SPECIAL REPORT: HOW ASUU STRIKE TRAILS NIGERIAN STUDENTS IN BLUES AND BLOOMS

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By:  Ai’sha Babátúndé

 

Barely an hour after Maryam Adeyinka had tossed herself off the bed to observe the night prayer and had drowsily gone back, an outburst of excitement rented the air of Obafemi Awolowo Hall, University of Ibadan. The ebony skinned final year student at the University of Ibadan was disgusted and grunted at the ear-splitting noise.

She swiftly dragged her wary body off the bed to know the raison d’etre of the jubilation. Before any bit of information could be got, a quirking praise song accomplished with bucket-drumming blared through: “Ẹ ṣe ASUU, ẹ ṣe o. Adupẹ fun strike yii” (Thank you ASUU, thank you for embarking on strike).

Again, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had declared a nationwide strike, starting the next day — Monday, November 5, 2018. It was just few weeks before the commencement of the second semester examinations at the University of Ibadan; thus, Maryam felt betrayed for the second time.

Hapless Not Hopeless

The year 2013 would always resonate in Maryam’s mind as a year of betrayal and almost total waste for her and other final year students whose courses of study span for five or six years. The 2013 ASUU strike which lasted for six months was a dent on Maryam’s celebration of gaining admission to UI. But the pain she felt now couldn’t be compared to then. As a freshman in 2013, she could tolerate any wait so far her admission remained intact. Now in her finals, she was only two months away from graduation before ASUU came calling for strike.

“Back in 2013, it really didn’t weigh much as it does now. You know as a Jambite (a freshman) then, all you could think of was just entering ‘uni’ and feeling like you belong there too. But now, I’m more than pained. I mean I’m spending six years already in the ‘uni’ for a five-year course,” she blurted, looking keenly worried.

Asked if the strike had been productive to her, at this moment, she could only let out her beautifully dimpled smile; she’d been able to accomplish some feats which she wouldn’t have if not for the availability of time provided by the strike action. “I’m done with my final year project way back December last year, and now, I’m learning web development and I’ve also read a pretty lot of books ever since,” she stated, musingly.

Like Maryam, to Yusuf Akinpelu, a final year student at the same university, the strike had profited him beyond what he had hoped for. “For me, every academic interstice like this is a pill of positivity. It heals many things in me. I’ve been able to make some new discoveries about myself and tried my hands on new ventures. I can say I’ve been blessed by those ventures. I’ve written a couple of pieces, read a number of books, travelled to a number of places and had some nice time with my family members. I’ve also had some good hours of sleep. I’m not sure it comes better than this,” he said.

Did Yusuf feel excited that the strike was ended? No! His anxiety had levelled up. Unlike Maryam, he was yet to be done with his project writing. He said: “I’m yet to hit the needed nails in the hinges of my project. I would have loved to do before I’m back for exams.”

The Crux Of The Matter

In a 2009 agreement between ASUU and the FG, the union had made a demand of a sum of ₦1.3 trillion for the revitalisation of public universities in Nigeria for a period of six years. Again in 2013, the Union embarked on a six-month strike as a result of the Federal Government flouting the 2009 FG-ASUU agreement; a Moment of Understanding (MoU) was signed and it was stipulated that the sum of ₦1.3trillion would be paid for a modest revitalisation of public universities in tranches of ₦200 billion in 2013, ₦220billion in 2014, ₦220billion in 2015, ₦220billion in 2016, ₦220billion in 2017 and ₦22billion in 2018. The FG under President Jonathan administration only paid 200 billion in 2013; thus reneged the payment of subsequent years.

In 2017 when the union went on a brief strike, a Moment of Action (MoA) against the Moment of Understanding (2012 and 2013) which the union thought a change in title of the agreement would result in quick change within six weeks, was signed by ASUU Chairman Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, NLC President, Ayuba Wabba and Labour Minister, Chris Ngige. ASUU demanded the payment of the ₦220billion; the FG replied expressing its inability to pay the money because it wasn’t budgeted for in 2017, it then offered to pay ₦20billion as a sign of commitment to revitalising the universities, come 2018.

The non-implementation of issues contained in the 2017 Moment of Action (MoA) between the duo and the renegotiation of 2009 agreements became the cause of the Union’s recent industrial action that began on November 4, 2018 and lasted for 3 months. Led by its National President- Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, the National Executive Council (NEC) of the ASUU at the Federal University of Technology, Akure called for “a total comprehensive and indefinite strike” to press home their demand on payment of fund for revitalisation of public universities based on FG-ASUU MoU of 2012, 2013 and 2017; payment of all arrears of shortfall in salaries to all universities that have met the verification requirements of the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA); and action on release of operational license to the Nigerian University Employees Pension Company (NUPEMCO).

According to the ASUU Chairman, “revitalisation is key to this issue. That was the point I was making when we had the exit engagement and Senator Ngige was saying we agreed on many issues. There are issues that did not require agreement. If you say you will set up a committee and you do. It is implementation not agreement. So, our intention is not to attack any government but to get our demands.”

“They didn’t release any money. If we are talking about 1.1trillion that they should release in tranches and government has not said they will work towards one tranche, then how do you think our members will take that from us? They are mixing up issues. They did not tell us the contentious issues,” Prof Ogunyemi bemoaned, adding that “it is worrisome that the FG could earmark seven percent budgetary allocation to fund education, when the United Nations Educational and Socio-Cultural Organisation recommended 26 percent.”

“ASUU Strike Turned Me Into An Entrepreneur…”

Muslimah Ayinde’s venture into the entrepreneurial world is the perfect depiction of “when life throws you lemons, make lemonade from them.” Being a lady who eyes economic independence, the 300-level student of Usman Danfodiyo University had often thought of setting up a business before graduation, but she would find herself with paucity of time and resources to bring out the incubation of the idea into fruition. Luckily for her, ASUU strike popped up. She then gathered all her savings from staying at home and sailed off to join the cohorts of young entrepreneurs across Nigerian campuses.

“ASUU Strike actually brought the idea of doing something. I’ve always hated the idea of being at home without doing anything tangible; this can be so annoying and exhausting. So, I gathered my savings, sought people’s advice and ventured into what I thought could make me a bit busy during this period,” she said.

Though embittered by the academic disruption caused by ASUU strike, she has come into full realisation of potentials embedded in the world outside the institution’s wall and now, she’s ready to bring up herself for greater benchmarks/ exploits.

“Though ASUU strike might be a setback in my academics, I believe if I put more efforts on my business, I’d reach my target and still continue even when the strike gets called off. Funny enough, I had to thank ASUU for making me see that education in my country might be challenging, but looking out of the university’s wall can also be good,” added, expressively.

Farming Out The Boredom

The kind of ennui that comes from staying at a place without recourse to work or engagement has been revealed to be very depressing and tiring. The three months old strike has rendered some inert to the point of total boredom.
This wasn’t just a gut feeling which Bashir Turawa had to deal with after spending few weeks at home. He had thought of ways of liberating himself from the repression. The penultimate student of Literature at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto who hails from Kwara had grown tired of just staying at home and, studying at home had been difficult for him. So, in due time, he could only succumb to joining his family farming business.

While he had enjoyed going to farm on three days of the week, he still felt the strike hadn’t worth it at all. Not only had the strike been ‘unproductive’ to him, it had also hindered his means of being financially buoyant.

Asked why he felt that way, “I receive monthly allowance from home while in school but since I’ve been at home with them; this has stopped. All I want is money and knowledge and the strike hasn’t in anyway helped in achieving these,” he replied.

Other Student Entrepreneurs speak

Like few conscious students who couldn’t give room for any lurking Lucifer in search of an idle mind for workshop, Rabiat had gone back to her shoe-cobbling work upon the commencement of the strike. The tall, elegant lady with a smile-wearing face and brownish olive skin is a final year student of History at the University of Ibadan who had begun her apprenticeship in shoe-making way back in January 2017. Her flair for artistry had prompted her interest in shoe-making — an unusual interest for girls.

Previously before the strike, she had had limited time to pursue her passion (shoe-making) further than a tedious academic life could afford her. Like a toddler being handed a precious Christmas gift, her joy knew no bound upon learning of the news of the strike.

Did she still feel the joy?

In a voice message, Rabiat clamped her emotions in a sighing release — an action that signalled the opposite of all the happiness she had felt at the beginning of the strike. Not that she had grown tired of doing her shoe-making work; she’s on the edge of divide of want and need — she wants to graduate sooner enough even though the strike had marred her hope of graduating at the due time and she needs more customers to patronise her since her major customers are students who were nowhere near the campus.

“At first, I was enjoying the surfeit of time on my plate to iron out things I’ve been meaning to do all the while. I’ve got time to face my shoe-making work squarely without fear of laden academic work. But sincerely now, it’s affecting me. The larger per cent of my customers are UI students who are still at home. Low patronage is at its peak. And moreover, I want to graduate soon.

“I’m tired of seeing my Facebook profile page signalling I’ve graduated from the university in 2018 which in real life, I have not,” she stated.

To Victor Adeyemo who despises idleness and wants to be financially independent by making good quality foot-wears at affordable prices, the strike came in two folds — it had been good and sour.

“It has helped me focus more on the business and surf new terrains. I couldn’t do that without ASUU strike because there were my academics and other responsibilities I was engaged in,” he revealed. But how had it been sour?

Like Rabiat, Victor complained of shortage in patronage. The strike again had robbed another shoe-maker off his patriotic customers who had been sent home to enjoy the moment of tussle between the FG and ASUU over financial empowerment and rehabilitation of Nigerian universities.

Unlike the duo above, Toyyib Ojuolape had a different story to tell. Currently observing his compulsory 6-month IT as a student of Petroleum Engineering, Toyyib seemed to be replete with blessings by the Heavens in the business world. The strike had provided more time for his start-up — a writing and publishing community — to grow and expand beyond the regular level when schools are in sessions. The founder of ‘Tell!’ expressed his enthusiasm towards the hovering delay in academics as a blessing that has encouraged many young Nigerians to take up writing as escapade; thus increasing number of young writers in the country.

“It has been a blessing. My start-up is a publishing community that lets young people write and share stories. The ASUU strike has made it possible for our users to be consistent, made it possible for us to successfully launch new products such as the Tell! Writer’s search and campaigns like the Tell! Awards in December, 2018. The user engagement on our platform has improved significantly because young people aren’t too engaged with their academics.”

Asked how he felt about ASUU strike being called off, he established his full readiness and happiness for resumption, noting that he’s quite sad personally about the strike.

Left In The Rumble, Confused…

Tolani Ayodeji, a 300-level student of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) fumed in furiousity over what the said ASUU strike had caused and cost in her school. But her fury could only amount to few posts on the social media; nothing less, nothing more since the powers-that-be are in control.

Tolani, a Geology student, hardly believed her ears when news reached her that academic activities in her department had been grounded to a halt while other departments in the university remained unperturbed by the chairman of ASUU’s declaration of industrial strike.

There was a crack in OAU’s ASUU and infraction couldn’t be avoided as a result of disagreement in the leadership of the union. Thus, the union is polarised into two factions. As a result of the development, one of the factional leaders of the Union, Dr Egbedooku had at the Union’s congress, directed its members to join the strike to press home their demands of adequate funding for revitalisation of public universities among other issues. But the leadership of the other faction tagged: Congress of Nigerian Universities (CONU), led by Dr Niyi Sunmonu ordered its members not to comply with the directive as their faction was bound by the decision of ASUU.

Worse more to come was when other departments in the university started writing exams and the department of Geology was left behind the rail because some members of the ASUU faction in support of the strike are lecturers in the department.
Expressing her vehemence on the development, Tolani couldn’t understand why there exits “a divided management” in a school.

“It’s really bad to see how other departments are writing examination or done already with the 2017/2018 session while we are not even done with academic work when commencement of examination was announced by the school management. We don’t know our stand whether we’ll attend some lectures and write exam when others are on sessional break or we’ll still be in part 3 when our mates are in part 4. It is really confusing and annoying,” she said, heaving a sigh of dismay. “Why will there be two managements in one school?” She asked, confusely.

A Clog In The Wheel Of Progress

World over, university education is often placed on premium for, the university stands as a ‘soothing spring’ of knowledge that compliments human capital development. Through university education, knowledge creation, ideation and innovation-all earmarked for human capital development, have been brought about. Of all things the society expects from the university as a fountain of intellectual ground, the production of tomorrow leaders; highly skilled personnel with problem-solving skills for developmental problems in technology, management, economy, scientific research field and academics, is placed on premium. It is also believed that the honest and relentless pursuit of truth for a better understanding of the world is the remit of all universities. It is, thus, no incertitude that investment in university education is a critical element of national development interest.

Since universities play important roles in national development, the success of the university system should be premised on proper and efficient management across the globe. Unfortunately in Nigeria, the tube of progress in the university system is often punctured by the evil claws of underfunding, lack of cutting-edge facilities, and to mention a few. Little wonder, consistent strike action by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) as a result of poor funding by the Federal Government, disrupts academic plans.

The constant cessation of academic activities caused by the incessant industrial action by ASUU has usually posed more challenges to the students, the university system and in holus-bolus, the educational system in Nigeria. That ASUU strike does not only distort academic plans and bring about erosion of academic quality is meiosis of its far adverse on all. Its consistent trend, over the years, has resulted in inconsistent academic calendar systems where uniformity has been lost — this would not ease government policies on universities — and also affects students’ academic pursuit and performance upon resumption. It keeps students out of school; makes them indulge in social vices such as robbery, thuggery, rape, arson, cybercrime (internet fraud) and to cite a few.

In a research carried out by Dr Olusegun Ajayi, a lecturer of Sociology at the Ekiti State University in 2014 after the 2013 long ASUU strike, the findings showed that71.2% of the respondents have experienced ASUU strike and 51.65% admitted that ASUU strikes have had negative influence on their academics. Almost sixty percent (59.5%) believed that government can find a lasting solution to the problems of ASUU strikes through prompt and rewarding dialogue that grants the request of ASUU timely.

Meanwhile, ASUU Chairman has said: “the last thing ASUU members love doing is to cause disruption in smooth intellectual engagements with colleagues, friends and students right on our university campuses. This has nothing to do with the dubious advertorial of “non-disruption of academic calendar by proprietors and administrators of some cash-and-carry universities and other self-styled enemies of ASUU. Rather, it is about deep-seated pains members of the Union undergo to prevent strike actions and the equally painful consequences strike situations bring to all who are genuinely averse to the mercantile disposition to university education.”

ASUU Strike Suspension: Losing The Battle To Win The War?

Of course, the phrase “ASUU suspends strike” subconsciously resonates in a cynical mind as “the struggle continues.” It is a wary reminder of a possible reoccurrence of the strike action, should government breach the FG-ASUU agreement.

Some believe the suspension of the strike is another window dressing by the government for its concerns over the recently postponed Presidential election. It has been observed that the delay in reaching agreement with the Union by the Federal Government was a result of its concerns for other competing items for the limited funds available. Many even argue that the strike was called off because the large youth population participating in voting might be disenfranchised if the strike persisted, and they might be used as political weaponry in brewing chaos during elections. Thus, the fast-paced action by the FG to stall the issue before the postponed Saturday elections by agreeing to pay commitment payment of 25billion at the eleventh hour to the general elections.

The ASUU Chairman, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi who announced the union’s decision of suspending the strike, stated that “in addition to the ₦20billion for 2018, the sum of ₦25billion only would be released in April/May 2019, after which government would resume full implementation of the MoU of 2013.” He also lamented that “ASUU’s strike action which started on 4th November, 2018, was situated in the context of accumulated records of indifference and lackadaisical attitude of the government to negotiated agreements with the Union.”

However, uncertainty beclouds the fruition of the renegotiation of the FG-ASUU agreement as history has taught her hardest lesson on the Union about holding the men in-power by their words; ASUU has often been snowballed by the lip service the FG pays as a result of power shift.

While there is scepticism about ASUU retiring from the small battle to win a big war in the future, it is noteworthy to mention the achievement of the Union in its ardent struggle against FG for enactment of The Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) Act as a transformative intervention agency for rehabilitation, restoration, and consolidation of the tertiary education in Nigeria.

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