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ASUU/FG faceoff: Counting the toll as more cleanups, repairs needed in schools

By Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan), Rauf Oyewole (Bauchi), Nonyelim Chima and Opeyemi Babalola (Lagos), Murtala Adewale (Kano)
28 October 2022   |   4:20 am
It's a sunny Saturday afternoon at De Gong Hotel, Shasha, Lagos. Some young boys are seated drinking and fiddling with their phones. They are monitoring the ongoing matches to know whether they have won or not.

• Weeds take over ATBU structures as students get quit notices from landlords
• UNILAG commercial drivers, business owners count losses
• In BUK, lecture theatres under lock amid bushy environment

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon at De Gong Hotel, Shasha, Lagos. Some young boys are seated drinking and fiddling with their phones. They are monitoring the ongoing matches to know whether they have won or not.

Outside of the hotel, some young boys are in a betting shop. Paul Aransiola is one of them. He has turned the facility to a home and spends more time there. He is one of the numerous students, who took solace in betting during the eight-month old strike by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

You will see them in noticeable hangout on the streets, betting.

Last Saturday was a bad day for Paul and many, as they lost their bet, when Southampton Football Club defeated Liverpool Football Club.

Paul, a student of the University of Ibadan, is still at home two weeks after ASUU called off its strike.

Baba Kura, a student of the Kebbi State University, Aliero, is still at home with his uncle in Silver Estate, Lagos, where he is coordinating activities in his farm.

“I’m not going back until the month ends,” he told The Guardian. “There are so many things that I still have to do in Lagos.”

Joseph Eghieye, a student of Education at the University of Benin, said he resorted to teaching so that whenever he gets back to school, he wouldn’t go hungry.

“I’m teaching and I would need to get my salary before I go back to school,” he said.

A mechanical engineering student of University of Lagos, who gave his name as Charles, declared “I turned to crypto business during the strike, which has paid off well for me. I can’t really say I’m going back to school very soon. I’m now involved in everything that will bring money.”

Olayide Soaga, a 300-level political science student, University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), said not much academic activities are going on apart from a few students receiving lectures.

She said the school only asked final year students of medicine, veterinary, agricultural science and some departments to resume to finish their mop up examinations and clearance of their projects.

For, Abdulrasheed Hammad, a 400-level law student of the Usmanu Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, “everywhere is still scanty, because lectures will start fully, next week Monday. I am not planning to resume school now.”

The Guardian gathered that activities have still not returned to campus in full stream, as many students have still not gone back to school.

A LOT of work still needed be done to put the schools in proper shape at extra cost to the management committee. When The Guardian visited the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus (UNEC), it was clear that to make the place habitable for returning students and other workers of the school would take a while.

University of Lagos Faculty of Arts Quadrangle by Senate Building

The university premises were overgrown with weeds. Heaps of refuse were everywhere, while the entire area looked deserted. The classrooms and most hostels remained under lock and key, except the ones occupied by medical students.

A peep through some broken doors and windows of the classrooms showed that reptiles and rodents had occupied them. Except in the administrative building, other areas were not supplied electricity.

Inside the school, however, clearing of the overgrown compound had started. Three workers using machines were seen near the front-view of the compound clearing the bushes. One of the workers indicated that the clearing work started last week, stressing, however, that they had not gone too far because the work was massive.

It was further observed that kitchens, shops and other business areas that serviced the needs of the students and workers of the university were shut down in the last eight months. While some tables and chairs used for businesses in the school were chained or turned upside down, others inside buildings looked forlorn.

One of the security officials, who was dressed in mufti and was seen on the premises, John, said it had been an awful experience, stressing, “the only place that is not overgrown is probably the tarred roads and the admin area.”

He stated that the school ran smoothly until the strike was announced, adding, “without the internally generated revenue, you cannot do most of the compound cleaning, meaning activities have to commence for resources to be generated”

He further said that the labourers were drawn from the works section of the school.

WHEN The Guardian visited the main campus of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, located in Gubi, the school had been taken over by bushes. Most of the lecture halls, departments, business centres, hostels, students’ recreational centres and motor parks were covered with weeds. It was also observed that some parts of the campus were used for farming.

Some of the students who spoke with The Guardian said they had received text messages from their landlords to move out their belongings. “Three months ago the landlord called me to come to Bauchi and pack my belongings. My rent actually expired long ago, but I felt there was no point in paying new rent because I don’t know when ASUU would call off the strike. I don’t want to pay for an empty apartment,” James Okafor said.

Abubakar Saleh said he lost his belongings to the flood during the strike. “Most of our colleagues were not in Bauchi during the peak of the rain. A neighbour told me that all our books and other properties were submerged in water. I’m presently in Jigawa, where we are also battling another terrible flood situation,” he said.

Besides the total collapse of academic and non-academic activities, small-scale business centres whose survival largely depended on the presence of students on campuses were incapacitated in Bayero University, Kano.

The students’ hostels had been taken over by weeds while several lecture rooms were left dusty and unkempt. Except the Senate Building and the school’s medical centre that remained open for non-academic staff in the last eight months, other areas were in very bad shape.

The situation was not different at Aliko Dangote University of Science and Technology, Wudil and Yusuf Maitama Sule University, where classrooms were dusty and empty.

NOTWITHSTANDING that the national leaderships of the Senior Staff of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) have called off their strike, the local chapters of the unions at the University of Ibadan (UI), Ibadan, are still on the industrial action. Hence, the school environment remains unkemp and deserted.

Dust, weed and cobwebs are reigning supreme in many laboratories and classrooms. Thus, there would be a need for more replacements and repairs even as the Academic Staff of Universities (ASUU) has called off its strike.

Ladoke Akintola University (LAUTECH)

But at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomosho, Oyo State, for some time, 100-level students have been receiving lectures. Hence, most of their laboratories, workshops and classrooms are relatively in a good shape.

There might not be much work to be done on cleanups and upgrade of classrooms.

Campus economy
MANY had imagined that after the strike, students would run back to their schools, but that has not been the case. The Guardian gathered that business activities have resumed, as many of the shops and businesses that closed down in the face of the prolonged strike are now attracting commercial activities. However, the level of active exchanges is still a far cry.

“It seems students are not ready to resume as they are just trickling in. We are delighted to have them back and to restart our commercial activities on campus,” a petty trader in University of Lagos said last week.

The Guardian checks revealed that the strike has caused colossal damage to campus economy. It was gathered though there is no adequate figure that could be put on it, a lot of people who operated one service or the other on campus lost out.

Stakeholders in the university communities, which include traders, landlords, transporters, hoteliers, banks and others felt the pinch of the strike, as they couldn’t get patronage for their services as well as being unable to contribute much to the economy.

A commercial driver, Sheeran Ayobami, said during the first two months of the strike, he was just managing with whatever he could earn on a daily basis, hoping and praying that the strike would be called off.

“But it didn’t happen. The first two months were something else, because I was owing debts and I was earning little or nothing,” he said.

Another commercial driver, Bello Badamosi, stated that his wife’s business was what was sustaining the family, while Azubuike Victor said he was out of business. “I had not paid up the debts I owe during COVID-19 due to family responsibilities and now strike,” he said.

A cafe owner, Okolo Priscilla, said she had ventured into another line of business, which is clothing, which is not affected by any strike on campus.

Okolo, however, said her intention is to move to a state-owned school to continue her business, “because there is no assurance that ASUU won’t go on strike in the future.”

Oyebade David, a trader, believes that the strike has a negative side than it is perceived. “This strike has greater consequences on students, most especially, their academic and professional lives,” he said.

An opinion the immediate past Chairman of Trade Union Congress in Oyo State, Andrew Emelieze, holds. He said the mere fact that ASUU strike was prolonged “suggested that government was helpless.”

Emelieze said: “Government should take the responsibility for the horrible effects of this strike on our society.”

According to him, the strike shouldn’t have been, in the first place, if the universities were well funded, adding: “The effects are generally devastating and equally regrettable. Foremost, ASUU strike is making the citizenry lose hope in governance, hence, the people can begin to see government as illegitimate, and could degenerate to social disorder and a drift to anarchy and or rebellion. From the psychological point of view, the society is likely to be discouraged from pursuing education in public schools. It also gives the impression that our government is not keen to promoting quality education in Nigeria.”

The labour leader said: “In terms of economy and human capital, the implications of ASUU strike is enormous, as we are wasting our future labour power and gradually grounding our production chain. The lecturers were wasting away and their knowledge dying in them. The students’ time was wasted and it will cost the parents more to complete their education.

All this has implications for brain-drain and pressure for capital flight for those parents who can afford education for their children oversea.”

He stated: “For the students that are the direct victims, the implications of ASUU strike is terrifying. The students will begin to see the society to have failed them and this could lead to deviant behaviour and criminality among them. In this era, where age is a factor in employment, prolonged ASUU strike put potential graduates at disadvantage in job search.”

Emelieze added: “In terms of the mental health of the citizenry, it has far-reaching negative implications on our mental wellbeing, as the stress caused over the repeated failure to resolve the strike can effect the psyche of the citizenry.”

UNIJOS

On one of the tragic occurrences that happened during the strike actionis the death of Henry Ehis, who was a student at the University of Jos (UNIJOS). He was said to have committed suicide over the protracted ASUU strike in March. It was also gathered that the student who is of the Department of Actuarial Science of the Faculty of Management Science, was found dead at the Faculty.

It was narrated that he had left a short note expressing his dissatisfaction with the current ASUU strike.

Another incident of similar issue was the gruesome murder of a final year student of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), identified as Rachael Opadele, who was said to have been working in Ogbomosho due to the lockdown of the universities. These and other tragic occurrences could have been averted if the government had listened to the Union’s demands.

Speaking on the eight months closure, an administrative staff of the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus (UNEC), who gave her name as Jane, stated that certain facilities of the school must be addressed to get the right ambience.

“You can see our compound, our classrooms and hostels and even offices. Some have not been opened in the last seven months and when you now open them, money will be required to put things in order. So, I think that the school will need money to put things right,” she said.

She said that revenues and academic sessions had been lost to the strike, adding that several students who should have rounded off their programmes would need to stay longer.

ON his part, a university teacher, Prof. Femi Ajayi said, parents, the economy and the school system incurred a lot of losses during the strike.

The professor said: “I will like to just describe the cost to the economy in simple terms: Financial cost: It is just like saying the obvious that the academic staff are constrained by the non-payment of salary, which led to reduced purchasing power with less funds going into circulation. The money in circulation had drastically reduced, especially in host communities.

“In terms of time, remember, time is money. In developed nation, wages are calculated in terms of time. A lot of money had been wasted, as they are not paid to the deserved people. The money lost value and though academics are not teaching during the period, they were active in research and community services. If they do not continue with research, the global academic world will not wait for Nigeria and this will spell doom to our education.”

To the parents, Ajayi said: “This can be explained in terms of money. Many had paid private accommodation, which does not count on occupation of such facilities, but time paid for as stipulated in the agreement. This is a great loss. In terms of time, a lot had been lost. Some parents within the host communities are traders in commodities that are needed by students, who were not around due to the strike, some businesses had closed down. This is also a great loss to the parents.”

He added: “The school system is not spared of loss. During the strike period, many competent hands have left the system in search of better opportunities. The dedication and commitment of some staff to the work might have reduced. This is also a loss to the school system.”

THE Southwest Zone Coordinator of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Emmanuel Adegboye, said the strike affected every sector of the economy that depended on the universities for survival, most especially, the technological growth of the nation, the books and stationeries enterprises and others.

He continued: “The over the years strike has reduced educational sector’s contribution to the Nigeria economy. It has also caused government to lose billions of dollars in revenue from compensating academics for services not delivered after the strike and the expense of maintaining university-owned utilities.”

Warning that strikes had done more harm than good to the education sector, with students bearing most of the accruing costs from the occurrences, he said the strike, no doubt, would discourage foreigners from coming to study in Nigeria. To him, some parents have lost hope in the country’s educational system, thus, they have taken their children to other countries such as, Ghana, Benin and United Kingdom. Ukraine used to be an educational hub until the recent war between the country and Russia.

According to him, “we all know that low and middle class children are the ones attending our public institutions, which means that they struggle to pay for there children fee, strikes only create more hardship for parents and students, as resources purchased for the semester will waste away doing strike.”