“As for ASUU going into another strike, nobody can be definitive until after next week’s meeting of the general body. That is where the decision will be taken and made public.
“For the situation of CONUA and NAMDA, they are dead and have no consequences, whether they exist, we don’t know, in whatever decision we take concerning our jobs, they don’t feature in it.”
Also, the Coordinator of Academic Staff Union of University,(ASUU)Benin Zone, Prof Fred Esumeh, said “nobody among us (lecturers) is happy because our October salary was paid half. You can imagine professors of over 15 years taking home something little above N300.000.Though, lectures are going on, but it is obvious people are not happy with the way the government has handled the strike.”