Student life is dying a slow death as strike continues

It has been five months since Damilola Bodunde, a member of the University of Ilorin male volleyball team, set foot on a volleyball court. The last time he did was in March during the Nigerian Universities Games, but he was not too pleased with the team’s performance.

Shortly after the tournament, he and his teammates planned on how they would build their team spirit and make the team formidable. They had a foolproof plan, but there was one thing hindering them from forging ahead – the strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

Bodunde and his teammates were left with no option but to return home to their families after the tournament due to the industrial strike action that has crippled both curricular and extracurricular activities on the campus in Kwara State.

There is no volleyball court in close proximity to where he lives and his school’s volleyball court was where Bodunde has been practising since he learned to play the sport.

According to him, the protracted strike has not only torn him and other members of the team apart but has also denied him the privilege of playing volleyball, a sport he has developed passion for since he was a freshman.

“I feel really bad because I have not been training. After the strike is called off, it would be difficult to rebuild our team spirit and make the team formidable because many of us can no longer train and we would have to work extra hard to rebuild our team spirit,” Bodunde said as he expressed his worries over not being able to train with his teammates.

Another strike

On 14 February, the nation woke up to the news of ASUU embarking on a one-month warning strike, a strike now entering its seventh month, making it the eighth time since 2009 the union would embark on an industrial strike action, with the longest-lasting nine months in 2020.

This strike, like every other one, was born out of the non-fulfilment of agreements on the part of the federal government. The reasons for the union’s strike action include the deployment of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) to replace the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) as a payment platform, funding for the revitalisation of public universities, and payment of earned academic allowances, among others.

Lecturers of government-funded universities going on strike has become commonplace in Nigeria over the years. In the midst of this age-long tussle between the Nigerian federal government and ASUU, undergraduates believe they are paying heavily for the federal government’s lackadaisical attitude to the educational sector by not only being locked out of lecture rooms but being unable to participate in many campus extracurricular activities.

Extracurricular activities

On Nigerian campuses, students have a wide variety of activities to choose from, with activities ranging from sports, campus volunteerism and advocacy, campus journalism, active political participation, to music and dance, among others.

Emphasising the importance of extracurricular activities to undergraduates, Olasupo Abideen, the executive director of Brain Builders Youth Development Initiative, said that they provide undergraduates with the opportunity to escape the monotony of academic studies while giving them a platform to garner work experience for life beyond the university.

“Extracurricular activities are very important because [they provide] a platform where students get to build their communication skills, excellent team spirit and emotional intelligence,” he said.

He added that these activities prepare undergraduates for the work environment and life after a university degree while also trying to make them fit for the professional world.

For undergraduates like Bodunde, whose participation in extracurricular activities is tied to school being in session, the past few months have been tough.

The repercussions the strike has on these activities are felt in varying degrees. In the case of sporting activities, many students, like Bodunde, no longer have access to training facilities, thereby leading to a downward spiral of their sporting abilities and capacities.

This setback is not peculiar to the students of the University of Ilorin. At the Olabisi Onabanjo University in Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, members of the school’s Literary and Debating Society, notable for training its members to improve their public speaking and writing skills to win oratory contests and essay competitions, have been largely affected as the strike poses an obstacle to achieving their goals for the year, with the result being a growing apathy on the part of members.

“When the strike began, we tried holding virtual sessions to constantly engage our members, but a large number of our members lost interest,” said Victor Adegbite, the president of the Olabisi Onabanjo University’s Literary and Debating Society.

As for campus politics, a disruption in campus electoral processes has become the reality of campus politicians as student union presidents and other campus politicians have had their tenures prolonged.

This is evident in the case of the University of Uyo, in Akwa Ibom State, which conducted its campus elections in September 2021 and ought to have ushered in a new administration in April 2022, only to have this dream cut short by the prolonged strike.

According to Abideen, the strike has deterred many students from achieving their professional goals as they have lost out on benefits and opportunities that could propagate their future careers.

“Many students have missed conferences and cannot attend symposiums because the dean of student of affairs of their university has not been able to provide them with recommendation letters.”

Organisations are also affected

For organisations like Gender Mobile Initiative (GMI), who have tailored their model to developing leadership skills, training young people to be advocates against gender-based violence and providing them with a platform to garner experience and life beyond the university, the strike has caused an imbalance in the activities planned out for the year.

Prior to the commencement of the industrial strike action, GMI, an association of campus ambassadors in universities across the country, had planned to finalise partnerships with managements of institutions in order to begin organising capacity-building workshops and town hall meetings for ambassadors. Since the strike commenced, the organisation was forced to use virtual sessions.

The policy leader for the GMI, Sarah Egbo, told University World News that the organisation ought to have signed a memorandum of understanding with university managements, which would seal the partnerships, but they have been unable to proceed as a result of the strike.

“All these [plans] have been put on hold and we have had to limit our activities to virtual sessions, but there’s not much we can do as a result of this,” she said.

According to other news, the federal government would not be able to fulfil every demand of the union. However, it has promised to include some of ASUU’s demands in the 2023 budget.

The union has vowed not to call off the strike on promises and return to lecture rooms so that normalcy can return to campuses until all or a large percentage of their demands are implemented.

While the strike lingers and both parties continue to convene at the negotiation table in a bid to reach common ground, students and organisations remain hopeful of the possibility of getting back on track in all the activities they have missed out on.