The lingering strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) assumed a frightening dimension on Monday when some students under the aegis of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), South-West zone, blocked major roads leading to the international and local wings of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. Before the incident, the students had earlier blocked the Lagos/Ibadan expressway in solidarity with ASUU and as a way of making the Federal Government to see reason to quickly resolve the 7-month old industrial action.
The growing agitation by the students is not likely to abate until the government accedes to ASUU demands, which include university teachers’ welfare, adequate funding for public varsities and other matters. They may disrupt activities in other government’s facilities and the agitation may worsen if the ASUU strike is not fully resolved.
Nigerian students want the Federal Government to treat the ASUU strike with urgency and resolve it so that they can go back to school. The students have been at home since February 14, 2022, when the strike commenced. Sadly, the strike has apparently defied all resolutions and has kept the public universities under lock and key for seven months. After many failed negotiations, the face-off between the Federal Government and ASUU took a different turn on September 8, 2022, when the government took the union to the National Industrial Court for arbitration.
The move came following the government’s invocation of the “no work, no pay policy,” which forced ASUU to make the strike indefinite. Earlier in August, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had organised a two-day warning strike in support of ASUU. The union has urged the government to implement the 2009 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) it signed with the government and others.
Since the agreement was reached, ASUU has gone on strike nine times with dire consequences on the country’s university education system. The academic calendar is no longer predictable. The students will now stay extra years for their programmes on account of the lingering ASUU strike. Parents are equally affected by the strike. Both students and their parents bear the brunt of the strike. Therefore, the action of the students is understandable. While the action of the students to draw government’s attention to their plight can be justified, blocking major roads to the airport in Lagos and blocking the Lagos/Ibadan expressway, which is an infringement on other people’s rights of freedom of movement, is not tidy. For instance, disruption of other people’s movement is against the provisions of Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof.” While urging members of NANS to tread with caution, we call on the government and ASUU to immediately resolve all outstanding issues and reopen the universities. Students can demand for their rights without necessarily abridging the rights of other citizens and foreigners living in the country. We enjoin the students to seek other decent ways of drawing attention to their demands.
We sympathise with the students and urge the government and other stakeholders to demonstrate the willingness to end the industrial action. The students want the strike to end and we believe that the matter can be resolved in a matter of hours. This is where leadership plays a vital role. On the other hand, we urge the Federal Government to withdraw the pending case at the industrial court and settle the matter amicably. We say this because prosecuting the case at the industrial court is unhelpful and will only prolong the strike. A party that loses will most likely go on appeal, thereby elongating the dispute.
The academic community and the students have already lost much and will ill-afford a further prolongation of the matter even if the case is accelerated. Beside litigation, the government can settle the dispute through a political solution. The government and ASUU must be open to dialogue as a way to resolve the impasse. With compromise, the lingering industrial action can be resolved. Both parties should unite to begin the process of rebuilding our public universities.