Students thought they’d be back to school in a week. The break lasted 290 days.
By Muhammed Bello.
That’s how RK felt when she received the news marking the start of a break she assumed would only last a week. The break lasted 9 months and two weeks. RK, a University of Lagos student who also works as a freelance full-stack designer, was engaged on her phone at her University of Lagos Hostel when her sister informed her of the strike. Until the school made a formal announcement, she didn’t believe it. “I wasn’t expecting it,” she explained, “and it was meant to be a week off.”
Many students, like RK, are faced with the prospect of having their school years prolonged. Rk is in her third year studying civil engineering, a course she enjoys but finds challenging at times. She believes that information does not arrive on a platter of gold. “It’s chilled to me. kind of stressful sometimes but I think it is just a human factor ” she admitted. “Learning stuff isn’t always easy but it’s a course I like, so I don’t mind the stress.”
RK, who describes herself as a “student by day, worker by night,” said the first thought that sprang to mind when she saw the news was “an apocalypse,”. Unsurprisingly, this abnormally long stay at home has harmed many pupils in a variety of ways, the most notable of which is mentally. When she realized she’d have to embrace the fact that school wouldn’t be starting anytime soon, she went on to learn a new skill because she’d been a part of a tech community before school.
She saw the break as an ideal time to hone her skills and become one of, if not the best, in the world. RK appears to be making good use of her time off, but she couldn’t help but become depressed. “The break was perfect for me to an extent as I skilled up mast but afterward, depression set in” she revealed
Stuart Slain, a professor at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, conducted research at Fremont High School in the spring of 2015 and discovered that 54 percent of students had moderate to severe symptoms of depression and 80 percent had moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety. Students aren’t getting the help they need to stay healthy, whether it’s because of a fear of stigma or a lack of resources. According to the CDC in 2015, suicide is the second-highest cause of mortality among those aged 15 to 34. “I’m a get inside kinda kid at home, my parents pretty locked us in. Missing human interaction and all” she said.
She described her daily routine over the break as “organized,” as she repeats the same routine every day and has a lot of time to spend in front of the television. Even as well-organized as her daily routine can be, sadness during this time forced her to take a “forceful break.”
Every advantage has a disadvantage. RK struggled to get her brain to study over the break. On the plus side, it aided her in getting her life in order. “Things happened on a more personal level which I’d rather not discuss”, she remarked, “but it gave more than it took”
WHY THE STRIKE?
No one anticipated the last ASUU strike, which began on March 9, 2020 as a warning strike which was meant to last for two weeks, and this was as a result of the non-implementation of the 2019 agreement as well as its 2013 and 2017 memoranda of understanding (MOU) with the federal government. When the two-week warning strike elapsed, ASUU declared an indefinite industrial action on March 23, 2020, which lasted until 23rd of December 2020
Initially, the strike was viewed as a positive development by students, who regarded it as a time to unwind before returning to their hard lifestyle. However, as the weeks grew into months and discussions led to more meetings, it became evident that the students were in for a long journey.
Our universities are particularly vulnerable to strikes since they operate on distinct academic calendars. The ASUU strike is the only thing that has been constant in the academic calendar of Nigerian institutions since 1999. Nigerian academics have gone on strike 15 times since 1999, according to data analyzed by Premium Times in 2018 and updated through 2020. They went on strike for nearly 50 months throughout that time.
The government’s alleged insincerity in implementing agreements reached with the union on the lines of money for the revitalization of public universities, earned academic allowances, University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS), arrears of promotions, inconsistencies in the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS), and renegotiation are among the major pending issues that have made the ASUU strikes a way of life in Nigeria. Furthermore, the budgetary commitment to Education is 6.33 percent of the total budget, falling short of the UNESCO benchmark recommendation of 15 to 20 percent.
And every time the two parties have a conference to resolve their differences, some sort of temporary compromise is reached, which falls off in some months and another strike takes place.
A CURSE OR A BLESSING?
While many of the affected undergraduates were at home doing nothing, getting their parents or guardians worried, some undergraduates have been able to think outside the box by turning a bad circumstance into an opportunity.
Yusuf describes it as a “mixture of emotions” that include “surprise, relief, and disappointment.” Yusuf is a University of Ilorin final-year student who also works as a freelance writer. Yusuf, like every other student, was given an extra year due to the extended period of nothingness. Yusuf’s Dad viewed the break as a setback in attaining his objectives, something he could agree with because all he wanted to do was finish school.
Yusuf did not expect the strike to last so long because his university, the University of Ilorin, was initially opposed to the ASUU strike until new school management took over. The strike, Yusuf predicted, will be called off. “Being that my school, Unilorin, has never had a strike, I was expecting the strike to be called off in less than a month, it sounded more like a prank to me.”
However, he had mixed emotions since he wished the strike would not be called off early because he viewed the break as an opportunity to improve his skills. “To be honest, I didn’t want the strike to be called off early,” he said “I was trying my hands at a few ventures to make money and I knew resuming school would disrupt that… just like it has now”
Even though Yusuf considered the strike as a godsend because he loved his time at home and didn’t have to go through the arduous process of school life, the strike cost him a year of academic work.
“I enjoyed my stay at home because I didn’t have to go through the stress of finding what to eat and I also learned new things that could help me with a side hustle and improved my skills but the strike collected an academic year from me. I’d love to have graduated by now.” He told me.
Before she regarded it as a curse, RK saw it as a blessing. A blessing in the sense that she was able to learn new skills, gain clarity and allow her plan to be better, but a curse in the sense that the period was emotionally draining for her and that some things had to be put on hold. “The strike was a blessing to me because I learned, I grew, I got a job, I reflected on myself but a curse to an extent as life can go on hold in a split second or end. Crazy time” she stated.
RK and Yusuf may have been among the fortunate few who were able to construct a safe haven in the midst of a difficult situation, but many others did not have the same opportunity.
WHO IS PAYING THE PRICE?
The strike, which began in March 2020 and lasted nine months, was called off when the Federal Government agreed to allow ASUU members to receive their salaries through their home-grown University Transparency and Accountability Solution, UTAS, rather than the Federal Government’s Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, IPPIS.
Since then, federally funded schools are left to recuperate from the effects of the period of nothingness, which includes drastic academic calendars.
When asked how the University of Lagos is handling the post-holiday break, RK exclaimed, “It’s been a shitty process.” Every student in a government-owned institution is entitled to an extra year, but RK’s school is attempting to force them to complete a three-year term in just two years, which RK described as “crazy.”
The impact of ASUU strikes on the Nigerian university system has been disastrous, lowering the quality of education available to Nigerian students, which has been substandard at best. Students’ academic performance is suffering, and the educational system as a whole is on the verge of collapse. As a result, half-baked students and graduates are unemployed and lack the fundamental skills needed to survive in dynamic contexts such as Nigeria and the rest of the globe.
When the strike was called off, students of the University of Lagos were given only a month and a half to prepare for online exams. It dawned on RK that the exams were only two weeks away. She had to take a break from everything that would have tried to distract her at the time, but RK found the entire period to be relatively easy because she had been reading while she was at home. “I had been reading a little before then and I think I got superhuman strength at the time,” she explained.
Just like RK, Yusuf has a similar story to relate to how awful the schools are in recovering from the long break. “I think my school [University of Ilorin] is doing a very horrible job at recovering. And it’s doing so to the detriment of its students.” Yusuf bemoaned his situation.
Yusuf looks forward to finally graduating from Unilorin with each passing day, as he couldn’t care less about anything he learned this semester. “I just want to graduate. That’s the only thing I’m studying for right now.” He informed me “The school doesn’t seem to care about educating the students. It just wants to rush its scheme of work and ‘fix’ its calendar.”
Yusuf feels that most students are only studying to pass exams and are not learning well. And this will come back to bite society in the future. “This university is creating half-baked graduates.” He revealed, “For me as a teacher in training, I feel like I can’t go into a class and teach kids the English language as good as my teachers did back then.”
Prolonged ASUU strikes force lecturers to rush through their academic duties. The significance of this is that they tend to overlook important portions of their course work, semesters and breaks are shortened, and students are overwhelmed with a large amount of academic work in a short period of time. Finally, this “I don’t care approach” to literary and scientific academic studies results in poor student performance and lowers the overall quality of our tertiary education system.
As at the time of writing this, ASUU has embarked on another two-month strike after a one-month warning strike elapsed. They’ve also made threats of an indefinite strike after nine months of waiting for the Federal Government to honor its agreements with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU.
Dr. Biodun Olaniran, Chairman of ASUU at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, and Dr. Toyin Abegunrin, Secretary of the union, said in a statement released following the union’s congress on Monday that the government’s inability to fully implement the agreement was disturbing.
The federal government has declared the strike as illegal and once again, students are stuck in limbo and uncertainty – hoping, praying, having no idea what is next.
- this article was first published on issue 4 of The Optic, UCJ-Unilorin’s annual print magazine.