By Femi Bolaji
THE joy of resuming academic activities for some students of the Taraba State University has suddenly been thwarted as lecturers in the institution proceeded on another indefinite strike.
The latest strike by the academic staff of the state-owned university comes at a time when other Nigerian universities are struggling to catch up with lost grounds occasioned by the prolonged nationwide ASUU strike that paralysed the school system for almost a year.
The call by the institution’s Academic Staff of Union of Universities, ASUU, for its members to desert classrooms on Tuesday has infuriated most of the students who only on March 1 resumed the second semester of the 2019/2020 academic session.
While the union is clamouring for the commencement of a contributory pension scheme as retirement benefits, the management of the institution is insisting that it had already commenced the scheme in 2018 but is being held back by the failure of the academics to furnish it with their pension administrators and account details for prompt action.
The striking lecturers also claim there is a shortfall in the remittance of their Earned Academic Allowance, EAA, which the school management denies, claiming that it has only defaulted in the payment of excess workload, which is to be calculated and paid to those deserving at the end of the semester. The lecturers also raised concerns about the perimeter fencing of the school for staff security in their quarters. Arewa Voice checks within the school show that the fencing has reached an advanced stage and heavy-duty machinery was still on site.
However, the general assertion that when two elephants fight, the grass suffers has once again re-echoed as most students, especially those in their final year, foresee a murky path to their participation in the mandatory National Youth Service Corps, NYSC.
A 400-level student of the institution, whose original name has been changed to Agassi Landon to shield him from victimisation, spoke to Arewa Voice. Landon’s fear stems from the fact that he would be clocking 30 this year and any further strike action by the lecturers might affect his chances of participating in the compulsory national service. He said: “This resort to another round of strike by our lecturers is disturbing me sincerely.
“As you know we are still in the 2019/2020 session and just on Monday, we resumed for the second semester. Originally, if not for the pandemic, I was supposed to graduate in August 2020, but because of school closure and the national ASUU strike which our institution joined, we resumed in December. My projection, according to the new school calendar, is that by May this year, I would have graduated and still be eligible for NYSC.
“I am appealing to authorities of the school and the lecturers to please call off the strike because people like me might be affected.” A 200-level student of the institution who spoke on condition of anonymity said she was unhappy with the development.
According to her: “For about two years now we have constantly had delays due to strikes and school closure because of the pandemic. I ought to have finished my part-two last year, but this is March 2021 and I am still in 200 level. I am pleading that they consider us because we are the ones to suffer this the most.”
While the students are pleading with their lecturers to consider them, the lecturers are also appealing to the students and their parents to understand them. The institution’s ASUU chairman, Dr. Samuel Shikaa, while speaking to Arewa Voice, says the union sympathises with the students. “It was because of this sympathy that our members allowed the students to write their first semester exams for some weeks.
“We have tried on our part to ensure that we maintain harmony as much as possible. All we are saying to the students is that they are part of us and we are part of them because there would be no students if there are no lecturers and vice versa. We want them to understand us and also pressurise their parents to speak out because it is ridiculous if their lecturers don’t have job security.”
The Vice-Chancellor of the University, Prof. Vincent Ado Tenebe, who also spoke, appealed to the lecturers to resume classes while they continue negotiation with the government. He said: “Between 2018 and 2019 seven months were lost to both national and our local ASUU strike actions, and another nine months were lost between 2019 and 2020 because of the pandemic and the National ASUU strike.
“Cumulatively, 16 months have been lost and the academic session is made up of nine months. The people we are all here for are the students and in all these the students are the ones who are losing. How would you explain to the stakeholders, the students, parents and guardians, and the community that we serve that in 18 months of two sessions, you were on strike for 16 months. I have been appealing to my colleagues not to put our students at a disadvantage because we are demanding things that border on our welfare.
“I am still appealing to them to call off this strike so that we don’t disrupt the academic work of our students and staff, and also for us to also dialogue and attain the remaining part of the demand that is yet to be met.”