ASUU strike forces students to acquire skills, start businesses

Christian Chikeziri, a 22-year student, said his joy knew no bounds when he was finally offered admission to study Library and Information Science at the University of Agriculture Umudike, after three years of applying.

But that joy soon turned to frustration when the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) declared a strike, just after his first semester examinations. Chikeziri, however, said he did not allow himself to stay sad, and is now running a successful barbing salon that is already employing people and hopes to expand.

He said: “I have always known how to barb hair, but I did not have enough money to open a saloon. So I did menial jobs to raise some money for school because I have always wanted to be a graduate. I was so angry when ASUU announced the first strike. I thought that would be all, only for them to extend it.

“I angrily took the money I have saved for school and invested in the haircut business, hoping to make more money and I’m so glad I made that choice because business has been good. I employed two staff, a trainee and an assistant. With the way things are going, I’ll make all the money I need for school and I will expand my business to run sustainably, even when I return to school.”

Like Chikeziri, Joy Musa, a student of sociology at Kogi State University, said she had taken to making food spices and supplying to the markets around her, and also planning on how to expand the business.

She said: “I gather some local plants around me and buy some others to make local spices and condiments that can be used to make dishes. The spices I make include curry, ‘Suya’, ginger, and turmeric, among several others and I also have my own unique recipe and it is really nice. I supply to people in the market at very affordable prices.

“When I make more money, I would love to improve the packaging and even have a brand name for myself. Sitting at home all day is really not funny. I really want to go back to school, but even if the strike drags, I’m happy I have something running for myself.”

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David Sadique, a 100-level student of Computer Science at Federal University, Kashere, Gombe State, lamented that he had barely begun his academic journey when the strike started. It however spurred him to learn computer and phone repairs. Sadique said he is interested in building his digital skills for the future.

Sadique, Musa and Chikeziri are just three of many students who have acquired new skills and started business ventures. For many others, it has been a tale of woes. They accused the government of being apathetic to their plight and rather choose to make their selfish and political ambition a priority.

“At the beginning, it seemed like it would be a short one, but then it continued – all academic activities stopped, and they have extended the strike for another three months. I have been trying to cheer my colleagues since morning because they don’t even know what to do. It has been a worrisome situation for us final-year students,” Glory Abioye, a final-year student of Medicine and Surgery, University of Abuja, said.

Abioye expressed concerns that she may spend an extra year in school, while her mates in private universities or studying abroad have long graduated and moved on with their ambition.

She said: “Ideally, we were supposed to graduate in 2021, but we already have an extra year due to the COVID-19 pandemic; now this strike will add another extra year. So, we might end up spending eight years instead of six years. In fact, in some private medical schools, medical students spend five years and six months.

“It’s so sad; what is even more annoying is that it doesn’t seem like the government is interested in our feelings. And they are going about campaigning for 2023 and trying to convince people to vote for them. Nobody is talking about the studies of Nigeria’s future leaders. Not every Nigerian can afford to take their children abroad; do they understand that? It’s so painful, and some people may probably give up on education.”

Amanda Udoka, another final-year student of Medicine and Surgery, said the news of the extension of the ASUU strike “broke my heart.”

“I called my family hoping to get some form of comfort. All my plans and ambition have been paused,” she said.

Udoka urged the government and ASUU to consider the students and come to a compromise.

Samuel Onoja, a graduate from Nasarawa State University, Keffi, lamented the strike is delaying mobilisation for the National Youth Service Corp because he has not been able to do his clearance. As a result, he may not join his mates from private institutions.

More so, the fate of over 1.5 million students who just concluded the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) is hanging in the balance.

Chibuihe Obia said he recently got admission to study Veterinary Medicine at the University of Abuja, but was in the process to change his course of study until the strike started and brought everything to a stop. Obia said he became depressed and was forced to buy another UTME form and is currently just waiting.

Bright Ugoala, a lecturer at Abia State University, said the strike had brought untold hardship for him and his colleagues. He said it is however necessary that the strike goes on until government meets ASUU demands.

According to him, the government’s prompt intervention in the recent aviation crisis clearly shows where its priority lies.

“Government should be sincere and honour the agreement. These people are busy campaigning; they are not interested in education. Until they make education a priority, I think the strike should continue even till the end of this year because once a new government comes into power, I don’t think it will help the issue. It is now or never. The strike is really affecting me but one has to endure to the end; it’s a necessary sacrifice,” he said.

ASUU has been on strike since February 14, 2022, demanding the implementation of its 2009 agreement with the Federal Government. The union is demanding funding for the revitalisation of university education, and payment of outstanding salaries and allowances owed its members, and issues around the payment platform, among several other demands.

The Federal Government has, however, said it would spend about N34 billion on the ongoing payment of minimum wage consequential adjustments to education sector workers with effect from 2019.

According to a statement by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, the beneficiaries include the members of ASUU, and their counterparts in polytechnics and colleges of education.

“That’s just one of the issues; so we will continue with our strike. We are still waiting on the Federal Government; they have not shown any commitment to our demands yet,” Emmanuel Osodeke, ASUU president, told BusinessDay.

Princewill Anyalewechi, an education expert, expressed concern that crime and unrest may worsen, especially as the 2023 elections draw near.

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