Nigerian university students have been forced out of the classroom for more than four years due to the frequent strikes embarked upon by the members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) since the return of democracy to the country in 1999.
LEADERSHIP Data Mining Department’s findings revealed that the lecturers’ union’s ongoing strike is the 16th since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, shutting down academic activities in public universities for a cumulative period of more than four years within 23 years, a duration that is sufficient to complete a four-year degree programme, with some strikes lasting few weeks and others for several months.
The frequent and prolonged industrial actions by ASUU have been a source of concern to most students of public universities in the country, their parents and other stakeholders. For decades, Nigerian public universities have been encountering challenges of poor funding, inadequate infrastructure, obsolete educational system, dilapidated structures and equipment, brain drain and successive governments have not been able to proffer solutions to these problems.
ASUU, a trade union formed in 1978 to represent the interests of academic staff in all of the federal and state universities in the country, whose objectives include regulation of relations between academic staff and employers, has always been at loggerheads with the government.
Under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, undergraduates in universities across the country have lost at least 13 months from their educational calendar owing to the recurring strikes by ASUU. Educationists say this explains why the products of Nigerian public universities are half-baked and certificates obtained from Nigerian universities are not rated high outside the shores of the country.
The first ASUU strike under the Buhari administration began on August 17, 2017 after the government defaulted on the MOU it had signed with the union. Out of the N1.3trn requested by ASUU, only N200bn was paid, which caused the association to embark on a one-week warning strike in November 2016 to press for their funds. The strike ended in September 2017.
The second ASUU strike started on November 4, 2018, which lasted till February 7, 2019, making it a total of 95 days. This was also as a result of the outstanding issues between the federal government and ASUU as regards the 2009 agreement and the MoU of 2013.
The third ASUU strike commenced on March 23, 2020. The indefinite strike started the same week President Muhammadu Buhari imposed a lockdown on the country due to the then ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The strike lasted for nine months. The latest ongoing strike by ASUU began on February 14, 2022, in which it is demanding better conditions of service as contained in the agreement it reached with government in 2009.
The union had argued that its cause of action followed the failure of the government to implement the 2019 MoA which both parties signed including the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) platform for the payment of salaries and allowances, the release of Earned Academic Allowances for lecturers, improved welfare and academic autonomy, among others.
LEADERSHIP Data Mining findings showed that as a result of the regular strikes, some students have resorted to indulging in criminal activities while some have become dropouts. Also, not a few have lost hope in the Nigerian education system.
An educationist, Dr Lekan Olukuewu, said regular strikes have led to poor quality education dished out to students which has affected their academic time from school calendars and, upon resumption, academics tend to rush academic work. This, according to him, might mean forgoing important parts of the course work.
He said, ‘‘Ultimately, this has a knock-on-effect on the intellectual capacity of the student. Embarking on strike causes students to spend more time than the statutory duration in school. This has an effect on the employment pattern where age is an important consideration for entry-level jobs. An increase in youth crime and immorality is not unrelated to the incessant ASUU strikes. Lack of vision and mission makes a handful of youth wander about with no direction, thus engaging in all sorts of illegal businesses like cyber-crime, gambling, fraudulent acts, etc. It has also led to prolongation of graduation time, extra cost of frequent movement from home to school when studies halt and psychological frustration.’’
More people have continued to express deep worry over incessant ASUU strikes. According to a parent, Clement Okoh, the strike has brought untold hardship on the youths, business owners and has affected the economy of communities where institutions are located. Okoh said that the four-month-old strike had grounded the productive academic sector and other aspects of the economy of the nation.
A civil servant and a mother of three, Mrs Damilola Bankole, said that the strike had drawn back the academic progress of students as compared with their colleagues from other climes.
She said it is also going to have a great effect on the smooth transition from secondary school to higher institutions because some students have just concluded writing their WAEC and JAMB examinations and have applied to these universities but, as it stands, nothing can be done as they have to be on the queue.
A university student, Endurance Ihejirika, said that many students are frustrated as a result of the strike and want immediate solution so that they can return to school, adding that as result some female students are now involved in prostitution.
A political analyst, Ahmed Bello, said the federal and state governments should work in partnership with the ASUU aggressively and assiduously at all levels to end the lingering crisis in universities.
‘‘The federal government should also create a strong forum where the three actors (ASUU, government and university management) interact in getting their problems solved instead of expressing it through strike action.
‘‘The federal government should increase allocations to Nigerian universities or to the education sector by 26% or more. The federal government should always keep to their promises.
LEADERSHIP Data Mining findings showed that ASUU’s first strike was in 1988 when it protested against the extremities of the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida to obtain fair wages and university autonomy. As a result, ASUU was proscribed on 7th August, 1988 and all its property seized. It was allowed to resume activities in 1990, but after another strike it was again banned on 23rd August, 1992. However, an agreement was reached on 3rd September, 1992 that met several of the union’s demands including the right of workers to collective bargaining.
ASUU organised further strikes in 1994 and 1996, protesting against the dismissal of university academic staff by the Sani Abacha military regime. After the return of democracy in 1999 with the Nigerian Fourth Republic, the union continued to be militant in demanding the rights of university workers against opposition by the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo. 1n 2007, ASUU went on strike for three months. In May 2008, it held two one-week warning strike to make a range of demands, including an improved salary scheme and reinstatement of 49 lecturers who were dismissed many years earlier. In June 2009, ASUU ordered its members in federal and state universities nationwide to proceed on an indefinite strike over disagreements with the federal government on an agreement it reached with the union about two and half years earlier.
After a three-month strike in October 2009, the union and other staff unions signed a memorandum of understanding with the government and called off the industrial action. On 1st July, 2013, ASUU embarked on another strike which lasted for five months and fifteen days and was called off on 16th December, 2013. Claims made by ASUU with regards to the strike were centered largely on funding and revitalisation of Nigerian public universities as well as a certain earned allowance which it claims to be in arrears of 92 billion naira at that time. Presently, the figure is far higher than that as a result of accumulated arrears up to 2016. Several other strikes have followed since then until the current 2022 strike which has been ongoing for five months.