Sunday Magazine

ASUU Strike: Parents, students’ tales of frustration, agony

Today marks the 226th day since lecturers in public universities downed tools. For parents and millions of Nigerian students caught in the web of the FG-ASUU tango, a quick resolution of the crisis besetting the education sector is all they crave for. LADESOPE LADELOKUN and JOHNPAUL BORISADE write on the ASUU strike and the need to save public universities from total collapse

 

In Nigeria and other places across the world, Valentine’s Day occurs every February 14. Candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones in celebration of love.

But February 14, 2022, for some Nigerian students, was a day heartbreak eclipsed love celebrations. A heartbreak occasioned by the declaration of another industrial action by Academic Staff Union of Universities(ASUU),fuelled by what they deem government’s laidback approach to education issues.

Over seven months, 226 days precisely today, since that declaration by ASUU, a great number of public universities have remained shut. Stories are told by student leaders about how female students now house unwanted babies in their protruding tummies at protest grounds. Identity Cards are flaunted by male students, who have become apprentices as uncertainty clouds the date of resumption of academic activities.

According to ASUU, some of the contentious issues that led to the strike by the union include non-payment of minimum wage arrears, the inconsistency occasioned by the use of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, IPPIS, the non-release of revitalization fund, earned academic allowance, renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement, release of white paper on visitation panel.

Meanwhile, in defence of the Federal Government, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, had on a Channels TV programme monitored by Sunday Telegraph said that President, Muhammadu Buhari had done all within his powers to meet the offer of the university’s union, stating that Nigerians don’t have very good reason to be disappointed in the government on the issue.

With 275 days in 2020, according to reports, being the longest strike since 1999, data consulting firm, Statisense, on its Twitter in June this year, revealed that lecturers spent 1,404 days- almost four years as of June- boycotting classrooms in order to press home their demands from the federal and state governments.

But stakeholders in the education sector lament what they consider the failure of the Nigerian government to effectively educate young Nigerians; something they say has been a blessing to schools in countries with a stable academic calendar that absorb young Nigerians that desire uninterrupted learning.

Checks by Sunday Telegraph revealed that data from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) indicated that Nigerians spent  about US$221m on foreign education in three months between December 2021 and February 2022.

Expressing her frustration over what she called the insensitivity of the Nigerian government to the plight of Nigerian students, Sewa Aderibigbe, a 200 level student at the University of Lagos wondered how concerned leaders are still at peace with themselves, even when they know that students have been kept at home for over seven months.

“The way things are going, we might end the year without returning to school. I’ve not seen or heard anywhere leaders show this level of disdain for young people and public universities. How do these people sleep soundly knowing that schools have been shut for over seven months?

This goes to further prove that we do not have responsible leaders in this country. And it’s because they don’t have their children here,” she reasoned. For a Mechanical Engineering student at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), who simply identified himself as Segun, the FG-ASUU tango only advertises selfishness and wickedness in high places.

“If these people give a damn about us, we shouldn’t be talking about this now. It’s easy and clear to see that those we call leaders in this country are only interested in themselves and their families. See how the Nigerian government has left the education sector in a mess. These same people didn’t waste time in acting swiftly to prevent airlines from shutting down because they know it will affect them.”

Two sides of Adamu Adamu

In what appears to publicly draw attention to Adamu Adamu’s position on the perennial ASUU strike before his appointment by the Buhari government, rights activist and public affairs commentator, Prof Chidi Odinkalu, had tweeted: “Those who do opposition politics like they’ll never be government, end up doing government like they don’t know what to do with it.”

Quoting from a 2013 article by the minister, Odinkalu tweeted: “This nation owes a debt of gratitude to ASUU and the strike should not be called off until the government accepts to do and does what is required. So, instead of hectoring ASUU to call off its strike, the nation should be praying for more of its kind in other sectors of the economy.”

Meanwhile, further checks by Sunday Telegraph showed Adamu to have written these lines in the aforementioned article: “The goal for ending the strike shouldn’t be to save parents anxiety or to take pity on students or to save lecturers’ jobs or to graduate students: It is to save the university system, so that it becomes what it is supposed to be—a system for producing a culturally literate society, and for generating and harnessing ideas and knowledge, initiating and driving social and economic innovation, and ensuring national competitiveness on the global scene.”

Another portion read: “In this, ASUU should see itself as a vanguard – probably the only active one—dedicated to making the government begin to tread the path of responsible good governance in the admin-  istration of education in Nigeria—and not just on university campuses.”

Meanwhile, speaking on a Channels TV programme on the current industrial action by ASUU, the minister said Nigerians had no reason to be disappointed in the Federal Government, absolving it of any blame.

“If Nigerians are disappointed, I think they don’t have very good reason to be disappointed with the government on this issue. “Why should they be disappointed? Just tell me why it is the fault of the government and not that of the union. You can only blame the government if it refuses to satisfy their demands,” Adamu said.

Children of political office holders graduate from foreign schools amid ASUU strike

President Buhari’s wife, Aisha, stirred reactions online when she recently shared pictures of her daughter-in-law, Zahra, who, she said, graduated with a First Class Honours in Architectural Science. But her action drew outrage from a number of Nigerians, who berated her for, according to them, being insensitive to the plight of Nigerian students, who have been shut out of schools owing to ASUU strike.

Before Zahra’s graduation, graduation ceremony pictures of children of political office holders had attracted reactions online. Jordan Nyesom-Wike graduated from the University of Exeter, in the United Kingdom. The Rivers governor’s son graduated with Second Class Honours in law from the university.

On April 28, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el- Rufai and his wife, Aisha and other family members were seen in photos celebrating with Ahmad, Rufai’s son, at his graduation ceremony. Also, Mohammed Sani Badaru, the son of Jigawa State Governor, Badaru Abubakar, attracted reactions when photos of his graduation ceremony, which held on July 14,2022 surfaced online. Sani Badaru graduated from Brunel University, London, United Kingdom.

Though rejected by House of Representatives members, Sergius Ogun, a lawmaker representing Esan North-East/South-East federal constituency of Edo State in the House of Representatives had in an attempt to regulate how public officials’ children enrol in foreign schools sponsored a bill titled, “A Bill for an Act to Regulate International Studies for Wards and Children of Nigerian Public Officers, to Strengthen Indigenous Institutions, Provide Efficient Educational Services for National Development; and Related Matters.”

In defence of the bill, Ogun had said: “This bill is proposed against the background of fallen standards in our educational system and the need to bring the sector up to speed with global best standards.

Unfortunately, as a result of the inability of the government to provide quality education in its public educational institutions, Nigerians have resorted to private schools and foreign schools for their education. “The United Kingdom, United States of America, Ukraine, Ghana, Malaysia, Egypt, and South Africa, just to mention a few, have become choice destinations for Nigerians in search of quality education.

“The trouble with this is that most of those who patronise private-owned educational institutions, or those who travel abroad to study are children and wards of Nigerian public officers. These are the officers who should take responsibility for the building of our public institutions.”

ASUU strike crippled our businesses – University Communities

As the protracted ASUU strike continues, business owners around campuses are already counting losses. For Godiya, who has a shop near the University of Lagos, it is almost impossible to estimate what he has lost. In a chat with Sunday Telegraph, Godiya said: “It has not been easy. I lost a lot of drinks during these seven months strike.

They got expired that I can’t even remember the number. The plastic drinks started getting expired during June, July and August. August was the worst because it was just too much that I had to call them to take away 46 packs of Coke. Other drinks like Viju milk, Fearless, Commando and Nutri-C got expired too. “My business went down. No more customers to patronise me like before as things continue to get more expensive like flour, butter, sugar, groundnut oil and other materials.

The egg roll I was selling N150 is now N200 and my customers are complaining. So, I have to start explaining to them how things are expensive.” Also, it’s the same story of lamentation for a student of UNILAG and a businessman who simply preferred to be anonymous. “On a general scale, it has liquidated a lot of businesses in the school.

About 20 per cent of of businessess have been closed due to ASUU strike because there are no students coming to patronise me anymore. It is the students we came to work for, not the school. “I am also a student. So, it is affecting me in both ways as a student and ‘hustler’.

As a student, ASUU strike is making me to spend more years in school . As a student, the only way I make money is through the students because I’m into Cybercafe business. I have planned that after four years, I will graduate but look at where I am. I don’t want to talk much about it.”

How we are coping – Students

For a number of students whose schools have been shut, learning new skills is one escape from boredom. For a Medicine and Surgery undergraduate at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, who identified herself as Bisi, getting a training on sewing is yielding positive results.

“My parents paid N100,000 to put me in a training school. But I’m happy to tell you that I can now sew. I can sew a wedding gown. On a lighter note, without this ASUU strike, you know it’s possible I would not have discovered another talent God has given me,” she told Sunday Telegraph For Tayo Olalere, a UNILAG undergraduate, it’s time to learn digital skills. ”

For now, I’m spending my time to learn digital skills like copywriting and video editing course online, which is something I’m proficient now. For now, schooling is not in my head at all.

That all that I can tell you.” Another UNILAG undergraduate who gave his name as Lekan said: “As you can see, the on going strike is really delaying us in terms of achieving our goals. You see so many students now learning trading, some people are doing professional courses, online courses, and so many people are learning fashion designing. As you can see, I am actually doing a professional course. I’m studying for my ICAN examinations.

Why APC is not losing sleep over ASUU strike -Inibehe Effiong

With months to the 2023 presidential elections and a huge percentage of the voting population said to be young people, human rights activist and lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, told Sunday Telegraph that the current ASUU strike was enough for the ruling party to lose the 2023 presidential election if Nigeria were a “serious country” .

“If Nigeria is a serious country, the current ASUU strike should have a negative impact on the chances of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress(APC).The entire educational system under this government has been in crisis. The Nigerian government has over the years taken our people for granted. And they don’t believe the youth would be organised.

They believe that with money and resort to divisive campaigns that is fashioned on the basis of ethnicity and religion, they will succeed in diverting the attention of young people from the real issues bedevilling the country.

“And that is why they are not bothered because they believe the Nigerian people do not have a sense of history to punish them for their misrule. But I hope that the young people of this country will prove the APC wrong and will take next year’s election more seriously in their interest.”

FG irresponsible- Don

Even before the ruling of the National Industrial Court of Arbitration, ASUU President, Emmanuel Osodeke, had at parley with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, reportedly maintained that the body would not be compelled to call off its strike by the order of the court.

Reacting to the judgement ordering lecturers to return to work in a chat with Sunday Telegraph, a member of ASUU at the Osun State University, Dr Temitope Fagunwa, described the development as a sad one. “By the way, the judgement is an expression of the fact that the judiciary is not independent.

Why would the judiciary come up with such judgement over a case when the Federal Government could not honour its own part of the agreement. The agreement was not entered into under duress. It is an irresponsible government that will not honour agreements.

And that is the kind of government the Industrial Court is giving a favourable judgement, unfortunately.” Earlier, Adamu Adamu had ruled out the possibility of signing an agreement the government would not be able to implement, stating that the Federal Government had done its best to resolve the current challenges.

His words: “In all, we have been doing, our guide has been the directive of Mr President Muhammadu Buhari, namely, that while the unions should be persuaded to return to work, Government should not repeat the past mistakes of accepting to sign an agreement it will be unable to implement. Government should not, in the guise of resolving current challenges, sow seeds for future disruptions.

“We have done the best that we can in the circumstance. After Inter-ministerial consultations and rounds of hard negotiations with all government agencies, we interacted with the Unions.

I personally, gave it all it required to resolve the current challenges. I met the Unions anywhere and everywhere possible with facts, with figures, and with absolute sincerity. For example, I directly met with ASUU leadership in my house, in my office and at the ASUU Secretariat on several different occasions, in addition to other formal engagements going on.”

 

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