On March 14, the Academic Staff Union of Universities announced an eight-week extension of their strike action, putting the schools’ academic calendar into further jeopardy. However, the students, who are at the receiving end of the action, are not finding it funny. Gboyega Alaka reports
It was Day-3 of the ongoing Nigeria University Games (NUGA) holding at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and the atmosphere was electrifying. Students milled around in droves, and it seemed they could just not have enough of the games. In what seemed like an Olympic atmosphere, spectator stands of the indoor sports hall, the football/athletics arena and the world-class swimming pool were filled to the brim with excited students, cheering, hailing and jumping. A football game between the University of Benin (UNIBEN) and the Sokoto State University (SSU), which eventually ended 2-0 in favour of UNIBEN, was the peak of the pack. It was also a good game by every standard, with both teams giving really good account of themselves. The performances were also testimonies of the huge talents that abound among Nigerian youths.
Behind that huge excitement, however, looms the ongoing Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike. Many of the students spoken to were not unaware of the fact that when the two-week games are over and the dusts have settled, the emptiness of the ASUU strike would set in, as there would be literally nothing else to do or get excited about. The Academic Staff Union of Universities, the universities’ lecturers’ umbrella body, on March 14, announced the extension of their one-month warning strike by another eight weeks. The body said the decision was due to non ascension of the government to their demands as well as to give enough room for further negotiations and resolution of the issues.
A good number of the students are also no longer finding it funny. Responding to this reporter’s question about the strike, one of the students, a contingent of the University of Port Harcourt, dismissed this reporter with the expression, “Please, don’t tell me about ASUU strike; we already knew they would extend it. It has become an annual universities’ festival and we are used to it.”
But Excel Ezakovie, a 100-level student of Human Kinetics of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), does not want to get used to it. Even though, he is a fresher, he is earnestly appealing that this strike be the last. That way, he can finish within time and move on to other things.
“I think the idea of annual strike is not fair on the students. It is as if the government does not care about youths. Literally, our future is at stake and I can tell you that no student is happy. I’m in my year1 and I have already started experiencing the strike; God knows how many I will experience and how many years I will sacrifice.”
In the meantime, the scariest part for Ezakovie, is the likelihood of the lecturers rushing them through the courses, whenever the strike is called off.
“I think that is not good and it will affect the students negatively. Anyway, I pray and hope that this will be the last ASUU strike I will be experiencing.”
For Abduljelil Usman, a third year Bio chemistry student of Sokoto State University (SSU), aside not knowing his exit year from the university, his greatest worry is the fact that he has to do double work, sometimes triple.
“The strike is making us do double work. You’re studying intensively for a test or exam, and then a strike comes and you go home and laze around for months, and then you come back and start studying all over again. Psychologically, that is tasking.”
Usman, however, has a word of advice for the government. “They should accede to the demands of ASUU, release the funds needed for revitalising the system and increase their salary. In short, pay the money and let us get back to school. Even if it is half of the lecturers’ demands, they should meet. We are definitely tired of these unending strikes.”
In the case of Ojo Eniola, a 400-level Creative Arts Theatre student of University of Lagos, the unending strikes have been an opportunity to discover a business trait he never knew existed in him.
“The truth is that the long strike ‘holidays’ can be so tempting as to lead someone into illegal stuff; but I thank God for my parents and my brother who encouraged and supported me; now I am an entrepreneur. I’m into gadget sales. I sell laptops, phones and stuff. So the free times have helped me discover a new venture which I am now building,” Ojo said.
That is however not to say he is comfortable with the strikes. “I came in 2017 for a four-year course, so I should have wrapped up last year, but here we are. I have other plans but these strikes are just making everything uncertain. So, I feel really bad about it, notwithstanding.”
Ojo, however, blamed the government for the whole impasse. He feels strongly that the government does not seem to care and there fore is not doing enough to arrest the situation. “I mean, this whole stuff has been happening since 2009 and nothing has been done. I was listening to the ASUU chairman and he was really annoyed and unhappy. He spoke of how they met with every stakeholder in government circle just to make sure this strike was averted. He said the president even set up a four-man panel to forestall the strike but up till now, they have not been invited to any meeting. So it all seems as if the lives of Nigerian students are been toyed with. And it is a sad because several other associations in the university system are also smarting up for their own strike action as we speak.”
Ojo also feels that the argument that the whole strike is about the money the lecturers want to make is baseless. “I think that is not true. If you check, you will find that these people are actually tired. The truth is that the government is not paying attention to the educational sector and they have chosen not to keep quiet about it.
“If you look at it, our university system is actually below standard and there are several things that are not in place. If you come to our classes, there are a lot of things that are not in place. If you come to our arts theatre, you’ll find that it is way below standard compared to what obtains in other countries. Also, our maintenance culture leaves much to be desired. For instance they have spent a lot of money to put together the facilities for this NUGA event, but if you come back here in the next couple of years, you will find that they are no longer in shape, because we don’t have that maintenance structure in place.”
Habiba Abubakar-Sidiq is another 400-level UNILAG student, who is taking advantage of the ASUU strike to explore other areas to advantage.
As a law student whose academic programme requires her to study round the clock, it is an opportunity to relax and focus on writing, her other passion. She can also do some internship and acquire more practical knowledge – things she couldn’t do when full academic works were on.
Abubakar-Sidiq is also not surprised or sad by the strike or its extension. “Maybe because this is my fourth year in the university and it has become so consistent, I really don’t feel anything. I knew it was coming, so when it eventually came, I wasn’t surprised or sad.”
She is, however, a bit worried about the uncertainty of graduation date. “Why should I embark on a programme that I don’t know its end date?”
On whether she thinks the recurrent strike is justifiable, Abubakar-Sidiq, who said she is on campus only because she was a volunteer for the games, said, “I cannot say they are right and I also cannot say they are wrong. Don’t forget they are also people’s parents. As a trade union, they deserve good pay and good conditions of service and I believe that is what they are fighting for. Part of their clamour, if granted, will also be beneficial to us as students. We all know that schools are not running the way they should.”
Victoria Edidi, a 500-level Agric-Economics student and taekwondo fighter for the University of Benin thinks the whole strike is pointless in a way. But she reasoned that it gives her the opportunity to sort things out and analyse her plans before lectures resume again.
“I’m in my sixth year of a five-year course, and I’m still not sure that I’ll finish this year. Very likely, I could end up spending seven years for a five-year course. Not funny at all, because a part of me wants to be done with this phase of my life and move on to the next level. But since this is what the government has decided to do to us, no problem, we’ll find other ways to make it more meaningful for ourselves,” she said.
She also thinks the lecturer’s battle is a worthy one. “If you ask me, the university system has literally collapsed. In my school, UNIBEN, the authorities carried out some renovations when they hosted the National Sports Festival recently; but aside that, nothing much to write home about. Our classes are small, compared to the number of students; students sit on the floor; some stand. A seat meant for five students, end up sitting seven or eight. How do they go with the flow under that very inconvenient situation? And then the classes get so congested and hot that those who have issues of asthma or other respiratory stuff collapse and we start rushing them out of the class.
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