• Tuesday, June 25, 2024
businessday logo


ASUU strike: Parents, students edgy as varsity lecturers kick


Francis Herbert, a father of five, whose two children are in two different Nigerian universities, is a sad man today.

Herbert is in pain today because the children, who were supposed to have either rounded off their programmes or at the tail end of their studies, are caught in the web of endless imbroglio between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

According to him, each of the children has lost two academic years.

“I am pained that while my children have lost two academic years, their friends who are in private universities have gone ahead of them. One of my children who got admission in 2019 has just finished year-one, whereas her friends in private universities are now at 300-level. The other one who was supposed to have graduated last year has not even started her project. It is painful that the disagreement between ASUU and the Federal Government is now negatively impacting on my family; holding down the progress of my innocent children,” Herbert said.

“Must everybody go to private university? It is high time ASUU changed strategy. While I am not carpeting them for insisting that government should live up to expectation in funding the university education, at the same time, I want to advise that ASUU must, looking at the negative implications of their incessant strikes, come up with other strategies to engage with the government,” he further said.

With the rumour of an impending fresh strike, he said that he and his children are now apprehensive and just wishing that it does not materialise.

Herbert is just one out of several other parents who are sad today at what the university system is doing to their children.

Read Also: ASUU strikes halt student housing growth

While on a visit to Slot, a popular phone dealer at Computer Village Ikeja in Lagos, to trade-in his two old Tecno phones, a baker was surprised to see his neighbour’s son, who was supposed to be in school.

But the undergraduate was not shy at meeting him because he is now ‘hustling’ among hundreds of other undergraduates who are now out of school because of the inability of the parents and sponsors to pay their tuition fees.

The undergraduate-turned hustler is a product of the nine-month strike by ASUU.

From March 2020, which was the peak of Covid-19 and lockdowns and until November 20, 2020, Nigerian university undergraduates were at home idle due to the industrial action, which led to over 2000 students dropping out of school for the inability of their parents and sponsors to pay their tuition fees, as well as getting involved in family businesses or running their own outfits.

Sadly, ASUU is about beating the drum again despite the high rate of university dropout in recent time, and Nigeria having the highest rate of out-of-school in Africa with about 10.5 million children aged 5-14 years, according to UNICEF data.

Many concerned citizens are beginning to raise the alarm over the implication of another ASUU strike, especially on the students and the future of the country.

Looking at the sad experience of the nine-month strike last year, most observers decried that the crime rate increased during the strike as many idle hands were engaged negatively and some undergraduates died while committing crime.

Donald Mmecha, a banker with StanbicIBTC, lamented that his children have not recovered from the forced long holiday during the nine-month ASUU strike last year and the only option left for him to guarantee their academic success is to move them to foreign schools, which are very expensive now with the staggering exchange rate.

Considering thousands of undergraduates whose parents cannot afford tuition fees in foreign universities, Mmecha warned that the country will be sitting on a cake of gun powder if these indigent undergraduates finally drop out of school due to incessant strike and lack of sponsors.

“During the strike, my house became a workshop for my engineering undergraduate son and studio for my Theatre Art undergraduate daughter. But my eldest son, a final year law student, was devastated because the online class did not work for his practical courses. We cannot afford another strike; families are suffering, and many are poorer now,” he said.

Margaret Esoh, a mother of two undergraduates and a consultant physician, had to move her two daughters to a United Kingdom university in February this year because she feared another ASUU strike considering the inflation, ensuing hardship and the kind of people running the country now.

“It was very expensive sending them to a UK university. I sold some shares, but the pain is worth it because they are doing well over there despite being stepped down by a year. My concern is securing their future, which the Nigerian education system cannot guarantee,” the doctor said.

She decried that the incessant strike is impacting negatively on the rating and quality of graduates from Nigerian universities.

Busola Ekehinde, a business woman, regrets that people in her class cannot afford foreign universities, and their inability is forcing their children to suffer in the supremacy battle between ASUU and the Federal Government.

Her fear is that when university strikes, the students are vulnerable and evil people take advantage of them.

“Mama Ineh, our fellow trader, lost one of her sons who joined an oil bunkering gang in Yanegoa. The son was in a university in Port Harcourt and joined the gang instead of returning during last year’s strike,” the trader said, nothing further that she had to force her son to run her business during the strike in order to safeguard him.

The undergraduates are also angry on hearing news of another strike.

Aduke Ogunmade, a University of Lagos undergraduate urged the government to meet the demands of the lecturers as students cannot survive another shutting down of campuses after the nine-month long 2020 strike that impacted negatively on students, education standard and rating of Nigerian universities.

Emeka Ibenegbu, a student of Abia State University Uturu, noted that crime rate would surely soar in the face of current hardship if the strike commences as many students will not continue to stay idle, but engage their hands positively or negatively.

“I know some of my mates who did not return to school because their sponsors are either dead or lost their jobs. What do you want that fellow to do and some who the strike will force to be idle may connect with the bad eggs out there and the society is heated up in crime,” Emeka decried.

Ibiso Amaye, a University of Calabar undergraduate, who lost her classmate to human traffickers in Malaysia last year, lamented that the brilliant student was lured with the promise of goodlife and the ASUU strike of last year created an opportunity for him to leave.

“Even the parents thought he was still hanging with his friends in Calabar as he would usually do, not knowing that he died in Malaysia in the hands of traffickers who sold him out. If not for the strike, he would not have travelled,” Amaye said.

However, across the country, university lecturers do not see reasons they should not embark on the proposed strike, considering the government’s persistence in failing its promises to them.

Anele Oguezi, an associate professor at Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ebonyi State, said university lecturers’ welfare should not be debated if the country wants to secure its future because the universities are breeding grounds for result-oriented researches, innovations and skills needed in technology, leadership, corporate world, economy, and all endeavours.

“Why treat lecturers so badly, how much are we asking for that the Federal Government cannot offer? If you consider the salaries and allowances of our senators and governors, you will shut down universities forever. Government should abide by the agreements with ASUU to avert the strike, and that is the only way,” he said.

Onyedi Ifeatu, a senior lecturer at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, is concerned about the welfare of students, but noted that if the teacher is not happy, the student will learn nothing.

“I am a parent too, I need money to pay my children’s tuition fees, but it is not coming the way I expect it to and I am not supposed to take advantage of my students. If an average professor in a Nigerian university earns barely N400, 000 a month, then how much do you think others in lower cadre earn. The welfare is poor and should be addressed for us to teach with our mind”, Ifeatu said.

Ifeatu assured that the strike is likely going to hold because the Federal Government has always been promising, and reaching agreements with ASUU but not fulfilling the promises.

“Yes, there seems to be a truce between ASUU and the federal government, but if the government has been fulfilling its part of the agreements, there will never be a case of strike in Nigeria and our demand is little compared with what politicians earn. Why will the government take politicians more seriously than lecturers whose impacts are felt across the society,” he said.

But Emmanuel Osodeke, a professor and ASUU president, noted that ASUU will not be deceived again and if the government did not meet the agreement it reached with the union that made it to call off the 2020 strike, the union will commence with the strike as planned.

He also cleared the air, saying that the union has not shelved the strike because of the government’s usual promise of settling the matter, but that the union will meet after three weeks to make a decision on the next move should the government fail again.

Nigerians wait and pray that before three weeks the issue will be resolved as many students may not survive another, considering the many that dropped out already due to hardship.

The other day, Adamu Adamu, minister of Education, said that Nigerian universities were producing unemployable youths.

According to him, the country’s education system, over the years, produced graduates with no generic and essential skills needed for global opportunities and responsibilities.

It blamed the curricula used in teaching in schools, particularly at tertiary institutions, and students’ poor interest in marketable skills and other requirements of the workplace as largely responsible for the crisis.

“Nigeria is still faced with the challenges of skills gaps, especially in the area of technical and vocational fields which need to be addressed adequately. These challenges did not come overnight, but as a result of long time neglect and poor management,” he said.

Critics say that since government is aware of the precarious state of education in the country, it should then be doing everything possible to shore up capacity in the sector by way of adequate funding.

Speaking on Channels Television interview programme recently, Dele Ashiru, chairman, ASUU, University of Lagos chapter, said the Federal Government cannot in good conscience say it does not have the resources to fund tertiary education in the country, considering the money government spends on mundane things.

He also carpeted state governors who continue to plant new universities when the existing ones are not being funded.

Ashiru said that governors are turning establishment of universities into constituency project.

“They continue to establish more universities even when they do not fund the existing ones. In some of the institutions, all the buildings there are TetFunds structures, and the universities borrow money to pay salaries,” he said.

He urged government to change its attitude toward education of its citizens, and begin to see it as public good.

Despite the reported decision by ASUU to shelve strike, BusinessDay can report that there is still apprehension that the Federal Government may not be able to meet the conditions. The days ahead will tell.