empty seats at a Nigerian university

Lecturers’ Strike in Nigeria Grounds Students, Lecturers, and Parents

by | May 26, 2022

When the Academic Staff Union of Universities, the umbrella body for lecturers in Nigerian universities, announced that they’d be going on an indefinite strike on February 14, Babatunde Esan, a final year student of history and international studies at the University of Ilorin, thought that he would remain unaffected. He had, after all, just completed his final exams the week before.

However, two months later, Esan is still stuck in his undergraduate program, unable to graduate and feeling the work stoppage’s hard-hitting pinch. “The ASUU strike has affected me in a lot of ways. I am stuck in limbo…not knowing when and how everything is going to end. The four-year degree is now a journey of more than five years,” the 27-year-old complained.

This isn’t the first time that Esan has experienced such a delay. In 2020, ASUU went on strike for ten straight months. It was protesting against the government’s refusal to grant its request for improved welfare packages, provision of new infrastructures in schools nationwide, and adoption of its University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) payment system. When the union went on strike this year, it was petitioning to have the same demands met.

“I can assure you nothing tangible has happened, nothing visible, nothing you can say has been done. We have met with the minister of labour twice and all they are saying is the same old promises that they have been talking about,” the ASUU president, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke said on national TV.

For students like Esan, these incessant strikes mean undue extra time in school, and stunted progress as they watch colleagues in private institutions advance and graduate. The strikes also put students at an economic disadvantage. In Nigeria’s competitive job market, employers are notorious for setting age ceilings, and discriminating against employees older than age twenty-four.

“There are plans that I have but without the degree, I don’t know the next direction I can go. There are some opportunities I want to apply for but without the degree and transcript, it is impossible to do that. It is really frustrating for me,” he said.

As he waits for the Federal Government and ASUU to reach a resolution, he is teaching himself web development—a profession with high returns and few age restrictions—and looking to apply to some non-university programs in May. Still, he is worried that ASUU might call off the strike, thus disrupting these plans.

Ailing Business

The university store where Bimpe Alabi sells snacks and drinks at the park is usually crawling with customers. Since University of Ilorin’s lecturers have gone on strike, this has changed, forcing the school’s forty-five thousand strong student populace to leave for their various homes.

These days, Alabi stands outside, inviting passersby to patronise her shop. Most of them continue walking. The strike threatens her business. Her profits have shrunk, dropping from a N15,000 daily to below N2,000. This shift has pushed her family into hardship.

“It has affected the family in so many ways. What we used to do with ease, we can’t do anymore. Sometimes when you want to give your children money, you give it to them freely but now, you can’t do that anymore. Now if they ask me I just tell them to leave me alone, there is no market,” she said.

Her shelves, which used to stock a great variety of merchandise, are now unbelievably light. Having eaten through her savings and capital, Alabi has lost the capacity to restock.

During our interview, a customer walks in and asks for a brand of chinchin. They leave because Alabi doesn’t carry it.

“The stock we have, we have been eating it. We don’t even have money to buy anything. If God helps us to put an end to this strike, we have to look for capital again to start the business. We are eating the savings that we have already,” Alabi said.

She hopes the Federal Government and ASUU can reach a consensus so that her family of seven—including her aged mother and mother-in-law— can start eating full meals again.

Lecturers impacted

Professor Ibrahim Jawondo, a lecturer with the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ilorin, said the strike is needed to achieve progress.

“Most of the lecturers are promoted on an annual basis and by now, universities should be preparing how they’ll promote lecturers. Now that there is an ongoing strike, the process is stuck.” He added that the junior lecturers who are enrolled in post-graduate programs are severely affected, further reinforcing that young people—either faculty or students— are disproportionately affected by the strike.

The heavy responsibility of teaching, assessing students, engaging in community service and innovative research expected of university lecturers prevents lecturers from supplementing their incomes through secondary employment. Lecturers crucially need wages increased. “A lecturer is expected to do research and initiate innovations and in this sense, if one is hungry, which one can he do?” he asked.

“We have families that we are supposed to take care of and this affects them too. Even if they pay the salary later, you know the inflationary trends in Nigeria today. The price of the things you buy today will have increased tomorrow and they are going to pay you the same amount which has devalued. We have to fend for our families through other means. And what does it mean? Borrowing here and there,” he said.

Jawondo noted that the strike has put a stop to the production of knowledge. To cope with the ongoing situation, lecturers have to devise individual survival plans such as studying and highlighting new research subjects. Most of their coping mechanisms, according to Jawondo, are not so effective. People are fasting and praying for religious reasons but the practices are also serving as coping mechanisms. While prayer is good, what is needed is a resolution to this crisis.

Pelumi Salako is a Nigerian writer and journalist who covers arts, culture, development and technology. His writing, published in English, Spanish and French, has appeared in Al Jazeera, African Business Magazine, Sahelien, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Reuters, Popula and elsewhere.

Photo by Pelumi Salako. All rights reserved.