As the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities enters the fourth month, some secondary school pupils lend their voices to the general call for an end to the crisis, SAMUEL AWOYINFA reports
Secondary school pupils in Lagos have joined other Nigerians in speaking out against the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities. Most of the youngsters believe the Federal Government reneged on the agreement it reached with ASUU in 2009.
Therefore, moved by pity for the undergraduates affected by the strike, they demanded that the terms of the deal be honoured quickly so that the latter could go back to the university campuses to resume their studies.
While some of the pupils noted that the strike had forced their older siblings, relations and friends, who are undergraduates in various universities, to idle away their time in their respective homes, others argued that the situation had led to an increase in crime rate.
Many of the pupils accused the FG of lack of seriousness toward the education sector. They said they were aware that government had never met the UNESCO’s recommended budgetary allocation of 26 per cent to education sector.
Vowing never to let the current situation and government’s unfavourable disposition to education affect their future or delay their academic progress, some of the pupils said their parents were already making alternative plans for their education.
The majority look forward to either relocating abroad to continue their education or enrolling in private universities in the country.
But a few less privileged pupils insist that they want to fulfill their dreams for higher education in public universities since their parents cannot afford to send them abroad or pay the exorbitant fees charged by private universities.
A pupil of Dansol High School, Ikeja, Feranmi Olatunji, says that by reneging on its agreement with ASUU, the FG has shown that it does not care about the various categories of students –undergraduate, postgraduate, prospective undergraduate and parents – who are at the receiving end of the lingering crisis.
“The action of the Federal Government shows that it does not care about education. If it did, it would honour its agreement with ASUU without sparing any cost. It is a pity that students are the ones at the receiving end. As the saying goes, the idle hand is the devil’s workshop. Some of the students could be tempted to commit crime. The others have become an extra burden to their parents,” Olatunji says.
Alarmed by the bleak prospect presented by persistent strikes in the tertiary institutions, Ogwuike Deborah of the African Church Model College, Ifako, Lagos told our correspondent that she already had an alternative plan for her education.
“I don’t think I want to be affected by ASUU strikes, which have become a tradition in public universities in Nigeria. Such inconsistency will affect my plans for the future. I do not plan to spend an extra day studying for a degree in Law,” she says.
Also, Agbede Olumide of Bachel Model College, Ogba, notes that government’s attitude to education clearly shows that the children of many top government officials do not attend public universities.
Worried that his elder sister, an undergraduate of Tai Solarin University of Education, is idling away at home, he says, “She just sleeps, wakes up, eats and spends the rest of the day watching movies. She says some of her friends have started working as waitresses in some eateries in Lagos just to pass the time.
“Top government officials can afford to treat education with such levity because their children are studying abroad. It is an act of wickedness to the children of the poor masses.”
One of Agbede’s friends affected by the strike has started processing admission into a university in neighbouring Republic of Benin.
Just like Agbede’s friend, Seth Omo-Izirein of Dansol High School, would like to attend a tertiary institution outside Nigeria and his preferred choice is the University of Legon, Ghana, where he hopes to obtain a degree in theatre arts.
The last thing Omo-Izirein wants is to suffer the same fate as his friend, an undergraduate of University of Lagos, who now wakes up every morning, “playing games and watching television” due to the strike.
“I want a four-year programme and not an extended programme. One is not sure if this strike, when it is eventually called off, will not come up again someday,” he says.
Ihekwereme Kelechi of Bachel Model College agrees that incessant strikes in public universities due to neglect of education sector by government have driven many people to seek higher education outside the country.
“I read an article on the Internet recently and I learnt that Holland has 90 per cent literacy level. Obviously we are lagging behind. That is why our certificates are not valued outside the country. Those foreigners see our leaders and the people as unserious,” she says.
Vanessa Osuka of the African Church Model College confesses that she feels bad seeing her brother being on a forced holiday. She says she is disappointed that President Goodluck Jonathan, who was once a lecturer, would treat his colleagues this way.
“He is not showing us that he was once a lecturer. If I have my way I won’t attend a public university,” she says.
Also, Munachi Ufere, who looks forward to seeking admission in a private university, thinks it is better to go to an institution with the best facilities and complete whatever course one has chosen at the appropriate time.
While she describes the FG’s action as “heinous and a disruption of the academic calendar,” Munachi predicts the strike will make some affected undergraduates too lazy to study at home.
Although Stephen Olufeko of the African Church Model College wants to attend a public university, he is ‘scared’ of his sister, Gloria’s experience. The latter, who is an undergraduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, is currently idling away at home.
He appeals to the government “to release the funds the ASUU is demanding and let the strike be called off.”
One can only hope that the voice of reason will prevail and the FG will do the needful, so that the students and lecturers will go back to the classrooms.