By Temilade Aderiye
That is how long the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been ongoing. Students and parents alike despair over whether the strike would be ending soon. When ASUU embarked on yet another strike in February, many students thought it would be one of the very short ones that get called off in a few weeks. However, to the general shock and surprise, the strike has remained strong despite the occasional peace talks between the federal government and the members of the academic staff union of universities.
The recent strike action which started on the 14th of February is a result of the back and forth between the federal government and members of the union about the payment platform for the salaries and allowances of university lecturers. The other bone of contention between the federal government and the union is the failure of the government to implement the agreement of 2009 which contained the conditions of service of the members of the union. This inability to achieve a compromise with the government has caused the union to extend the first four-week strike.
ASUU rejected the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) in favour of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS). IPPIS is the payment platform used by the federal government to pay workers in all other sectors asides from the educational sector. There are over 700 ministries, agencies, and departments of government in Nigeria on this platform.
Despite the insistence of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on the use of UTAS as their payment platform, it has been revealed that the platform is not dependable enough. This was made known after an integrity test was conducted by the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA. This is the body responsible for overseeing digital advancements and technologies in the country. During a briefing with journalists at a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, it was revealed that the UTAS platform failed the test for vulnerability, user acceptance, and durability among other tests.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities was established in 1978 to serve as a platform to combat some challenges such as low salaries of university staff, the rundown state of the learning environment, and inadequate learning facilities in Nigerian tertiary institutions. However, years later, these challenges have not only been unaddressed, but they have also worsened. Thus, leading to incessant strike actions by this same union. The blame for these strike actions is also shared by the federal government which has refused to meet the demands of the union. Better remuneration should be supplied for university staff and a more conducive learning environment should be made available for the students.
There is a saying that where two elephants fight, the grasses suffer. The same is true in this situation where the two big elephants of ASUU and the federal government have locked trunks and Nigerian students are the ones paying for it. Idle hands have become the devil’s workshop for many Nigerian youths because they are not being kept busy with school activities. This means crime rates have increased, thereby causing more problems for the federal government to solve. More Nigerian youths engage in kidnapping, stealing, prostitution, cybercrime, ritualism, and other nefarious activities because they are not gainfully employed. This is not to imply that all Nigerian youths are stealing or engaging in other vices. But, if this idleness continues, it is only a matter of time before many of the leaders of tomorrow become the problems of today.
Another effect that this strike action has had is that many students will be unable to go for the mandatory one year of national youth service because they would have exceeded the age limit of 30 years by the time they graduate from the university. It is the joy of Nigerian parents to see their child in the NYSC khaki uniform, but this might become impossible if this strike continues. In many cases, a five-year course has become a six-year course. Many undergraduate Law students lament being unable to go to law school because their examination results are yet to be released and this is due to these strike actions. For parents who can’t afford to switch their wards to a private tertiary institution or send them overseas to get educated, there is nothing else to do than to sit out the strike and hope it gets called off soon.
It has now become normal for undergraduates to include an unknown number of “Y” years to the actual number of years they ought to spend during their studies. This is especially non-beneficial for the students who wish to venture into the banking industry where the age factor is an essential requirement for entry-level job positions.
Also, when this strike is eventually called off, lecturers might find themselves with a problem on their hands. This is because some of these students have already gotten themselves involved with one activity or another. And so, making the transition from being gainfully employed and earning stipends to becoming students after such a long time has passed might be a tad difficult. It is not surprising to see that oftentimes, students lose interest in getting educated after long periods of strike actions. And to make up for this lost time, lecturers would bombard students with long notes and assignments and even skip over important parts of the course. Courses that are meant to be learnt for 6 months are taught in three weeks. These do not in any way aid the actual learning process and only leaves students with the belief that “school na scam.”
The incessant strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have reduced Nigerian students’ efficiency in the course of their educational advancement. Although Nigerian students are brilliant, these incessant strike actions that disrupt the learning process might make it difficult for these students to be on par with their counterparts from other countries. In its 2022 report, the Centre for World University Ranking placed the University of Ibadan in the 1,172nd position in the world and the first in Nigeria. This goes further to show that with a better education system there’s room for improvement. However, to achieve this, a lasting solution must be provided to these strike actions.
While the whole country awaits the end of this ongoing strike action, youths need to get involved in other activities that will boost their brain power. Several free online sites teach vital skills like graphic design, digital marketing, UI/UX design, and so on. Sites such as Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer.co, Remote.io, and so on allow people to sign up and work remotely on jobs known as gigs. It would be beneficial to these youths if they acquire one or more of the skills and earn income from them. Those who are not tech-inclined can pick up skills such as tailoring, hair-dressing, and other such skills. Acquiring these skills will help them be better prepared for the outside world when they eventually graduate from a higher institution of learning.
The two parties of the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) should also end this strike by reaching a compromise that both sides would be comfortable with. If the youths that are proclaimed to be the leaders of tomorrow are made to sit at home without advancing educationally, then that tomorrow is in grave danger. The ripple effect of all these strike actions will negatively affect society and the country’s economy if care is not taken. The country’s educational sector should be improved such that cases of strike actions will be curbed or even totally eradicated. More funds should be allocated to this sector to ensure it runs smoothly.
Although the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) has recommended that developing nations should allocate up to 15% to 20% of their annual budget to the education sector, Nigeria has failed to meet up with this UNESCO standard. In the 2022 budget which totals about N17.13 trillion, the sum of N923.79 billion has been allocated to the education sector. This is 5.4% of the total budget which was approved by the National Assembly. This is a very low amount that will have zero to no effect on the development of this sector. More work must be done on the part of the government to ensure that this sector grows. Furthermore, the government should ensure that they fulfill whatever agreement they have made with the Union and its members.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is also charged with the responsibility of looking for better avenues to air their grievances to the government. It is obvious that this method of going incessantly on strikes has not been having any effect in getting their demands met and this means that a better way should be devised. Preferably one that does not put the Nigerian youth’s learning process on hold for indefinite periods. It falls on the Union to also explore alternate sources of funding.
The educational sector is the key component of any society that desires to be up to par with the challenges of an ever-evolving world. The reoccurring strike actions have restricted the growth of the Nigerian educational system and will continue to threaten the future of Nigerian youths if care is not taken. Thus, all stakeholders must work together to put an end to this strike action and ensure that the future of the nation is secured.