There is palpable anger in the country amid preparations for the 2023 general election following the failure of the Federal Government to reach a truce with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and ensure that undergraduates affected by the ongoing strike by the union are recalled to continue their studies.
Findings by The Guardian showed that students, parents and other stakeholders were wondering how the government could afford to allow the students to remain at home as a result of its disagreement with ASUU and be comfortable with its preparations for the elections.
They particularly took a swipe at the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, and the Minister of State for Education, Dr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, over their 2023 presidential bids amid the strike.
They wondered how either of the two could be trusted with overseeing the welfare of the country as president when they could not address the problem of incessant ASUU strikes that have left university education in the country in quandary.
Recall that ASUU and other unions in Federal Government-owned universities have been on strike for over two months following the failure of the government to implement various agreements reached with them. ASUU had particularly embarked on a four-week warning strike on February 14, this year. The strike was extended at its expiration following the alleged failure of the government to address the contentious issues.
At the centre of the disagreement is the alleged poor implementation of the re-negotiated 2009 agreement with the union and the government’s insistence on paying the workers through the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) instead of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), which the union developed and recommended for the purpose. Although negotiations have been ongoing since then, a truce was yet to be reached.
Perturbed by the situation, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) last Thursday issued a 21-dy ultimatum to the government to address the demands of the union or it would declare a three-day warning strike, a move which may get the backing of many students and parents.
A 400-level student of Theatre and Film Arts at the University of Jos (UNIJOS), Theresa Luka, described the current scenario as quite unfortunate, noting that the strike is the third she has experienced since she gained admission into the university.
“This is in addition to my struggle for close to three years before I got admission. There was a strike called ‘the mother of all strikes’ where we spent over six months at home. Today, we are over two months counting from when ASUU gave the one-month notice, which it later extended.
“My condition is so bad that as a final year student, we were given project supervisors. But they can’t attend to us because they are on strike. The situation is boring as there is no menial job.
“My word to the government is to immediately call ASUU and complete their negotiation so that this strike will be called off,” she said.
Elizabeth Uzo, a 300 level Sociology student at the Taraba State University, lamented that her dream of graduating in or before 2023 has become a mirage.
Uzo, who said she chose to stay back in Jalingo instead of returning to her home state of Abia so as not to be a burden to her parents, expressed dismay at the choices the leadership of the country was making, noting that the government was not bothered about the problems of the country.
“I know how my parents always struggle to pay my fee. So, instead of going home, I preferred to stay back and hustle by selling telephone recharge cards so that at the end of the day, I would be able to assist them in footing my school bills.
“Traveling home will no doubt affect my parents’ finances, and that might make it impossible for them to raise my school fees when the strike is eventually called off,” she said.
Also expressing sadness at the way and manner the leaders have shown a “nonchalant attitude” towards the ongoing strike, another student of the university, Abdullahi Usman, said some students have been recruited as thugs ahead of the forthcoming primary elections of the political parties.
“It’s unfortunate that our leaders are doing nothing to address the situation,” he lamented.
Speaking in the same vein, a 400-level student of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Miss Ijeoma Anaka, described the two ministers, Ngige and Nwajiuba, who are gunning for the highest office in the land, as people with “zero fire” aspiring to lead Nigeria.
She lamented that it was unfair for the government to have robbed her of her education and forced her to stay at home.
Anaka said: “Frankly, I feel like it is very unfair. It’s not like I did anything wrong to be kept at home. It’s unfair; I feel bullied, being forced to stay at home. My education is being taken away from me. Calculating the start of my education in the university, the fact that I am still here at this time is saddening. Most of my mates in private universities have graduated and are already serving; some are through with NYSC. But I have to wait until the Federal Government decides that they want to bring out the money because the money is there.
“Where are these aspirants (Ngige and Nwajiuba) getting the money, N100 million, to buy expression of interest and nomination forms? This is not even part of what they will spend on campaigns?
“Personally, I do not like to follow election news, because it saddens me to see people with zero fire trying to run a country such as Nigeria that has been dilapidated by corruption. What do you (Ngige and Nwajiuba) want to do and how? Can you guarantee transparency and growth? What about the education sector that you have already failed to fix? Will you be fair? So, there are many questions to ask. But my plea is that they should allow me to return to school and finish my academic pursuit.”
A student of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Princewill Bisong, also directed her anger at Ngige and Nwajiuba, saying: “What I have for the government, especially the minister of Labour, Ngige and Minister for State for Education, Nwajiuba, is that they are not capable of being the president of this country.
“What is it that they want to come and give to us? You cannot give what you don’t have. That means when either of them eventually becomes the president, we will suffer more. As Minister of Labour, you could not have a reasonable negotiation with ASUU on behalf of the government to end the strike and you want to be president of this country. What you were unable to do as a minister is it when you become the president of the whole nation that you will be able to do them? Enough is enough; they can’t continue to lie to us.”
For Kelechi Agbor, a 400-level student of Combined Arts at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, staying home while the general election is fast approaching has proven that Nigerian leaders don’t have the interest of the country at heart but are only concerned about their political interests.
She said the strike has made her incur an extra cost of accommodation in school.
“As a student that gained admission into the university in 2017 for a four-year course, it would have been normal for me to graduate in 2021. But due to the strike in the previous years, it has been impossible and with this current one getting prolonged again, the possibility of me graduating this year appears to be threatened.
“Following the academic calendar of my university, by March this year, I am supposed to have written my final examination, thereby making me leave the school environment latest by the month of May. As a student who was unable secure accommodation in the school, I have to pay additional one-year rent, because the landlord has refused to take money for six months, resulting in the waste of my parents’ finance. ASUU strike has scattered my plans.
“Some students are now giving up on school because of this strike. Speaking from experience, I have friends that dropped out of school because of the 2020 strike/COVID-19 and this will make the society have more illiterates,” she said.
Kelechi asked Ngige, Nwajiuba and other government officials to concentrate on their plans for the 2023 elections while youths are idling at home to think of the negative impacts of their actions on society.
“I just want to say to all of them bringing out millions of naira to buy presidential nomination forms that I do not know the kind of people they have intentions of the ruling, because when the education system of a nation is dead, so are the people. It is unfortunate that they do not show concern and it simply means that they are getting joy in ruling people who are backward and dead.
“It is also very unfortunate that they do not care about the people of the nation and their welfare, because the future of any nation lies with its education. Lastly, I just want to say that the way they are going about this strike is also the way they will go about this country when they become president. So, no one should make the mistake of voting for those who have plunged this country into ruin,” the final year student added.
A 300-level student of the University of Benin, Miss Uju Okwumbu, also said: “I am studying a five-year course and by my calculations, I should be done with school by December 2023. But with these incessant strikes, I don’t know what Nigeria has in stock for me.
“By making preparations for the upcoming elections while students are at home, they have proven to us that their obsession for power supersedes their love for the people. Then, I wonder what foundation their government would stand on since there is no love for the people. As for those government officials in Education and Labour ministries that are contesting in the elections, I will say that he that cannot be trusted in little things can never be trusted in great things. They have failed in the education sector, which is enough proof that they cannot be trusted with the welfare of the whole nation.”
A100-level student of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho, Miss Ifeoluwa Esther Ogunkola, told The Guardian that she feels neglected to stay at home and watching the country’s leaders preparing vigorously for elections.
“Nigerian government hasn’t shown concern about our educational welfare. The strike has affected me in the sense that the academic calendar has been disrupted even with the fact that the COVID-19 era also caused a delay.
“My message to Ngige and Nwajiuba is that they haven’t done well and their actions are unpatriotic. I have begun to learn new skills like graphics designing, blogging and other soft skills. On the other hand, I have been running online courses that are related to what I study in school,” the student of Physiology disclosed.
For Rukayat Bolaji Odetayo of the Department of Counsellor Education, University of Ilorin, who was supposed to graduate in 2021,“government should please do something to end the strike; they should consider that our parents don’t have money to send us to private universities or study abroad.”
A Medical Laboratory Science student of Ambrose Alli University (AAU), Ekpoma, Edo State, Miss Precious Aifesosa Osayande, said she was unhappy to sit at home due to the strike.
The 200-level student, who expressed worries over the face-off between the Federal Government and ASUU, said that she was feeling bad because “we don’t even know when the strike will be called off.”
She, therefore, appealed to Federal Government to do the needful in order to find a lasting solution to the problems, while ASUU, “for our sake, should shift ground and call off the strike.”
A student of Federal University, Lokoja, Kogi State, Joseph Ola, simply said: “I’m not happy sitting at home. I’m supposed to be in school learning one or two things but I’m here doing nothing. It is sad!”
He begged the Federal Government and ASUU to shift grounds “because of us, the students.”
Also lamenting the situation, a postgraduate student of Imo State University, Owerri, Ikenna Onuoha, said: “This strike is not good for the nation. The Federal Government should quickly resolve this matter so that we can go back to school. It has disrupted our academic activities. Our tertiary education sector should be fixed. That is what our lecturers are asking for. It is not bad.”
On her part, a student of the University of Cross River State (UNICROSS), Mary Igbaji, said: “From my little knowledge, we have been having an ASUU strike since 2005. The one of 2020 lasted for nine whole months while that of 2022 is still counting. For how long will they continue to treat Nigerian students in this manner? What kind of future are they building for us? How long will they continue to use the money meant for the education sector for other things? These are questions I want the government to answer us.”
A student of the University of Calabar, Zita Sessu, also said: “l am left with no other words than words of bitterness. It is of no benefit to me staying at home for over a month now and not gaining any knowledge whatsoever. And as we all know, being far away from studies leads to backwardness in knowledge.
“The Minister of Labour and the Minister of State for Education must be aware of the fact that they cannot get the support of youths and students of this country in their political ambitions of becoming the president because their manner of handling the ASUU issues. How would they handle the whole country.”
Another student, Ngozi Nnawuihe, also lamented that “politicians are busy pursuing their interests for the 2023 general election” to the detriment of the students who have been at home for about 11 weeks now.
“Parents and stakeholders should rise up and speak against this bad treatment. Enough is enough,” she said.
Commenting, Mr. Daniel Ukoha described the present situation as unbearable and disastrous for students, saying some students may have to spend extra years at the university as a result of the strike.
“These politicians and the Federal Government officials are heartless,” he said. “They don’t care for Nigerians. They are self-centred. They are busy paying outrageous fees to purchase forms to contest elections. How can they be talking about elections when the engine for political and socio-economic development is being destroyed? This is a bad legacy for future generations.
“These politicians should show a human face and remember that they took the oath of offices. They are supervising the destruction of the country.”
A father, Mr. Davou Dung, who said that two of her children were affected by the strike, noted that it was very sad that a government was reneging on its promises.
He warned that the prolonged strike portends a great danger to the preparations for the 2023 polls.
Dung said: “This ASUU/Federal Government disagreement leading to the prolonged strike portends a great danger to security and preparations for the 2023 elections. It is so sad that a government that promised improvement in education and security is seen to be reneging on its promise.
“I cannot see why instead of ending the negotiation by implementing the memorandum of action signed between government and ASUU government representatives such as the Minister of Labour and Employment and the Minister of State for Education are abandoning their important assignment to contest the presidential election.
“With the universities shut down and students roaming the streets, you should expect disruption to the preparations for 2023 because they are idle and an idle youth can freely be a tool for use by the devil.
“I call on FG and ASUU to immediately go back to the negotiating table to end the strike, except if government and ASUU want to tell Nigerians that Boko is truly Haram, meaning education is forbidden.”
A public affairs analyst based in Jos, Comrade Dauda Semshak, blamed both ASUU and the government for the prolonged strike, saying he expected ASUU to devise a means to put their demands to the government rather than shutting down public universities.
“After the strike, the government pays ASUU arrears of the months that they stayed at home but the students lost those months. Also, the government is insensitive to the plight of ASUU. Instead of a huge budget to finance education, they allocate a higher budget for the salaries of political appointees.
“The same government that consciously and voluntarily signed an agreement with ASUU in 2009 is telling Nigerians in 2022 that there is no money to meet ASUU’s demands. It is not reasonable. It is clear that government does not prioritise education because most of the children of the political office holders school abroad or in private universities, which the poor man cannot afford,” Semshak said.
In his contribution, a father of two students at the University of Jos, Mr. Abel Lasisi, described the situation as disheartening.
Noting that he has two children in 400-level and 300-level at the University of Jos, he explained that Nigerian students who have been affected by the strike have become burdens to their parents and guardians at home.
The father stated that immediately ASUU declared the strike and his children came home, they did not joke with their books, believing firmly that the strike would soon be called off but that did not happen.
“The situation is really a bad omen for education in this country. Government is a failure in this regard. It’s obvious that the ministries of Education and Labour cannot manage the situation. The children of the ministers are not schooled in the country. Government does not have sincerity of purpose. For students to be idle at home does not portray the government in a good light. These students are leaders of tomorrow but they are not being prepared for that future leadership role. In fact, to say the least, education in the country has collapsed completely,” Lasisi asserted.
He advised parents to monitor their children closely so that they would not indulge in vices that could ruin their future.
Lasisi, who noted that ASUU was doing the right thing, advised the members to stand firm and get what belongs to them.
“They should stand firm to actualise their dream so as to revive the education system in this country. They should not call off the strike until all agreements are fulfilled. They should not because of the hue and cry by some people call off the strike,” he insisted.
A concerned citizen, Comrade Emmanuel Chijioke, called for a national conference involving all stakeholders to proffer solutions to the impasse, lamenting that both students and university staff were victims.
“The lecturers and workers in our universities have not received salaries, while students have not been in school for about three months and parents are not happy. Everybody is affected.
“The Federal Government, National Assembly members and politicians seem not bordered. These leaders should wake up and find solutions to this problem of ASUU. It does not speak well for the country. We have a government and it should act immediately. We have had enough in the education sector.”