EDITORIAL: ASUU STRIKE: Why Silence Is Not An Option

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On Monday, Feb 14, 2022, the Academic Staff of University Union (ASUU) embarked on a one-month warning strike owing to the fact that the Federal Government of Nigeria, under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, refused to meet the demands it had with the union. Top of ASUU’s demands is for the Federal Government to implement the Memorandum of Action it signed with the union in December 2020 on the 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement which led to the suspension of the strike then. Other demands include the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), a payment platform developed by ASUU, instead of the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS); releasing the arrears of Earned Academic Allowance (EAA), and funding for revitalization of public universities.

Before the one-month warning strike ended, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige made it clear that the Federal Government did not have sufficient funds to meet all the demands of the union. On March 14, when the warning strike expired, ASUU, under the leadership of Emmanuel Osodeke, extended the strike by 8 weeks, after concluding that the Federal Government had failed to satisfactorily address her demands within the period of the one-month strike. At the end of the eight weeks, the union announced a 14-week extension. The clock is ticking, and no one can tell how long our universities would remain closed.

Unfortunately, the party that bears the brunt, like the innocent grass in the elephants’ fight, are the students studying in public tertiary institutions. In the last 5 years, over 60 weeks – approximately one year and three months- have been lost to strike. It is even worse for students of the premier university, as our academic calendar is notoriously snailish.

For many years students of Nigerian public universities have been at the receiving end of the federal government’s nonchalance and ASUU’s recalcitrance. While the federal government may eventually reach an agreement with ASUU and fulfill all of their demands, the student’s wasted time, efforts, and resources cannot be regained. Studying a four-year course is now going to take five or more (depending on future occurrences). There are many students whose house rents are wasting away in Agbowo and other UI environs and will still have to renew them.

It’s not Just the Students who are affected

Apart from the frustrating prolongation of the students’ academic journeys, the ongoing strike, like previous ones, has smothered livelihood for some families. Do you ever think of the cab drivers, converging enthusiastically at the main entrance of the university to convey students to their various faculties and halls. The familiar commercial tumult at the bus shed is now gone, and the pockets of these drivers and traders long for naira notes. They watched their calendars on each passing day, looking forward to the end of the initial 2-month warning strike. One of them would sigh and announce to his unhappy comrades that there were six days left before things returned to normal. The strike has been extended by another three months. Their hopes were shattered again, when ASUU announced yet another extension.

It is a similar tale of hopelessness for most traders on campus. They watched their empty sheds, and hopelessly reminisced on the hitherto influx of students. How do these drivers and traders explain to their wards at home that the reason they could not afford to cater for their needs like before is the ASUU strike? 

We cannot quantify the negative effects of ASUU’s numerous industrial actions. UI in particular has lost a few students, who were pushed into other profitable engagements when they should have been in the classroom. Many have lost international scholarships and life-changing opportunities because they could not process their transcripts or conclude their final-year projects. The list of losses is endless, yet the end of this tunnel is hopelessly dim.

The Students Union should not stop at making the public plea to an undeterred President; the union should collaborate with NANS and join in the proposed nation-wide protest.  

The Federal Government has maintained that it cannot or will not meet ASUU’s demands, pleading instead that the lecturers return to schools. The union on the other hand shows no sign of backing down from its resolve to have its demands met. The owed salaries and arrears must be paid through a transparent non-extortive channel. That is ASUU’s stance. In this situation, what then can students, who are the major victims, do? The University of Ibadan Students’ Union, under the leadership of Adeyinka Adewole, wrote an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, urging him to resolve the matter with urgency. It is unlikely that the President would read the letter, but we hope he does. The union has also proposed a date for a protest, emulating schools like OAU, AND UNILAG, who had shut down major highways in expressing their frustration over the strike. The Big question, however, is that How effective will these turn out? We have a President that never listens to the citizens; who would rather pick his teeth than be perturbed by groaning Nigerians. This is not to discourage students of the premier university from joining the protest. It is the democratic thing to do. Beyond that, the student-leaders in the affected schools, as well as NANS, should meet in order to unify and solidify their respective efforts. A massive nation-wide protest would not be a bad idea; engaging the federal lawmakers could also facilitate a solution. There have to be some forces that can call ASUU and the Federal Government to order?

While we continue to plead with the federal government to meet ASUU’s demands. the academic union should be considerate in its demands. It is common knowledge that Nigeria is broke. The negotiators from each divide should make compromises for the sake of Nigerian students.

For Nigerian students, we must not lose our voices. We must join this struggle and hope for the best. The Students Union must, to the best of its ability, mobilize students for the protest scheduled for Tuesday, May 17. We should troop out to register our frustration, and hope that our voice is heard. Silence is definitely not an option.

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