By Cosmas Omegoh, Christy Anyanwu, Olakunle Olafioye, and Agatha Emeadi
As the strike embarked upon by university teachers in the country continues without end, the toll is now being felt by the students, parents and other stakeholders in the public institutions.
As a way of gauging the impact and effect of the situation, Sunday Sun went to town to feel the pulse of everyone involved in the quagmire.
The situation is mind-boggling as it clearly represents an ill wind that is blowing no one any good.
Parents, students, unionists and other stakeholders appear to be on the same page as they are unanimous in urging both the government and the unionists to urgently resolve the problem.
ASUU lately extended the strike it started on February 14, this year by another 12 weeks while pressing home its demands.
ASUU is asking for increased funding of public universities, promotion arrears and payment of what it calls Earned Academic Allowances.
In addition, it wants its members’ salaries paid through a special app called the University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS), which the Federal Government vehemently rejected.
But while ASUU and the government squared off, other unions in the universities: the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, (SSANU), the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational Institutions (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) entered the fray, insisting that they too have their own grouses to settle with the government.
Last week, the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof Ibrahim Gambari, summoned a meeting at which he urged the unionists to suspend their strikes.
After another round of talks, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige was quoted as saying that: “We have reached some agreements, and we hope that by next week, those agreements will be maturing and the different unions will have something to tell their members, so that they can call off the strike.”
But credible sources said that the meeting ended in a deadlock.
A unionist was credited to have said: “There was nothing on ground for us to consider. We are not stopping the strike until something concrete is done.”
Earlier, ASUU Chairman, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, had accused the Federal Government of withholding the lecturers’ salaries so as to pressure them to return to work.
Speaking last week at the 19th National Productivity Day and conferment of National Productivity Order of Merit Award (NPOM), President Muhammadu Buhari appealed to the unions and their leaders to return to work.
Responding to the President Buhari’s request, Prof Osedeke told our correspondent: “We want to appreciate the president’s plea, but we will discuss with our members. Whatever they say, that’s what we are going to do.
“A plea is not the same thing as implement our agreement. If we have been on strike for 12 weeks and there is no response from the government, and you think plea will satisfy our members after you have even stopped their salaries, I don’t know how that is going to satisfy them.
“Not a single thing has been done in the last 12 weeks when the industrial action began. This is 13th week, and you think a plea will appease our members?”
Asked if the union would scale down its demand to make room for quick resolution of the impasse, he fired: “We are not scaling down on anything. When we meet with them they should tell us what they are bringing to us.”
So far, no significant progress has been made. The crises in the universities have continued unabated, leaving everyone counting their losses, everyone a loser.
Parents’ response to strikes
“The situation is disheartening,” Mrs Dorcas Balogun, a mother, said with a note of resignation.
Speaking about the plight of her daughter, she said: “Her secondary school mates who attended private universities have all graduated.
“It is sad to say that our leaders have no time for us. Their children are all schooling abroad; they don’t care about us. They just don’t consider us the citizens.
“Why won’t crime and fraud flourish while these children are idle? They easily forget that an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. We pray for God’s intervention. But to say the least, we are tired.”
Another parent, Mrs Ebun Jones, was moved to tears following the strikes. “As a parent, I feel sad. The problem is so annoying.
“Indeed, this government is wicked. What has these children done to deserve this situation. What is their fault?” she queried.
Another parent, Mr Livi Nwachukwu lamented how incessant strikes had disrupted the university calendar.
“My son was supposed to have completed his studies since last year, but that has not happened. Right now, nothing is certain anymore.
“I have had to pay for his hostel accommodation severally. Anytime they go on strike and come back, the rent will expire, and the landlord will demand fresh payment.
“Once he returns to school now, he is expected to pay additional rent – all because the Federal Government and ASUU cannot come to terms.”
He remarked that his friend lamented his son was making frantic efforts to join Yahoo-Yahoo just because he had been idle.
“My friend said when he learnt about that, he scolded his son.
“But that is what the strike has foisted on the nation. Yet we have not seen an end to this.”
A mother, Mr Clementina Iheanyi, decried the persistent strikes in the ivory towers, wondering when the Federal Government would fix it.
“This unresolved strike has a very bad effect on everyone.
“Look at the young boys moving around all day – just because they are on strike. And what do you hear them saying? How to make it, with Yahoo-Yahoo on their mind.
“As a parent, one is sad to see all this. Worse still is the reality that the days they will spend at school are being elongated stares everyone in the face. Some of them have not been able to recover from the one year spent at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My son is supposed to graduate this year. His identity card reads so. But he will now graduate in 2023. Still we are not sure that will happen.
“Now, have we considered the cost of their feeding? They eat a lot while at home. And the parents are bearing all these brunt. It is frustrating.”
She reasoned that what is going on is persuading parents to push their children –those who can afford it – to private universities.
A former ASUU chairman, University of Ibadan, Prof Ademola Aremu while speaking as a parent said: “I’m a parent too; as a matter of fact, most of us have our own children in the universities. They too are affected.
“When our children are not in school, they are at home, consuming plenty of electricity, watching this and that, or they are on the computer. So, the running cost of the home during strikes is very high. And don’t forget that when they are at home, they eat more food.”
Another parent and politician, Gabriel Omotoso, described the ongoing saga as “not encouraging.”
“Apart from the parents, the children are not happy at all because some of their peers who attended private universities have all rounded off their programmes. But these ones remain stagnated.
“Indeed, this harvest of strikes is not good for anyone.
“It is my opinion that our government should respond to the yearnings of the lecturers, while the lecturers too need to be considerate to the children’s plight.”
He disclosed that his son is coping by engaged in online courses.
“He’s doing one course or the other. I can’t just leave him idle. The Bible says an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, so they have to do one thing or the other.”
Another parent, Best Aigbebiole, berated ASUU for always employing strike as a bargaining tool. “My son, before now, had lost a session – all because of this same ASUU saga. Right now, he is in his final year. He cannot graduate because of the strike, and I ask ASUU, if you cannot accept the government conditions, why not take a walk? Must you teach in government-owned institutions?”
Talking about the dangers in late graduation, a parent, Mr Ben Goong, Director of Press, Federal Ministry of Education, Abuja, said: “No parent wants to feed a child forever; when children who gained admission into universities and Colleges of Education as teenagers are graduating at almost 30 years, it means their parents would feed them forever.
“Some parents would have to train their children with their pension because these parents would have retired from public and private sectors, yet they are paying their children’s school fees. The society is not left out as they will suffer the negative consequences that the students would be going through while at home.”
Students decry strikes
Meanwhile, some students who spoke to Sunday Sun lamented the ugly situation, disclosing some of the things they are doing to keep busy.
“I’m not happy with the strike,” Joy Anietum said even as she is unhappy that there is no guarantee it would be called off soon.
“Everything about it has continued to delay my graduation.
“Now, what is the guarantee that every student is reading while the strike is on?” She queried, disclosing that she was continuing with her sewing vocation while at home.
“Before I passed my JAMB examination, I learnt to sew. I’m sewing at home and earning stipends to buy data and airtime, and to take care of myself so that I don’t bother my mum for everything,” she said.
Adedoyin Balogun is unhappy that she is spending six years for a four-year course.
“The strike is not encouraging. We are lagging far behind. I gained admission in 2018. I was supposed to have graduated late last year, but that didn’t happen. So, I’m spending six years in school for a four-year course; I while away time assisting my mum in her shop.”
Another student, Opeyemi Gbolahan, said that the situation he found himself is frustrating.
“The strike began less than a month into the new session and this has disrupted my projections for the year.
“Ordinarily, we should be rounding off the first semester and preparing for the second semester, but the strike has disrupted every plan I made in the beginning.
“An additional implication of this is that the time one projected to graduate from the school has automatically been lengthened without having carryovers,” he lamented.
Recalling the financial implication of the strike, he said: “As a student who resides in a private hostel, I have to pay extra rent because my tenancy agreement is yearly.
“Imagine the effect of having to stay at home for months and abandoning one’s studies. This is a serious cause for concern.
“I will, therefore, like to appeal to ASUU and the government to, for the sake of the students, reach a compromise and resolve the crisis.”
For, Amarachi Onyewuchi, the strike is a mixed bag.
“The strike is good in a way and bad in another way,” she told our correspondent.
“Indeed, the strike is drawing us backwards. I’m supposed to be in 300 level now. But last year’s and this year’s strike have kept me at 100 level.
“But the good thing about it is that one has a chance to learn something – a skill and make some money.”
She said that she was returning to the sewing she abandoned after gaining admission.
Also speaking about the crisis are some individuals who have been at various echelons of the educational system.
For instance, Prof Sarah Oloko, who retired from the Department of Educational Foundation, and Distant Learning Institute (DLI) University of Lagos said: “I know that students will be disorganised. Some of them are almost despairing, while some have started creating positive ways of spending such times.
“On the negative side, some students are already tasking their parents to send them abroad because they are fed up with ASUU strike.”
She lamented the effect of the strike on the girl child recalling that “their education is important; some of the girls marry and terminate their education prematurely because of the fear of the unknown.”
She described the scenario as “very disheartening for parents who have paid school fees, looking forward to their children’s graduation, but not sure anymore. Apart from paying school fees, they now have the responsibility to feed the children, provide stipends all over again.
“We all agree that ASUU might have their legitimate reason for the strike, but it is tremendously negative on all, and we appeal that schools should be reopened for the sake of the students who bear this brunt.
“Let all authorities consider them because they are the most hit by the strike action. It is so disheartening; they should have compassion on the students.”
While assessing the effect of the strike on the school calendar, Oloko informed that “for some time now, the school calendar has been unpredictable. In other climes, school calendars start from September and end in April, but there is a sense of disorganisation where young people are involved.”
She urged that “the young people need to know what they are doing with their time because they are full of energy which should be channeled properly and harnessed into positivity, not giving into deviance and lack, of motivation caused by ASUU strike.”
An education consultant, Adeniyi Agboola, lambasted the government for its role in the crisis. He said: “My first reaction to this is that the government has made it clear that it is less bothered about the strike because it doesn’t affect them up there in any way. Their children are not affected because they are all schooling abroad. As long as those leading us in this country keep sending their children to study abroad, we will keep having this type of impasse.”
Turing to ASUU, he said: “I will just appeal that the union shifts its ground and make its demands more reasonable and realistic in the interest of the Nigerian students.
“Experience in the past has shown that the students are the ultimate losers whenever the government and ASUU bicker. Most times, their losses are unquantifiable.”
He expressed fear that “in future some of the graduates might be disqualified from some job opportunities on the basis of age because their years in school have been prolonged by endless strikes even though they have the requisite qualifications.”
Speaking in like terms, Mr Goong, enumerated the losses accruing from the strikes which he said are enormous economically, socially and academically.
“On the side of the students who are already at home for months, which is not good enough, they would graduate at ages older than when they should have graduated. Again, some would graduate at an age that they many no longer be allowed to be part of the NYSC, because if one is beyond 30 years, NYSC would not accommodate such age. It means they will graduate as older students, even when they join services, they may not be able to work for the maximum 35 years required by the law.
“Besides, the strike will boost the crime world if students get involved in it.
“If ASUU would quantify all of these, they would rather use dialogue as a weapon rather than insisting on strike action. The situation could be resolved amicably outside the framework of strike.
Speaking on school calendar, Goong added: “Yes, it is already affecting the school calendar because the children would not graduate as at when due.
“The strike was started over two months ago beginning as warning strike. Going by that, we have already lost six months which cannot be recovered by any means; one cannot turn the hand of the clock.
“The other strike cost 11-12 months and the economic challenge was that ASUU did not lose a dime for staying at home for one year. They came back and got all their entitlements, and in my opinion, that encourages ASUU to go on strike on the slightest excuse; every stakeholder lost something except ASUU.”
Goong then added a twist, by calling for part of the burden to be borne by ASUU.
“In my opinion, strike should be costing ASUU something as well. It is because they don’t lose anything; rather the students, parents, society do. The salary they take without any work is stealing from the nation’s purse. Where work stops, salaries should also stop there. Salary is a product of one’s output in his or her organisation. If they are at home for 10 years, whenever they resume is when their salary should also resume.”
Lamenting the damaging effects of strike, Prof John Didiacus Njoku opened a new vista. “Now, look at the system that the strike is aiming to protect.
“Because the unions go on strike, the system being protected is further forced to decay.
“When the strike was eventually called off the other time, there was little or nothing that could be done.
“You can imagine a situation where lecturers will forget the titles of the courses they are teaching. You can imagine a situation where students lose their notes and whatever materials they were given. You can imagine a situation where the students have to go into things that cannot allow them to go on with their academics. Because of the days, you can imagine that many of the students have gone off their academic tracks. Even beyond the academic system, the consequences are obvious for a country like Nigeria.”
Service providers too count losses
Speaking on what he had lost to the strikes, a service provider at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, who wanted to be identified as Ikechukwu said: “We pay rent for the space allocated to us to do our business. But now, that the students are not on campus, we have little or no patronage. I don’t know who will compensate us for that?
“Caterers on campus are no longer selling their food unlike when the students are here. Every service provider: drivers, business centre owners, grocery shops owners are affected. The situation is bad.”
The unionists’ perspective
Also lamenting the strikes, Dr John Edor, ASUU chairman, University of Calabar said: “Oh yes, we too have continued to sustain enormous losses. When our students are not in school, we feel deep pain.
“Our students are not in school now because of the negligence of the Federal Government. Why are they finding it so difficult to implement an agreement they willingly and voluntarily signed?
“There is no ASUU member that will not like to be in his office working. We don’t enjoy staying at home.”
He disclosed that the Nigerian universities are now like ghost towns.
“They are like a desert. The University of Calabar where I teach is like a desert at the moment. Nothing is going on there.
“It is not in the interest of the students; it is not in the interest of the lecturers; it is not in the interest of the university; it is not even in the interest of the Federal Government,” he said.
He lambasted the government, saying: “We are saddened by the refusal of the government to fund the universities, the refusal of the government to pay the academic staff proper remuneration. This has a lot more impact on the students we produce than the strikes.
“When this goes on, the students come out half baked. Is it not better to address it than for the students to stroll through their programme and come out unable to defend the certificates they have earned? We want the government to properly fund the universities so that the best can be obtained in terms of productivity.”
Prof Aremu, equally decried the losses associated with incessant strike.
According to him, “no one likes strikes. As a teacher, everyone wants to do their job.
“Now, I tell you, as a lecturer, you are like a door, you see the outside, you see the inside.
“When you go outside, people start complaining: you are producing half-baked graduates. But they don’t know that you don’t have the requisite facilities to deliver.
“No one likes strikes because during the period, you are not giving your best.
“But again, no one likes to cut his nose to spite his face.”
Commenting on the time lost, he went philosophical saying: “Time is important in everything we do. Time wasted is life wasted; it cannot be recreated. It is lost.
“Time is one resource we often lose during strikes. A three-year course now lasts for five years all because of strike. That is sad.
“For lecturers, during a strike, you are not giving your optimum. This is a period to teach, but we now have none of that. Lecturers don’t teach during this period. That is bad enough.”
He also said: “Besides, some of our ASUU members are also students who cannot continue with their own studies.
“To me strike is an aberration. But what else do you do?
“We challenge ourselves. We table all the options, but they don’t work. You ask the traditional rulers to intervene; that yields nothing. You go to the legislature, but get nothing.
“In Nigeria, everything is about politics. There is no premium on education.”