How ASUU’s incessant strikes bring suffering to Nigerian students in public universities
NEWS DIGEST – ASUU strike has become another problem Nigerian students have had to battle with for years. This incessant industrial action has made many spend more years than expected in different tertiary institutions in the country, one would imagine why the Government and ASUU, are yet to settle their rift, knowing full well that Nigerian students are the ones to bear the brunt of their unending battles. Caleb Ijioma in this report peeped into the ASUU frequent industrial action, their demand, and students’ perspective to these strikes that have made them lose faith in the education sector of the country and of course, possible solutions.
A background into ASUU strike
Since the return of democracy in 1999, The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has embarked on various strike actions against the government. Findings have revealed that the just-announced 4 weeks warning strike will make it the 16th time the union has embarked on industrial action.
In 1999, the union embarked on an industrial action that lasted for five months Few months after the Obasanjo-Atiku administration was sworn in, which ended up disrupting academic activities. Two years later, ASUU declared another strike over the reinstatement of 49 lecturers sacked at the University of Ilorin. The strike was called off after 3 months.
Having had an agreement with the Federal Government during the 2001 strike, the union was forced to embark on another industrial action on Sunday, December 29, 2002, which lasted for two weeks.
In 2003, Nigerian university undergraduates had to stay at home again for six months as ASUU embarked on another industrial action due to the non-implementation of previous agreements, which covered poor university funding and disparity in salary and retirement age.
ASUU resumed industrial action in 2005 and ended in 2 weeks. In April 2006 academic activities were paralyzed in all public universities across the country when ASUU declared a 3-day warning strike which eventually lasted for one week. The 2006 industrial action was followed by another on March 26, 2007, which lasted for three months.
ASUU went on another strike for one week in 2008. Their demands included an improved salary scheme and reinstatement of 49 lecturers who were dismissed at the University of Ilorin. In 2009, lecturers in public universities across the country embarked on an industrial action that lasted for four months. The strike which started in June was called off in October.
Another industrial action by ASUU commenced on 22 July 2010 and was called off in January 2011.
In December 2011, ASUU commenced another industrial action following the failure of the FG to fund universities in the country and implement the 70-year retirement age limit for ASUU members. The strike lasted for 59 days and was called off in 2012.
Again in 2013, the government’s failure to review the retirement age for professors from 65 to 70; approve funding to revitalize the university system; increase the budgetary allocations to the education sector by 26% among other demands led to another industrial action. The strike commenced on July 1, 2013, and was called off on Tuesday, December 17, 2013. It lasted for five months, 15 days.
4 years later, ASUU embarked on another industrial action on the 17th of August, 2017. It was called off in September. In 2018, the union declared an indefinite nationwide strike on Sunday, November 4, 2018, after their National Executive Council meeting held at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State.
Nigeria students suffered more after ASUU embarked on another strike in march 2020 over the non-payment of salaries of ASUU members who failed to enrol into the federal government’s IPPIS, a payroll software mandated for all public officials and some unmet agreements between ASUU and successive administrations. This strike lasted for 10 months, the longest in the history of union strike actions. It was eventually called off on December 23, 2020, when the Memorandum of Action (MoA) was signed with the Federal Government.
ASUU 2022 strike
After serious deliberations by the National Executive Council, NEC, of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, has On Feb, 14, declared a one-month warning strike following the failure of the Federal Government to implement the famous 7th February 2019 Memorandum of Action (MoA), which contained important highlights of the 2009 ASUU-FGN agreement and aggregated the cardinal arguments of the 2012 and 2013 MoUs and the 2017 MoA. It also blamed the government for failing to implement the December 2020 MoA which concluded the longest strike in the history of our nation.
NANS spits fire
The National Association of Nigerian Students president, Sunday Asefon, has described the union Industrial action as reckless and irresponsible, noting that ASUU failed to consider the implications it would have on students and tertiary institutions’ academic calendar.
“We are appalled by the impunity, recklessness, and irresponsibility the managers of this negotiation from both sides of the table have managed the fragile situation allowing it to degenerate to the level of industrial action. We are therefore compelled to believe that negotiators from both sides acted so irresponsibly because of their apathy of the interest and welfare of the major stakeholder of the sector(students) during the negotiations.
“We are equally disappointed at the government for not doing everything possible to avert this embarrassment. We are also disappointed with the ASUU for reaching this conclusion irrespective of the implications to the students, academic calendar, research they claim to love, national security, and sanity.”
Asefon, therefore, declared a nationwide protest by different student organizations. He called for students to support their call for a protest stressing that the association’s decision will be irreversible until the strike is called off.
“The Government and ASUU by this action sent a direct message to Nigerian students to also take positions comfortable for our side of the table irrespective of the implications. Let me say equivocally that we will respond in clear language, the language the oppressors understand.”
“I passionately appeal to all students leaders, NANS structures, and organs across the nation to mobilize to our national non-elective congress on the 17th of February where far-reaching decisions shall be made on our collective response to this blatant lack of patriotism, human feelings, and feelings for the collective future of education in Nigeria.”
“Our decisions shall be decisive, collective, and irreversible until the strike is called off. We shall fight this impunity and recklessness without any consideration other than an immediate end to this strike.”
The association accused the ministry of labour of being responsible for ASUU incessant strikes and advised that the student body be included in the ASUU-FG negotiation process.
“We, therefore, inform the Minister of Labour to expect us in our numbers, and ASUU should be ready to return to the table to end this avoidable, reckless and repugnant strike. Let me assure the Minister of Labour that our protest in his office today is introductory and child play in what is yet to come. We are resolute more than before to ensure we hold the government, especially the ministry of labour responsible for these incessant strike actions.”
“Further negotiations should as a matter of urgency have students representative as part of the parties to allow balance in decisions that are capable of impairing the lives of students and derailing their progress. The contentions and issues are triangular and must be treated so, going forward,” Asefon said.
Students cry bitterly over incessant strikes
Students who spoke to this reporter expressed their grievances over the union’s incessant strikes and how it has affected their academic pursuits.
Amanda Odiete, a 500 level Pharmacy student at the University of Benin (UNIBEN), said that her interest in education is dwindling due to the ASUU strike.
“My interest in school is diminishing because of the ASUU strike. I don’t think this strike will solve any problem, especially as the money keeps increasing. I don’t like this idea of a strike. If I come back from this strike, do you think I’ll still have an interest in school? No. I’ve been in school since 2015 and was hoping that I’d graduate in 2021 and this is 2022; there’s not even a possibility that I’d graduate this year. I still have one more year to go, meaning that I’d spend two extra years in school as against my initial plan to spend 6 years. I just want to graduate, I’ve lost interest in my academics,” she said.
Abdulrasheed Akere at Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto (UDUS), told Campus Life said that he’s afraid that ASUU might not call off the one-month warning strike.
“I feel so bad about it, it’s a way of delaying and wasting our time as an undergraduate. We have been kept in suspense since last week, now to come and declare a one-month warning strike, there’s no assurance that they will resume after that speculated time. What pains me the most is that after we (UDUS) vacate, I didn’t go home for a holiday just because I thought we will resume by ending of this month according to our school academic calendar, but ASUU has disrupted the plan,” he said.
The ASUU strike is not a new thing and students should see it as an opportunity to broaden their horizons, seize opportunities to learn new things, Rahma Jimoh of Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) told Campus Life. She advised that students should learn new skills instead of focusing solely on education and white-collar jobs.
“I don’t like that Universities have to strike now and then. I understand it’s our reality here in Nigeria and strike is something all students in Federal and State Universities have to experience at least twice if not yearly in their University days. Hence strike is not a new thing and students should see it as an opportunity to broaden their horizons, seize opportunities to learn new things. There are so many soft skills and so many free platforms to learn from. Students should not wait until they graduate, it is hard out there.”
“I have long seen strikes as an opportunity for me to brush on skills I’d need after school. The country is hard and any wise person knows better than to put all their eggs in one basket especially if that basket is education or a white-collar job,” she said.
Another student of the University of Benin, Nwachukwu Faith, said that the government is playing with the lives of students.
“The Federal government is playing with our lives. Why would someone spend more than 4 years in school for a 4-year course? So many questions are yet to be answered.
“We are not coming to school for free, why shouldn’t we receive lectures. This strike is not necessary,” she said.
A 300 level student of Adekunle Ajasin University (AAUA), Samuel Agbelusi, who spoke to this reporter said the ASUU strike has both good and bad effects but most importantly sacrifices should be made to have quality education in the country.
“At this point, it is a good development having that the FG has refused to oblige to their demands and the election period is here and the government will be ready to do anything to win the hearts of the masses so ASUU s trying to take advantage of that.”
“If we look at it on the other side, it is also a bad effect because basically, it will make students spend extra years again despite the effect of covid-19 and in a school like Adekunle Ajasin University, the effect of the protest that happened last year. So it’s a bad effect, regardless of all this, the strike is a good thing.”
“Quality education is what we’ve been agitating for and we have to do what it takes even if it’s for us to make some sacrifices to make sure the younger ones benefit from a quality education. It is a month strike and hopefully, the government will call them to a round table and discuss effectively,” he said.
A 300 level Crop and Environmental Protection student at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho, (LAUTECH), Nweke Chineye, said that the union industrial action is the only way they can drive home their demands.
“I feel it’s the only Language the federal government understands. This would affect students’ stipulated time for studying a particular course. And surely, none of the compensation received in the end would reach the student populace. However, as I said earlier, it’s the only language the Federal Government understands,” she said.
Michael Ademola, a law student of Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) told students to avoid blaming ASUU for their incessant strike.
“FG and ASUU routinely gripping each other’s throat is a result of underfunding education. However painful as it may be, ASUU is not at fault, students are even the greatest beneficiary of the struggle. The Nigerian populace should rather channel the aggression towards Buhari,” he said.
Emmanuel Ndubueze from the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), blamed ASUU for calling off industrial actions without the government meeting their demands. He opined that ASUU strike intervals are frustrating students’ plans.
“Since 2009, we have been going on strike because of the same reason and when they embark on strike they were applying the same reason to appeal to our conscience to drag sentiment again and then the government will come with the same approach, they will give them money, they will call off strike, after a year they will come back again. The same issue since 2009 till date and the thing is that it’s very annoying and sincerely annoying.
“If they are serious with what they’re asking for, if they go on strike until those demands are made, I don’t see any reason for all these breaks and they keep deceiving us. Most of them don’t have children in the universities even if they have not in our public universities so, they’re using it to punish the students of the poor. We’re the ones at the receiving end. The government loses nothing because even while they’re at home they will get their salaries.”
Abdusalam Bello, a 300 level microbiology student at Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB), told campus life that ASUU incessant strikes have encouraged early pregnancy and cybercrime.
“Some students have been deprived of education like female students, especially most of them would have gotten pregnant and even some guys would have resorted to doing cybercrime. The strike has had an impact on the nation. If our teachers are not willing to teach us, to impact knowledge, we would have rascals in the country, more of yahoo boys, more of prostitutes, more of harmed robbers,” he said.
Aguwamba Henry, a student of Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED), said that the government cares less about students’ future and this has resulted in a setback for students in different universities.
“ASUU strike is a form of setback for the students actually. The government is neglecting the federal school and the state schools because most of them are political leaders and have Private universities. So I don’t always blame ASUU for going on strike. When I heard the news I was not happy. Their children are in private universities, a lot of them are outside the country. This is not supposed to be. I want to finish school, I want to start my own life,” he said
ASUU incessant strike is legal
A Lagos-based Human rights lawyer, Festus Ogun, has said that ASUU’s incessant industrial action is backed by the law. He emphasized that ASUU has all the moral and legal right to embark on industrial actions following the failure of the government to honour the union agreements.
“Labour unions have the right to embark on strike in the protection of their rights and interests. ASUU can as well embark on strike so long as the government continues to act infidel to agreements. No law can stop a labour union from crying when it is being mercilessly beaten by the irresponsibility of authorities.”
“It is within ASUU’s labor rights to embark on strike. And given the failure of the government to honor clear-cut agreements, ASUU has all the moral and legal right to embark on industrial actions,” Ogun said
Poor education funding, a problem in Nigeria.
Shittu Fowora, A public Affairs Expert, told Campus Life that lack of poor education funding has resulted in the diverse problems faced in the education sector. He opined that much cannot be achieved as a country without allocating enough funds to the education sector.
“The incessant strikes by ASUU have had a terrible impact on our educational sector. It obstructs people’s personal plans as it were, when you’re talking about having to seek admissions, plan your budget, your annual arrangements, to have a four-year program to end in four years when you keep on striking it disrupts that plan. What that does is to leave a lot of youngsters behind. People who need to pursue education beyond undergraduate study for their Masters and PhD. As the case may be, there is no government that can resolve the issue that ASUU has raised by fiat.”
“You cannot lead a solution but you can come into agreement to see how you can resolve most of those issues. For example; everyone knows the United Nations recommendation for budgeting of funds in terms of education. I think it is about 26%. Nigeria has never gone past 10% as much as I know in terms of funding. The problem is; why do we remunerate political office holders more than we remunerate our academics.”
“We have poor funding for development and you cannot achieve much in a country when you can’t research problems, you cannot proffer solutions that people can see and feel. So, the problems in Nigeria. People would look at lecturers striking the academic calendar and ask how they are solving our problems? What new ideas are you bringing to the table”
Mr Shittu advised the government to include ASUU in the budget implementation and other processes related to Education in the country.
“However, if you look at how the government does things, I think it is high time the government started taking ASUU along, budget implementation and stuff like that because if Lecturers are part of the process, it is almost impossible for them to have issues with the government. If at the end of the process of the budgeting everything pulls through and then in terms of implementation, it will be a joint thing and there will hardly be any problems between the two. When the members of the academia are not brought in during the budgeting process then there is a chance that these things will keep popping up. There is a promise in multiple directions because for parents, it means more spending for every extra day, extra months, an extra season that the students stay at home on their own terms.”
He went further to encourage students to keep learning despite the ASUU strike stressing that students can learn from anywhere in the world
“For students who are on strike, it is a problem to them because a lot of people assume that once there is a strike then it means education and learning stops. But we live in a world that is highly competitive and the new competition is collaboration. So, you can be in Nigeria and study whatever you’re studying, as long as we have access to the internet, you should be able to check across the world. Check South Africa for example, check-in Sierra Leone in Ghana or Kenya or the United Kingdom or the United State of America or whatever part of the world as it were.”
“Check what it is they are doing in your course of study and collaborate with students in those universities and then learn from them. Share knowledge with them because you’re not learning to fit into the Nigerian society alone. You’re learning to solve the problems of the world. You should be able to learn or collaborate with people outside your world.”