A 500 level student of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Jos Elizabeth Agene said to me: it is obviously frustrating staying at home. Another student of Enugu State University, Gladys Ijeh added that this strike is just a means some group of people are using to collect their own share of the national cake from the government.
When you seek the views of undergraduates, post-graduates, parents and others on the four months old industrial dispute between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal government of Nigeria, you will receive varied opinions about the labour impasse but what is clear is that everyone is tired.
It has become almost a yearly ritual for teachers at the tertiary level to embark on strike for one reason or the other leaving students to bear the brunt of the negligence on so many fronts. This years’ turn is no different from the many previous ones, however the front burner issues are the allowances which government agreed to pay lecturers in 2009, greater funding of universities among others. The package has accumulated to about N87 billion as the standard of education is now at its all-time low. Not a single Nigerian university made the different world rankings of top 100 universities in the world while Egypt made the list.
The bickering between government and ASUU continues on the pages of newspapers while the supposed leaders of tomorrow waste away at home, as they are clearly the grass that is suffering as the two elephants war it out.
The strike has taken great toll on the students as it is evident on social networks – from Twitter to Facebook, it is all about lamentation. In what would have become one of the worst stories, an undergraduate of University of Abuja attempted to end her own life. According to Dailypost.com.ng, the female student identified as Jane Okoro had already hanged herself, but fell off the ceiling while struggling, apparently because the rope she used was not strong enough. A coalition of civil society organizations and market women staged a protest in Abuja during which they made it clear that the strike action has increased prostitution in the country.
At this junction, one will be tempted to ask: what has federal government done to end this impasse? The government through a committee that was chaired by the Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam, made the university teachers an initial offer of N30 billion on the earned allowances and N100 billion for infrastructural development in the universities. The union was quick to reject this, stating that their demand must be fully met before they return to the class room. As negotiations continued, FG shifted grounds, pledging to spend N200 billion on universities in the 2014 budget and same amount annually for the next three to four years. This is in addition to the N100 billion already made available this year, but which ASUU rejected.
The government has also increased to N40 billion, as a first installment, funds for the payment of earned allowances to the striking lecturers – an improvement from the N30 billion previously released. Government also promised to top up N40 billion with further releases once universities are through with disbursing the N40 billion. The varsity teachers again remained adamant insisting that their demand has to be fully addressed before they can call their members back to work.
The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), a body that ought to be in the forefront of the struggle to end this strike, has become a house divided against itself. NANS is in two factions, one in support of FG’s efforts while the other is solidly behind ASUU, leaving the students they are supposed to represent right in the cross fire of this war of words that appears not to be ending soon.
Tahwo Oseruvwoja, a 300 level Law student in the University of Jos in his piece, Student Union Reaction to ASUU Strike, a positive pointer to the Necessity of the ASUU Demand, wrote: NANS has consistently compromised and failed to serve the interest of the Nigerian students because of poor quality in leadership. It is absolutely saddening to see an association like NANS being used by politicians to score cheap political points, students pathetically jostling for their money and happily doing their bids irrespective of what it takes. In a society where government is notorious for reneging on promises, isn’t there any other means of protesting government’s habitual wrong doing other than industrial action which often leaves students worst off?
ASUU has to figure a better way to make her voice of discontent heard since strike has proven to be a vicious circle. Government on its part must fashion a way to keep its end of each agreement it enters into in order to avoid constant and unnecessary disruptions of public universities in Nigeria.
A 500 level Nursing Student in Unijos, Hajia Oduh said this jokingly,"as a student in Nigeria, you will know your admission year but graduation year is only known to God." As 2013 gradually winds down, students can only hope that ASUU and FG will find a common ground to agree soon, given the fact that this standoff has wasted a semester already.
No nation in the world is known to have developed with poor educational system, it goes without saying that we are only on the path of doom if we continue on this promise and fail route.