ASUU strike: How we’re coping – Lecturers




As the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU’s) strike hits 186 days today, SAMSON BENJAMIN reports on how members of the union have been coping without salary, even as there is no end in sight for the strike.

Blueprint Weekend’s investigations revealed that many academics are struggling to survive without income while the strike continues. Many have been seeking other means to make ends meet.

No work, no pay

The president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, had said none of the lecturers had been paid since the union embarked on the industrial action in February.

Speaking during an interview with journalists in Abuja, the ASUU boss accused the federal government of using hunger as a tool to force the striking lecturers into returning to their classrooms.

Noting that their salaries have been held for the past six months, Osodeke said the current administration “cannot use the force of hunger to pull the striking union members.”

 According to him, the federal government thinks that depriving the lecturers of their salaries will force the university teachers to collapse and end the strike.

 “Our salaries have been held, this is the sixth month that our salaries have been held. They thought that if they hold our salaries for two or three months we will come begging and say please allow us to go back to work.

“But we as a union of intellectuals, we have grown beyond that. You can’t use the force of hunger to pull our members back which is exactly what the government is doing,” he said.

Battle for survival

To survive the times, some of them have taken to jobs like farming, petty trading, script writing, editing, car hire, and real estate, among others. There are others who are only surviving because of the benevolence of friends and family members. Cooperative societies, too, have been of help by giving them loans to feed or engage in certain businesses, it was gathered.

Dr. Isaika Ilesanmi of the Department of Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan said he has been depending on the benevolence of the university’s cooperative society and his consultancy services as a theatre technologist.

“A sizable fraction of those handling showbiz lighting in Nigeria today were trained at the University of Ibadan and I was the one that introduced high tech/digital lighting to them when I joined the university from African Independent Television (AIT). And they do hire both services and equipment from me regularly. That’s how I survive,” he said.

Likewise, Aaron Bello of the Department of Surveying and Geo-informatics, Federal University of Technology Minna (FUTMinna), said his survival has been based on the goodwill and generous support of friends and family members.

“The truth is that some of us took our lecturing task as a full time duty as it should be because teaching, community service and engaging in research activities are very time-consuming and it is quite impossible to engage in these things which are the tripod stand on which a lecturer’s duty rests, and still be engaged in any other business activities at the same time.

“So, trying to disconnect one’s mind from my calling as a lecturer so that I can engage in other business or consultancy services has been extremely challenging. To be candid, our survival has been on God as expressed by the goodwill and generous support of friends and family members. The long break has, however, given one more time to work on personal research projects and it has increased my research productivity in terms of drafting research articles and grant proposals,” he said.

Also, Dr. Peter Nwogbo of the Department of Political Science University of Uyo, said not all lecturers are affected in the same way by the strike. “For those whose spouses are not working in public universities, whose children are grown up and already working, and for those who have access to loans from cooperative societies and those who are not relying on government salaries alone, the hardship appears endurable. However, for those who do not belong to any of the groups above, the whole thing is de-humanising. However, we will all continue to endure it until something satisfactory is done, with respect to our salaries. We have no better choice for now,” he said.

Similarly, Mr. Morgak Peter, a lecturer at the Department of Geology, University of Jos, told this reporter that he has been doing some consultancy and geological surveys to make ends meet.

 “Surviving has been quite challenging. It has not been an easy five months without a paycheck. The last time we got paid was in February. For a man with five children, three of whom are in school, I needed to raise funds for my twin kids, who started school recently. It has been challenging.

 “Some of us, depending on our discipline, do a little consulting here and there. It is not a long-term position. When the need arises, I do geological surveys; other times, borehole drilling although this is not the season. So, getting one job in a week is challenging. We are only surviving due to God’s grace.

 “When you have people looking up to you and then you don’t have a way to put food on the table, it may emotionally and physically destroy a man. We can only hope it doesn’t reach that extent. A large number of our colleagues are depressed. One of my colleagues is currently earning money by riding a motorcycle (Okada) in his village. Imagine how much he can make from that, not in the city, but a village, because he no longer has the means to survive in the city. Some lecturers have gone into farming and are unable to purchase fertilisers. It is a difficult situation,” he said.

Likewise, a lecturer in the department of Science and Vocational Education at Usmanu DanFodiyo University, Mr. Abdullahi Nasiru, said he has been able to survive through a combination of income from agriculture, small business ventures and the grace of God.

Explaining that the situation has not been a bed of roses for him and his family, Nasiru said even those who get paid are struggling to make ends meet, let alone those who have not been paid in five months.

 “We’ve been managing. Friends and family can occasionally assist, but one cannot rely entirely on them because they may become exhausted over time,” he said.

Spouses on a rescue mission

Another lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who asked to remain anonymous, told Blueprint Weekend how his wife has taken on the role of provider and how he has had to compromise on so many things in the family due to paucity of funds.

He said: “For those of us who are fortunate enough to have working wives, it has not been that easy, but it has also not been too horrible. I have some colleagues whose spouses are also lecturers. They have a very difficult time surviving.

 “Fortunately, aside from teaching, some of them are involved in activities such as poultry farming and others. Apart from lecturing, I have an office where I consult, but due to the economic downturn, not much has come up from that office. So, for the time being, I would not include it in my sources of income.

 “My wife is now in charge of most things and she does what she could by attending exclusively to what requires immediate attention. As a result, several things have been waived in my house. Many things go abandoned because there are no funds to support them. It is no longer a question of want, because even what is required cannot be obtained totally. As things stand, I can no longer afford to subscribe to DSTV because my primary focus is on sustaining the family.

 “Some outings and visits have been cancelled because I am trying to save fuel in my car for more important activities and only when required; otherwise, I will park the car in the garage. I used to recharge my line with a significant amount of airtime, make calls, and keep my mobile data on as much as I wanted, but now I have to limit how much I use these things. I can’t afford daily airtime and data subscriptions anymore.

 “At the moment, all I can think about is cutting back on practically everything. I simply attend to what I can and leave others for later, expecting that everything would return to normal. As I already stated, the woman is present and handling practically everything. All we do today is eat to survive. People are doing a variety of things to survive because we have no idea where we are headed.”

Similarly, Mr. Samuel Ajayi, a lecturer at the Department of Linguistics and Languages, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, said has been able to make ends meet with loans and incomes from his wife’s business, who, according to him, is into wholesale of some goods.

“So, we eke out a living from proceeds of her business. For major expenses like rent and the children’s school fees, I obtain loans from our cooperative. What I did was to cut costs immediately ASUU started proposing the strike because there was the risk of salaries not coming in. I took out loans to invest in my wife’s business, so even if the government does nothing for the next 10 years, I won’t go hungry.

“So, even if the strike is ongoing, I am conducting research as an academic, and I occasionally work with my wife on her business,” he said.

Researches

For some lecturers, the strike is an opportunity to carry out research for publications in local and international journals.  

Emeka Mba of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, said the strike has been hard on both students and the lecturers and even the entire university community.

“Everybody has been complaining about the impact of the strike. On our part as academics, it has also been very difficult. There are situations where both the husband and the wife are lecturers and so the family has no other means of livelihood apart from their salaries. Imagine the stress they have been going through to find food for their families.

 “But beyond that, the strike has afforded some of us the opportunity to carry out some research work. So, we have not been idle. I have used the last six months to engage in intellectual and academic exercises like research. Research has actually taken a lot of my time just like other lecturers. It has been a good time for us to invest in research, so that we can publish (them) in the hope that the published works will impact society, especially in making policies. In addition to research, we have also spent time writing books,” he said.

 Also, Nasiru said, “Well, for me, I have never relented. Even though I don’t go for lectures, I have been doing my writing jobs. Within this period, I have sent well over six articles to international journals. And right now, I am working on a textbook.”

Not deterred

The academics also told our reporters they are willing to endure the ‘hunger’ tactics employed by the government for a better university education for the youth.

Dr. Ilesanmi said the federal government would end up being the ultimate loser.

He believes that the greatest armour against “the deliberate deployment of hunger as a weapon of oppression and starvation against ASUU members is the unshaken commitment to the Nigerian project and the Nigerian university system by the lecturers.”

 According to him, although the situation has been tough, the lecturers remain undeterred.

“Nothing worthwhile is achieved in life without pain. Whatever the motive of the federal in withholding salaries is can better be explained by them. We have traveled this road before,” he said.

 In the same vein, Nwogbo described the strike as not just for the improvement of their conditions of service, but most importantly, the release of revitalisation funding and of the White Papers on the visitation panels to the universities.

 “Even though lecturers are still working on their research while some are still attending to their students’ projects privately, the federal government decided to stop our salaries. We are willing to pursue the strike to a logical conclusion,” he said.

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