It is still a long journey to ending the strike embarked upon by the nation’s university teachers, CHARLES ABAH writes
Eneke the bird says since men have learnt to shoot without missing, it has learnt to fly without perching. This is one of the Igbo proverbs that readers come across in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Like the bird, a good number of students of various universities across the country have learnt to convert the adversity provoked by their lecturers’ ongoing strike into positive ideas.
Although there is the fear that many of the thousands of the undergraduates forced to stay at home may be tempted to engage in untoward activities, investigation by our correspondent shows that some of them are going into positive and meaningful ventures. For example, Oluwaseun Sanusi, a final year Sociology student of the University of Ibadan, says the strike has opened up a vista of business opportunities for him.
Instead of idling away during this period, he engages in marketing Information Technology gadgets online. He sells and delivers online, items that include BlackBerry phones, Ipods and MP4s, to buyers.
“Just today, I sold and delivered an iphone that a cousin of mine in the United Kingdom sent to me for N70,000 and made a profit of N8,000. Agreed, the venture is not an everyday thing, I have no regret taking to the business while I wait for my teachers to end their strike,” he notes.
Another student, Ronke Adefalujo, of the University of Abuja, is now a make-up artist. From the initial N10, 000 the Theatre Arts student was making at the beginning of the strike, she now makes between N20, 000 and N30,000 daily.
The ‘breakthrough’ is not peculiar to Adefalujo and Sanusi. Tom Usen of the Federal University of Technology, Minna, says the strike has enabled him to go far in his final year project and IT knowledge. For the Akwa Ibom State-born geologist in the making, there is no regret so far for the industrial action.
Indeed, there are many students who have mapped out surviving strategies for keeping body and soul together, just as there are many facing hard times, following the strike, which started on July 2, 2013. Since the shame that the strike ought to represent seems to have become the lot of the nation, the students, who remain the biggest victims, are finding the means of taking their destinies in their hands.
According to Ore Adejobi, a 400 level Statistics student of the University of Ibadan, the best thing is not to agonise or grumble too much, as this would not lead to anything meaningful.
He says, “As far as I am concerned, I have a lot of things lined up for me. I am a creative writer. So, I have stepped up my writing since the strike started. I have also been reading a lot – including fiction, Christian books and those about capacity building. I am planning to register a non-governmental organisation that will focus on literary matters and youth development.
“The strike started just when we resumed for the semester. I am aware of its consequence on the academic calendar, but I don’t let it bother me too much. This is the advice I want to give my fellow students across the country. I guess the struggle boils down to nation-building. It is a national thing. But it should not present an excuse for grumbling. Already, I have started exploring the course I want to pursue during my master’s programme.”
As if heeding Adejobi’s call, Eludayo Ekundayo, a Part 1 English major at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, explains that since the strike has continued to linger, he has decided to return to the shop where he sells animal feeds and drugs.
He notes, “At least, I earn about N10,000 a month, which is something. Not that I am happy doing it, but I cannot just sit at home to watch ASUU and Federal Government waste my time. In fact, I have learnt a lot of prescriptions for animals during this holiday. I hope the strike will not lead to a change of career for me, because I think I am knowledgeable enough to give drugs and feeds.
Still at loggerheads
Even as these students recount their experiences, the news, last Thursday, FG had released N130bn for development of infrastructure in the universities, excited many stakeholders, particularly the students.
The excitement was born out of the fact that at last, the seven-week old strike embarked upon by ASUU members would soon end.
The Needs Assessment Committee Chairman and Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam, who announced the intervention, said N100bn would be for building new hostels, renovation of hostels, provision of libraries, laboratories, lecture rooms and theatres, as well as Information and Communication Technology facilities, among others; while the remaining N30bn was for the teachers’ earned allowances.
So, for the students, throwing the gates of the universities open once again for normal academic activities would just be in a matter of days.
But while Suswam and other members of the committee were in Abuja, thumping their chests, thinking that they had found a solution to the strike, the ASUU leadership was in Lagos, toeing a different line. For the striking teachers, the end of the industrial action is not in sight and their President, Dr. Nassir Fagge, was explicit in conveying the message.
He said, “A lot of people are asking us to shift ground by accepting the government’s offer of N30bn and going back to class, while we reach an agreement on when the next instalment will be paid. I do not see that as being acceptable to us for now, because we had made that mistake before, whereby only the salary component of the agreement was singled out. So, we cannot afford to make such a mistake again. I want to make it categorically clear that until the entire agreement is fully implemented, we are not going to call off the strike.”
No doubt, the ASUU’s comments immediately dashed the hope of many stakeholders and students.
Implications of the action
Many analysts and public commentators hold the view that the ongoing strike would disrupt the 2013/2014 academic session. A lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Dr. Fidelis Okoro, notes that many of the universities were in the middle of their academic sessions when the strike started.
According to Okoro, who teaches English, with two months gone so far, the disruption will affect the next academic session. He points to the fact that some of the universities have yet to conduct the compulsory and qualifying post-Universities Matriculation Examination for candidates seeking admission to these institutions for the 2013/2014 session, just as others have their class work and examinations frustrated by the strike.
Linked to this are the issues of the National Youth Service Corps scheme and the place of some medical schools, whose students have been caught in the web of the strike. While some schools will not have their students ready for the forthcoming service year, the medical students will also have their programmes deferred.
The man-hour loss is another issue that bothers observers. Citing previous FG/ASUU face-offs, they point to the fact that the observance of the “no work, no pay” policy is usually in the breach. They note that even as the lecturers refuse to teach, at the end of the strike, they will still earn their salaries and allowances – a situation akin to “milking” the nation.
Observers also argue that the frequency of strikes is contributing to the decline in the quality of education in the country. An educationist, Mrs. Fidelia Ugbodu, who says she is not happy about the strike, urges the FG to address comprehensively the issues raised by the teachers.
She says, “Agreed, the call by ASUU is to alter the face of the universities, but the frequent strikes are not good for the sector. Besides disrupting academic activities, the already bad situation in the sector is worsening. The education standard is nose-diving yearly and I strongly believe that it has a link to the frequency of the strikes.”
Investigation shows that the dearth of infrastructure is common in many of these universities, especially in the older institutions. From the University of Lagos, to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; University of Jos and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, to mention but a few. The shortage, an analyst says, is affecting their yearly admission intakes.
There is also the issue of decayed and abandoned facilities in the public universities – a development that explains why individuals and firms are donating hostels and Information Communication Technology, among other items, to the schools.
The latest of such is the donation by the mother of President Goodluck Jonathan to the Federal University of Technology, Otuoke, Bayelsa State, which has stirred controversy.
In fact, the N100bn released to 59 varsities last week by the FG for infrastructure development is an acknowledgement that there is the need to address the gross deficit in the provision of critical infrastructure in the institutions.
Closely associated to infrastructure is the debate for funding. Nigeria has never met the 26 per cent United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s annual requirement for education. Little wonder, the tumour has refused to die. For instance, ASUU says the N130bn is a far cry from its N1.5trn demand to spread over three years (2009 and 2011) to address the decay in the universities. Inadequate research and development in the universities, the union says, is a fall out of poor funding of the sector.
Fagge notes, “All the government is gloating over now is N100bn, which is nowhere near the scientifically-arrived-at congruent sums in the 2009 agreement, the 2012 memorandum of understanding and the 2013 technical report on the Needs Assessment of Nigerian public universities. What further evidence do we need to establish government’s bad faith?”