By Enyeribe Ejiogu (Lagos), Gyang Bere (Jos), Tony Osauzo and Ighomuaye Lucky (Benin), Tony John (Port Harcourt), Abel Leonard (Lafia), Okey Sampson (Umuahia), Oluseye Ojo (Ibadan), Judex Okoro (Calabar), and Layi Olanrewaju (Ilorin)
When the 2021/2022 set of first year students of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, assembled to take the long awaited matriculation oath last Friday, the simple ceremony, which lasted for about 30 minutes, marked the completion of their formal admission into the university.
The pulsating presence of students could be felt everywhere on the campus, whether at the Admin Block, the popular Bank Area, Arthur Eze Road, Bizcentre Arcade and the ever-busy Ifite Gate Complex. For the students, it was the start of a new phase of life at the university, which is fast gaining international recognition as it pursues its goal of becoming one of the top 200 universities in the world. Already, is has been acknowledged as the Third Most Sought After University among all federal, state and private universities in Nigeria and its graduates are moving on to win laurels in post-doctoral academic research in highly rated Western universities, contributing to the body of knowledge.
As the fresh students milled around, taking pictures in their academic gowns, the joy in the hearts of the new students was palpable. The event was their first memorable reward for passing the JAMB UTME and scaling through the rigorous Post-UTME of Unizik, as Nnamdi Azikiwe University is popularly known. Witnessed by few parents, relations and friends of the fresh students, the successful matriculation was a reflection of the semblance of normalcy that is fast returning across the landscape of tertiary education in Nigeria, after the eight months strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, which was formally suspended on Monday, October 17, 2022, paving the way for resumption of studies in the public federal universities.
The resumption of academic activities was also proof that the dogged efforts of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, to broker a truce in the face-off between the Executive Branch, led by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, and ASUU was not fruitless.
Expectedly, the prolonged industrial action caused significant disruptions and incalculable financial losses to students, parents, the various institutions and people in the host communities of the varsities. It further worsened the distortion of academic calendars, which resulted from the pervious strikes in the 2019/2020 session, COVID-19 lockdown and 2021. As academic work resumes, how are the universities coping with the herculean task before them, to make the best of a bad situation. Below, Sunday Sun reporters from across the country paint pictures of activities in the various universities.
At the University of Jos, students are battling with efforts to complete registration formalities for the 2021\2022 academic session, which were put on-hold when the full blown ASUU strike began at the end of the one-month warning strike declared on February 14, 2022, which led to suspension of academic activities.
A good number of the students trying to go through registration process for the 2020/2021 academic year are saddened and demoralised by the economic hardship confronting the country.
They bitterly complained over the inability of their parents to raise money, to enable them complete their registration before the October 30, 2022 deadline, which expires today. They are anxious and unsure whether the university authorities would grant them a reprieve and extend the deadline a little.
However, students who made the institution their first choice for the 2021/2022 and 2022/2023 academic years are hanging in the balance as the institution has not conducted the Post-UTME examination.
While some universities held virtual post-UTME examination during the industrial action, the University of Jos could not conduct the test for candidates seeking examination for 2021/2022 and 2022/2023 academic sessions.
Deputy Registrar, Information and Publications, Abdullahi Abdullahi, explained that the institution has directed students to continue with their registration exercise in preparation for the first semester of the 2020/2021 academic year.
As it is, the fate of the 2021/2022 and 2022/2023 sets that have passed the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board UTME are now hanging.
“The management of the University of Jos has approved the continuation of registration exercise for undergraduate and postgraduate students of the university for the 2020/2021 academic session. This is preparatory to the full resumption of academic activities for the first semester 2020/2021 academic session, which had been suspended due to the strike,” the institution said in a statement.
Reacting to the announcement by the University of Jos Senate that lectures would resume on November 4, 2022, the Chairperson, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Jos chapter, Dr Lazarus Maigoro said: “The University’s Senate has approved November 4, 2022 for the resumption of lectures, but lecturers will resume only when the Federal Government pays the withheld salary of lecturers. This is because they will not be able to go to work without transportation. We are all aware of the economic hardship in the country and we expect the Federal Government to do the needful.”
On December 2, students admitted by the University of Benin for the 2021/2022 academic session will commence online registration, as Sunday Sun gathered from a statement issued by the Spokesperson of the university, Dr Benedicta Ehanire, while announcing resumption date for students of the institution. It is, however, not yet known when the students would resume lectures.
Even more troubling is the revelation by a senior lecturer of the university regarding the candidates that passed the 2022/2023. He said: “No official position was taken on that during the last meeting of the university’s Senate.”
When Sunday Sun visited the university on Thursday, there was indication that learning was yet to commence fully in some of the departments as there were few lecturers seen in classrooms teaching while others failed to turn up. It was gathered that some of the lecturers have left while others have relocated abroad.
A lecturer in the Department of Chemistry, Dr Charles Unuigbe, said that lecturers lack the morale to go to the classrooms to teach and would not want a situation whereby in a bid to impart knowledge on the students, they could slump and die.
“Lecturers are prepared to lecture as long as they are enabled financially because right now we have not been paid; our salaries for eight months are still being withheld by the Federal Government. Lecturers are not willing go to the class for fear of slumping while teaching students. They need to have the stamina and the ability to be able to do their work. We have come back, we will teach students as we were required to do.
“Let’s wait for the government, between the Speaker and the government and let’s see if they will do anything, but we hope that the withheld salaries will be paid. The earlier they do it, the better”, Unuigbe said.
An air of preparedness for full and uninterrupted academic activities, after several months of strike by ASUU has enveloped the University of Port Harcourt, Choba, in Rivers State.
Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the institution, Sam Kpenu, told Sunday Sun with excitement that the university management has approved revised academic calendar for the 2020/2021 session and 2021/2022 session full time programme.
According to an internal memo on the revised calendar, the period Monday, October 17 to Friday, October 21, being the first week of the first semester for the 2021/2022 full time programme for Year One B students was used to do revision of the courses taught before the strike.
First semester examinations were held from Monday, October 24 and ended yesterday. On Wednesday, November 30, 2022, the Senate will hold an extraordinary meeting to consider first semester 2021/2022 results.
From October 31 (tomorrow), the second semester 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 academic sessions, would commence and last for eight weeks, to end on Thursday, December 22, 2022.
The essence of the revised calendar, Kpenu said, is to cover all the areas that were lost due to the long industrial action.
Come November 7, full academic activities would resume at the Federal University, Lafia, Nasarawa State, otherwise known as FULAFIA. Already, during a visit to the university by Sunday Sun reporter, some lecturers were seen supervising the cleaning of their officers which had remained locked for eight months. The whole environment of the institution was also being spruced up in preparation for the hustle and bustle of academic activities.
Chairman of the FULAFIA chapter of ASUU, Dr Adam A. Abdullahi, a senior lecturer in the Department of English, who described the strike as unfortunate, reiterated some of the reasons lecturers walked away from their jobs.
But with resumption of academic activities, he assured that lecturers are ready and willing to operate within their capacity towards ensuring that students get the best.
He disclosed that the university had completed first semester of 2020/2021, noting that what remained was marking of scripts and doing examination management. “So we are resuming now into second semester,” he said.
In terms of preparedness, he said: “In fact, talking about resuming work is even like over-flogging the issue. Work did not actually stop, the only aspect of the job that stopped was interaction with students. As university teachers, part of our work involves research, which is on going. If I don’t read how do I teach?
“If we had stopped the ongoing collaborations, it would have been difficult to resume because money could have gone into some of this things. So, readings are going on, researches are going on, the books have always been open. So, on the issue of preparedness, lecturers are always ready.”
Head of the Public Relations Office, Federal University, Lafia, Ibrahim Abubakar, told Sunday Sun that the November 7 date for resumption was chosen to give time for the school environment to be sanitized as the whole environment was taken over by bushes and reptiles.
Regarding the thorny issue of the 2021/2022 and 2022/2023 candidates, he said it is only when the school resumes that the Senate would take a decision on what would be the fate of the various candidates that applied for admission into the university.
Life is gradually returning to the Michael Okpara University, Umudike, Abia State, as visit to the institution showed that academic activities were picking up, though at a snail speed.
Although the Vice Chancellor, Prof Maduebibisi Ofo Iwe and some other key principal officers of the university could not be reached when Sunday Sun visited, as they were said to be in a crucial meeting. However, a source in the university who requested to be anonymous, having not been authorised to speak on the issue, told Sunday Sun reporter that the institution was about rounding off the first semester and about to get into the second semester when the strike began.
He said that the few students who were yet to finish their exams back then would do so within a week or so, and then join others for the second semester.
On the fate of candidates offered admission for 2021/2022 UTME cycle and those who passed the 2022/2023 UTME written during the strike, the source said that the Senate was yet to take a decision on the issue.
However, given that other universities have adopted the option of having two batches in the same session, that is Year One-A for those admitted in the 2021/2022 academic session and Year One-B, for those that passed the passed the 2022/2023 UTME written during the strike, he said Michael Okpara University could adopt the same method, asserting that he could not imagine the institution skipping admitting qualified candidates from the 2022/2023 UTME batch.
Though not speaking on behalf of the Senate, the source went further to explain that with the current state of things, the institution may likely allow the Year One-B students to start lectures in January, 2023, by which time the Year One-A would be getting into 200 Level.
“It is not an easy thing to manage, but I think the Senate and the institution’s management are on top of the situation. There should be no cause for alarm; in two weeks, the picture of everything in this direction, would be clearer,” the source said.
Although the universities lecturers are prepared to teach, but like in other universities, the eight months salary owed them as a result of the strike, is still a stumbling block to hindering them from giving their best.
Even the President of ASUU, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, who is a lecturer in Michael Okpara University, recently said that the eight months salary owed his members may not allow them to attend lectures since most of them do not have money to transport themselves from their homes to their places of work.
The unpaid salaries, coupled with the fact that some students were rounding off their exams could be attributed as reasons for the lull in academic activities, which were yet to fully pick up.
Some of the students interviewed, said that they were looking forward to when lectures would begin in full and appealed to ASUU to iron out whatever outstanding differences between the union and the government, to allow full academic activities return to the universities.
With the release of the modified academic calendar, both undergraduate and postgraduate students of University of Ibadan have heaved a sigh of relief.
From the document on the modified calendar, which was signed by the institution’s Registrar, Mrs Olubunmi Faluyi, and made available to Sunday Sun by the Director of Public Communication of the university, Mrs Joke Akinpelu, online registration for fresh and returning students was held on Monday January 24, 2022, while on Monday January 31, the institution commenced 13 weeks of teaching and revision for students, which ended on Friday April 29.
Matriculation ceremony was held for the fresh students on Tuesday, February 15, 2022, which was a day after ASUU began the nationwide warning strike in all public universities in Nigeria. No academic activity took place in the university during the industrial action that lasted for eight months.
The modified calendar revealed that the teaching and revision resumed in the university on Monday October 24 for the first semester, which has been scheduled to end on Friday February 10, 2023. The second semester will commence on Monday February 20, 2023 and ends on July 18.
However, the 2022/2023 academic session has been slated for commencement on Monday August 7, 2023 for both undergraduate and postgraduate students.
Mrs Akinpelu stated that the institution offered admission to qualified candidates for the 2021/2022 UTME cycle, adding that UI has not started admission process for candidates that passed the 2022/2023 UTME, written during the ASUU strike.
According to her, the issue of skipping admission of qualified candidates from the 2022/2023 UTME batch does not arise.
She, however, confirmed that classes have been holding for students.
The University of Calabar has chosen to adopt and apply the Law of the Situation in it management of disruptions to its academic calendar. Accordingly, the Registrar of the institution, Dr Gabriel Egbe, said that the 2020/2021 second semester will run concurrently with the first semester of the 2021/2022 session.
In line with this arrangement, first year students of the 2021/2022 session resumed on October 17, 2022, while returning students for 2020/2021 session resumed on October 19, 2022.
Both batches of students would end their respective semesters on January 28, 2023.
Egbe explained that the university’s Senate took decision to enable them meet up with the lost sessions occasioned by the eight months industrial action.
But barely two weeks after resumption, a good number of students are yet to return just as lecturers are yet to return to classrooms due to non-payment of eight months arrears of salary.
Checks revealed that those who passed the 2022/2023 UTME and made UNICAL their first choice are currently writing the Post-UTME aptitude test. Those who may likely start the new session in February 2023.
Sunday Sun gathered from credible sources close to the management that the university would not skip any set that passed the UTME and chose UNICAL as first choice.
However, apart from faculty deans and heads of departments, most lecturers are yet to resume lectures as a good number of their offices have remained locked.
Even some of the non-academic staff, who managed to come to work are not too keen to attend to new and returning students.
Some of the lecturers, who spoke to Sunday Sun on condition of anonymity, said that until the Federal Government meets its own side of the bargain, they would continue to sit back and watch events because they cannot teach on empty stomachs.
Academic work officially resumed last Monday at the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN) following the ratification of the amended academic calendar by the University Senate at its 291st meeting. Returning students will resume on December 15, 2022 when the 2021/2022 academic session commences, while final year and postgraduate students resumed on October 24, 2022.
The university’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Mr Kunle Akogun, said that students of the Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine faculties, who did not complete their Rain semester examinations before the commencement of the strike on February 14, 2022, resumed on October 24 to conclude such examinations.
Students who spoke with Sunday Sun were excited to be back in school after the long compulsory holiday.
One of them, AbdulRaheem Saka, a student of Islamic Studies, said that some of his fellow students who are not resident in Ilorin, Kwara State, had been calling to know when academic activities would resume.
At the School of Postgraduate Studies, students were seen milling around and busy processing documents.
Some lecturers were busy cleaning their offices, though they maintained that teaching would not start until the government pays them the seized salary arrears.
One of them in the Faculty of Arts told Sunday Sun: “As you can see, I am on my seat. I am willing to teach, but not on empty stomach. I have been brushing up my lecture notes and when the coast is clear lectures will start.”
Meanwhile, the university’s Dean of Student Affairs, Prof Musa Toyin Yakubu, assured that the institution would leave no stone unturned, to ensure that facilities needed to aid teaching and learning were put in place and in proper conditions for effective service delivery.