By Tessy Igomu
Hopes that the on-going industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) might be called off immediately were dashed again on Tuesday, January 21. Expectations that a meeting held that day between Federal Government officials and ASUU leaders would finally bring an end to the three-month strike and lead to the resumption of academic activities on campus promptly evaporated like haze at the emergence of the morning sun.
And since then, students and their parents have been lamenting, wondering when the ordeal would end.
With every form of academic activity put on hold for almost three months since the strike commenced in November 2018, students across federal and state universities have been left in a lurch and are anxiously waiting to return to their lecture halls.
Since the federal government and ASUU fell out, a series of reconciliatory meetings between the union and the Federal Government have ended in a deadlock.
Speaking after the last meeting, Dr. Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, said the Federal Government had released N163 billion to ASUU from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) in order to have the strike called off.
“Most of the issues have been resolved, so they are going to go back to their members and present government’s offer to their council,’ he said.
However, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, ASUU national president, countered Ngige’s claim, maintaining that the strike would continue. He said the union would need to look at some grey areas in the proposal from the Federal Government.
Ogunyemi said the union and government have had seven meetings in all since the strike started, noting that government had always reneged on its promises.
With this latest development, most students have registered their displeasure, describing the strike as a harbinger of ill wind for Nigeria’s university education. They lamented that ASUU and the Federal Government were bent on ruining the future and academic pursuits of the present and coming generations.
Most students in their final year lamented that the strike had wrecked the academic calendar, regretting that they might end up spending additional years in the university.
Uduak Umoh, a postgraduate student of Mass Communication, University of Lagos (UNILAG), said she was feeling the brunt of the strike and urged the Federal Government to quickly do something, so that students can all resume classes.
“From what I have seen so far, the government is not showing commitment to ending this strike. They should endeavour to settle all outstanding agreements with both teaching and non-teaching university staff to enable us return to school,” she said.
Expressing frustration over the situation, Femi Oguntolu, a 300-level student of the University of Jos, said insincerity on the part of government led to the prolonged strike. He stressed that the crises could have been avoided if government had been sincere in implementing its agreements with ASUU. He noted that students were tired of the unending face-offs, leading to many students getting restless and going into crime.
Mr. Kenneth Nwankwo, a parent whose only son just secured admission into one of the old-generation universities, said he was sad and broken about the lingering strike. He noted that the initial euphoria that came with his son’s admission had died down. He blamed the nation’s untoward economic condition for his inability to enrol his son in a private university. He called on the federal government to expedite action and meet up with ASUU’s demands to save the country’s university education from gradual death.
“Why are we mortgaging the future of our children just because of personal gains? Look at other African countries, they are enjoying educational systems that are not interrupted by incessant strikes and other challenges. These countries, which in ranking do not measure up to Nigeria, have very high standard of education. How do we expect our children to compete favourably with their counterparts that schooled abroad or went to private universities?”
Condemning the never-ending strike, Kunle Owolabi, an undergraduate of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, said the inability of the federal government to reach a compromise with ASUU is gradually killing the university system as well as making Nigeria a laughing stock in the comity of nations.
“I don’t see why this show of wits should continue. We as students are yet to understand why federal government and ASUU allowed this issue to degenerate to this point. They should reach an agreement to end this strike.
“I was meant to graduate this year but, from all indications, that cannot happen. I feel left behind, especially when I see my counterparts in private universities already set for youth service,” he said.
Similarly, Nnaji Okoye, a 200-level student of Psychology at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, pleaded with government to meet ASUU’s demands. He said he had been wasting time at home and has become depressed by the seemingly endless strike.
His words: “I already made projections towards when I would graduate and what I hope to achieve within a stipulated time after my graduation. But, with the way things are going, my plans are gradually turning to a mirage. Since I don’t know when the strike would end, I have enrolled in a vocational training centre to acquire skills that would fetch me money in the absence of education. Our leaders are bent on ensuring that no meaningful leader comes out of this present generation.”
Tunmise Adeniji, a final year student of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, said she was frustrated with the situation and had become unhappy idling away at home. In her words, the Federal Government should urgently find a lasting solution to issues of strike plaguing the education system.”
She noted that the strike would affect the number of years she and other students would spend in the university, putting them at a disadvantage. She also lamented that the adverse effects of the industrial action on students would be long-lasting and far-reaching.
“The incessant strikes have altered the school calendar. I plead with the Federal Government to wake up and brace up to its responsibilities. Inasmuch as I know that some of the demands are meant to favour us as students, we are no longer finding the whole situation funny. We are the ones suffering from this whole crisis.
“Most of our lecturers, federal government employees and even ASUU officials have their children schooling abroad. So, even if the strike should last a whole year, they have nothing to lose. My plea is that the strike should be called off,” she said.