From Gabriel Dike, Benjamin Babine, Abuja, Felix Nkem, Nsukka, Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri, Gyang Bere, Jos, Layi Olanrewaju, Ilorin
administrative activities in the nation’s universities have been crippled completely by the ongoing strike by the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), which is in its second week.
In some cases, the ongoing industrial action by the non-teaching staff has disrupted academic activities, including examinations, in some universities, as well as essential services on campuses, while staffers attached to principal officers have equally withdrawn their services.
SSANU and NASU members, on Friday, February 5, 2021, embarked on a nationwide indefinite strike to protest the non-implementation of agreement with the Federal Government since 2009.
At the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN, where the nationwide strike has paralyzed administrative activities, Daily Sun visited faculties and offices and found that non-academic staff stayed away from their offices in compliance with the directives of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of both unions.
The university’s medical centre, primary school, information and communication technology and the works department were under lock and key, with skeletal services at the administrative block of the school.
However, chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) UNN chapter, Comrade Christian Opata, said academic activities have been going on in the university smoothly in all the faculties and departments of the institution.
Said he: “Yes, we are aware of SSANU and NASU’s ongoing industrial action but we are not part of the strike, lectures and other academic activities are going on as usual. We have access to the campus, offices and lecture halls. We have not received any report that students were chased out of class or lecturers denied access to the classrooms.
“The SSANU and NASU strike has vindicated ASUU on our position over Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS); remember, when government introduced it, despite the fact that we rejected it, surprisingly, the non-teaching staff embraced it, only to reject it now after realizing all the issues we raised against it ab initio.”
Eze Chinemerem, a 100 Level student of the Department of Medical Radiography and Radiological Sciences, UNN, told The Education Report that lectures have been going according to the timetable in her department.
“We had lectures on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, hopefully, first semester exams will start in two weeks’ time as scheduled. The only place the strike is effecting us is accessing exams and record offices, the university portal, departments and faculty offices for registration and submission of course files and other administrative work,” she said.
Blessing Mbuba, a 400 Level student of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, also confirmed that they have been having lectures, stating that, “the strike has not affected our studies. Lectures have been on, like today, I just finished my morning lecture and I m waiting for the afternoon class,” she said.
Mbuba, however, admitted that some of their laboratories were locked up because of the strike. She equally said water and electricity at the hostels have been epileptic since the start of the industrial action, even as she appealed to the Federal Government to meet the unions’ demands so that they call off the strike and return to work.
At the university’s medical centre, Dr. Onwurah Augustine, the medical director, said that the centre was shut since the strike started.
“Despite the essential nature of our service, the striking unions directed our workers to stop work and join the strike. I pleaded with the two unions to allow us to operate skeletal services but they refused, a situation that forced me to discharge our patients on admission,” he said.
Mr. James Onyishi, director of the Works Department in UNN, said the strike had affected the department, adding, “Non-teaching staff withdrew all their members working in the department as well as locked all the offices.”
Onyishi said the department, in synergy with the Department of Student Affairs, would continue to ensure steady supply of water and electricity to hostels.
The ongoing strike at Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), grounded academic activities on campus, including the senate building of the school, which was locked up when our correspondent visited.
Although, the students are managing to write their exams, they have to contend with the difficulty of trekking to their classes to take their exams because the school gate is partially locked and commercial transporters are prevented from entering.
Also, some departments in the school, such as examinations and records, bursary, registry, estate and works, library, ICT, physical planning and staff school, were locked.
SSANU chairman, Comrade Uchenna Nwokeji, commended the compliance of his members, although he regretted that the industrial action was taking place a few months after the students returned from the lockdown of COVID-19.
Nwokeji said: “This strike is going well in FUTO. As you can see, the Senate Building is shut. FUTO is in support of this strike wholeheartedly. There is no water in the hostels because our people are not working.
“However, we are pained that this is going to affect our children again. We don’t want our children to remain at home. But we can’t help it because most of our members have not been paid for months because of the IPPIS challenge.”
A student of the university, Emeka Oduigwe, who spoke to Daily Sun, complained that the strike had compounded and prolonged the time for their graduation: ‘’I wish this whole thing is not happening, first it was the COVID-19, now strike. Our academic calendar has been disrupted.’’
At the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), non-teaching staff complied with the strike order. When our correspondent visited the university, the main gate was open but union officials were on hand to monitor their members.
Workers who managed to find their way into the university could not gain access to their offices. Attempts to speak with the chairman of ASUU, UNILORIN branch, Prof. Moyosore Ajao, were futile as he was said to be on official assignment outside the institution.
Messages sent to his phone were not replied. However, a senior lecturer in the university who did not want his name mentioned, said, “The strike this time did not affect academic activities as the semester examinations have been concluded.”
A student in the Faculty of Arts, Fikayo Balogun, said he finished his examinations last week and that was why many students were not on the campus. He prayed the strike would not be prolonged, as students were tired of idling at home. According to him, the students received lectures online during the COVID-19 lockdown, and he hoped lecturers would adopt the same system henceforth. He urged to the Federal Government and the striking unions to embrace dialogue in order to resolve the issues in contention.
Meanwhile, chairman of ASUU, University of Jos branch, Dr. Lazarus Maigoro, said the ongoing strike by the non-academic staff had not affected lectures.
He noted that, since the commencement of the industry action, academic activities have been going on smoothly in the institution. Maigoro said the university has contract staff that clean offices and lecture rooms, and maintain hygiene in the institution.
“We are not affected in any way by the ongoing strike by SSANU and NASU members; lectures are ongoing. We have free access to the university,” he said.
A student in the Department of English, who preferred not to be named, confirmed that the school gate was not blocked by the non-teaching staff and lectures were going on.
At the Lagos State University (LASU), examinations were disrupted by the SSANU and NASU strike as the two main gates were shut early in the morning. The striking unions shut the gates and students found it difficult to enter the campus to write examinations scheduled for the day.
Some students of LASU told Daily Sun that many of them were caught in the crisis and couldn’t write Monday’s examination. They expect the institution to reschedule the disrupted exams.
The management of the university subsequently postponed the examinations, but Ph.D students were relocated to the Lagos State University College of Medicine to defend their theses.
In reaction, ASUU-LASU called on the striking members of SSANU and NASU to review the modalities for the enforcement of their ongoing strike.
Worried by the disruption of ongoing exams, ASUU-LASU, in a statement signed by the secretary, Dr. Tony Dansu, and the assistant secretary, Dr. Adeolu Oyekan, addressed to the chairmen of SSANU and NASU, said the union should remove the impediments that made it impossible for its members and other employees to enter the university and do their work.
The union advised the non-teaching workers to open the gates of the university to enable them enter the campus, access their offices and do their jobs.
ASUU-LASU said: “We consider this necessary in the spirit of mutual respect, continuous harmony and solidarity. We wish you a most productive engagement with the authorities over the issues that led to the current strike, for the betterment of the university system in which we all are stakeholders.
“It has been brought to the attention of our union that there is an ongoing nationwide strike by SSANU and NASU, under the auspices of JAC of the unions involved. It has also been reported to us that the LASU branch of your union is participating in the strike.
“Sadly, we have been receiving distress calls from our members who complain that they have been locked out of the university since the strike started. They lament the discomfort of coming to work but not being able to enter the university, have access to their offices and do their jobs. Our staff at the union’s secretariat are also unable to gain entrance and do the union’s job.
“We consider the current situation rather unfortunate. For reasons known to us all, ASUU has had to go on strike many times in the past few years. On each occasion, and especially in LASU, we have always taken care to ensure that the execution of our strikes does not bring any discomfort, no matter how little, to members of sister unions.
“This is not for want of capacity, but a deliberate stand based on principle and sense of solidarity. It is, therefore, disheartening that our members are being made to bear the direct brunt of an action targeted at the authorities. We strongly believe that your union has the capacity to execute a strike as has been done in the past, without avoidable discomfort to our members.”
NANS uncomfortable with strike
Worried by the ongoing strike by non-academic workers in the Nigerian university system, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has saids academic activities have been severely stifled.
In an interview with The Education Report, the president of NANS, Comrade Asefon Sunday, said the strike by both unions has frustrated efforts from lecturers to rejig academic activities after the long strike by ASUU.
Asefon said: “The gates of most of the universities are not locked but activities are basically on standby. Students who are doing clearance are unable to do it because the people in charge are on strike. Lecturers have their own officers and have their own key, but apart from that majority of offices where students will need to do the necessary registrations are shut.
“The gates aren’t shut because majority of the universities employ security as contract employees so they don’t fall under those unions. So, the gates are open but nothing is happening really. People who graduated three years ago, some of whom are about going for their master’s abroad, are being frustrated by this strike. One called me that he has done every necessary thing but the one thing he’s being held back is his transcript. And the offices authorized to issue these documents are all locked because of the strike.
“He is stranded and there are others like that. There’s nobody in registrar’s office, no one in admin office. So, nothing is working. Its basically another phase of ASUU strike, because it has the very same effect.”
He appealed to the Federal Government and the unions to consider the future of Nigerian youths, noting: “Our two parents, that is, the Federal Government and the staff unions, are not thinking about our future. As a result, this is giving private schools a huge edge. Nobody wants to send their children to public schools anymore because of the issue of continual industrial actions. It’s detrimental to the future of Nigerian youths who cannot afford private schools,” he said.
Speaking about virtual learning, he said: “Some schools have attempted to start virtual learning but it is not effective at all. In a class of 100 students, at times, only 20 attend the virtual classes. And we can’t blame them; some of them can’t afford the means to the electronic devices needed to participate.”