INCESSANT ASUU STRIKES FORCE FRUSTRATED NIGERIAN STUDENTS OVERSEAS

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A chain of strike denied a former postgraduate student of the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Ndubuisi Martins, the opportunity to clinch the Chancellor’s scholarship at the University of Warwick, England in 2017.

 

The strike action by the Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Education Institutions prevented him from processing and submitting the university copy of his transcript, the final stage to clinching the prize, to his aspiring institution.

 

A postgraduate student at UI at the time, Martins stated that efforts by his Head of Department to process the departmental copy of the academic transcript didn’t succeed as the University of Warwick insisted on the university copy of the transcript.

 

 

The loss of the admission, he noted “really affected and de-motivated me. It made my work suffer a lot and too many other issues affected me. To start again was daunting.”

 

“I have been delayed by strikes,” Martins added, “I mean, right from my undergraduate days to my postgraduate studies. There was another strike in 2013 when I ought to have completed my master’s. The strike elongated the period for master’s which I started in 2013 and eventually ended in 2015. Strikes have impacted negatively on my academics from my undergraduate to this present time. During the 2007/2008 session, there was also a long strike. My experience of Nigeria and strikes could be described as debilitating.”

 

Martins, who started PhD at his alma mater stated that the last straw that broke the camel’s back for him was the “Never-ending strike and of course, the interminable or less structured ways PhDs can be in Nigeria, very strangulating you can say.”

 

The PhD student stated that apart from the strikes, the theft of his gadgets, money and other valuables from his apartment made him lose three chapters of his ideas which centred on body, politics and literature, adding “It was another defining moment for me.”

 

He remarked that having to start his PhD all over again was difficult. But his determination to survive and adapt regardless of the conditions edged him on.

 

Martins stated, “I arrived at the Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic, Central Europe, thinking that my Nigerian university had given me a lot and that I would seamlessly fit into the programme. But of course, I did struggle a bit to settle down although not financially. So coming here is a different ball game, regimen, research, and orientation. It’s the same course. I am saddled with so much research, schedule. It’s not the same culture and language.”

 

Describing the reality of the educational experience abroad with what was obtained in Nigeria, he explained, “It’s different from Nigeria, the mentorship, facilities and virtually everything. I’m on a scholarship and I am being paid stipends. I cannot compare at all. I had to save and starve to attend conferences, Nigerian universities are grossly underfunded. Things need to change in Nigeria, if not many of us will leave. Look at how many dreams have been plugged into some politics and dilly-dallying.”

 

Unending strikes

The strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities were meant to compel the Federal Government to honour agreements it reached with the union, adequately fund education, and achieve university autonomy.

 

Since 1999, ASUU has embarked on strikes 16 times with the last few days being three in 2006. The 1999 strike which lasted for five months was to protest against the poor working conditions of its members. Again in 2001 and 2008, the union embarked on a three-month and one-week strike respectively over the reinstatement of 49 lecturers sacked at a University of Ilorin. Poor funding of universities and non-implementation of previous agreements were major reasons for the strikes. These reasons provoked the strikes witnessed in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009.

 

Following the 2009 agreement between the Federal Government and ASUU to re-negotiate the 2001, the union embarked on strike to protest the non-implementation of the agreement.

 

Specifically, in the agreement, the committee resolved to reverse the decay in the university system to reposition it for greater responsibilities in national development; reverse the brain drain not only by the remuneration of academic staff but also by disengaging them from encumbrances of a unified civil service wage structure; to restore Nigerian universities, through immediate, massive and sustained financial intervention and to ensure genuine university autonomy and academic freedom.

 

The agreement further recommended a minimum of 26 per cent of the annual budget of state and federal governments for education, as articulated in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation benchmark and 50 per cent of the 26 per cent be allocated to universities.

 

But the 2022 budgetary allocation to the education sector was less than 10 per cent of the nation’s annual budget.

 

The union’s demands in the ongoing strike it commenced on February 14 strike echo the existing ones. Since February 14, university students have lost a semester and half of the 2020/2021 session which had yet to be completed by most schools.

 

The union demands the release of revitalisation funds, earned allowances and adoption and usage of the University Transparency Accountability System for the payment of salaries and allowances as against the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System.

 

Consequently, the incessant strikes have fuelled the exodus of students in public universities to seek admission to universities abroad. The 2018 data from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation indicated that about 76,338 Nigerians were studying abroad.

 

A market intelligence resource for international education and student travel industry, ICEF Monitor, stated that nearly 100,000 Nigerian students were enrolled in universities abroad in 2020.

 

It further stated that Nigeria has a huge number of postgraduate students in the world, a figure projected to be the highest in the world by 2025.

 

Also, data from the Central Bank of Nigeria in July revealed that between January and May this year, the amount spent on foreign education was $378.77m.

 

In a breakdown of the data, in January, $60.20m was spent and March witnessed the highest increase of $87.26m while May accounted for $82.70m. In December, the apex bank stated that $90.67m was spent on foreign education.

 

Also, the National Universities Commission noted that Nigeria had 49 public-funded universities with a budgetary allocation of N355.47bn to 44 of them.

 

Strike fuelling educational tourism

A postgraduate student of a federal university in the South-West identified as Solomon Philip would have completed his master’s programme in April and begun another master’s degree abroad but for ASUU strike. The current strike denied him the opportunity of completing his last semester and having two master’s degree certificates.

 

Solomon said, “I planned to do a second master’s before. I planned to complete my master’s degree in UI in April and resume my second master’s in August abroad. But the ASUU strike started in February so I could not complete my last semester in UI. If there wasn’t a strike, I would have completed the programme and be on to my second one. I left the country during the strike.”

 

But this was not the first strike that would affect Solomon’s education. He noted that previous strikes affected him during his undergraduate days. “I can’t keep a tab on the number of years but I have been affected by the strikes which happened from 2013 to 2022,” he stated.

 

Elated by his admission to a school overseas which he described as a “next step to my academic achievement,” Solomon stated that he had to start afresh.

 

He added that he was done with the Nigerian education and wouldn’t want to seek education at home again.

 

The strike has also forced parents to rethink their decisions of desiring their children attend the best public institutions in the country.

 

One of such is the popular Nollywood actress, Sola Sobowale, who in a recent interview stated that due to incessant strikes she had to leave fame and her well-paying job in Nigeria to relocate with her children to the United Kingdom for them to have a better education.

 

Undergraduates not left out

A 200 level student at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Akwa, Anambra State, who gave his name only as Kamso said he decided to seek admission to a university in the United Kingdom due to the ASUU strike.

 

Although this year’s strike was the first he had encountered as an undergraduate, it was also the defining moment that spurred the decision of an overseas education.

 

Kamso also ruled out returning to Nigeria to seek education, expressing excitement about schooling abroad. He said, “It’s going to feel great and exciting. Everything there is different, easy and better than the ones in Nigeria. The two are incomparable.’’

 

A former second-year undergraduate student at the University of Lagos, Daniel Olufemi, stated that though the ongoing strike was his first experience in public universities, he added that five months of the strike felt like a thousand years to him.

 

Despite his brief encounter with the strike, Daniel said that pursuing an education in Nigeria was not it for him at the moment.

 

He added “I was elated and overjoyed. You see, I used two different adjectives to express how happy I was. Unlike most people, starting from scratch overseas felt amazing to me.”

 

He described the process as “easy and fast as you could imagine,’’ noting “I can proudly beat my chest and tell you everything is way better over there than it is in Nigeria and it can’t be compared.”

 

Daniel stated that though he had not missed any opportunity to strike, he noted, “It isn’t fair to keep students at home for so long and the government is taking the strike matter seriously.”

 

Ayobami Aiyedun said he was hanging out with his friends in a garden during a paintball game when he decided to take a quick break to check the notification alert on his phone.

 

Aiyedun said he had got a postgraduate admission in one of the schools in the South-West but could not resume because of the ASUU strike. He added that he had paid his fees and was about to commence registration when the strike started. Meanwhile, he had also applied to some universities abroad for master’s but had yet to be offered admission.

 

He told our correspondent that checking his phone he saw an email in his inbox and upon opening it, saw an admission letter coupled with a partial scholarship from a university in England. “My joy knew no bounds that day,” he said.

 

He added that when his friends asked him what he would do, he didn’t mince words to tell them that he accepted the admission to seek education abroad away from strikes and government’s insincerity.

 

“Education sector has lost it”

Educationists have described the incessant strikes as deplorable to the educational sector.

 

Speaking on the issue, an educationist and president, Concerned Parents and Educators Network, Mrs Kemi Koleowo, stated that it was expected for students who had the wherewithal to seek admission abroad to avoid the delay the strike caused in the nation’s education sector.

 

She further decried the lack of solutions to the prolonged strike.

 

Koleowo said, “What do we expect, you don’t expect them to just fold their hands doing nothing. We are talking about their future. If they fold their hands and do not find a way out because ASUU is on strike, it is rather unfortunate. Yes, not everyone will be able to afford to send their children or ward to study outside the country. But for those who can, I don’t see why they should not send their children to better places for education.”

 

Dwelling on the implications of the situation to education in the country, the educationist added, “Unfortunately, we have kind of lost it in the education sector. Even when ASUU was not on strike, there has always been a brain drain because we have downplayed the importance of education in this country. Now, when you talk of getting a good education in Nigeria, I don’t think that you have the structure in place for that type of response.

 

“I wish the government and ASUU will find a common ground and stop being egocentric about the whole situation. It is the students that are suffering now and it is going to have a ripple effect. Already the education sector has been bastardised, unless there is a drastic, deliberate and intentional move to get it back on track. We have to be pragmatic about finding a solution to the education sector in Nigeria.”

 

She also cited cases of undergraduates who had resolved not to resume after the strike was called off because they had found employment, marriage and other engagements.

 

“We are at a crossroads now as far as education is concerned in Nigeria. The solution to an issue that would have been resolved long ago is dragging on for too long and I do not know when it will end but what I do know is that a lot of irreparable damages have been done. Not everyone will have the opportunity to go outside the country to study but one day maybe a solution will be found,” Koleowo noted

 

On his part, a former Principal, King’s College, Lagos, Dele Olapeju, stated that the strike was regrettable, saying it showed the insensitivity of the stakeholders in the education sector.

 

He also said that embarking on the strike was against the procedures of the trade dispute act.

 

Olapeju added, “The country is not secure and the academic staff who are supposed to keep them busy are on their annual ritual strike, then the student will have to find their way so I don’t blame them (the student). I blame the nation. The nation that cannot guarantee a regular academic calendar for its students is a failed state.”

 

On the implication of student migration on the education sector, the former principal said, “Our loss here is the gain of the Western world. The emigration of Nigerian students and non-students outside the shores of the country is regrettable because the country no longer guarantees the safety of citizens. Everybody who is a player in this system has committed an offence. I expect that the legislators should have looked into the issues to find solutions to the ASUU strikes which have become a fad they enjoy every year.”

 

Situation will increase demand for forex – Economists

In his contribution, Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Muda Yusuf, stated that the issue would create additional demand for foreign exchange in the country.

 

The ex-Director General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry added that it would also put more financial pressure on parents considering the current inflationary challenges of day-to-day living, stating that it harmed the human capital development in the country.

 

Yusuf said, “We are at a time where we are looking for ways to conserve foreign exchange and reduce demand for foreign exchange. This crisis in our university system is fuelling additional demand for foreign exchange which is not a good development at all. No matter what we say, this will put additional pressure on the foreign exchange market and because many of the parents may not be able to source these funds from the official window, many of them will be forced to go to the parallel market and that will be at a great cost to them.

 

“With all the inflationary pressures and the challenges of day-to-day living, parents now have to go out of their way to look for additional money. I am sure some of them will sell their assets and some of them borrow to ensure that the future of their children is not in jeopardy as a result of the ASUU problem. It is a major impact on the parents themselves from the point of view of their ability to source the fund.”

 

The economist added that the issue could lead to a disruption or diversion of demand from other tasks in the home into education.

 

He also said that the disruptions would affect the quality of human capital in the country.

 

“We need good human capital to support the growth of any economy. What is happening is diminishing the human capital of our country. If these students go out, what is the guarantee that they will come back, with the way things are going on in the country,” he said.

 

Also speaking, a Professor of Economics at the Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu State, Felix Onah, stated that some students opted for overseas study because they could afford it.

 

Onah stated, “I do not think that it is a wise decision to study outside the country because of the ASUU strike. Even if one is in the final year class and leaves to study outside, the person is going to start from year one and that will cost more years in school than what is spent during the strike. Once school resumes, lecturers will cover the ground that has been left. They have indeed lost some time because of the strike but the loss cannot compensate for the extra time that has been spent by somebody leaving Nigeria to study outside the country.”

 

The professor stated the situation would increase the demand for foreign exchange but was not appreciable enough to raise concerns.

 

Education ministry reacts

The spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, Ben Goong, stated that prolonged years of study and relocation to study abroad were the price students were paying for the strike.

 

He added that the government could not stop those who decided to relocate and continue their education because of the strike.

 

Goong stated, “It is an individual decision if a parent decides to move his or her child out of a Nigerian university because there is a strike. People are free to move to wherever they think is better. I have also heard people calling to tell me students are running away from Ukraine and coming back to Nigeria.”

 

He stated that the government had fulfilled the 2009 agreement, adding “government will inject N1.2tn in infrastructural development in our tertiary institution over 10 years. As we speak, the government has invested about 2.5tn over the same period, why are they going on strike again?”

 

The education ministry spokesperson further said that the payment of arrears of ASUU members after the strike fuelled the persistence of the strike over the years, adding that the non-payment of salaries and arrears would discourage embarking on strike actions.

 

He said, “We didn’t declare any strike. The government has met the condition. IPPIS is a policy of government everyone has keyed into except ASUU. Nigeria’s government has millions of workers on its payroll and has mandated that everyone on the payroll be on IPPIS which will continue to be refined. Ninety-five per cent of workers are on IPPIS, why are they seeking to impose the will of the minority? We can’t go back to multiple payment systems, everybody taking a salary from the consolidated revenue fund must be on IPPIS including ASUU.”

 

He also stated that the 2009 agreement had been liquidated by performance with the injection of 2.5tn over 10 years, adding that the earned allowance was a temporary design for lecturers with excess workload with a view of training and retaining the best students in the departments who would be trained and engaged to become lecturers.

 

He added, “Government has told ASUU what it has done, what it will do; that the government can raise their salaries and what it will not do. We are clear on what we will not do and that is paying people salaries for staying at home.”

 

ASUU’s response

Contacted, ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, declined to comment on the issue.

 

But in his reaction, ASUU Chairman, Obafemi Awolowo University chapter, Adeola Egbedokun, described the situation as unfortunate and regrettable, adding that students’ educational tourism would not have been necessary if the government had shown and engaged the union in good faith.

 

Egbedokun said, “I will not blame the students because the Nigerian government is insensitive with impunity and these young ones need education, which unfortunately has to be within a period. The Federal Government has wasted too much time.”

 

On the impact on the education sector, Egbedokun stated, “Students will have to pay more to get the required education abroad. Remember that even if the university is tuition-free, travel, accommodation and feeding are essential companies for learning. Nigeria may experience a dearth of experts in certain fields of endeavour. We risk the danger of not attracting academics into the ivory towers. This is a dangerous threat to academics.”

 

He added that some departments of some public universities might suffer a reduction in the number of students after the strike, describing the situation as one that could eventually demarket some programmes in the institution.

 

“It is also a danger sign to the international community that Nigeria is no longer working,” Egbedokun stated.

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