By Olubusuyi Adenipekun
The thinking of many is that the two-month old strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has brought nothing other than pains, frustration and sadness to both undergraduate and postgraduate students nationwide.
This line of thinking is premised on the reasoning that apart from disruption academic calendar it will also jeopardise the graduation schedule of final year students.
But, a chat with these students has revealed that many students are actually seeing the strike as a blessing in disguise.
At the time the strike comenced nationwide, many institutions were preparing for the rain semester examinations. Not many students were ready to take the exams at that time due to what they call lack of adequate time for preparation.
Caught napping in this unpreparedness are mainly final year students who have been devoting more time to their projects rather than their course work. The strike has therefore provided an ample opportunity for them to concentrate more on their project rather than sharing their time between reading and project writing.
For many students, the strike has also given them time to attend training workshop and familiarisation tours of some corporate organisations during which they get acquainted with the world of work.
The recently organised â€œTake A Girl Student To Workâ€ initiative by the South African High Commission in partnership with the South African Chamber of Commerce, and which was hosted by Multichoice NigeriaÂ is a case in point. Twenty final year female students from the University of Lagos participated in this event which was put together to commemorate the World Womenâ€™s Day.
It was meant to give these students first-hand information about opportunities and challenges at a work place. And it turned out to be an eye opener for them and for those who think that the ASUU strike has brought no good to university students.
According to Adebakin Omotoke, a 400 Level Student of Business Administration at the University of Lagos said of the on-going ASUU strike: â€œI like the strike because it gives me the opportunity to write my project. Iâ€™m in Chapter Four of my project now and by the time we resume, I will be able to face my courses and get prepared adequately for my final examination.â€
The visit to Multichoice, says Omotoke, has exposed her to the way a corporate body is run on a daily basis.
She says: â€œAt the company, we were taken to the Board room, finance department, calls centre where calls are being monitored and we were educated about corporate communications.
As an administrator in the making, the way the company is being run is related to my field of study. At the University of Lagos, we were not exposed to this type of world of work. This type of initiative is very useful to students.â€
Ogochukwu Ugbodu, a 400 Level of Mathematics and statistics at the University of Lagos was also excited about the initiative of taking students to visit corporate organisations.
â€œInitially, I used to think that if one is not in Mass Communications department or English, he or she cannot work in corporate establishments although I have interest in advertising. During the tour of various departments at Multichoice, we were told to be strong, independent and persistent in pursuing our goal. I have just discovered that I can work in many companies with a degree in Mathematics and statistics.
Many of the students at the sight-seeing event admitted that they were having a taste of what happens at a typical world of work for the first time.
However, thousands of candidates who wrote this yearâ€™s Universities Matriculation Examinations (UME) conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and were about to sit for the post-UME test at their different universities of choice at the time the strike started are despondent, especially with the possibility of not getting to University this year.
This category of would-be students do not see anything good about the on-going strike and would want a quick resolution of the impasse.
But the adamant posture of ASUU does not give these students-to-be rest of mind as the union has vowed to continue the strike until demands are met by the Federal Government.
Infact, the President of ASUU, Prof Ukachukwu Awuzie has given indications that the strike many linger for a long time to come until government sings the re-negotiated 2006 agreement, even if â€œASUU is ready to return to the negotiating table for the good of students, their parents, the university education system and the good of the Nigeria people.â€
Awuzie, however, gave some conditions before ASUU can return to the negotiation table.
He said: â€œSince we would not like what happened at the negotiating table between 3rd-10th August, 2009 to repeat itself, we shall demand that the government team, before inviting us, should; obtain a clear mandate from its principals to abide by the principle of collective bargaining by completing the process started in 2006, and agree to complete the negotiation by formally signing the agreement.â€
ASUU also expects the government team to bring to the negotiating table on the first day, the list of all contentious issues, if any, that have to be negotiated and agreed upon as directed by the Vice President and that the negotiation should be completed in one week or less.
Prof Awuzie said ASUU will not shift ground on the principle of collective bargaining, explaining that the FG has no right or power to unilaterally terminate a process of collective bargaining or unilaterally change the structure/procedure/framework of the collective bargaining process or impose any framework of negotiation on ASUU.
According to Awuzie, the FG had decided to unilaterally terminate the negotiation that began in 2006 and replace it with arbitrary pronouncements and award, adding that this is the problem prolonging the current crisis.
He said that there are some forces in the government bent on frustrating the emergence of a centrally signed agreement with ASUU, explaining that these forces are aware that no agreement will be signed at individual council levels, as the councils do not have the financial means of implementing the funding requirements.
On the claim of the Federal Government that a centrally signed agreement would mean compelling the state universities to implement the agreement for lecturers in their respective states, the ASUU President said that at no time in the agreements reached in the past with ASUU has any state government ever been compelled to implement the agreement.
His words: â€œThe current agreement is meant to establish and recommend minimum standards/benchmarks for the Nigerian University system. The agreement on salary was also not compelling on the state governments.
Establishing minimum levels in the agreement is justified because Nigeria operates a single university system, a single system of accreditation by NUC, a single standard of entry by JAMB, and a cross flow of academic staff throughout the system, based on a single system, not a multiple system of standards.â€
Prof Awuzie further said that the threat to stop the salary of academic staff would not kill their spirit and determination to sustain the strike till government accedes to the unionâ€™sÂ demands by signing theÂ 2006 re-negotiated agreement.