When Waidi Nuhu was running about the streets in 2015 with the change mantra, he was expecting the country to change for the better.
Nuhu, like many parents in the country, has had to watch his son who gained admission in 2017 to study medicine at the University of Ibadan stay at home for several months over a series of strikes embarked on by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in President Muhammadu Buhari’s eight years in office.
ASUU had gone on strike for over 610 days since the inception of Buhari’s administration, the longest period of strike in the country’s democratic era.
The union went on strike yearly under Buhari except in 2015 when he took over office.
In 2016, ASUU went on strike for seven days, and in 2017 there were 35 days of strike. Similarly, in 2018-2019, the lecturers went on strike for 58 days before the federal government could address the impasse.
In 2020, the lecturers went on strike for more than 270 days following the union’s disagreement with the federal government over the funding of the universities and the implementation of the payment system.
Many had thought that the public universities were going to experience a strike-free academic session after the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, only for the academic union to shut down public universities on February 14, 2022 through October.
Ifeanyi Abada, chairman of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka chapter of ASUU, noted that the union’s strikes under President Buhari were an economic loss to the country.
“Any government that fails to recognise the importance of education is a failed government. Education is critical to the growth of a country’s economy,” he said. “And when the stakeholders in the sector are not happy due to poor treatment from the government, they go on strikes to register their anger.”
According to him, the strikes subsequently lead to producing half-baked graduates. “The effect cannot be quantified. Imagine a mediocre person in charge of people’s health as a doctor or a half-baked civil engineer in charge of construction. It is a subtle way of killing the economy,” he said.
Emmanuel Osodeke, president of ASUU, insisted the federal government under President Buhari was not sincere with education funding because it was not its priority.
“It is always very funny that the federal government cannot raise 200 billion to revamp all Nigerian universities annually to world standards,” he said. “The same government can raise N4 trillion for fuel subsidies. Fuel subsidy and Nigerian education, which is more important to any country that wants to move forward?”
The Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) also were involved.
Members of NASU were on strike in 2017 for 11 days. In March 2018, the staff members of NASU, SSANU, and NAAT had a 100-day strike. The non-academic staff downed tools for five days in 2019.
In 2022, the Joint Action Committee of SSANU and NASU also went on strike in March, a few weeks after the ASUU downed tools.
The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics also embarked on a series of strikes under President Buhari’s eight years in office.
The union in January 2017 went on seven days’ warning strike to protest the government’s refusal to honour its agreement with the union and fund the polytechnic sector.
By August 2022, the union had down tools for no fewer than 147 days of industrial action in four years.
These numerous strikes are not only peculiar to the academic unions but also other unions across various sectors.
The incessant strikes by doctors and other health workers working in federal government-run hospitals in Nigeria resulted in the loss of more than 153 working days between 2015 and 2023.
The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) in 2016 had seven days of strikes between June 20 and June 26 over the non-payment of entitlements and the lack of residency training guidelines.
In 2017, NARD declared a nationwide strike; the action lasted for 14 days, between September 4 and September 14.
The health workers under the aegis of JOHESU downed tools in 2018 for 44 days, between April 17 and May 31. The strike paralysed activities at both state and federal health institutions and led to the death of many.
In 2021, the health workers went on industrial action for 95 days from April to October. 2022 saw the workers down tools for six days on a warning notice.
Following the failure of the government to meet its demands, in 2023, NARD declared a five-day warning strike from May 17 to 22, 2023.
The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria also had their share of the strikes.
In March 2016, the union declared a day strike, and in 2017, Jan 11 oil labour union began a nationwide strike involving petrol filling stations and tankers in a protest over job losses, the strike lasted for three days.
In 2018, NUPENG declared three warning strikes, before another 21–day warning strike in July over the treatment of workers by employers in the oil and gas industry.