The chicken perches on the rope
The rope is restless,
The chicken is off-balance
Should we wear black clothes, take our lamps, and walk barefoot singing the dirges of the bereaved yet? Should we sing those dirges with the finality of nothingness? Or is there still a pulse our two fingers cannot make sense of? Should we speak of death, dying, or many things far from being alive? Not of humans but of the Nigerian educational system, whose viability and health are deplorable and, specifically, of the university system that causes students, the academia, the nation, and its citizens to dilly-dally. Should we sing dirges to the different excruciating deaths destroying education and the nation beyond repair?
On February 14, 2022, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) declared a strike by its members, causing universities to close their gates to students for the past seven months, with no hope of resumption. The ongoing industrial action is one of the many that the university system has witnessed, crippling several processes and putting many Nigerians in confusion. ASUU has embarked on strike at least 16 times since 1999 and for more than 1500 days cumulatively; this is outside of the local and internal strike actions on local issues embarked on by individual Unions in some of the universities. The longest ASUU strike was the 270 days of total shutdown of Nigerian public universities in 2020, and the present one is about to overtake it if there is no favourable development and intervention.
Aside from the ASUU strike, the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and other Unions under the Joint Action Committee (JAC) also consider strike actions as the only language the government listens to. After two months after the NASU and SSANU strike was called off, the Union members claimed that their salaries had not been paid since then. With the continuous and constant strike actions by the staff of the university system, large underfunding, and lack of average facilities for convenient and purposeful learning, it is understandable if one is confused as to whether to pronounce the system dead or dying. However, it appears to be far from being convincingly alive, and if there is any hope of revival, there must be a strategy to end it.
ASUU has been in constant demand for the revitalization of the University system through the injection of ₦1.1 Trillion by the Federal Government. The purpose of this, which is reasonable enough, is to raise the standard of Nigerian tertiary education and bring the various institutions close to the level of their counterparts across the globe. We can even forget that ASUU cannot monitor campus fraud, and some of this money will be stolen. Alongside this are agitations for the payment of earned academic allowances and the discharge of other commitments by the Nigerian government.
Currently, the Nigerian government spends between five to seven per cent of its total budget on education, against the recommended 27 per cent by the United Nations. In a nation like Nigeria that needs considerable investment in both human resources and factors that guarantee a favourable future for the nation, education is an investment that cannot be excused. However, education cannot fully displace other needs like the lack of power, bad roads, and insecurity, so we have to cry out for other priority needs. University professors are not the only ones suffering from the consequences of a mismanaged state; they just happen to be the most combative.
These problems and other issues faced by the Nigerian university system, including social factors that have placed the institutions under lock and key for a long time, make one doubt how to describe the state of the university system. I do not intend to address whom to blame in the feud between the academic staff and the government, but the provocation and damning damage to the nation’s state, the citizens, and students. On this issue, the system and the institutions are not the only ones affected, as the nation records more body count and an increase in social vices, as well as the systematic soaring of the number of miscreants traceable to unengaged students over a long period. For emphasis, a study by Andreu Arenas and Lucas Gortazar shows that students who are victims of school closure are more likely to experience learning loss, and according to Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann, there will be a possible reduction in their future incomes. It has also been proven that students coming from prolonged school closures have a higher risk of failing future tests and examinations. This is because the heavy distractions from learning affect their psychology and their orientation towards learning.
Whereas one could hold a strong ground as to the existence of certain activities of the academia or institutional operations, it cannot be denied that the rising brain drain at the university level due to this brouhaha is causing intellectual death and sickness in the university sector. If we do not know whom to sing our dirges to, we should prepare ourselves for this increasing intellectual death.
Unfortunately, as the system dies, those within it are dying too. On July 8, 2022, the Ambrose Alli University chapter of the ASUU claimed that the university had lost ten lecturers that month, five months into the strike. Also, on September 26, 2022, it was reported that 21 lecturers, including professors, and other non-academic staff of the University of Calabar, lost their lives. Many still alive have resorted to other ways of surviving, selling belongings and petty trading. On September 13, 2022, it was reported that a University of Maiduguri lecturer, Dr. Othman Abubakar, from the Department of English, decided to sell his library at any price. Abubakar was convinced that nothing was left in academia after the gradual “destruction of the university system” and the “insensitive” starvation of lecturers. Abubakar’s statements made me cringe, and to make it worse, some individuals have started calling for aid for lecturers like they were some castaways. It should also not be forgotten that the government implemented a “no work, no pay policy” for striking lecturers to make them give in to pressure. Starvation has become a wicked weapon to test the integrity of the intellectuals; even in war, starvation is not a noble strategy. So, I sing a dirge to the lost souls and the purpose of the Nigerian intellectuals.
I sing yet another dirge to the simultaneous effects of this strike on the university students who have become the primary victims. While intellectual death among the lecturers is overwhelming, the students also lose their lives. On March 8, 2022, it was reported that Henry Ehis, a 300-level student of the University of Jos, committed suicide due to frustration from the unending strike. Rachael Opadele, a final year student of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, took a part-time job in a hotel because of the strike, was kidnapped in the same hotel, and killed afterwards in August 2022. Many other students have been killed by unfortunate events that would have been prevented if they had been in school.
Another dirge is to the death of the minds of the Nigerian students caused by increasing drug abuse made worse by these strikes. Logically, thousands of students who have been denied access to education, which formed their primary source of engagement, would be vulnerable to acts like drug abuse. In other words, there is often a considerable risk of drug abuse among students of tertiary institutions in Nigeria, and the disengagement from academic activities exposes them to even greater risk. Governor Godwin Obaseki, the Edo State Governor, on May 13, 2022, lamented the increasing rate of drug consumption in the state after ASUU embarked on strike, noting that drug abuse has become the second problem of the Edo State government. Likewise, in June 2022, Senator Douye Diri, the Bayelsa State governor, confirmed that increased drug abuse amounted to increased criminal activities in the state.
On August 19, 2021, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) revealed that about 40 per cent of the Nigerian youth, which forms the majority of the university students, are “deeply involved in drug abuse.” Also, on February 22, 2021, the NDLEA, through its Chairman, Buba Marwa, stated that drug abuse accounts for and influences about 90 per cent of crimes in Nigeria. Since the majority of students in the university are youths, there is a tendency for drug abuse among them. The psychological and physical effects of drug abuse are dangers the nation cannot afford. It is a pronouncement of an end to the academic endeavour of individuals, either directly or indirectly.
Moreover, there is a strong and direct link between drug abuse and criminal tendencies. Given the above positions and facts, it is only logical to be concerned about the consequences of students’ disengagement and idleness due to ongoing strike actions. And though different universities in the country have developed anti-drug abuse schemes to put drug abuse in check; however, closing these schools makes the programs inefficient.
Then I sing a dirge to the death of ambition and purposes in the frustrating waits of the Nigerian students. Many students get their purposes and ambitions crippled by life-changing incidents during the schools’ shutdown. Equally, the prolonged and delayed educational period caused by unpredictable ASUU strikes reduces the employability rate and loss of certain opportunities, killing dreams and purposes, particularly because the delay causes many students to graduate above the entry age of many employment requirements.
I sing this dirge to Nigeria’s dying future, which the government is ignorantly killing. Education is the hope of a progressive future for any nation, and research is the tool it uses to chart its successes. The intellectual capacity of a nation is a projection of how far it will grow in the future and its position in global discussions. Innovations and developmental discoveries are the results of dedicated research and efforts. A war or affront against the intellectual bloc of the nation is a risk of a negative expectation for the nation’s future. Human resources development is pivotal to any nation that wishes to develop, but with the above incidences, one would doubt if Nigeria considers development important.
Where there is value, there is respect and care, and it seems the value given to education by the nation reflects in the management of the industrial crisis in academia. Where workers at factories strike, the company is forced to react, as it stands to lose products and profits within the period. In this instance, the products are of value, and for their sake, the company finds a solution to the problem within a limited time. Taking the company as Nigeria, the workers as the lecturers, and the students as the products, it seems that the nation does not value the students enough to be motivated to a quick resolution with the academia.
I sing a dirge to the death of a nation, its intellectuals, and the pillars of its future, the students.
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