ASUU STRIKE: A BLESSING OR A CURSE?
An entry for Roulette III, 2014.
It all seemed like a dream when my ENG 112 lecturer announced on the afternoon of July 1st that the class will not be holding. This unanticipated development was not because he was having another commitment or because the day had, without warning, turned out to be a public holiday. It was due to nothing save that the ‘almighty’ Academic Staff Union of Universities had decreed that activities be discontinued in about 70 federal and state universities all over Nigeria, affecting nothing less than 1.5 million Nigerian scholars.
For 4080 hours, between the days of Monday, July 1st and Tuesday, December 17th, students of most Nigerian universities were forcefully exiled to their mothers’ homes, all because of what has now been termed an ‘annual festival’.
In the words of William Arthur Ward, ‘change, like sunshine, can be a friend or a foe, a blessing or a curse, a dawn or a dusk.’ Thus, a change, a digression from normalcy, as far-reaching as the recent 6-month ASUU strike must have fallen under one of the said categories. So which is it?
I hold the view of the enlightened majority, the view that appears to look beyond the newspaper headlines and government propaganda. I believe, and strongly so, that the regretful saga, in the form of the recent ASUU strike, is more a curse than a blessing. In fact, it seems more and more, from occurrences over the years, to be a generational scourge, which we may never free ourselves from if the necessary sacrifice is not made.
While the strike lasted, it is generally known that most students were academically inactive. I myself, and many others, found it difficult to study or even engage in other lucrative ventures. This was so because of the incertitude that surrounded the whole event. Many thought, ‘what if I subscribed to a driving/computer school today, and the strike is suspended the next day?’ Or ‘what if I study myself to death now and the strike’s end is not even close?’ In essence, while our counterparts in private universities and foreign institutions were busy making good use of their time, increasing in erudition and adding great feats to their records daily; we were very busy in our fathers’ homes, watching one season film or the other.
Also, I am aware of the fact that, solely because of the strike action, several students lost the opportunity to further their studies abroad with all expenses catered for. This loss ran into millions and millions of naira. Opportunities they say come but once. I wonder if after getting their demands attended to, the union plans to undo this colossal damage by sponsoring the affected students.
Aside from this, we also have cases of students, finalists in particular, adding a year to their academic calendar all because of the insensitivity of our ‘parents’ in government and those in the zenith of the ivory tower.
Instances abound of law students who, after spending a whopping 5 years (or more) in school, hoping to start fending for themselves soon, were disallowed from going to law school at the right time.
In addendum to these is that the accursed strike also saw the death of many giants, prominent of whom is Professor Festus Iyayi, a past president of ASUU, who died while making efforts to see that the strike ends favourably. Also, I personally know of students who passed away while trying to make ends meet during the course of the strike, most being in their final year. It is simply unimaginable, the agony their parents must have passed through on hearing the news of their children’s demise.
After all these shortcomings, akin to applying salt to injury, the much awaited positive upshots of the strike are yet to be seen. Our lecture theatres still lack adequate ventilation; our halls of residence are still, in a way, overcrowded; our lecturers still use lecture notes composed in the 70s to teach us; we are still mandated to pay exorbitant amounts as school levies; and to top it all, our universities are yet to start experiencing an infrastructural turnaround.
No doubt, the federal government is blameworthy for not putting their all-in-all into the nation’s education system, and ASUU is justified by speaking against this injustice. However, the manner in which their dissatisfaction is exhibited goes a million mile in determining whether they get compensation or crucifixion, whether the students will be contented or frustrated and whether the whole exercise is a blessing or the opposite. Quite unfortunately, the union was so autocratic, the government, so unyielding, and the strike so unconscionable, rendering the whole event a huge let-down.
After all is said and done, the incontrovertible truth and irrefutable fact is that the 200 billion naira claimed to have been handed over for the development of universities can never equate with the long hours wasted in inactivity, it will never be utilised to mitigate the damage caused from lost scholarship awards, and most important of all, it can never restore the many lives that have been lost consequent to the strike action. It is therefore visible to the blind, audible to the deaf, and in fact, smelly to the anosmic that the recent ASUU strike is nothing but a downright misfortune.