More than seven months after the Academic Staff Union of Universities embarked on an indefinite strike over the federal government’s non-implementation of agreement reached by both parties, as well as the government’s insistence on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System IPPIS, there seems to be no end in sight as both parties could not reach a compromise after several meetings. Some students who spoke to Uchechukwu Nnaike expressed their frustration over the ongoing strike, as well as what they have been doing to keep busy
When the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) commenced its indefinite strike on March 23, 2020 over the federal government’s insistence that the members must be enrolled on the IPPIS platform for payment of salaries, no one anticipated that the strike would linger till now.
The union was said to have rejected the payment system because it does not capture the remuneration of staff on sabbatical, external examiners, external assessors, and earned academic allowances. “It does not address the movement of staff as in the case of visiting, adjunct, part-time, consultancy service, which academics offer across universities in Nigeria.”
Alternatively, ASUU introduced the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), which it said is fraud and corruption-proof.
Aside the issue of IPPIS, the strike was also to draw the government’s attention to the long-standing problem of funding, constitution of visitation panel, earned academics allowances of members and proliferation of universities particularly state universities, among others.
Barely a month into the struke, the the federal government directed the closure of all schools in the country to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so the strike didn’t seem to affect the student as such because the closure of schools was across board.
However, with the gradual reopening of the economy, one expected that the federal government and university lecturers would reach some kind of compromise and start putting measures in place to reopen the universities for academic activities. But that seems to be far-fetched.
Severel meetings that were held to resolve the issues usually end in a deadlock, as both parties continue to trade blame as to why the strike has not been called off.
But recently, there appeared to be a headway as the federal government agreed to conduct an integrity test on the UTAS, as well as to release N30 billion on or before November 6 as part payment of earned academic allowance. The government said the remaining N10 billion would be paid in two equal tranches in May 2021 and February 2022.
However students’ hope of an amicable dissolution of the dispute between the federal government and ASUU was again dashed when the recent meeting ended another deadlock, as the union rejected the government’s plan to make all payments, including ASUU members’ withheld salaries through the IPPIS platform.
The counter accusations between the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba and the ASUU President, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi showed was also an indication that the strike may not be over soon.
Nwajiuba reportedly accused ASUU of accused the union of muddling things up over the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, while the union said government wants to turn Nigerians against university lecturers.
Meanwhile, students in public universities are no longer enjoying the prolonged break; primary and secondary schools have reopened, though in accordance with COVID-19 protocols; some private and state universities have also reopened leaving them at the mercy of the federal government and the union.
The prolonged strike is said to be responsible for the rising cases of vices in the society, in addition to the hardship brought about by the shutting down of the economy during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The large turn out of youths for the #EndSARS protest was also said to be as a result of the lingering strike, as the students were frustrated, and angry and the protest provided an avenue for them to let out some of the anger and frustration and how disappointed they are with the system that has neglected them.
However some students used the opportunity to acquire new skills, start up small businesses and engage in some personal development activities.
In a chat with THISDAY, a 400-level student of Linguistics Study at the University of Benin, Anthony Ositadimma said: “By the plans I had at the beginning of the year, I should have graduated at this time. I was very concerned about the strike about three months into it, but now, I honestly could care less. I have moved on with my life. I Certainly can’t put my life on hold for FG and ASUU. I set up a small business to keep busy during the strike. I wouldn’t say I’m thriving but well…”
A 200-level Mass Communication student of the University of Lagos, Godfrey Mouka said: “The effect of this strike as regarding my education has brought about a huge halt to me progressing to my next required level which is 300. That is the only reason I am bored. No one wants to spend extra years in school and especially a country like Nigeria where one has to hustle for their daily bread even if they are a graduate with a second class upper or even a first class. Everyone just wants to graduate and know where they fit in society and how they can make income.
“To keep myself busy this period I’ve been taking courses on the Coursera App. I’ve been learning Spanish, reading more on business strategies, working out, improving my skills and talents in various things I’m personally interested in like acting, importing of household items and female wears so I can sell.”
Another student, who preferred anonymity, said: “The strike has affected us in numerous ways. The notable ones are: Firstly, in terms of our prolonged stay in the university.
This strike has added an extra year for every student of federal universities out there.
Secondly, Accomodation wise. During this striking period, hostel/ lodge rents are still running even without the school being in session. Thirdly, no positive stand after every deliberation/meeting held by the federal government and ASUU, which is depressing.
“Well, since we can’t continue being idle since the federal government and the union don’t want us back to the classroom, I have ventured into a small scale business which generates small funds for my upkeep.”
A 400-level student of Industrial Chemistry at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Oluwakemi Amos said: “The ongoing strike has really affected me a whole lot, staying at home for a long period of time without doing much is not healthy for the mind. I am currently into sales of hair to keep myself busy till the strike is being called off.”
Another student said: “It has been both a blessing and a curse. I have been able to enrol for online courses, complete them and get certifications. I wouldn’t be able to do that with my regular school work load. I also watch a lot of series and read novels too.”
A parent, who identified herself as simply as Mrs. Janet said the lingering strike will widen the gap between students and graduates of public universities in the country and their counterparts in private universities.
“I wonder why the federal government always allows ASUU to go on strike before something is done. The universities are not properly funded, the structures and equipment are in bad shape. If the government can no longer fund these public universities, they should allow the private sector to take over. The problem is that people that cannot afford the fees will be denied university education.
“I feel bad when I see my child at home, having to spend an extra year in the university because of the prolonged strike. I wish I have the resources to send her to a private university,” she said.
Another parent, who preferred anonymity, said even if the strike is called of anytime soon, the universities may not reopen in a hurry because measures have not been put in place to observe COVID-19 protocols in the universities.
“I wonder when all these will be over. I wonder when normal academic activities with resume in Nigerian public universities. Going by the overpopulated state of the universities and government’s unwillingness to fund them properly, are there adequate facilities to ensure social distancing in the lecture halls and the hostels and how will the COVID-19 protocols be observed? Government needs to be more committed to the upkeep of the universities, as well as the well-being of lecturers and students.”