In the over five months that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike, frustration, anger and psychological agony have been the lot of millions of students, their parents and guardians.
As the face-off between the Federal Government and ASUU lingers, the ambition of these students to earn university degrees in various fileds has been on what seems indefinite suspension. In fact, truncated.
Strewn across the country are despondent young people, the future of the Nigerian nation, who are worried about what the future holds for them.
Tens of thousands of them are fast losing hope and questioning the value of the sacrifices and deprivations they endured to study and secure good grades in the West African Secondary School Certificate Examination, pass the competitive Universal Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and the post-UTME, which allowed them secure admission into the limited opportunities in the more affordable public universities, to begin the next phase of the struggle for academic success and a better life.
Sad and angry over the prolonged strike, parents have been bemoaning the fact that the future of their children, for who they endured sacrifices to pay their fees, now hangs in the balance because of what several commentators have characterised as manifest leadership failure of the present Federal Government which has continued to treat with cavalier arrogance the 2009 agreement signed with ASUU, and which it has failed to honour.
As ASUU leaders claim, the government has not shown good faith in the effort being made to arrive at a fair and just re-negotiated agreement. They are quick to attribute the seeming insensitive attitude of the government to the fact that children of most top functionaries of the government as well as the political personalities involved are not affected by the strike given that their children are in private universities or studying abroad.
“Until the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, alledged that the erstwhile Accountant General of the Federation, Mr Idris Ahmed, the very person supervising the contentious Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) platform, misappropriated over N174 billion, I was having the view that ASUU was not realistic in its demands.
“That humongous sum would have been more than enough to cover the arrears that ASUU has been demanding. Whenever I hear the huge, astounding amounts approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for various projects which are clearly over-estimated, even some of the projects are somewhat questionable in terms of the real need of the nation at this time, I draw the conclusion that the Federal Government simply does not care about the education of our children and their future.
“The government’s contention that it lacks the funds to meet the demands of ASUU is clearly hollow. If not so, where did the former Accountant General of the Federation find the N174 billion he was alleged to have misappropriated? My humble view is that it does not matter to the people in government today that what they are doing is definitely pushing our children to a blighted future. I cannot see it any other way,” Joseph Johnson, a senior logistics manager in a popular e-commerce company with headquarters in Lekki, Lagos State, and whose brilliant son is studying Electronics and Electrical Engineering in a federal university in the Southeast part of the country, said.
Johnson’s pain is understable and relatable too. The classmate of his son, Olufemi (surname withheld), from Ogun State, who went to Canada to join his uncle in 2018 is about to graduate as an Electonics Engineer, while Johnson’s son, Michael, was setback by the 2020 ASUU strike, which dovetailed into the COVID-19 lockdown, and lasted eight months.
Now, the current strike has already lasted four months with no end in sight. These days, Michael spends part of his time giving free tutorial lessons in physics and chemistry to SS1 and SS2 students in the school where his maternal aunt is the principal.
He is fortunate to have a father who is sponsoring him for various online courses, to keep himself and mind busy doing productive things.
When Mrs Rose Adegoke, a teacher, read a newspaper report where President Muhammadu Buhari urged ASUU leadership to call off the strike and then continue negotiation with the government while students are in school, she made this revelation in a brief chat with Sunday Sun: “Honestly, I wanted to curse the government and all the people who are responsible for the pain I am going through. Can you imagine that my daughter was given admission in late January this year. As she was going through the registration process, ASUU went on strike. By then, we had paid the acceptance fee (N57,000), paid N110,000 for off-campus accommodation for one year, bought camping gas (N18,000), mattress and pillow (N18,000) and other necessary cooking utensils. What of the money we spent travelling from Lagos to Awka (N23,000) and spending five days in a hotel (almost N70,000) while she was doing the registration before moving into the private hostel where she is sharing a room with another student? After strike started, my daughter stayed for a while because we thought it would not last long. By the time members of the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and Senior Staff Association of Universities (SSANU) joined the strike and the registration was suspended, my daughter came back to Lagos and has been at home since then.
“The rent on her accommodation is running out, and there is uncertainty over the fate of these children. President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is dragging its feet over this issue. Meanwhile, the wife of the President revels in the lap of luxury in Dubai? As a mother, why won’t I be angry?”
Former Vice President of NECA’s Network of Entreprenuerial Women, NNEW, Fayo Williams, a pharmacist, is disturbed by the impasse over the negotiations between the government and ASUU.
She argued that the government from every indication has been unfair to the university lecturers.
In a phone interview with Sunday Sun, she said: “The ASUU strike does not portend good situation for this country. The solution is for us to have the political will to step into this impasse so that we bring the government and ASUU to a roundtable with an arbitrator of sort. We can find such a body such as the Institute of Mediators and Arbitrators in Nigeria. We can find such bodies or individuals who can help to bring this impasse to an end.
“From the point of view of ASUU, I know it can be very painful to have developed a payment system, these are Nigerian brains that often shine outside our shores, but somehow their solution is not being used in the country and this can be very painful because I know how the tech world feels when our homegrown solutions are not being adopted. But I want the government to look into the issue of the University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) again to see whether it can be adopted in a way so that the dons are even encouraged to do more in terms of development and deployment.
“Again, the alleged inconsistencies in the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System, IPPIS, should also be looked at even for the wider civil service, where it is continually being deployed. The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. So, there is always room for improvement in any venture. I believe the solution to this impasse is to identify a body or set of individuals who are equipped with the right professional skills to mediate in conflicts. We are not bereft of human resources in this country; we have them and they should be called upon to mediate between the government and the university unions, look at the facts and come up with a lasting solution to end the strike.”
Without a doubt, the ASUU strike is “impacting negatively on the entire society because the tertiary institutions are the beehive of the young people where they stay to interact and learn and to aspire on how to build this nation,” the Executive Director, Civil Liberties Organisation, Comrade Ibuchukwu Ezike, said, adding that “the youths are the engine room of every society, but when this engine room is being threatened, when it is not being nourished then there is a problem for the society. It even gives the immediate crisis we are looking at more impetus.
“One of the implications of this crisis is that in the near future there may not be enough capable hands to take over from those that are here today in terms of filling the gaps in the civil service and the private sector; these are people who have been at home for a long time. There are those who are supposed to have graduated, but who could not because of the strike. What is going to happen to the new intakes? So, it is a very big unwholesome practice and it shows that the government has failed totally. The government has failed in all sectors including security, education etc. There is nothing wrong with Nigeria; our problem is bad leadership and mismanagement. We are really in big trouble. I don’t think there is anything that can be done in the immediate time except to vote out the bad government of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and vote in a foresighted, energetic, patriotic and forward-looking Nigerian as the president of this nation in 2023. This problem has become intractable.”
Another parent, Mr Shadamoro Caleb, dismissed the government’s arguments against UTAS, insisting that the 2009 agreement should be honoured.
“The strike has been very devastating on the agile youths who are almost losing hope in the society and wondering what the society has in stock for them if they could be left at home for this long.
“Many of them have gone into practices that may be inimical to their future because idle hands are willing tools for various uncomplimentary practices. As much as the parents are willing to keep these youths at home and guide them the need for parents to provide their daily bread comes to play. They are probably despondent at the situation; they could probably be suffering from low self-esteem when they compare themselves to the youths in other countries. They could feel left out and unattended to so this can scar their psyche even for a lifetime because if you feel that your country didn’t do much for you, I wonder how we can ask them to do more for the country. In this regard many youths often use this to relocate immediately after their studies and this is a huge economic drain. It is very unfortunate that Nigeria has turned into a country for training manpower for other countries. It is a despicable huge challenge.”
The recent call by President Buhari, urging the leadership of ASUU to call off its strike for students to resume studies while negotiations with the governmnent continue appears to have struck the right chord in Prof. Sarah Oloko, who retired from the Department of Educational Foundation and Distant Learning Institute (DLI), University of Lagos.
Prof Oloko believes that ASUU has significantly made a point and should heed the president’s appeal.
Her position is hinged on the high probality that many students will begin to feel that their four-year programmes that now run for five to six years as a waste of time that could be used to find alternative ways of making money and achieving success.
“My candid view is that the lecturers should end the strike and let students go back to the classroom because students are already weary. If not, they might lose interest in education. Becuase once they touch a few naira notes, some of them would terminate their education and waste all the time and resources their parents have put in. The next irresponsible question they would ask is ‘who education help? Part of the effects of the industrial action is that the calendar has been abrogated. It is not fair that parents paid school fees, some even paid house rents, and all those resources went into the drains because of ASUU strike,” she said.
On his part, Deputy National Vice President, Parents Teachers Association, Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo, agreed with Prof Oloko, saying that “in all, ASUU should please understand that the children have been home for the greater part of last year and this year. A four-year course is now becoming a seven-year course because of ASUU strike. They should also understand that children of many of the government officials are not in our local universities. For this reason ASUU should temper justice with mercy. They should please help parents, guardians and students because even some ASUU members have their children abroad or in private universities where there are no strikes. So, the common man is the one suffering as the two elephants are fighting. We want to plead with ASUU to agree for fresh negotiation as government has suggested and do the needful, so that schools will resume. Nonetheless, we must appreciate the fact that it is a total loss for parents who paid school fees and rented hostels for their children. Many students, both boys and girls, have gone into obnoxious things like coded prostitution even as the devil finds work in the mind of an idle man. They have gone into big time cyber crime to make money. Let them resume immediately without further delay.”
Immediate past president of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools, Dr Wasiu Adumadeyin, noted that “ASUU should resume immediately because every day the strike continues costs the students, parents and society a whole lot. Let ASUU please resume immediately and all the negative effects of the strike would stop as well.”
But to Consultant Pediatrician at Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Dr (Mrs) Onyinye Anyanwu, the only way forward is for the government to honour the agreement it signed, to show good faith and that it can be trusted to keep its word.
Her words: “Inasmuch as I want a complete end to ASUU strike in Nigeria, I think ASUU’s demand in the agreement should be met. I have also heard that the Federal Government said they were not in power during that negotiation, but then government to me is a continuum. Let the government listen to them fast, so they can go back to the classrooms because the students who are tomorrow’s leaders are losing, even parents and the entire society.”
But, the students, who are at the receiving end of the industrial dispute, have continued to lament and complain about the negative impact of the prolonged strike on their academic destinies and future life.
Some of them who spoke to Sunday Sun lamented that their ambition to graduate, secure gainful employment and help alleviate their parents from the shackles of poverty seem to have been dashed by the unending ASUU strike that had delayed their graduation and possible participation in the mandatory NYSC.
One of them, Uzoma Anenechukwu, said that she has spent six years in the university of Abuja for a four-year degree programme now with no graduation time in sight. “If I had chosen to learn trade like my friends, I could have achieved something. I shouldn’t have lost both money, number of years with no hope of the certificate in sight. Can’t you see my own predicament? And I guess many Nigerian students who are from poor background feel the same way.
“It has become good economic survival strategy in the Southeast that young men and women who learn trade before education make fortunes quicker than those who possibly took the way of education, and it ought not to be so.”
Some other UniAbuja students that spoke to the school’s in-house media, that was shared on Facebook appealed to all stakeholders involved in handling the strike to reach a compromise and resolve the problem permanently.
Msuega Daniel Terkuma, a 300-level student from the department of Economics, said: “I must say that the strike has really affected me. I see myself as an excellent student and I pursue academic excellence with everything it takes.
“However, with this current strike coupled with the obvious disrespect for education in the country, I decided to let go this pursuit of academic excellence and rather focus on learning skills that can give me the future I deserve.
“My dad called me some weeks ago, and asked if my last semester result was out as usual. This time my response was that he should not be expecting me to send a first class result again because I am giving more to acquiring skills rather than education. This explains just how much I have lost enthusiasm in pursuing academic excellence, and it is a consequence of this prolonged strike.”
He called on the Federal government to give attention to the education sector and try as much as possible to meet the demands of ASUU. “Education is the best heritage they can give to the youth who will pilot the affairs of this country in the near future,” he said.
On his part, Isiaka Zainab Olanshile, a 400-level student of Statistics, said that the strike is not fresh to her. “It’s been gathering up, as far as I can remember, for many decades. Actually, I think it smacks of insensitivity on the part of both the government and ASUU to have allowed this situation to drag us to this sorry level of our educational development.
Igwe Chukwuemeka Cyprian, a 400-level student from Sociology department, said, “it’s sad, painful. This strike affects me psychologically and emotionally. Having to stay at home this long and yet unsure when we will resume, is highly dispiriting. I fear that even when we resume, the calendar would have been considerably disrupted.
“Many lecturers will not cover the course outline, some will rush you madly, and these might affect both my academic and social life on campus. Government should do something, please. If government can allocate billions of Naira for projects every month, I believe they can meet up with the demands of ASUU and other unions.”
“The strike has affected me in two ways. First is that it has discouraged me from reading my books because I am uncertain about the date of resumption. The second is that my small business in school which I was using to sustain myself selling is almost dead.”
She appealed to ASUU to understand that the government won’t be able to meet up with all their demands, hence they should try and consider any amount given to them.
Abba Victoria Ojochegbe, a 300-level biological sciences, said that the stike is a bad omen for the education sector, insisting that there is no gainsaying that education forms the bedrock of the development of any country.
“So whatever reasons government may give, it cannot be justified for not meeting the demands of workers. And if the government thinks that funding education is expensive they should try ignorance. I am disturbed that I’m going to have to spend more number of years in school, and I can’t plan because I don’t know when strike will crumble the system and how long it will last. The effect of strike on students is very negative. And that’s quite frustrating.”
Valentine Kingsley, a 400-level student of the Department of Political Science and International Relations, said that the current crisis between the government and ASUU is a catastrophic quagmire that has been legalised overtime.
“The two parties have both failed the Nigerian students and the entire nation at large, since they have not been able to proffer a permanent solution to this crisis and have allowed it to fester and linger. The two parties involved need to find a neutral ground and put their differences aside so as to amicably and permanently solve the problem and allow sanity return to our various campuses,” he suggested.
Also, Khadija Muhammad Ya’aqub of the Department of Science and Environmental Education said that the industrial dispute shows a complete disregard for the development of our youths and the country.
“As a final year student, yet to have a project topic/supervisor, the strike makes me feel so bad. My appeal to both parties is to sit down sincerely together and work things out in favour of everyone. If it continues like this, you can predict doom for this nation.”
Ahmad Muhammad Bahar, a 600-level student from the department of Veterinary Medicine, said the crisis between ASUU and Federal Government exposes some facts, notably, government’s neglect of the education sector, selfish interest on the side of ASUU, and general lack of concern for the plights of Nigerian students.
“As a final year student, the strike has affected me negatively, because I have plans to graduate at certain time. My appeal to the two parties is that they should both shift ground. The Federal Government should honour part of the agreement, while ASUU should as well call off the strike for students to resume immediately.
He challenged the students and parents to hold government responsible for the continuous closure of schools for months.
His words: “The strike is still on simply because the government has not met our requirements, and from all indications, they are not ready to attend to us.
“September which is supposed to mark the beginning of new session is fast approaching. On our own side, we have finished all we need to do as a team and had shifted our decision to the government representatives to act on. We have discussed and agreed, it’s left for them to sign the agreement. That’s the problem we have now. If they sign the agreement we will call off the strike immediately. Nigerians should put pressure on them to sign the reversed document.
“Lack of interest and prioritisation for education is simply responsible for the delay in signing the document. Besides, their children and wards are schooling abroad, so they can afford to abandon the Nigeria school system as long as they like.
“The draft copy of the agreement is with the government and we are always available should they need us to speak on any area that requires explanation or clarification. If they have any grey area(s), they should call our attention to it.”
“I can tell you that generally, this strike has many implications. It has caused idleness among some of our mates who are not business-oriented and also have no skills, it has exposed them to all sort of crimes and social evils that will haunt our country more.
“Though I spend my time researching and improving my Islamic knowledge and also participating in IT (Industrial training) at Veterinary area clinics, Gwagwalada, Abuja, I still feel nothing compares to getting back to school to finish on time.”
However, Sunday Sun, gathered that the reconstituted Federal Government/ASUU renegotiation team led by Prof Nimi Briggs, has submitted the draft copy of its report to the Federal Ministry of Education for review and suggestions before onward submission to President Buhari for action.
Sunday Sun could not get a snippet of the content of the report, but there are indications that the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, has taken the renegotiation meeting with ASUU in line with the directives from the president.
When contacted, ASUU President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, said that decision has not been taken regarding the ongoing nationwide strike, adding that the strike is still on and its members are also feeling the heat because they have not been paid for months.