Nigerian Universities and the unfortunate Reality of Strikes

Of all the news that made headlines today across the Nigerian media space, only one caught my attention- the news about the non-academic staff unions of universities (SSANU, NASU and NAAT) embarking on an indefinite industrial action. Just in case you didn’t already know, this strike is happening barely two months after the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) called off a months-long industrial action aimed at pressing home their [constant] agitations for improved welfare and funding for the universities. 

Indeed, industrial action by Nigerian university staffers is as constant as sunshine. Little wonder I was instantly taken aback by the story even as I quickly recalled the many experiences I had with the unfortunate reality called strike. Back in September 2008, I had just become a freshman at the University of Ibadan. And while I was acclimatising myself to life on campus, I soon began hearing stories about the many strikes that have taken place in school as told by the older students. Their stories worried me, because then the realisation downed on me that I too was in the system and could experience exactly the same thing they have experienced. And I did experience it, barely nine months into my studies at the university. ASUU had suddenly embarked on a very protracted strike in 2009 as they demanded for the same thing they always demand- improved welfare and funding for the universities.

I can’t recall exactly how long that strike lasted. But one thing I do know for sure is that it was protracted. Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t expected it to last that long. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t expected the strike to happen in the first place. Initially as rumours of the impending strike filtered around campus, I was one of those who dismissed it as a mere warning strike. But as two weeks of “warning strike” quickly passed by, the school management issued a press release edging students to go home. I didn’t go anywhere, alongside several thousand students like myself who were simply in denial of the strike. It wasn’t until rumour began filtering around again that the school management was planning on using MOPOL to drive us adamant students away that I quickly packed luggage and fled towards the school gate; homewards. I had to leave behind my food items (including some very big and fresh onions), which I had just purchased from Bodija Market. I hoped to return soon enough to cook them and eat. Sadly enough, by the time I got back to school many months later, most if not all of the foodstuff were spoilt.

For the most part of my stay at the university, there were other incidents of strike, embarked upon mainly by the non-teaching staff. And whenever this happened, classrooms were locked up even as electricity and water supplies were interrupted. None of those experiences matched the horror of the ASUU strike in 2009 however, until the year 2012 when yet another ASUU strike happened. I was in my final year by this time, anxious to leave school and face the next phase of my life. Unfortunately, the strike happened and almost disrupted the academic calendar. I remember I was researching for my project when the strike happened. As usual, we all had to go home. And every day, I would exchange messages on Facebook and Whatsapp with my mates, wondering whether we were ever going to graduate that year, much less meet up with the 2013 Batch A NYSC orientation camp. Thinking about this caused me a lot of stress. And I guess my set was lucky to have eventually graduated that year.

It is very unfortunate that the Nigerian government cannot fix the many problems in the education system; particularly the problem of incessant industrial actions. It is also particularly unfortunate that Nigerian university employees keep protesting over the same issue (almost on a yearly basis), even as successive governments do nothing to meet their demands. And truth be told, I think that it is quite disgraceful that the Nigerian tertiary education system has now become synonymous with industrial actions. But I guess I might as well just get used to this unfortunate reality for the rest of my life…

Fix the mess please! 

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