By Adebayo Abdul Rahman
Three years after passing out from secondary school, Abdulmuizz Oyekola was offered admission to study History at the University of Ibadan in October 2019 but 14 months after, he has not entered a lecture room.
Due to various strikes in the last few years, the University of Ibadan operates an academic calendar that means students like Oyekola needed to wait till April or May 2020 before resuming for the first semester of the 2019/2020 academic session.
However, a few days after the institution concluded the final exams of the 2018/19 academic session, on March 23, 2020, the National President of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Biodun Ogunyemi, announced that the union had embarked on an indefinite strike. The declaration followed the expiration of a two-week warning strike.
The demands of the union include the release of fund for the revitalisation of public universities; release of the forensic audit report on earned academic allowances and payment of all arrears of salary shortfalls in universities that had met the verification requirements.
Others are the release of university pension fund and reversal of the directive by President Muhammadu Buhari that members of ASUU like other Federal Government workers enrol on the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System.
Nearly nine months after the strike was declared, the government and the union have yet to agree and students in public universities are the victims of the industrial action, which is the longest since the country’s return to democracy in 1999.
Tales of Victims
“The strike has prevented me from moving forward. Rather than being at school learning, all I do is stay at home, wake, sleep, and engage myself in issues that are none of my business in the first place, Oyekola who currently works on a part-time basis at a pure water factory said.
He said that he was not interested in the question of who to blame for the strike because “critically, they are both at fault.”
Oyekola noted that the unending nature of the strike was due to the fact that the majority of the top players in the parties involved – ASUU and Federal Government – did not have their wards in Nigerian universities.
“All I can do is beg on behalf of the entire Nigerian students that they should please call off the strike because they are like parents to us,” Oyekola said in a subdued tone.
Unlike, Oyekola, who has yet to attend classes, Nurudeen Akewusola, is a final year student of Usman Danfodiyo University, Sokoto.
Admitted to study Mathematics in 2016, Akewusola Akewusola was scheduled to complete the four-year course in October 2020. However, the institution was on the mid-semester break of its first semester when ASUU declared its strike in March.
He explained that between October (when he was scheduled to graduate) and December, there had been numerous employment and academic opportunities he had missed because he had not completed his degree programme.
“It’s as if the world knows ASUU has put on hold my plans. I have seen many opportunities and the only thing that keeps disqualifying me is not having a BSc certificate. I ought to have finished now; there are many other things in my life that I put on hold.”
Akewusola, who is experiencing an ASUU strike for the third time in his four-year programme, said that the ongoing strike was as a result of negligence by the government.
“Without being sentimental, the government is at fault. You can’t keep blaming people for asking for their rights. These workers won’t pressure the government if it is not their right.
“From what I heard, the union always makes a series of efforts before embarking on strike but it is only when they embark on a strike that the government finds time to listen to them,” he said.
Akewusola noted that the government’s negligent attitude towards the plight of university students was underscored by its refusal to make plans on how to resolve the issues that led to the strike during the COVID-19 lockdown that coincided with the first few months of the action.
“As they were preparing to reopen the schools, they ought to have resolved the ASUU strike. They allowed students of private universities, where their wards attend, to resume before starting their negotiation.
“Even though it is possible to still cover the curriculum for the academic session when school finally resumes, can they replace our time that they have wasted?” he asked.
For Abdulmojeed Moshood, a 500 level student of the University of Ilorin, the ongoing ASUU strike is a first for him.
Before now, UNILORIN (University of Ilorin) was the only Federal Government-owned university with a stable academic calendar. . But in 2019, the school settled its rift with the national body of ASUU, a move that meant it must also join any industrial action taken by the union.
Moshood’s greatest hurdle since the strike is dealing with the psychological effect. “I am trying not to use the word psychological,” he said.
He noted that his plan for the year had been disrupted and his goals not achieved.
Unlike many university students who spoke with this reporter who had taken up menial jobs to prevent them from being idle, Moshood’s lack of experience about incessant ASUU strikes was a disadvantage as he found it hard to pick up any engagement in the hope that the strike would be called off soon.
“Being a UNILORIN student, I am new to strikes. This is our first time in a long time. So whenever I wanted to put myself out there to get an internship or a small job or anything to do, I got discouraged because they held meetings every week over the last few months.
“I am always optimistic before every meeting so whenever I want to set out to apply for an internship or so, I will just drop it hoping that they will call it off soon not knowing I am wasting my time,” he said.
Moshood noted that it was until he zeroed his mind away from the possibility of a fruitful resolution coming out of any of the meetings that he was able to face his life.
While noting that both the government and the union were at fault for the strike, Moshood maintained that the government’s lack of sincerity tops the list of the factors hindering the resumption of academic activities in public universities.
“I feel that both of them are at fault but I believe the Federal Government has a larger percentage of the blame. From my view, the government has not shown serious commitment towards ensuring the strike should come to an end soon.
“ASUU on the other hand has not been sincere to the public. They have also failed to communicate a larger percentage of the populace while also prioritising their interests over the plight of students.
“I believe if both parties have the interest of the Nigerian students in mind, they would have found a quicker resolution to the strike,” he added.
In 2015, Olanrewaju Olanshile was offered admission to study Animal Science at the University of Ibadan. Five years after he started the four-year course, he has completed his final year examinations but cannot call himself a graduate.
Olanshile like many 2018/2019 academic session final year students at the University of Ibadan, completed his final year examinations in February, few days before ASUU commenced its strike.
Upon the declaration of the strike, all academic activities, including computation of results and defence of final year projects, which are prerequisites for graduation, were put on hold. This means final year students, like Olanrewaju, who just completed their final examinations but yet to get their results or defend their projects have for the last nine months found themselves in a precarious situation.
“Even though I have completed my final year exams, my position as a graduate is inconclusive,” he said.
Before the conclusion of his final year examinations, Olanshile had been on the lookout for various international opportunities and in the last few months received a lot of scholarship notifications from foreign institutions for his post-graduate studies but due to the unavailability of his result, he lost these opportunities.
Similarly, due to the lack of his BSc result, he had to settle for the ‘undergraduate’ tag while hunting for various employment opportunities.
Olanshile said that he knew at least 10 students who had become cyber-criminals due to idleness following the strike.
Olanshile also towed the line of students who believe both the Federal Government and the union should bear the blame for the strike.
“We have to blame everybody because if the government had been proactive, we could have easily shifted the blame to ASUU. But no, it is obvious the government has failed in its responsibilities. On the part of the union, they keep going on strike.”
Olanshile said that the fact that the striking workers would still get paid for the months that they had been away from work was an indication of why they would not keen to call off the action.
“It is until we have leaders that prioritise education that issues like this will end.
“Since the declaration of the strike, members of the National Assembly did not address it until when the EndSARS protest paralysed the country and the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, noted it in one of his speeches (casually).
“Are you telling me that the president is even aware of the ongoing ASUU strike? You will be shocked!
“The only person we keep seeing is the Labour Minister, Ngige (Chris) who is known to always play around repeating the same thing, ” Olanshile said in frustration.