“Rally Around ASUU”! – Five Interviews

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A total of 235 days (and counting) out of 365 days have been spent at home by students, lecturers, and members of federal and state universities across Nigeria.  This prolonged stalemate between the federal government and ASUU has revealed the necessity for community and unravelled a pattern in the government’s responses to the pressing needs of tertiary institutions.

Iretimide Esther OSUNYIKANMI conducted a series of interviews of university lecturers and students at Akure, to put the views and aspirations of members of ASUU and students on this historic strike in perspective. The two lecturers she interviewed (Dr Layi and Prof. Adebukola) provided inspiring insight into the origins and dynamics of the university teachers struggle. And the three students spoke on their concerns and mixed sense of support of many students in the county.

Dr Layi opined that government has failed to maintain “the tempo of ages past”. Prof. Adebukola’s account of her experience which mirrors the experience of so many other tertiary-aged Nigerians of her time unveils a rather staccato tune. A pattern of disregard for this crucial sector of any country could be gleaned from the governments past and the current government- both military and “civilian-presenting”-.

The dismissal of education’s importance to a country’s development over the years has resulted in an urgent need to revive and revitalise the country’s existing tertiary institutions. We must recognise that although ASUU’s demands have maintained a similar topic, the rate of deterioration of the institutions, lack of adequate funding has hastened the necessity of an appropriate federal government response.

For a government to be considered competent, it must acknowledge that education should take precedence in the government’s budgetary priorities. Failed negotiations, bureaucratic bottlenecks, and propaganda will only expedite the rate of deterioration in universities. Further delays will allow issues to fester in areas like funding for research activities, environment and accommodation, technology,

The community efforts and support of lecturers like Prof. Adebukola and Dr Layi are an understated yet crucial part of being a lecturer, of what it means to be part and parcel of a university community. The support of people like Prof. Adebukola and Dr Layi have proven vital to students experiencing financial burdens, students passing the time with entrepreneurial activities, and their fellow staff members.

In order to achieve a satisfactory result, Nigerians must also rally around ASUU. The government’s false claims regarding the state and nature of ASUU must be shunned as stated by Dr. Layi and societal pressure must be mounted on members of the government on behalf of ASUU if there is to be a resolution for the sake of students, lecturers, the future of education and our society.

Student responses are different and their level of willingness to join in pushing ASUU’s demands varies for diverse reasons. However, one fact cuts across every person, the necessity of community and the dangerous isolation of individualism at this time. Communities- neighbours, families, friends, etc. must rally around students and ASUU for success to further the chances of success.

By providing support for students either mentally, emotionally, or financially, and by collectively pushing the demands, people’s support for this just cause will leave an indelible impression and reinforce the necessity of a revitalised tertiary education system, and reinforce the importance of education in our consciousness. Two voices together are louder than one, and more voices even louder.

It is clear that the only way to get through this and ensure lasting change, using any strategy, any method, any coping mechanism, is with a community.

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An Interview with Professor Adebukola Foluke Osunyikanmi, Department of Political Science and Dr Layi Oladipupo, Department of Philosophy. Members of ASUU and lecturers at Adekunle Ajasin University (AAUA) Akungba, Ondo State.

Q: Please introduce yourselves

Prof. Adebukola Osunyikanmi: Good evening my name is Adebukola Foluke Osunyikanmi. I am a professor of Political Science with special focus on Gender Matters. I have been working at AAUA for the past 20 years. I’ve produced so many students including PhD students. I am a bonafide member of ASUU- Academic Staff Union of Universities. In many ways I have been able to give back to the society.

Dr Layi Oladipupo: My name is Dr Layi Oladipupo of the Department of Philosophy Adekunle Ajasin University. I am a member of ASUU.

Q: Students have been at home for seven months due to ASUU’s ongoing strike. Academic activities in state and federal universities have ceased and lecturers are essentially out of a job. Could you explain ASUU’s demands?

Prof. Adebukola: Let me quickly remind you, lecturers have so many things to do. Lecturers teach, carry out research, and also do community service. The fact that lecturers are not in school holding lectures, is just an aspect of what lecturers do that they are not actively doing at the moment. Research is the oil that lubricates the brain for every lecturer. I am a lecturer and although I don’t go to classes now because of the ongoing strike, on a daily basis I still engage in research and do community service.

Academic activities within campuses have been paralysed because ASUU’s demands have not been met by the federal government.

Dr Layi: Only one aspect of ASUU’s functions is disrupted. We still carry out research, engage in community service and public speaking and write recommendations.

ASUU’s demands are ongoing and a carryover of activities since 2009. ASUU entered an agreement to be renewed every 3 years which majorly concerns the need for adequate funding and revitalisation of universities. We ask that the government stops the proliferation of universities even when they find it difficult to fund the existing institutions. A lot of infrastructure in Nigerian universities are products of ASUU’s struggle.

Q: ASUU was instrumental during the military regimes to the survival of the university system making the same demands as today- better conditions of work, proper remuneration while supporting other trade unions such as the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and National Association of Residential Doctors (NARD). Why have the demands of ASUU maintained a similar topical pattern? Because of ASUU or the government? 

Dr Layi: ASUU’s demands have maintained a similar pattern. ASUU is not self-centred and that is evidenced by their revitalisation cry. The demand of ASUU has been to establish an ideal education system. ASUU is asking for a paradigm shift, from “what is” to “what ought to be”. ASUU has been consistent in its demands. We are dealing with a government that does not care about the education system. Several MOUs (Memorandums of Understanding) have been agreed to by the government and ASUU and the government has set up several committees but it has not implemented the findings of these committees.

Q: Is there support for ASUU from other trade unions and interest groups?

Dr. Layi: Yes. The other trade unions are trying their best within their capacity. NLC organised a 3-day protest. NANS blocked Lagos-Ibadan expressway. They are doing their best to support.

Q: From your point of view, what is the student opinion on these strikes?

Dr Layi: Mixed feelings. Some students are just in university because they want to be in university.  Some students ask that lecturers should consider them but fail to realise that ASUU members are also affected by strikes. Some ASUU members are also students either conducting research or progressing in their studies. And they are parents of students affected.

Prof. Adebukola: Generally, I believe the students may not be happy because they are at home. They have not been able to continue with their studies. Students whether they are in state or federal universities are not just being raised on campuses and universities to remain in the country. They will go out to compete with other graduates in the international community. Every student in any university environment in Nigeria should be able to support the stance of ASUU as it is also in the interest of the students.

For instance, comparing the facilities and the environment to what is obtainable outside the country especially in developed countries, you will see the gap is so wide. Students don’t have access to basic amenities, basic technology and a dignifying environment where academic learning will also be conducive. When we look at this in the perspective of these students going out to also compete with their counterparts in the international community, you will realise that students should also rise up to support ASUU.

Q: Are students sufficiently aware of the ways in which ASUU’s demands might affect them?

Dr Layi: There are different categories of students and different levels of awareness and concern.

Q: Which of ASUU’s demands would have an effect on the students?

Prof. Adebukola: It is not just the issue of salary that concerns ASUU. ASUU is also demanding a total overhaul of the university system, a total overhaul of the research tools being used and the university community. It is also demanding for funding of research activities in the university and for better living conditions for students. When you look at this, you realise that it is not a point of self-interest. It is also in the interest of the students. I am also sure that the parents will also benefit from this. For instance, students living in a dignifying environment and hostel accommodation, where all the basic amenities are available, will make parents happy knowing their children are in a sane environment where learning is conducive, where students will be able to sleep with their two eyes closed after research work and learning.

Q: Do you think ASUU has adequately collaborated with students, students’ groups, student agitation groups and student leadership to push their demands? In the light of the NANS Lagos-Ibadan Expressway protest and other student protests.

Dr Layi: The students are part of the struggle. At every level, ASUU has carried the students along.

Prof. Adebukola: To a large extent ASUU has been able to carry students and the student community along. There will be no ASUU if there are no students. There won’t be universities if there are no students. It is not possible for ASUU to take a unilateral decision without taking into proper consideration the impact of this decision on the student population.

ASUU leadership has been able to analyse the impact and outcomes of the strike and carry the student population along. That is why we are also witnessing demonstrations and protests from the students. If they had not been carried along, they would not join in the protests against the delay we are experiencing from the federal government.

Students are well-involved because they also know that the conditions in which they learn are not dignifying enough. Students are part of what ASUU is agitating for. Students in their own way are also demonstrating to ensure that ASUU’s demands are met.

Q: How different is the effect of the strikes, how students feel, and how students react to them? Considering factors such as the economy, the job market, greater awareness of psychological and mental health, crime and insecurity, clamour for gender equality, and the fight against gender-based violence (violence against women)?

Dr Layi: Age is not on the side of a lot of students. Many people get into school at 28, 29, 30 years old. They might have written WAEC multiple times. Attitudinal reactions to strikes are different based on factors such as this. The societal conditions and situation have affected students. The societal ills are a result of government not doing what ought to be done.  Students leave schools and have nowhere to go. Government failed to sustain the tempo of ages past in education.

Prof. Adebukola: The social, economic and political fabrics of the country have been affected. When people graduated from universities in the past, they were readily accepted into the civil service system. Graduates today even with good grades, are unable to find jobs. Regarding gender-based violence, idle people, frustrated and angry, look for outlets to release the mental and internal tensions. This will have an effect on the rates of violence, crime and general insecurity in Nigeria.

Q: What are the long-term detriments of an unresolved stalemate? What does a Nigeria where students are not in school for extended periods look like?

Dr Layi: If things continue like this, there will be serious and uncontrollable damages in the nation. Communities around universities are also affected by the strikes. They are also counting their losses. Landlords and tenancy of students are also a great financial burden on students. Landlords charge rent from students despite the fact that they are not in school and are unable to stay in school and their accommodation. However, the landlords charge the same rent because the students’ properties remain in the accommodation and students are forced to pay rent again when they return for academic activities. There will be greater financial burden on students.

Prof. Adebukola: Nigeria will be reduced to a country of retirees. When young, capable minds leave the country seeking opportunities elsewhere all that will be left is the older generation of retirement or near retirement age.

Q: A commonly proposed solution to students is to attend either private universities or to apply to foreign universities. The NUC (national university commission), a government commission has even urged students to apply to the Chevening Scholarship amidst the ongoing strikes? What are your thoughts on this? Is it a probable solution for all students? does the current economic situation permit these solutions for everyone (about 2.3 million students in universities) affected by the strikes?

Dr Layi: The commonly proposed solution dies on arrival. We are not equal. How many people can even afford flight tickets? Things in Nigeria are granted to you depending on who you know, even scholarships. Today, even Nigerian scholarships will not be granted to you if you do not know anybody in the government.

Prof. Adebukola: It is not all parents who will be able to afford the tuition in private universities and foreign universities. It is a tragic thing when a government is encouraging students to travel and students who cannot meet up with these foreign travel requirements are not allowed to continue their education peacefully.

Short- and long-term effects of prolonged industrial action will not be in the interest of anyone in this country. Those who travel will not return to develop the country.

Q: The minister of education, Adamu Adamu has prompted students to sue ASUU over the industrial action. In his words, “we are all hit by this strike action perhaps because students have to spend one year or two, you can say they are worst hit.” What are your thoughts on this statement from the minister?

Dr Layi: The politicians’ reality differs from the reality on ground. Adamu, prior to his membership of APC and appointment as a minister said ASUU was fighting a just cause. Now, he is in a position to put in place the things he has said but is not doing it.

Prof. Adebukola: Quite unfortunate to have come out of a minister of education if at all he has any regard for education. The problem with the minister of education is not a lone problem. It is a problem with the entirety of what is obtainable from Nigeria’s leadership. The ASUU strike is his failure and he has failed to realise his failure.

Q: The National Industrial Court adjourned till September 16th, a government filed suit against ASUU seeking (i.) an end to the strikes (ii.) the determination of the strike’s legality, and (iii.) resolution on whether members of ASUU are entitled to pay while they are on strike with the government’ stance being “no work, no pay”. What are your thoughts on this?

Prof. Adebukola: The government has no moral justification to sue ASUU because the federal government has failed to honour agreements. Running to NIC to file a suit against ASUU is an injustice on its own.

If we had an unbiased judiciary, the NIC would have been an unbiased umpire between the federal government and ASUU. Do we really have an unbiased judiciary, free from the manipulative tendencies of the executive government?

Dr Layi: We need not pre-empt the outcome and hope the law will take its course. ASUU is well-aware of what the law says. It is not the first time ASUU is taking the government to court.

Q: How effective in the long-term are the methods of ASUU? Is there is need for ASUU to revise its strategy? Are strikes still a fundamental way of achieving the goals of ASUU?

Prof. Adebukola: Industrial action is always the last resort. There have been negotiations, issuance of ultimatums, warning strikes. This strike is the final step to bring home the demands of ASUU. A listening government and a government which values education will not allow things to degenerate to this level.

Dr Layi: ASUU is still working on a better way to approach the government. For now, the only language the government understands is strike. This is the 3rd committee convened and dismissed without their findings implemented.

ASUU is a dynamic organisation. Each generation has their own challenges and this generation is finding the best way to address its challenges. Strikes are not only a thing of ASUU.

The aviation industry went on strike and because those who are affected by the obstruction of activities by the industrial action are also in positions to make decisions for the country, they quickly addressed the situation. However, because they are unaffected by Nigerian universities, they are failing to address the situation.

Q: What have you been doing during the strikes? How have you spent your time?

What community efforts are you part of?

Prof. Adebukola: I have engaged in research and providing support for people in my own personal way and continued community service.

Dr Layi: Strikes have given me time to have quality time with my family- my wife and children- and time for research. It has given me time to attend to the community. Recently, in my community we fixed a drainage which the government failed to repair.

Q: How would you advice students at this time?

Prof. Adebukola: Entrepreneurship which is a compulsory course will give students the skills and knowledge to engage themselves. e.g., with activities such as tailoring, baking, etc.

Dr Layi: Encourage ourselves. Be steadfast. I advise students to learn a trade and I encourage lecturers to keep the spirits high.

Q: Do you think there is still a drive among people to attain ASUU’s demands?

Prof. Adebukola: ASUU is like every human society, there are people at the forefront, people pushing and following at the rear, and people who are more passive and might not always know what is going on. There are people who are committed and putting in the effort to propel the demands. It is not just about the multitude but the committed few. In every little way people can, ASUU members are doing the best they can to push their demands.

Q: How can people support ASUU and students?

Prof. Adebukola: Support for ASUU is support for students. Students are the ultimate beneficiaries of the demands of ASUU. For students, people should be able to reach out to them and engage them. People should also encourage them as this might have taken a toll on their mental health and caused them to be more isolated. Those who have the wherewithal should engage students and employ those who have not found other employment at this time. 

Dr Layi: Realise ASUU is fighting a just cause. Educate people around you to shun government propaganda- government claims ASUU’s demands have been met or partly met but no demand has been addressed. Realise that ASUU is not asking for salary gifts, it is asking for salary renegotiation. Finally, the people should put pressure on government to meet ASUU’s demands.

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Three students (names changed for confidentiality) shared their views on the ongoing ASUU strike, their methods of coping, the support and reaction of people around them and their thoughts on how we can help students to cope at this time.

Debbie. A 200-level student of Business Administration at the University of Lagos. Debbie is an entrepreneur running Tutu’s Pastries and Tutu’s Dishes.

Rukky. A 400-level student at the University of Benin.

Ahmed. A graduate of Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto, Sokoto State.

  1. From your point of view, what is the student opinion on the strikes?

Debbie: Students think ASUU is pressing their demands and not willing to resume, while the government is not listening to them, but rather focusing on the upcoming election.

Ahmed: I think students just want to go back to school regardless of what ASUU is fighting for. I mean most students think ASUU is only fighting for their selfish interests.

  • What demands of ASUU will have an effect on students e.g., their welfare and education?

Ahmed: To me, it has to be the revitalisation aspect.

  • Are students sufficiently aware of the ways in which ASUU’s demands might affect them? If no, how do you think ASUU can create better awareness among students? Do you think ASUU has adequately collaborated with students, students’ groups, student agitation groups, and student leadership to push their demands? What more should ASUU do with regard to students?

Debbie: Yes, they are but I don’t think ASUU has collaborated with student groups adequately.

Rukky: No. I think they can create better awareness by being in student groups and speaking out about the advantages of their struggle to students.

Ahmed: No. they can achieve this by enlightening the students firsthand in the future when schools eventually resume by telling them what the union is fighting for.

  • Are students adequately aware of the ways in which ASUU’s demands might affect them- positively or negatively?

Debbie: I think some are aware

Rukky: Not really

Ahmed: No, I don’t think they are.

  • A commonly proposed solution to students is to attend either private universities or to apply to foreign universities. The NUC (national university commission), a government commission has even urged students to apply to the Chevening Scholarship amidst the ongoing strikes? What are your thoughts on this? Is it a probable solution for all students? does the current economic situation permit these solutions for everyone (about 2.3 million students in universities) affected by the strikes?

Debbie: Yes, I heard about it, but I don’t think that’s the best solution. Not “everybody” will get the chance to get the scholarship.

Rukky:   It’s not a profitable solution to all students. Not everybody is financially capable to go to a private school, and even if you do get scholarship to study abroad, you still need money to do visa, passport and feeding money when you get abroad. Many students are in their final year, so changing schools now is at a losing end to them.

Ahmed: This is no solution; this is because not every student would be eligible for the scholarships. Also, not every parent can afford to send their children to private universities.

  • What are the long-term detriments of an unresolved stalemate? What does a Nigeria where students are not in school for extended periods look like?

Debbie: Everybody will start doing trade and that won’t be nice for the economy.

Ahmed: come students end up not completing their education. While others end up engaging in illegal activities. This shows the government’s reluctance to invest in the education sector which in the long run affects the whole system.

Effectiveness of ASUU’s Methods and Support for ASUU

  1. How effective in the long-term are the methods of ASUU?

Debbie: They are effective

Ahmed:  I don’t think the actions of ASUU would end. I mean it becomes a slippery slope where subsequent leadership of the association would have such demands.

  • Is there a need for ASUU to revise its strategy and what strategies would you propose?

Debbie: At this point, there is no going back

Ahmed:  Yes, ASUU also needs to revise its strategy and also consider the options the government provides

  • Are strikes still a fundamental way of achieving the goals of ASUU?

Debbie: Yes, it is

Rukky:   No, it’s not. It’s keeping students back from graduating and moving on with their lives.

Ahmed: Yes, strikes have proven to be effective but it is always at the detriment of the students and lecturers who haven’t been paid for months.

  • How can people support ASUU? How can people support students?

Debbie: I don’t know because we can’t contribute money for them and I heard some time ago that some set of students protested against the federal government to settle ASUU

Rukky: People can support ASUU by paying part of the money they are asking the federal government for.

Ahmed:  People can support ASUU by appealing to the government through their various representatives.

Coping with the Strikes

  1. What have you been doing during the strikes? How have you spent your time?

Debbie: I have channeled more energy and time to my businesses.

Rukky: Honestly, I’ve done nothing. Trying to start a business now though. I’ve also been doing my final year project and try to finish it before they call off the strike.

Ahmed: Students usually get jobs to support their families

  • Are you partaking in any community schemes and efforts to cope with the closure of schools?

Debbie: No, I’m not

Rukky: No, I’m not

Ahmed: No, not presently

  • How are the people in your immediate environment, if they are also students, dealing with the strikes? And how are the non-students around you reacting to the obstruction of academic activities and your extended stay at home? How are people around you helping you cope?

Debbie: Everybody is frustrated, and time is being wasted, most people have abandoned their books including me. People around me are helping me cope by patronizing and referring me.

Rukky:  Well, many students are working, taking classes online, learning a skill, and so on and so forth. Parents help by trying to make us feel less uncomfortable and anxious.

Ahmed: The answer varies depending on the individual. Some are indifferent, some are pro-ASUU, while others simply don’t care

  • Mentally, how have you coped with the strikes?

Debbie: I am mentally stressed because at the same time that I am running my business I also feel like I should be done with school.

Rukky: My mental health has gone down the drain during this period. Not seeing my friends, being stuck in one place when I’m supposed to be in the other phase of my life, it’s draining and tiring.

Ahmed: When students spend 5-6 years for a 4 years course in school, it is bound to have a psychological effect on students.

  • What can your immediate community and society at large do to help students at this time?

Debbie: I think give internships to students and help them gain experience in different fields of their choice.

Rukky: Accept them as interns, and reduce the way they say students should use this time wisely.

Ahmed: Engaging students in various beneficial programmes and jobs in the society

You and ASUU

  1. Are you part of any protests or groups or efforts to (i) find ways to end the strike? (ii)find ways to propel ASUU’s demands

Debbie: No, I’m not

Rukky: No, I’m not          

Ahmed: No

  • Have you been part of any ASUU related protest?

Debbie: No, I haven’t

Rukky: Not really. I’ve reposted things related to ASUU on twitter. e.g., #EndASUUStrike”.

Ahmed: No

  • What is your advice to students and lecturers at this time? Give them an encouraging word.

Debbie: This too shall pass

Rukky:   It’s just a phase and it will come to an end. Don’t let the progress of your mates get to you, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Ahmed: Lecturers should find a way to resolve this stalemate so students can go back to school.

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