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The University Campus without Students – Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Professor Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

The university campus, anywhere in the world, is virtually dead without students. The lecture halls miss them. Lecturers miss them. The porters and security personnel miss them. Food and petty vendors miss them the most. Food vendors have had their businesses paralyzed and so cannot meet their obligations to their wards or landlords. There are no knocks on the door by students coming for consultation. No assignments to grade. No opportunity to impart knowledge in lecture halls. I recognize non-residential programmes which do not accommodate students all year round. That is a matter of choice. It is true that research is ongoing. Academics are generating ideas and churning out papers for academic advancement. Some attend international conferences and still get positions abroad.
But teaching, especially at the postgraduate level, is the interactive part of the life of an academic. It gives life to the profession. The inner joy that teachers derive from nurturing undergraduates from the first through the final years of university education cannot be quantified. Mind development and character formation. Developing the art of critical thinking and writing. Transformation of that neophyte into a student that can contest issues and ideas with a professor. But to earn peanuts while doing this life-changing job is contradictory to social justice!

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It must be noted that some international organisations are now sceptical about giving grants and aid to Nigerian universities because of the bad image which the shutdown has given Nigeria. Exchange programmes are rendered useless when researchers from foreign universities cannot work with their collaborators because a strike is ongoing. We once hosted an American professor at the University of Lagos who could not deliver a single lecture because the strike of 2020 started shortly after he landed on Fulbright Fellowship! Knowing all of this, which government should allow its universities to remain shut for seven months?
While researching this topic, I found that the staff of American University in Washington went on a five-day strike in August to protest ‘inequitable health care and wage systems that place too many employees at a disadvantage. In March this year, graduate student workers ‘around the US at private and public universities have gone one strike over the past few years, by organizing unions and ‘holding protest actions and strikes (over) low pay’, an issue plaguing graduate student workers around the US. In April this year, staff at thirty-six universities voted in favour of strike action in a dispute over pay and working conditions which could see higher education hit by further disruption this academic year. The difference is that these strikes did not go indefinitely!
We are discussing students whose academic fate and future are determined by a steady stay on campus, writing exams and moving on to the next level. We are discussing our future doctors, engineers, pharmacists, professors, architects, finance gurus, and social influencers. Their counterparts in private universities and some state-owned universities are moving on. In federal universities, lives, projections, and dreams are truncated. The cause: the now familiar if perennial conflict between the government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities ASUU.

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The students miss school. In 2019, there were approximately 1,854,261 undergraduate students in Nigeria. Of this figure, 1,206,825 were in federal universities while the states held 544,936 students, and 102,500 were in private universities. The figures for 2022 will not be radically different from that of 2019 because in 2020, Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC) Professor Abubakar Rasheed stated that the total number of undergraduates in Nigeria was 2 million. In 2021, the figure went up to 2.1 million. In effect, roughly 1,300,000 students, the future high-level workforce of Nigeria, are currently hanging in limbo. Furthermore, students in the secondary school system who had dreamt about proceeding straight to university are uncertain about their future. A nation which brings up its youth population in a perpetual environment of uncertainty is sowing the seed for future fragmented souls. The repercussions will be felt when all the current old horses who caused the confusion would have gone into their graves. Therefore, the youth must fight the government to restore sanity and order to the land.
Some have taken to skills acquisition while others are staying at home, depending on their parents and guardians for a living. Some retired parents are forced to provide for their children from their meagre incomes. This produces stress in homes and trauma in lives. Some have taken to social vices or criminality. Internet fraud as a way of life beckons on them. The notorious Yahoo Yahoo business is alluring and attractive to the idle. Just play in front of your computer and trick some ‘mumu’ fellow abroad and smile to the bank. Some ladies have become pregnant out of wedlock and have tried to procure an abortion. Some have lost their lives. Too many of them are going through mental stress that could affect them for the rest of their lives.
The purpose of this essay is to highlight the social costs of keeping universities closed. When we write about the strike, it is often like an abstraction. The human feelings involved and the overall implications on lives and the stability of the nation are hardly reckoned with or factored into policy. A nation is made up of people. Happy people. Hopeful people. Unhappy people. Inspired people. Frightened people. Secure people. Bold and cowardly people. Both the ill and the healthy. An aggregate of how these people feel is what makes the nation. The current ASUU strike is another indication of state failure. It is the failure of Nigeria. Colleagues and compatriots outside the country pity us. There is a rush to leave this country that is so blessed with natural and human resources. Why? Because a group of persons who have no good plans for the country has hijacked power and the resources of the country.
We could say that if only 2 million persons are in the universities in a population of 200 million, the 1% per cent enrolment is insignificant compared to the general population. But the university is the resource base of the nation. It produces thinkers who have gone through the rigour of critical thinking and can be deployed to any sector of the country for the purpose of developing the natural and social resources of the land. Add to this population the total number of academics – 100000 – and their dependents we are dealing with a critical sector in the country. They are vocal, and pivotal to national growth. They are the powerhouse of the future. And we can only toy with that sector if we wish to destroy the country.
It is not too late to retrace the national steps. The current model of funding education is not working. If strikes in the university system have become a way of life, it means that the real problems have not been addressed. The funding model must change. No education is free to the extent that someone must pay for it. If the government cannot pay, alternative sources of funding must be explored. A well-funded Education Bank from which students can obtain loans is one of the options open to the government and the universities. The federal government should stop opening new universities and merge some of the existing ones to reduce overhead costs.
Finally, the time has come for legislation to compel all state officials to educate their children in Nigerian universities. In simple terms, it must become an offence for any elected or appointed official of the State to send their wards to universities abroad. That way, attention will be paid to the struggling universities in the land. Stakeholders – traditional rulers, former Heads of State, former state governors, the National Assembly, and religious leaders – must wade into this matter now and end the impasse by September end. The alternative would be that a full session would be lost by our hapless students.

Education

Obi Vows To Stop ASUU Strikes If Elected President

Presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi has said that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) will not embark on industrial action if he is elected president.

Obi spoke at a campaign rally in Owerri, the Imo state capital city, on Tuesday.

The former governor of Anambra said the future of any serious country is dependent on education and health, adding that he would invest in the two sectors.

“If you make me your president and Datti my vice, ASUU won’t go on strike. We will dialogue with them.We will work with the student

“The future of any serious country is dependent on their education and health sectors. I will invest hugely in those sectors if you elect us”, he said.

 

 

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Education

“We Were Not Part Of Strike”, CONUA Vows To Sue F.G Over Withheld Salaries

Rival Academic union, Congress of University Academics has expressed its disappointment with the Federal Government, especially the Ministry of Labour and Employment, over the non-payment of its members’ withheld salaries “even when the government knew that the union did not call for strike action and its members were not involved in the strike action that lasted for eight months and which shut down the university system nationwide.”

In statement on Tuesday by its National President, Secretary and Publicity Secretary, Dr Niyi Sunmonu, Dr Henry Oripeloye and Dr Ernest Nwoke, respectively, CONIA  argued that it was wrong for the FG to lump CONUA with members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities who went on eight months strike between February and October, 2022.

The new union of lecturers thereby viewed to sue FG for withholding its members’ salaries.

The statement partly read, “CONUA formally made its non-involvement in the strike known to the Federal Government in a letter addressed to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, in April 2022.

“In the letter, we made it clear that because CONUA constituted a separate and independent union in the university system, our members did not call for any strike. This was followed by a Press Conference in Abuja on August 19, 2022 at which it was categorically stated that CONUA was not part of any ongoing strike, and that the “No Work No Pay” principle ought not to apply to members of the union.

“CONUA’s expectation is that, due to the express and categorical declaration, the government would seamlessly release our members’ outstanding salaries when it resumed the payment of salaries to all university staff in October 2022. But to our dismay, CONUA members were also paid pro-rata salaries in complete disregard to the fact that we were indeed shut out of duties by the strike.

“Subsequently, we wrote to the Accountant-General of the Federatıon and the Ministry of Labour and Employment reminding them that it was an error to lump our members with those that declared and embarked on strike action. It was yet another shock for the outstanding backlog of salaries not to have been paid to our members along with the November 2022 salary.”

CONUA said the non-payment of “our withheld salaries” contravenes Section 43 (1b) of the Trade Disputes Act CAP. T8, which stated that “where any employer locks out his workers, the workers shall be entitled to wages and any other applicable remunerations for the period of the lock-out and the period of the lock-out shall not prejudicially affect any rights of the workers being rights dependent on the continuity of period of employment.”

“This provision is consistent with global best practices,” it added.

“From the foregoing and as a law-abiding union that pledged to do things differently, we have resolved to seek legal redress of the illegal withholding of our legitimate salaries by taking the matter to court in consonance with the rights enshrined in our laws,” the union said.

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Education

Again, ASUU Berates FG Over “Half-Salary”

The Academic Union of Universities (ASUU) has again slammed the federal government over non-implementation of its demands.

ASUU has been at loggerheads with the government over its decision to pay members half of their salaries after the union’s eight-month strike ended.

The national executive council (NEC) of the union held a two-day meeting at the University of Calabar (UNICAL) in Cross River state to review the development and other issues affecting members.

The national president, Emmanuel Osodeke in a statement said ASUU faulted the federal government’s policies on education including the proposed introduction of education loans.

The union said such policies are indication that the government is not ready to fund public varsities.

“NEC observed with concern the systematic disengagement of government from funding of Public Universities through the proposed introduction of education loan which has proven to be a monumental failure in our nation and some other countries where it was introduced,” the statement reads.

“We find it troubling that the proponents of the policy are so eager to foist it down the throat of Nigerians when they have done more to push the working people of this country into poverty through sheer incompetence in handling the economic fortunes of our nation.

“ASUU calls on Nigerians of goodwill to, in the interest of our students and the nation, prevail on the Nigerian government to urgently address all outstanding issues contained in the December 2020 FGN-ASUU Memorandum of Action.

“NEC rejects with vehemence, the current attempts to impose master-slave treatment as a mechanism for relating with Nigerian scholars under whatever guise by the ruling class. ASUU members are citizens, not slaves.

“Finally, NEC appreciates the resilience of our members and their families. Their understanding and perseverance, in the face of hardship and provocation occasioned by the government’s intransigence and insensitivity shall be rewarded by posterity.”

On half salaries paid to members, ASUU said: “As reflected in the pro-rated salaries paid to our members for the month of October 2022, as well as the continued withholding of our member’s salaries for the preceding eight months, even when the backlog of the work is being covered by our members in various universities.”

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