Three months in, university strike in Nigeria threatens students’ future

Answering the call of Nigeria’s main university union, public university professors have been on strike since June.

Hundreds of thousands of Nigerian students have had their exams and even graduation postponed indefinitely. Far from a first in the country’s recent history, the latest public university strike brings the total duration of missed academic sessions in the past 15 years to an impressive three and a half years.  

Hundreds of thousands of Nigerian students have had their exams and even graduation postponed indefinitely. Far from a first in the country’s recent history, the latest public university strike brings the total duration of missed academic sessions in the past 15 years to an impressive three and a half years. 

 

The University of Ibadan, the oldest in Nigeria, has interrupted its final semester. 

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Poor work conditions and insufficient infrastructure are the reasons invoked by the university union that initiated the strike, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Accusing the federal government of reneging on a 2009 agreement with them, the ASUU is determined not to flag until their demands are met. “I’m convinced that this is a good course that we have chosen for our education sector; to ensure that we get all that we agreed in 2009,” officially declared Dr. Nasir Fagge, the president of the union, at the beginning of September. 

The agreement was first initiated and signed in 2001 and renegotiated in 2009. But, since 2011, when satisfactory results failed to appear, tensions and strikes have resurfaced and disrupted university classes on more than one occasion. A few days ago, the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, accused the ASUU of playing politics with the situation, which he called unfortunate, and made promises to act promptly on the issue of the infrastructure at public universities. Promises the ASUU considers “deception, propaganda, lies and mischief”, as stated on their website. 

The main focus of the agreement is the amount of funding the federal government allocates to education, which, according to USAA, falls short of the 25% of the national budget recommended by the United Nations. The actual number is not clear, but, depending on the source, it ranges from 9% to 24%. Other demands include payment of Earned Academic Allowances to lecturers, and provision of critical infrastructure to universities. The ASUU is asking for a budget of 87 billion Naira (400 millions euros) for education but so far, the government only offered 100 million (450,000 euros), for lecturers to return to classes. While ASUU demands a full implementation of the agreement, the government said it cannot afford all and is seeking to re-negotiate some of the content.

University students demand prompt resolution

Going on its third month, the strike by university lecturers has had many students lamenting and calling for a quick resolution of the dispute. “We are all waiting for the strike to be over so that we can go back to school and finish what we started,” said a student of the University of Lagos to the Premium Times Nigeria. For most of them, months of class have already been cancelled during their program, significantly prolonging their studies.  Since the beginning of 2012, the hashtags #endASUUstrike and #ASUUchat have rallied thousands of Nigerian students on Twitter. 

 

 

A common feeling among students is that of being collateral damage to a fight that does not include them. Gbenupo Cadmus, a Nigerian graduate in business administration, agrees that “the infrastructure of Nigerian universities is very poor and neglected.” However, he deplores the way the situation was manipulated by the ASUU and trusts the federal government to improve the universities soon.  “It seems the major bone of contention is money, here. What the ASUU can’t accept is that they haven’t been paid the totality of their promised allowance yet,” Gbenupo says. Fatai Abiodun, a student from the Department of Mass Communication at the University of Lagos and radio presenter for the main university radio station in Nigeria, Unilag FM, has a different take on the subject. He believes the strikes are necessary and will, in time, see results: “The strike will make a huge difference when all the necessary structures are put into place. Incoming students will benefit from our small sacrifice.” 

 

 

The library is empty at the University of Ibada.

Source: Michael Sean Gallagher

Education, like other public sectors in Nigeria, is corrupt, according to Transparency International. It ranks Nigeria as the world’s 40th most corrupt country out of 183. Competition to win one of the limited number of public university seats in the country does not depend only on merit, but rather on money and connection.  “In most cases, you need a bribe to get a seat. Some lecturers have been sacked as a result. Except for a few universities, it is hardly based on merit these days,” explains Gbenupo Cadmus, who himself had to turn to a private university instead. Out of the 1 million Nigerian students who pass college entrance exams, the public universities can only admit 300,000. Students say it can cost up to 1000 euros in bribes to get into a university. Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of the expenses necessary to get into a public institution. Those who can afford private universities have an alternative option, but the rest can waste years trying their chance before they get in. 

Public universities will be joined today in their strike by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic. On 17 July, the Union suspended their strike because their demand for more budget had been met, but, so far, the government has failed to live up to its promise.