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News Update (December 8, 2011 11:33 AM...)

Parents, students: The pains of strikes


WorldStage Newsonline-- Obtaining a university education in Nigeria could be as challenging as launching a rocket into the space, where any unforeseen incidents, including weather condition can lead to an abortion of a mission for days, months or more.

In the first instance, over 70 per cent of youths who seek admission into universities in Nigeria don't stand a chance of getting a space, even when they passed two stages of exams- one conducted by a government institution called JAMB and the second, a recently introduced post-JAMB screening by the university of choice.

Despite the proliferation of private universities that charge hundreds time more than the government owned schools, most Nigerian youths who seek admission into universities are rejected, dejected and frustrated every year.

But the 'lucky' ones who are admitted to study courses that are most time different from what they applied for, but something just to keep them engaged, are in for a different frustrating experience.

That a student is admitted to study a course for four years is one thing, but the reality is that, nobody, not even the school authority can guarantee that students won't spend extra years in school due to several forces.

There is the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that champions the interest of members in all the federal and state governments' owned universities. The union is known for having frequent frictions with the government over welfare packages for lecturers. When the government fails to meet their demands, they go on strike and the schools will be shut for as long as it would take the government to settle them. Sometimes, the dispute may be between a local ASUU and the school authority, but the national body is always ready to intervene and call for national solidarity. For instance, state universities are supposed to be autonomous, but trust, whenever the federal universities have issues with the government, the state ASUUs will join in solidarity.

When this is going on, the Non-Academic Staff Union will be waiting and watching how the impasse will play out. If the academicians return to work after getting government to approve their demands, the non- academicians only need to allow students to return for few weeks, before calling members out for a strike to demand that the new deal with ASUU should be extended to them. Students and lecturers may be ready for academic works, but if those who are to open the classrooms or clean the toilets have downed tools, there is nothing anyone can do.

In some cases too, students by themselves do get the schools shut down. Unlike the unions that give formal strike notice, students do engineered violent protests that give the authority no option than to ask them to go home. It could be mostly due to increment in school fees, sometimes, it could be due to external factors, as remote as how a case of a public transport vehicle knocking down a student sparked up a violent protest.

Students propelled closure always have more devastating impact on academic seasons, with the duration of their courses left to float uncontrollably.

A school that is shut due to students' protest sometimes get caught up with ASUU or Non-ASUU strikes, and closure intended for three months ended up going for nine months or more.

Parents are in line to bear the brunt of Nigeria's epileptic education system. They would have paid for the upkeep of their wards when they left for school, but when they are sent back home, the wards would not make any refund; they would stay at home and depend on the parents for everything, and when they are finally recalled, the parents would still have to make fresh reimbursement. The bigger loss is that a child who is supposed to spend four years in school may end up spending six to seven years.

ASUU is responsible for the latest closure of universities across the country. As usual, it embarked on an indefinite strike on Monday following the failure of the Federal Government to implement the 2009 agreement, which include; creating a conducive environment for learning in the nation's universities, allowances, retirement age and others.

A parent, Mrs Victoria Umeh who spoke with WorldStage Newsonline pleaded with ASUU to suspend the strike and give more room for negotiations.

Umeh who has five children- a lady at a university, two boys waiting for admission, and two younger ones still in secondary school, said: Two wrongs cannot make a right. We, parents are at the receiving end. Strikes also stabilises our plans as parent. What is the need of child spacing when all the children sometimes end up being in the university at the same time. It calls for concern.

She said the more annoying thing was the fact that even when wards graduated, there would be no job for them.

No parent will be happy having between 35-40 old man or woman living right under their roofs, she said, adding that it would only take children who had the fear of God and well culture to desist from the high level of corruption in the country.

In a chat with Miss Ngozi Oti, a final year student of the Abia State University, Mass Communication Department, she appealed to both the Federal Government and ASUU to lay the issues involved to rest once and for all.

I won't want them to tell us (students) to come back to school today and tomorrow they will ask us to go home again, she said.

Ngozi lamented that there was no way the country will be able to make a meaningful development with these disruptions, adding that serious nations invested in their education sector.

It is laughable that Nigerians, that is, those who can afford it now travel to Ghana to study. Where was Ghana some years ago? It goes to show that something is fundamentally wrong somewhere. If not addressed early enough, the security of this country may be seriously threatened.

Another undergraduate, Mr. Ekene Uwaezuoke who is studying Information Technology said the strike will definitely have some negative impact on the students.

He added that it will also amount to a total waste of human resource and might make students to get involved in some heinous crimes.

My position is that this time, both parties should resolve the issues at stake. However, I believe that there would have been a better way to resolve all issues without embarking on strike. Government and ASUU should have mercy on our parents and us too, he said.

By Segun Adeleye (segunadeleye@worldstagegroup.com) and Prince Okedinachi (pokedinachi@yahoo.com)

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