ASUU Strike and The Effects it Has Had on Young Nigerians in School.
For the 8th consecutive month, students of Nigerian universities have been stuck at home because of the deadlock between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
“I feel like I've just decided to move on with my life.”
For what is now the 8th consecutive month, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has still not wavered in its promise to keep up the industrial action against owed salaries of its members among other issues— like the revitalisation of public universities and academic autonomy— even amidst continuous meetings with the federal government to find common ground. For students like Kikelomo Folorunso who now has to take on makeup artistry amidst the ongoing strike, coming to terms with the idea that education is not the head goal has been a turning point for her. But even with this realization, the final year student of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) finds the stagnancy that comes with strikes excruciating. “It just feels like there's a pause. I cannot go back and I cannot move forward even though I'm close to the finishing line.”
ASUU's continuous industrial actions have become a torturous journey for hundreds of thousands of young Nigerians who now have to involuntarily put up with the decadence in the country's educational sector. But for the board, it is a major combat tool against the inadequacies of sustainable governance in the National University System. The board has now gone on strike for a cumulative of 5 years since Nigeria took off democratic rule in 1999. This is per reports from ARISE TV. With every passing minute that students stay home instead of being at school—rounding up a course or starting one— the future of Nigeria, and its economy dangles by a loose thread from the palms of the federal government and the ASUU board - even though the ASUU president, Emmanuel Osodeke, insists that the strikes are in the best interest of students. “The students are not being punished. What we are doing is fighting for the future of the Nigerian University System,” he tells The Guardian.
Particularly, the federal government's stance towards resolving the problem with ASUU has been staggering and we still see bleakness in their responses to ASUU's demands. Every negotiation and discussion that they've tried to establish with the educational board over the past few months has met a deadlock with the chairman insisting that ASUU will not shift its demands.
The final year in an academic session is purposed to signify the dawn—an ephemeral moment— just before the start of an entirely new phase of a person's life. With Nigeria, you get the longest dawn ever - it starts to look like night. More often than not, students do not experience the final year thrill, it is usually filled with uncertainty of how the next phase of their lives would look like. This is what the past 6 months have been like for Kikelomo.
Kikelomo, who had finished writing her final exams before February when ASUU decided it was time, didn't get her results and till now, hasn't seen them. To this, she cannot begin with processing the NYSC requirements for her Youth Service. Waiting is being stuck and this is where she's at. “It's been crazy, really. It's very painful because I would have progressed further than this. It's not the first time it's happened - throughout my whole stay at the university, there were a lot of strikes. Currently, my mates are working full-time jobs,” the 23-year-old tells Bside.
The thing about this balance that ASUU intends to find with the Nigerian University System (NUS) and the educational well-being of students is that it is coming at the cost of destabilising the nation's economy as more people continue to find and enrich Scandinavian and European countries with fees that could easily bolster Nigeria's educational sector. This is especially as more people venture into Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Foreign education continues to impoverish the nation's resources in the middle of its frightful shortage of foreign exchange. Earlier this year, data from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) showed that Nigerians spent up to US$221m on foreign education between December 2021 and February 2022. Interestingly, most of the people who attend private-owned or foreign educational institutions are children of public officers and lawmakers who are core members of the government that refuses to meet ASUU demands.
While ASUU may not be in the wrong for putting students' education on hold for the greater cause, the people who should be paying attention all have their children enrolled in foreign and private-owned institutions and have made their nonchalance obvious enough in response to the betterment of the educational sector. And with the board not presenting an alternative to strikes, the possibility that students are mere scapegoats in these schemes is terrifying.
Speaking with Bside, Nnaemeka Joel, a 300-level student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, feels devastated about being unsure of his future and knowing how to plan. “I feel pain. Pain is the right word for me right now. Imagine someone who's calculated his life—the time he'd spend in school and the time he'll go for NYSC—but gets stuck in the middle of the ASUU problems,” Nnaemeka begins.
Thousands of other students, like him, who make up the 26 tertiary institutions under the ASUU board have been made victims of a seemingly unending power tussle between a government that refuses to pay its dues and a board adamant about getting paid for their work, and rightly so.
“School begins and after a year, they embark on another strike. It's not just pain, I'm also scared. With the way things are going, the future does not look bright for Nigeria's educational sector. As it sounds now, the future is scary. We just need God's intervention,” he says.
Since the strike's commencement, almost every piece of advice students have heard has revolved around taking on digitised skills which are in high demand due to the recent tech wave, but not a lot of people find it convenient to toll this path. Final year Biotechnology student, Tunde Abass, who feels stuck like Kikelomo is particularly worried about lagging on taking on skills and learning a trade amidst the strike fiasco. While Tunde thought the strike to be an opportunity to learn IT skills or a trade, he asserts that he hasn't been able to take on any at all.
Troubled that Nigeria's education is headed for waterloo, Tunde doesn't believe that a government as lackadaisical as the present one should be in charge of a critical sector like education.
“The educational aspect of Nigeria as a country is dead,” Tunde starts. “If we have what it takes to run a good educational sector in Nigeria, I don't think students would be at home for six months without a solution to the strike. And I'm a hundred per cent sure that if they should call it off this year, we would go on another one the same year. We are currently ruled by a president who does not know the value of education.”