ASUU Strike: Lecturers as Endangered Specie
By Esther Shaibu
It is no longer news that the almost year-long strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has had devastating consequences on the plan of students and parents, and also dragged the image of the federal government to an all-time low. All the stakeholders involved in the face-off have had their ‘breakfast’ fully served, as it is said in street parlance. But the key stakeholders whose plight has been ignored for obvious reasons are the lecturers themselves.
This may sound ironic since many people see the lecturers as the oppressors who are using their own agitation to frustrate the future of innocent boys and girls. This is because ASUU has been on strike since February 14 2022, following the failure of the government to meet its demands, including the payment of earned allowances, revitalisation funds to universities, lecturers’ conditions of service, University Transparency Accountability Solution(UTAS) and other matters.
After so much back and forth between government and ASUU representatives failed to yield results, the former decided to whip the latter into line by implementing ‘a no work no pay’ policy.
While the measure has not succeeded in forcing the lecturers back to work, it has caused incalculable damage to the finances, mental health and family life of a lot of the lecturers many of whom are suffering in silence.
For obvious reasons, the plight of the lecturers has not made headlines. Aside the fact that students and parents are supposed to be the only victims that Nigerians care about, a lot of the lecturers have decided to suffer in silence and move on without shouting about their situation.
The lecturers have not been finding life easy for months now since they have lost their only means of livelihood and survival. While many cases of their suffering have gone unreported, there have been cases of avoidable deaths among lecturers from various universities in the country. Dr Christian Emedolu, a philosophy lecturer at Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, reportedly collapsed and died following the announcement of the ‘no work no pay’ measure. A Staff at the University of Benin is also said to have committed suicide because he could no longer meet up with the payment of his two daughters’ school fees.
A lecturer from Gombe state university was also said to have committed suicide because he could no longer meet the needs of his family. He was said to have borrowed money from various sources to survive during this period. Left with no option on how to source funds, he had to take his own life as a means of putting an end to the hardship he was facing.
To avoid a tragic fate like sudden death or suicide, many of the striking lecturers have taken to menial jobs to keep body and soul together. While some of them have reportedly turned their vehicles to online taxis, some have taken to buying and selling. Different national dailies recently reported one Christiana Pam, a lecturer in the University of Uyo, who was hawking tomatoes in the market.
Similarly, a lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, said that the strike period has not been easy, especially for those living in urban cities, but some of them have been able to beat the times because they enrolled their kids in schools they can afford. According to him however, he and some of his colleagues have moved into full-time farming to survive.
“Most lecturers aren’t suffering as people are insulating. If you are denied your salaries for 7-8 months, there are many challenges, especially for people living in cities like Lagos, Abuja or Port Harcourt. Some of us have decided to start looking for alternatives for survival like full-time farming” he said.
Some male lecturers are no longer the breadwinners in their respective homes since they can’t take up the financial responsibilities in the family. Their wives are now the ones who run their homes, that is for male lecturers whose wives are also working, this time, faraway from university campuses.
“For those of us who are fortunate enough to have working wives, it has not been too bad. I have some colleagues whose spouses are also lecturers. They have a very difficult time surviving,” another lecturer at the University of Nsukka, was quoted as saying.
I will advise government to summon whatever political will it takes to resolve this lingering crisis before it snowballs into another security challenge because of the plight of people like bike riders, traders, saloonists etc whose livelihood depend on the presence of students on campuses.
Another impact of the strike is brain drain. The country keeps losing its best brains to serious countries that understand the value of quality education. This will not augur well for the future of our country if it is not halted.
Government has to return to the negotiating table. Both FG and ASUU must find a middle ground in all these issues as hardline stance will not help in any way. Seeking to break ASUU by registering a counter union may just offer some temporary relief, it doesn’t solve the fundamental issues, neither will it force ASUU to return to classes. If government decides to sack all lecturers who fail to resume, this may cause series of litigation that will not do anyone any good. Previous efforts by the Military break ASUU didn’t work. This one too is not likely to succeed.
May God bless Nigeria.
Esther is a student of Mass Communication at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria.