Nigeria’s public universities are currently shut owing to the trade dispute between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). In this piece, LADESOPE LADELOKUN writes on the effects of the strike on students and other stakeholders across the country and why a compromise should be expeditiously reached
“Well, I’ve just been at home wandering one from place to another, wasting my youthful life. My parents are even becoming tired of seeing me at home every day.”
These were the words of Elum Franklin Chidera, who, like a great number of Nigerian students hit by ASUU strike, was jolted by the news of its extension by another three months. Frustration, for him, has become an unwanted companion; just as lamentations play like a song in his head.
Distraught Chidera, who is a 200 level student of Petroleum Engineering at the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun, Delta State (FUPRE), bemoans what he described as the lackadaisical approach of the Federal Government to the development of the education sector and disinterest in the plight of the Nigerian youth.
“Well, let’s just say I least expected this reaction from ASUU. To be sincere, I really don’t like the extension of the strike because these actions are a setback to the education sector. I got admission in 2019 and here I am in 2022 still in 200 level. Instead of motivating the young generation to the path of a glorious academic career, they alter our dreams. We (the students) are not happy. Of course, I didn’t plan to be at home by now. “This came unexpectedly and something like this makes one confused.
The jobs available in my state are not encouraging because of economic instability.” Frustration greeted the recent resolve of ASUU to extend its on-going strike by another three months. For some observers, the ASUU-FG tango smacks of the insensitivity of the feuding parties to the plight of the Nigerian undergraduate.
But the current impasse is not without the blame game. On February 14, the union had embarked on a nationwide warning strike to press home its members’ demands. Before the announcement of the current 12-week strike on May 9,2022, the union, like the February 14 strike, had embarked on another strike on March 15.
According to ASUU, its demands include funding of the Revitalisation of Public Universities, Earned Academic Allowances, University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS), promotion arrears, the renegotiation of 2009 ASUU-FG Agreement and addressing the inconsistency in Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System.
Since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, ASUU has embarked on strikes for 50 months (four and a half years), according to the Director–General of Michael Imoudu National Institute of Labour Studies, MINILS, Issa Aremu.
While ASUU denies culpability, accusing the political class of turning its back on what it described as the decrepit state of Nigerian public universities, the Federal Government, on its part, believe the hardline posture of the university lecturers is less than helpful.
But, as concerns mount over the disruption of academic activities in the country’s shut universities, unceasing tales of heartbreak, worry and disenchantment have continued to pass the lips of a great number of students, Sunday Telegraph gathered.
For Bolaji Olawale, the thought of having to spend two semesters at home is unsettling. According to the Physics Education student at the University of Ilorin, he could not imagine being in school for six years for a four-year course, noting that the Federal Government and ASUU are not concerned about the future of the Nigerian student.
“They have already wasted a semester on the warning strike. Now, another semester will be wasted in the name of strike. Imagine wasting a whole section on strike. The government and ASUU are joking with our future. I believe they are less concerned because most of their kids don’t even school here in Nigeria. I don’t think they can watch their kids stay at home for good six months without going to school.
The Nigerian government has left the education sector in a mess. I can’t imagine using six years for a four-year course all in the name of strike. “The Federal Government acted quickly to prevent airlines from shutting down because they know it will affect them but ASUU strike was neglected because it’s not affecting them in any way,” he said. Another student, Adeyanju Victor, described the news of the fresh round of strike as heart breaking.
Victor, who is a Mining Engineering student at the Federal University of Technology Akure(FUTA),said even when the on going strike by ASUU had affected his mental health, life must continue.
“The news was heart breaking as it has brought sadness and sorrow into my life. I’ve no choice than to keep going on in life though. I’ve been trying all possible best to cope but all efforts seem to fail. It’s really affecting my thinking and learning skills.”
Expressing her frustration, Mrs Stella Olubajo, told Sunday Telegraph how ASUU strikes make her spend more to train her children in two Nigerian universities as a widow. “I only have this year left to retire as a secondary school teacher. My first son ought to have graduated two years ago.
This is his sixth year in school. Mark you, they live in rented apartments in their schools. ASUU strike will not stop their landlords from demanding their rent. As things stand now, I will still be paying school fees and rent after my retirement. It’s not what I like to remember.”
How we keep ourselves busy
In spite of the hue and cry that greeted the latest round of strike, some students have keyed into the opportunity it provides for self-improvement, sharing with Sunday Telegraph what they miss about school.
In a chat with Sunday Telegraph, Adeyanju said he was considering getting a training on computer programming. With his phone, he said, exploring the possibilities of earning a legitimate income and acquiring knowledge has been a wonderful experience.
“I miss school a lot. Talk about the early morning lectures, gists with friends, going to hang out with friends and even reading together. Well, I consider learning something; can’t really call it a trade though. It’s called programming .I think I’m trying to keep myself busy with my phones by trying to get some positive and good things done on the internet which can fetch me money and knowledge.”
For Elum, joining a football club is his way of neutralising the effect of idleness. “My phone has been helpful in keeping me busy. Every evening, I play football. I recently joined a football club.” On what he misses about school, he said: “At school, I just have to go to classes, read in the evenings, cook and make merry with my friends.
I stay in the hostel and we are like a family. So, it was so fun there but here I just stare and text them and not all of them are always connected all the time.”
“After concluding secondary school education in 2018, Olawale, had learnt a skill in electrical installations and repairs. He told Sunday Telegraph that he was an apprentice for about one and half years before securing admission to study Physics at the University of Ilorin.
Veering into teaching, he said, has saved him from boredom and being cashstrapped. But he misses the stress of school: “I know it’s been hard but I am still grateful to God for making it easy for me.
My uncle offered me a job. So, I have been keeping myself busy with that. It is better than staying at home all day. “School is another community entirely where I met different sets of people and related with them. It is also another stage of my life where I learn to live on my own.
Though school is stressful, I would prefer to pass through that stress to get that which I desire. I miss all my friends, even the back to back classes we always complained of. I just wish the government will consider us. Let’s resume.”
Diary of ASUU strikes from 1999 to 2020
Just months after Nigeria’s return to civil rule, university lecturers embarked on a nationwide strike that lasted for five months.
Following what it called the unjust dismissal of 49 lecturers at the University of Ilorin for their participation in ASUU strike, the union declared another strike that lasted for three months
Another industrial action that last for two weeks was declared in December 2002, after the then President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration allegedly failed to implement the agreement it reached with ASUU.
In 2003, there was another industrial action due to the non-implementation of previous agreements, which covered poor university funding and disparity in salary and retirement age.
There was another disruption in the academic calendars of university students as universities lecturers went on another industrial action. The strike lasted for just two weeks.
In April 2006, academic activities were halted in public universities across the country, when ASUU declared an industrial action that lasted for one week.
For the same reasons for previous strikes, lecturers went on strike for three months in 2006.
Again, in 2008, ASUU went on strike for one week. The demands included an improved salary scheme and reinstatement of 49 lecturers, who were dismissed at the University of Ilorin.
In 2009, ASUU embarked on an industrial action that lasted for four months.
In 2010, ASUU embarked on another indefinite strike that lasted for over five months.
Owing to a number of unresolved issues, ASUU embarked on another strike that lasted for five months and 15 days.
From August to September 2017, ASUU again declared an indefinite strike over unresolved and contentious issues with the Federal Government.
On November 4, 2018, university lecturers declared an indefinite strike owing to alleged failure of the Federal Government to implement previous agreements with ASUU.
In 2020,ASUU embarked on a 9-month strike; something observers called the longest in 11 years.
In November 2021, ASUU announced plan to begin another strike in three weeks if the Federal Government continued to fail to honour the 2020 agreement it said was reached.
ASUU making things difficult -Minister
Speaking on a live television programme recently, Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, lamented how negotiation was being made impossible by ASUU.
Ngige explained that ASUU insisted that the National Information and Technology Development Agency (NITDA) should take the payment platform, University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) that it developed and deploy it for payment in the universities, whether it is good or bad , whether it failed integrity and vulnerability test or not .
“And ASUU members know that fraud committed on payment platforms can run into billions. If a hacker adds zeros to hundreds, it becomes billions. NITDA brought out the report of its test on UTAS, that it passed the user acceptability but failed vulnerability and integrity tests- the two critical tests that prevent fraud.
“Again, I went beyond my schedule as a conciliator, spoke to ASUU and NITDA to continue the test and see whether they can make up the lapses and arrive at 100% because that is what NITDA insists on.
That, they cannot even take the platform at 99.9% of vulnerability and integrity. That they can’t take that risk on a payment system, that it can be hacked into. “These are the issues. So, if you hear someone saying Ngige is responsible, it is wrong. I’m not the one that implements. I’m the conciliator.
I conciliate, so that there will be no more warfare and even in conciliation, once I apprehend, the parties go back to status quo ante- which means, you call off the strike.”
According to him, ASUU should have by now called off the strike because that’s what the law says, stating that he had earlier urged the NLC to which ASUU is affiliated to intervene in this respect. Nothing, he said, is new about the ongoing ASUU strike as it has gone on strike 16 times in the last 20 years. “What is new however is that I have done what Napoleon could not do. You can ask them, the ASUU leadership.
I’m sure that in the innermost part of their hearts, they can’t sweep away my untiring efforts. I’m the only conciliator lately, who has conciliated and put timelines on agreements and pushed all the parties, the government side to implement and stick to the timelines. Such fidelity wasn’t there hitherto.
“Last year alone, based on the timelines I put on the 2020 agreement, they got N92.7billion in terms of Revitalisation and Earned Academic/ Earned Allowances for the university system. I went out of the schedule of my office, to the Ministry of Finance, to the Office of the Accountant General myself, on occasions, to ensure these monies were paid.
“Yes, I did it. I did same for doctors and other health professional operating under JOHESU. I promised in 2015 when the President appointed me that the era when agreements were left to gather dusts were over and I have maintained it. I work even at odd hours, late nights, at times, far into morning hours to ensure things work.
“I recall that in 2020, when ASUU went on strike and refused virtual meetings which COVID-19 imposed, turned down all appeals by the Federal Government to call off the strike and engage the virtual teaching of their students as was done in the private universities, the Federal Government had no option but to invoke No work, No pay in line with Section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act after three month of the strike.
As a parent, whose children with others already lost nine months of academic teachings, I approached the President to approve payment to ASUU on humanitarian ground, despite not teaching for nine months!
“I have also personally suggested to ASUU to appoint a general secretary and deputy as part of its secretariat to do the leg work, follow up on its matters, since its leadership, comprising professors, senior citizens may not stand the bottle necks and delays usually associated with public service bureaucracy,” he added.
Starvation as weapon?
In a statement by ASUU, the union expressed shock that public universities have remained closed for months while members of the political class were busy purchasing expression of interest and nomination forms.
“NEC was shocked that public universities have remained closed for about three months while members of the political class were busy purchasing expression of interest and nomination forms worth several millions of Naira in preparations for 2023 elections.
Those in power turned their back on our degraded universities as they shuttle between Europe and America to celebrate the graduation of their children and wards from world class universities. This speaks volumes on the level of depravity, insensitivity, and irresponsibility of Nigeria’s opportunistic and parasitic political class.
“NEC condemned Federal Government’s cavalier attitude towards the strike action in the last 12 weeks. Government’s resort to the use of starvation as a weapon for break ing the collective resolve of ASUU members and undermine our patriotic struggle to reposition public universities in Nigeria is illadvised and may prove counterproductive,” the statement read in part.
Purchasing N100m nomination forms amid strike provocative, scandalous
A social commentator, Achike Chude, in a chat with Sunday Telegraph, decried what he described as the failure of the Federal Government to treat the education sector with the gravitas it deserves, saying politics is clearly placed above education. “If you talk about the ASUU strike, the reality is politics is more important than education in this country.
The people running Nigeria are not in love with the country; they are not committed to the country; they are not patriotic. There is no patriotic political class that will joke with education in their country.
It is the basis for development. It is the basis for peace and social harmony. It is the basis for justice. Education has continued to suffer but in the midst of these, they gave a million dollars to Afghanistan – a country that the education sector is in tatters?” he said.
Reacting to the purchase of presidential forms by the Minister of Labour and Employment and former Junior Minister of Education, Chris Ngige and Emeka Nwajiuba, respectively, amid the on-going strike, lawyer and human rights activist, Inibehe Effiong, described it as provocative and scandalous.
“It is an indication of the lackadaisical attitude of the current government to education. It is an embarrassment that a minister who is supposed to ensure that our universities are run efficiently; it’s also a scandal, one that should get appropriate response from students and Nigerians.
For a minister who claims there is no money to pay ASUU to cough ouť N100millio for form, I believe they shoulld be investigated, so that the source of the money can be determined. Their right to contest is even not the issue.
That’s not in contention. What is in contention is whether it is responsible for them to cough out that humongous amount of money for nomination forms while our universities are locked. So, it is unacceptable, provocative and scandalous.”
Our N1trn demand not outrageous- ASUU President
Decrying the alacrity with which Nigerian lawmakers prevented a planned strike in the aviation sector, ASUU president, Emmanuel Osodeke, said the reason Nigerian lawmakers invited aviation workers was the effect their strike would have on their movement, accusing them of insincerity and paying lip service to issues concerning education.
“Yesterday, the House of Representatives met with stakeholders in the aviation sector. Because their planned strike affects them, they quickly intervened. They reduced the price of aviation fuel. Did they reduce the price of diesel that the ordinary man uses? Have they intervened on the on-going ASUU strike? They have not.
They are just for themselves only. And the Nigerian people should realise that and ensure the next set of leaders will work for Nigeria and not for themselves. The reason they invited aviation workers is the fact that they fly. If they stop work one day, they will not be able to move around. So, they quickly invited them and agreed with them.
This is the kind of leaders we have. Education is shut down. The youth are on the road. “It is the height of insincerity because their children don’t school here. If the children of Nigerian leaders are all in Nigeria universities, they will pay adequate attention to our schools.
Nigeria spends N1.6trillion annually to pay school fees outside the country, according to a CBN report. We are only requesting for N200billion revitalisation fund for a period of five years. Nigeria can spend N4trillion for subsidy in a year but can’t get N200billion to fund education nationwide. Does that make sense? It’s not about money. It’s about interest.
As Nigerians wait with bated breath for public universities to reopen, the question on the lips of many is: Who blinks first?