As the nation hopes for a quick resolution of the five-month old strike by the academic staff of universities, students, parents, business people and other Nigerians in Jos speak on how the strike has affected them.
Like a joke, the strike by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, is going into the sixth month. When it started on July 1, 2013, many had expected it to last only a few weeks. Many students were initially reluctant to leave school for home expecting the strike to be suspended ‘soon’. Their expectation has been dashed and the strike has dragged from weeks to months clocking almost half a year.
The negotiations between the Federal Government and ASUU since the strike started is yet to result in any positive development. Although hope rose following a meeting of the ASUU leadership with a government team led by President Goodluck Jonathan, which was said to have lasted about 14 hours, certain developments seem to have compounded the situation resulting in further frustration for students, their parents and other Nigerians.
The major development was the death of former ASUU President, Professor Festus Iyayi, in an automobile accident on his way to the meeting of the National Executive Committee meeting of the union in Kano to deliberate on the referendum by members based on the meeting with President Jonathan. His sudden death forced ASUU to suspend the meeting for which the nation had waited expecting an end to the strike.
While some claimed the meeting was suspended indefinitely, the social media was awash with speculations, mostly unfounded, that ASUU would not meet until January. The rumor aggravated the distress of all those concerned who want an end to the strike. Contrary to the speculations, however, the meeting eventually held penultimate week but the outcome was equally disappointing to many as, rather than an announcement of an end to the strike, ASUU came up with some conditions that must be met for the strike to be called off. Many Nigerians have continued to appeal to ASUU to call its members back to work because of the immediate effect of the strike on students, their parents and others, as well as the long term damage it would do to the education sector and the society at large.
Many cite the danger of leaving vibrant youths idle for a long time which could lead them into unhealthy behavior. Some even claim that many students have taken to crime, prostitution and other vices as Satan finds work for their idle hands. Students have themselves expressed their frustration at different fora for losing valuable time they should be using for studies and moving towards their goals in life to a prolonged strike.
Ukah Emele, a 400 level student of the University of Jos, expressed his feelings thus: “The strike has affected me nearly in every aspect. I practically feel like five months have been deleted out of my life already. I mean, I would have been a graduate today and possibly serving my fatherland. In as much as I have been able to do a few things, I would have done a lot more if I had graduated as scheduled. I am losing flair for academics, no thanks to the FG/ASSU situation.”
Another student, Philip Ekigwe, said the strike has devastated him emotionally putting a cog in the wheel of his dreams. “I’ll say the prolonged ASUU strike has affected me negatively. It is so because not only has the strike devasted me emotionally, it has also forcefully put me behind my schedule of progress. It has shortened my elaborate plans for the future to a mere dream that breaks with the break of dawn. You can imagine a four-year degree programme which I had hoped to complete in 2012 now dragging to God knows when”, Ekigwe said.
“With the strike all my plans are shattered and yet I cannot plan further. It has made me less enthusiastic about reading and education. In session, schooling makes the mind active and searching. But the strike has made me lazy and dull. I can’t remember the number of times I had need of my books since the strike commenced”.
In the absence of much to do and the lack of interest in studying occasioned by the lack of an idea of when the strike would end, students spoken to said they have been finding ways of keeping busy to engage their minds. For Emmanuel Kalu, who is lucky to be skilled in computer programming, he has been working “to keep my mind busy.” He, however, expressed concern that the situation was not pleasant as students who opt to work often have to settle for menial jobs because they are unqualified for professional jobs. He agreed that the situation could lead to increase in crime and prostitution.
Emele was also worried about the possible backlash of the strike, noting, “we have seen crime rates soaring since this industrial action started. Take a look at the social media, it is all about the book of lamentations, report of all sorts of wrong activities occasioned by idleness – rape, armed robbery, unwanted pregnancies, prostitution and possibly suicides.”
The students are not alone in the lament as parents are equally grief-stricken seeing their children idling away for months. Those interviewed said they have had to incur additional expenses feeding and taking care of their children and wards much more than when schools were in session. According to Ambrose Amali, whose three undergraduate students are affected by the strike, “the children seem to consume more because of idleness. Initially I was harsh on them blaming them for being wasteful as their constant report of this or that has finished was upsetting my budget, but I now try to understand their frustration.”
Amali explained that beyond the issue of additional upkeep expenses is the greater worry of the danger of keeping vibrant youths who are naturally restless idle. “It is a disturbing situation. You know you cannot keep this young people in one place for too long. They keep finding excuses to go out ad there is little you can do as a parent because you know it is caused by boredom. So you just continue to hope and pray that they don’t come to harm’s way”, he said.
Unlike Amali, Mrs Catherine Emerole, another parent, is in constant fear of her children falling into bad company. “I have two of them who are affected by the strike and the situation is giving me serious problems. Whenever I go to work, I am always afraid of the type of friends they might have taken home or gone to mix with. When school was in session, they were always busy studying or doing their assignments but tell them to study now and they tell you, ‘for what, when we don’t know when ASUU will call off their strike”, she said.
“This is why we have been appealing to ASUU to consider the long term consequence of this strike and call off the strike. We know that they are fighting for things to be better but they should also see things from the perspective of we the parents who are disturbed that the future of our children are being jeopardized”.
Different stroke for different folks, goes the saying. While parents and students are lamenting the waste of time occasioned by the strike, it is a different ball game for those doing business within and around university campuses who said their sources of daily bread have been negatively affected by the strike. From business centre operators to food and provision sellers and commercial vehicle operators, it has been five difficult months as students who form the bulk of their customers are out of school.
Many of them told of how it has been a tough journey since the strike began and students out of school. At the university of Jos, many shops at the Students Centre at the Bauchi Road campus have been closed for lack of business. The few that still open say business is at its lowest ebb. “You can see for yourself that there is no business. How many people can you see in this whole place? We are just coming because this is our place of business and we have nowhere else to go. The situation is really bad and we are having to look elsewhere to be able to fend for our families”, Emeka, a business centre operator explained.
Similarly, only a few of the inter-campus commercial cabs still operate around the university because others have diverted to other routes since the strike started. According to Ganiyu Aransiola, one of the cab drivers, “we have been thrown out of business because of the strike. Without students, our business is usually dull but this one has affected us more because of the long strike. That is why many of our people are now plying other routes to be able to earn some income to take care of their families.”
Parents and students alike renewed their appeal to both the Federal Government and the striking lecturers to find an end to the impasse because of the negative effects of the strike on them and the society in general. They say they have suffered enough and should be saved further frustration that could arise from a continuation of the strike.
Said Emele, “The Federal Government should honour agreements. Like one famous Nollywood actor said in his song, ‘agreement is agreement’. If government must ask for renegotiation which obviously has prolonged this strike, it should first honour the one it entered with ASUU in 2009; even if the terms were unfair, it is agreement. Whatever ASUU is asking is largely aimed at making our educational system better and by extension the whole country, so government should not be scuttling plans to make the sector better today and be telling us about Vision 20:2020 tomorrow. That is hypocritical.
“On the part of ASUU, it is good to protest wrongs, but they have to be careful not to make striking a leisure activity. I mean, let’s face it, the teachers are facing a government that has historically failed to manage almost anything properly, so staying out of class rooms indefinitely is only leaving the students worst off as they are the grass that are suffering. ASUU must find other means to protest their employer’s negligence; this strike has become one too many.”
His position was shared by Ekigwe who said: “My call to ASUU is that they should call off the strike, return to the classroom while exploring other means of pursuing their grievances. ASUU should realize that strike has not repaired any of the decays they decried. Instead, it has decayed it the more. Federal Government should on its part, be mindful of its obligations whether on agreement or not and be committed to it.”
Virtually all those spoken to agreed that the society generally, was losing a lot from the strike given its implication for various segments of the society and especially for innocent students who are the proverbial grass that suffer from repeated strikes. All expressed the hope that ASUU would consider their plight and suspend the strike. As Kalu puts it, “we appreciate that ASUU is fighting to make things better, but there are other ways for their voice to be heard rather than the strike option. We the students are the ones feeling the brunt of the strike and they should take this into consideration and call off the strike.”