Chisom Mefor: ASUU Strike, 6 Months Forward but 10 steps backward

ASUU President, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke

By Chisom Juanita Mefor

After Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has continued to be firm in demanding rights of university workers by Federal Government.

The union has since been active in the struggles to obtain fair wages, unpaid arrears, staff welfare amongst other demands largely centered on funding and revitalization of Nigerian public universities.

Nigerian students continue to suffer neglect from the Government on all levels. On February 14th 2022, ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) had gone on a 2-week warning action strike, before rolling out an indefinite strike extension and six months later; there has not been any significant outcome from the ongoing negotiations and renegotiations between the union and Federal Government.

ASUU is not to be spared in this blame either, these ceaseless strike strategy has become counterproductive, and now constitutes an existential threat to the very system it claims to liberate.

We grossly underestimate the impact of these on/off, never-ending strike actions. In Joy Obor’s words, “UNN (University of Nigeria, Nsukka) is the major driver of economic growth in Nsukka community.” What this simply means is entrepreneurial activities depend on a wide range of dynamic organizational capabilities. Whenever school is shut, every other sector grinds to a halt. From shuttle buses within the school to transporters like Peace Mass, GIGM and GUO etc., banks, POS operators, food suppliers, event ushers, caterers, hoteliers, waiters/waitresses, hairdressers, market traders and the list goes on. 

UNN is just one school, but take a brief moment to imagine this harsh reality replicated across 81 federal and state universities in Nigeria that have been shut for six months. Thousands of Nigerians are dependent on the economic units/businesses on campus to survive; there are individuals who stay afloat through day-to-day activities within the school and its neighboring communities. Is it not strange that Nigeria risks a third recession in 7 years, yet with the disturbing trend in the nation’s economic growth/metrics, families are forced to starve amidst one of the worst inflation crisis in the country’s history?

Speculations are dwindling towards an extension of the strike action by third week of August, why does Nigeria seem to be retrogressing in all angles? Families are crying out for help and lecturers/non-academic staffs that form the bulk of the middle-class are fast slipping into poverty, this price is one too steep to pay. 

There are a handful of students who combine studying and running a business. A close friend, Orumah Ebenezer was a versatile entrepreneur and an employer of labour as an undergraduate. Nezer sold cakes to every nook and cranny of UNN Nsukka campus; at events, seminars, wedding, birthdays, school parties, with an energetic 17-man team comprising of Sales department, Media/Publicity, Product Bakers, CEO/Finance Officer etc, he has now returned to serve Nigeria through the National Youth Service Core (NYSC) program, while the business is managed by his zealous younger sister, Nneoma. 

Speaking to businessinsiederng, Yusuf, a trader in University of Lagos Akoka, had this to say, “We have experienced massive sales drop as a result of the unavailability of students on campus. On a normal day we would make about N40,000 but now we barely get N5000, that’s about 87.5 percent decline, the difference is quite clear” he said.

A restaurateur, Mr. Lanre who has been forced to lay off his student staffers told the correspondent, “I have asked my boys to stay back because the daily income can no longer cater for their wages again. When the students were here, I used to have up to 5 staff, but as the students who are the key customers are not here, I have been forced to reduce the number to 2”.

The most common reason why businesses fail is due to cash flow problems- inadequate financing and poor customer service impact. Fewer customers often lead to loss of revenue and for business owners to save money and run their venture at reduced cost, they are forced to lay off staff, causing them to lose the amount of time invested in training them, as well as their network of relationships, knowledge/expertise etc. 

Beyond the economic angle, frequent interruptions of the academic calendar continues affect the quality of graduates that are churned out in society, as a student and from the countless strikes I have witnessed, lecturers resort to rush work upon resumption and justifiably so, for fear of another strike, this affects student-lecturer relationship leading poor academic performance.

Working hard at getting a good education has long been known as the most empowering force in nation building. If truly education is global shaper and an indispensable and basic necessity for breakthrough and the foundation of a greater future for any individual/child, why is getting an education so tough and difficult in this part of the world?

Aluta discontinua…

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Chisom Juanita Mefor

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