A lot of metaphors have been used to describe the ASUU strikes. Some have likened it to the Olympics or the lunar year, coming around every four years or so. Some have also compared it to a number of thunder gods like Thor, Sango and Zeus, since it strikes like lightning; out of nowhere and equally without warning.
This same striking ability has also led some to refer to ASUU as one of the world’s best strikers, rivalling the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Erling Haaland and Karim Benzema.
Now, it does seem funny, but what isn’t is the damage that this incessant strike action does each time it rolls around. And roll around it will. Skabash had, in an earlier article, reported that ASUU has spent an average of 1,500 days on strike since 1999, when civilian rule began. Per these statistics, this accounts for 19.5% of every academic year, which means students have spent approximately 4.09 years sitting at home.
But why does ASUU strike all the time? Is it a show of force, or a kind of periodic event? Is it for fun? If so, what kind of playing is this?
ASUU and Strike: The origin of the unbreakable bond
Yeah, that’s what it looks like; an unbreakable bond. Some things are not supposed to go together, like spaghetti and okra, or Cristiano Ronaldo and the substitute bench. ASUU and strike are also an example, but somehow, they have managed to form a kind of bond that has left chemistry gurus all over the world scratching their heads because it’s not in their textbooks.
And just like a lot of things, money sits at its root.
In 2009, ASUU and the Federal Government of Nigeria signed an agreement called the FG/ASUU 2009 Memorandum of Action, which (let me not bore you with details) basically says that the government is supposed to fund ASUU to improve tertiary education in Nigeria. And just so you know, this agreement was actually a renegotiation of an earlier one signed in 2001, which the government had reneged upon.
Included in this agreement is the Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure II (CONUASS II), which was intended to better motivate lecturers by giving them unique conditions of service. Just a lot of fancy words for more money. But whether more money or not, the Federal Government agreed to this agreement (well, duh! That’s why it was called an agreement in the first place).
However, as history has proven, agreeing to something and actually fulfilling your own end of the bargain are mutually exclusive components, at least from the government’s point of view.
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I wonder if ASUU were actually surprised when FG again failed to honour their side of the bargain, or if they just sighed at the “same old, same old”. And in July 2010, strike action was implemented. The strike lasted until January 2011 and was finally suspended after another accord was reached between the parties.
However, whatever promises FG made, they never followed through on it, and over the years, whatever partial implementation and payments that ASUU manages to get only come after strike actions. This has led credence to the widespread belief that strike actions are the only way to get the government to act, if only partially, but once the strike is suspended, FG goes back to sleep.
How ASUU strikes are affecting student employability
While lecturers might be lamenting about how ASUU strikes are affecting their means of livelihood, their anguish cannot hold a candle to what students face. Let’s paint a scenario.
A student gains admission into the University of Lagos. If ASUU maintains a strike rate of one strike per annum (1s/a), shaving off 19.5% of a calendar year, as mentioned above, that’s a total of 71 days spent at home per year. Take that multiplied by four, and you have 284 days of strikes allocated to the UNILAG student along with his admission letter.
And the above mathemaculation (yeah, that’s a new word, courtesy of me) applies only to students running a 4-year course. Law and medical students are in for an additional 2-3 years, which means an extra 142 and 213 days, respectively, bringing their numbers up to 426 and 497 for each. Once again, that’s for an average two-month strike. Mega-strikes like the current one just scatter the whole calculation process.
Whereas, a student who gained admission into a private university like Babcock or Covenant has no such problems; all he has to do is face his studies, try not to join bad gangs, and he will be ready to graduate at the time stipulated on his admission letter.
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ASUU strike is the great Boogeyman of the Nigerian tertiary education system. In a job market that demands graduates to be within the age bracket of 22-26 but also possess eight years of working experience, Nigerian students are already entering the field with a -1 handicap. The strikes just increase the odds, and unfortunately, not in the student’s favour. And with the current high level of unemployment and underemployment, mega-strikes like the current ASUU strike have raised concerns about the country’s rising dependency ratio, since many students are just sitting at home, doing nada.
The dependency ratio is a standard that measures the number of dependents from age 0-14, and then over the age of 65, in comparison with the total population between the ages of 15 and 64. And indications have emerged that the worsening situation is mounting further pressure on the disposable incomes available to households because it’s not like the students don’t want to work; a great number of them would like nothing more than to get off their asses and earn some money, especially those in 300-level who are older and already have a sense of responsibility.
However, where will they work? Who will employ them? In the eyes of corporate organizations, they are no different from half-baked products, and it takes something special (like a miracle, or connections) to get them to take their chances on one of these students, no matter how purportedly smart the student is. Hence, the student is stuck working low-time jobs like in supermarkets or fuel stations, and all the while, all academic knowledge slowly erodes from their brains. And that’s if they’re able to even get the low-paying jobs.
This dependency issue has been a huge burden for many parents these days who still cater to children who are supposed to be working and earning good salaries if the system works perfectly. A student who is still stuck in 300-level at the age of 26 finds his job prospects slipping away gradually because, after graduation, he still has to get some job experience to make himself more palatable to employers.
In a Guardian NG article, a parent lamented how her son, who was supposed to have graduated at 24 but was still stuck in 300-level at 26 due to ASUU strikes, missed out on a mouth-watering job that accepts young graduates not more than 24 years old. According to her, the graduate trainees undergo a six-month training programme, then they would be fully employed with a salary of no less than N300,000.
However, a student who gained admission at 17 and graduated at 22 without the threat of ASUU strikes wouldn’t have lost the above opportunity. Such a person has the chance to support his family with his monthly income, thus leaving the dependency ratio bracket.
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How to survive in spite of ASUU strikes
Even if ASUU were to call off this current strike action tomorrow, it would change nothing; ASUU strike is like a part of the tertiary academic curriculum and can drop by anytime. I happen to belong to the extremely lucky demographic of students that attended the university between 2013 and 2017, which is the longest hiatus between strike actions in recent memory. Even the 2017 strike was called off after a month.
Wow! I need to find the soap I used during that period and start using it again.
But just because I was extremely lucky doesn’t mean you will, if current occurrences are any indication. And even if you manage to tap from my miracle and make it through four years of university strike-free, the job market is already saturated. The employment rate rises daily, and vacancies for white-collar jobs keep shrinking.
That being said, all hope isn’t lost. You can make do by doing these:
Learn a skill
This is by far the most important, because it stays with you for life. There are different types of skills out there that you can learn to kill time and also improve yourself, and if you’re lucky, you might find yourself talented at one naturally. Like, say, writing (wink wink… what? You think I studied how to write at the university? Lol).
Also, more importantly, a skill can make you money. And you know what they say; improvement is good, but money is importanter. Oh, you think those girls enjoy paying to apprentice under Mama Lateefat with her blade tongue? Of course not, but they recognize (or someone did) that it is pertinent for them to develop themselves.
Volunteering is a fantastic way to gain experience at something, and trust me when I say you will have little to no trouble securing placement for this one, since you’re basically working for free. And while that might sound distasteful, it is a sort of investment, because foreign employers absolutely eat it up.
They love volunteers and humanitarians because it indicates selflessness, and the mere mention of ‘volunteer’ on your CV can land you a job, even without professional experience.
Build/Join healthy associations
Joining or building healthy associations will improve your skills and make you a better individual, as these groups help your identity and strengthen your relationships by building networks among your peers. So, find a club like a tech club, book club, study group or sports club and contribute actively.
Improve your physical and mental health
This one is more personal because not everything is about money; you have to keep healthy too, so that when the money comes, you’ll be able to spend it. So take advantage of this ASUU strike and exercise your body and mind.
Join a fitness club, eat a balanced diet and transform your body so that when ASUU does call off the strike in the near future, you can shock your coursemates with something like this…
Also, improve your mental well-being by developing new habits and improving your reading and writing speed and listening ability. ASUU strikes might be a period of educational decline, but you can compensate in other ways.
Japa is the ultimate way to stick your thumb in the eye of ASUU strikes, and as it is, most Nigerians preferred method, because we just love the vawulence. It doesn’t matter how you get out of the country, whether by auctioning yourself or smuggling yourself through airport security inside someone’s luggage. The end justifies the means, after all.