By Elizabeth Osayande
THE saying that “when two elephants fight, the grass suffers” is apt in describing the pains, and frustrations of students in Nigerian universities and their parents over the ongoing dispute between the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, and the Federal Government that has paralysed academic activities in the institutions.
Recall that on March14, ASUU rolled over the one-month warning strike it embarked upon on February 14 for two months. The decision of ASUU was reached at an emergency National Executive Council, NEC meeting held in Abuja.
The National President of ASUU, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, said: “NEC noted that the union’s leadership has held some interactive meetings with agents of government in the last four weeks that the strike action had lasted. However, NEC was disappointed that government did not treat the matters involved with utmost urgency they deserved during the four-week period as expected of a reasonable, responsive, and well-meaning administration.”
According to Osodeke, the failure of the government to ”satisfactorily” implement the Memorandum of Action, MoA it signed with the union in December 2020 on funding for revitalisation of public universities (both federal and state), renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement and the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution, UTAS, were among the issues in contention.
While the government is battling to meet the demands of ASUU, non-teaching staff under the aegis of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Allied Institutions have also gone on strike. Plight of students: For a 100 level student of Ekiti State University, Ayomide Gabriel, the present ASUU-FG face-off has done a lot of damage to his person, and has led to the loss of focus on anything academic.
“ Well, at first, the strike was really helpful in a way as it gave us enough room to cover up on some course outline, considering our then tight schedule. Now, it is annoying due to the extension as I have lost all motivation to study again. It has done more harm than good to me especially right now. Instead of writing my examination and going to the next level, I am stuck at home, not knowing the next line of action.”
ASUU has cost me two years of my academic life: Another 100 level student of the University of Lagos, UNILAG, Funmi Adegoke, regretted being in a system that cost her two years of her academic life. According to Adegoke: “The strike has been horrible to be honest. I should actually be in my third year now, but due to the the country’s messed up educational system, I am still in my first year. I should be preparing for examination, but I am at home instead, just hoping that the strike be called off.”
The strike is affecting my mental health: Painful is the lamentation of a 300 level student of Onabisi Onabajo University, OOU who refused to disclose her name. According to her, the current ASUU strike is affecting her mental health. “The current strike is really having a bad effect on my mental health.
I am someone who prefers having a long distance relationship with my parents. So being at home for this long is really frustrating me. The current strike is just making matters worse for me because I had calculated my days left in school. But now, it has been disrupted. Our friends and juniors in private universities are graduating before us. The whole situation is just bad.”
Postgraduate student speaks: For Ben Ugbana, a postgraduate student in UNILAG: “ The first semester of my Master’s degree programme was nothing short of spectacular. While working and schooling at the same time can be tedious, I was actually enjoying every bit of my course and was even making steps towards impacting my immediate environment.
“The second semester was about starting when the strike was announced, and I had since drawn away from academics, with all the zeal and aspirations I had suddenly dying off. To be honest, these incessant breaks in students’ learning experiences in this country are causing more harm than good.”
Parents’ frustration: Describing his frustration of having his two children presently at home, a senior sub-editor in one of Nigeria’s leading newspapers who craved anonymity, noted: “My son would have graduated, but due to the nine months ASUU strike and the Covid-19 pandemic, and now, he is yet to graduate, and presently at home doing nothing. The financial implication is another burden as I have to make extra budget. And this is not funny, considering the economic situation in the country.”
For Mr Edward Chukwuma whose three children are students at UNILAG, the present ASUU strike is causing untold hardship in the economic life of his family. “Imagine having three undergraduates at home who are doing nothing. Their being at home is gulping over N20,000 for feeding alone in a week. This was not the case while they were in school; then I just had to send monthly income which if calculated, cannot amount to what my family is spending now.” Mr. Chukwuma explained.
Parents need to rise up and speak: For Mrs. Joy Chetachi, there is need for parents to rise up and challenge this ASUU-FG brouhaha that has continued to disrupt the academic growth of the Nigerian child. “What is happening between ASUU and the government is very pathetic. It is a case of when two elephants fight, the grass suffers.
Our innocent children are at the receiving end of all the disruptions because most of the children of our leaders are outside the country studying without any disruption. For a five-year course, my daughter spent almost seven years in school because of ASUU strike. All her mates in private universities graduated and were making mockery of her. Parents should rise up in one accord, and challenge this oppressive government to resolve this issue permanently,” Chetachi noted.
Face-off demands serious out-of-norm thinking —Akinola
An author, who is also a member of the Concerned Parents & Educators Network, CPE, Taofeek Akinola, said: “Since the start of this republic in 1999, there have been 14 industrial disputes between ASUU and the Federal Government taking our children out of school for over a total of 46 months (3 years and 10 months). This is largely due to the seeming disinclination of government to properly fund higher education. The situation has become so bad that it requires serious out-of-norm thinking.”