Education

Students rue prolonged strike

STRIKE

Following the closure of Nigerian public university system for 156 days, many students have embrace apprenticeship, learning and acquiring different trade skills as they stay at home

 

…take to apprenticeship

 

˜  We won’t return to classes – ASUU

˜  No collective bargaining agreement with ASUU – FG

 

After 156 days of staying at home due to prolonged strike and closure of public university system with no hope in sight for early suspension of the action, several Nigerian university students have now become apprentices, where they learn a trade or skill, or engaging in small businesses, apparently to keep themselves busy pending to reopening of their institutions.

 

The students said their decision became imperative at least to invest their time in learning skills and vocations in order to pre-occupy and engage themselves gainfully till the resolution of the logjam.

This is as the raging unending faceoff between the Federal Government and academic and non-teaching staff unions under the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU); Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU); Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Educational Institutions (NASU) and the National Associationof AcademicTechnologists (NAAT) has continued to disrupt both academic and administrative activities in the nation’s public universities.

 

Meanwhile, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige has said that there was no collective bargaining agreement with ASUU awaiting the President to sign, adding that the Federal Government would need N1.12 trillion to implement ASUU’s demands and other university unions.

 

In view of the government’s carefree attitude to resolve the crisis despite various appeal from leaders of thoughts and concerned stakeholders, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and other trade unions have threatened to declare a nationwide protest over the protracted ASUU strike.

 

The strike and ASUU’s demands

ASUU had on February 14, 2022,  embarked on eight weeks roll-over strike, which was later extended twice to enable the Federal Government to address the various issues, which include implementation of MoUs and MoAs as well as a duly renegotiated ASUU-FGN Agreements in concrete terms.

 

Today, the strike, which later turned to an indefinite nationwide industrial action was later joined by other nonteaching staff unions, has paralysed the nation’s public university system for six months. ASUU is demanding among other issues, the funding of the Revitalisation of Public Universities, payment of Earned Academic Allowances, adoption of the University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) to replace IPPIS payment platform foisted on the university system that the union vehemently rejected, and promotion arrears in their continued dialogue with government.

Stakeholders’ reaction

Following the inability of the Federal Government to resolve the lingering crisis, critical stakeholders, especially parents and Nigerian students have continued to condemn the apparent silence and attitude of the Federal Government towards addressing what they described as “retrogressive disposition” to university education and the future of Nigerian children due to unresolved prolonged closure of campuses.

 

But, after a long silence, President Muhammadu Buhari last week at his Daura, Katsina State home town, said “Enough is enough” to the strike and called on the striking lecturers to reconsider their position on the on-  going strike to suspend the action for reopening of the universities.

 

However, in its swift response, ASUU, whose members’ salaries had already been stopped by the Federal Government under the “no work, no pay” rule, condemned the President for his statement, saying President Buhari should consider proper funding of the university system, and save the institutions from imminent collapse due to paucity of funding, rather than calling the union to return to work.

 

ASUU National President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, also called on the President to consider the report of the Federal Government Renegotiation Committee, led by Emeritus Professor Nimi Briggs with a view to implementing the agreement so as to reopen the universities.

Osodeke, however, vowed that unless the government accedes to their demands, especially the adoption of UTAS, its members would not return to classes. Worried by the development, a Lagos-based legal practitioner, Oluwole Niyi, who also expressed regrets over the pitiable situation that the Nigerian university system has been subjected under President Muhammadu Buhariled administration, said he had spent about N300,000 to register her daughter in 100-Level to learn computer application in order not to keep her at home perpetually, not knowing when the strike will end.

Speaking in the same vein, a media practitioner, Mr. John Idowu, recalled  how he spent over N80,000 to enrol her daughter as an apprentice at a hairdressing salon in order to engage and keep the 100-Level undergraduate of the University of Lagos busy.

Like the duo, many other parents have continued to bemoan their plight since the protracted strike started six months ago, and the need to engage the children and wards so as not to involve in any untoward activity that may be occasioned by their long stay at home.

But, to Prof Samuel Odewumi, a don at LASU, that Nigerian university students are taking to apprenticeship is a sign of a nation that has lost its direction; a nation with leaders that does not understand what development means; a nation that is mortgaging its future; and a sure way back to slavery.

“Imagine a Law student learning something that has nothing to do with his or her developmental trajectory, do you think these students are learning this happily?” he said. The former Dean of School of Transport and Logistics described the Federal Government’s role so far in the on-going strike as being hypocritical.

 

According to him, adopting UTAS would not cost the Federal Government a dime, but indeed would save those several billions of naira that they are paying foreign application developers of IPPIS.

Odewumi, however, stated that a nation that is serious about indigenous growth of its science and technology would do everything to encourage the efforts of ASUU’s UTAS that yielded 99.3 per cent integrity tests, when nobody tested in Nigeria, the IPPIS that the government has made compulsory for every worker.

 

“Now, look at the disaster of the IPPIS paying out ridiculous and inconsistent salaries to the workers,” he added, saying the ways and attitude of this government are very awkward and difficult to understand.

 

While expressing dismay over the level of corruption in the system, the don wondered how some people in government and civil service had cornered the government for their own benefits, stressing that “we can all see how the Accountant General was alleged of being able to get away with the N80 billion or so under the IPPIS payment system.”

He further added: “I can tell you, at least, if the Federal Government accepts the UTAS that will not cost the government a kobo, it will prove sincerity of purpose on the part of the government and ASUU will most likely call off the strike instantly. “Imagine refusing local applications that will build local capacity, and which may be exported to earn hard currency for this dollar famished economy, instead the government agents selfishly prefer  where they will waste the billions for their cut backs.”

 

Odewumi described as ‘sad, and really sad’ how the lives of our youths (students) are being wasted, and insisted that many Nigerians do not know that ASUU members on the strike are losing a lot to the industrial action as during the strike currently, their salaries are stopped, promotions cannot be taken, sabbatical leave are suspended, request for study leave is in abeyance and members who are doing their PhD cannot graduate even if they have completed their thesis. “It is sheer patriotism that is keeping the members of ASUU obedient to the union.

 

You could feel the stress and strains that the union is going through,” he stated. Appraising the prolonged strike, a Professor of African Literature and Poetry at the University of Ibadan, Ademola Dasylva, described it as a tragedy for keeping the students at home for this long without any concrete effort on the part of the Federal Government to address the crisis in the public university system.

He regretted the ranking of Nigerian universities globally today, recalling that the so-called first or best university in Nigeria is not within the first 100 in the world, which he traced to lack of proper funding by the government, obsolete research equipment, dearth of instructional materials, and over bloated classroom, among other rot in the system. “In the 1960s, the same University of Ibadan ranked among the first 15 universities in the world.

 

So, what is going on in the Nigerian university today is a tragedy, and nothing to celebrate about. Students recount losses Now, while the losses suffered by the Nigerian students and university system in 2020 due to ASUU’s 10-month and COVID-19 pandemic, the students and their parents, who are yet to recover from the strike, are already counting their losses in the ongoing six-month-old strike.

 

The students, who lamented their plight and government’s insensitivity to the crisis, however, described the strike as a great frustration to them and the overall development of the university system.

Meanwhile, visits by New Telegraph to some business outfits and various shops, and mechanic workshops indicated that a good number of students had in the few months registered as apprentices, learning such trades or skills as hairdressing, event management, decoration, computer, GSM repairs, product promotion, fashion designing, make-up, photography, mechanic, aluminium fixing, furniture making, and barbing, among others. Narrating his experience, a 400-Level student of Human Kinetics and Health Education at UNILAG), Ashley Asedegbega, recalled how the prolonged strike has affected her and forced her to embrace a new perspective to life by learning a trade.

 

“During the strike I started learning how to fix nails online, and from there I started particalising it on my friends and mothers’ nails. But, shortly after, I began to get better at fixing and polishing nails.” “I acquired a small place at a makeup store where I practice the skill I learnt.

 

Now, I am also learning how to be an Illustrator on the internet and teaching myself how to be a skilled artist,” he recounted. He condemned the strike and described it as a hindrance to the students as it has increased the number of years students will now spend in the university, saying he is supposed to study a four-year course, but that he has been in the university for almost six years due to incessant strikes.

 

Also, recounting her ordeal due to the unions’ strikes, a final year undergraduate of Philosophy at the University of Abuja, Precious Ogbu, has resorted to learn makeup artist after she had stayed at home for five months and without hope that the strike would soon be called off.

“What I am learning is not related to what I am studying. But, even when the strike is called off I will still continue to learn the trade because I see myself opening a beauty shop in the future irrespective of my certificate,” Ogbu said.

Another student, who simply identified himself as Nifemi, a Geography undergraduate, said that the strike had compelled him to acquire some skills, such as welding and graphic design, while presently he is learning Cryptocurrency.

 

“Though the strike has had a negative impact on me like other students, it has also some positive side, as it has really opened my eyes to a whole new world. Regrettably today, I am yet to complete a five years course in over five years without having any carryover,” he lamented.

On her part, a fresher at University of Calabar, Precious Uwem at the Public Health Department, regretted that she was ushered six months ago into the university with strike, which commenced as they were about to resume for the first semester. Uwem, who is an apprentice to make pastries and cakes, described the on-going strike as unnecessary, as it has been a serious setback and implications on students, who will now spend more years in school.

 

Apart from university students, she regretted that the strike would also negatively affect those who wrote the 2022 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), whose admission would also be delayed. A 100-Level Civil Law student of the University of Ilorin, Fadekemi Adedayo, recalled how in the past few months she had been at home, taking online classes, especially in Volunteering and Intellectual property in order to keep herself busy the time till the strike is suspended.

Expressing displeasure over the strike, Adedayo, however, said the action is unnecessarily being prolonged, even as she lamented that she is still in one class for several months, while her friends in private institutions are counting their days to graduate from the university system.

Faith Makinde, a 100-Level student of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), who also bemoaned the lingering strike, said she has to engage herself in learning some skills to keep her busy. The aspiring Front-end Developer/Engineer regretted that the strike has now extended her four-year course by some years.

Victoria Ify, a Sophomore at the Department of Industrial Relations and Personnel Management, University of Lagos, who stated that she had anticipated reopening of the institutions after the initial eightweek roll-over strike; expressed disappointment that the strike still lingers on six months after.

 

She recalled that she has undertaken an online fashion brand (StyleMeey) and hairstyling business as an opportunity to develop, get herself busy and make little money while the strike lasts. “I am a 200-Level student, and going by the university calendar, we are supposed to round up the semester in one month then, but the strike has disrupted our plans,” she added.

 

Also, narrating her experience, Amina Yusuf, a Part I Accounting student at the University of Ilorin, said she was not particularly happy with the on-going strike that was declared shortly after her resumption as a fresh student into the university.

 

Amina is now an apprentice in fashion designing which according to her, she was forced to learn by the protracted strike to build her capacity and keep herself busy, since an idle hand is the devil’s workshop.

Similarly, Solomon Nnamchi, a 200-Level Public Relations undergraduate of University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) said the on-going strike has forced him to acquire training in catering and confectionery making.

Students’ appeal

The aggrieved students have called on the Federal Government to concentrate more attention and resourcesondeveloping thenation’s education sector, the standard, as one of the students said was already deteriorating at a rapid rate.

 

Thus, they urged the government to consider their plight and predicament resulting from the strike, which to them has taken a negative toll on the Nigerian students, even as the students insisted that apart from adequate funding of the university system, the government should ensure that the university environment is made more conducive for research, teaching and learning.

 

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