By Fred Ezeh Abuja
On Monday, aggrieved university students under the umbrella of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) disrupted official activities at the National Assembly Compound and the Federal Ministry of Education, both in Abuja, during a a peaceful protest.
They completely blocked the entrance gates to both buildings for several hours, demanding the attention of senior government officials to their whereabouts.
They explained that the peaceful protest was intended to register their displeasure at the periodic industrial action by university professors under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the failure of the federal government to meet their demands.
Students by the hundreds marched through the streets of Abuja with placards bearing different inscriptions, chanting songs of solidarity and demanding an end to periodic academic interruptions in the university system.
The aggrieved students were also carrying mattresses, cooking gas and other utensils ready to keep NASS and the Federal Department of Education busy until they were assured of concrete action to end the nationwide strike.
NANS President Sunday Asefon, who led the protest, said it was disheartening that ASUU had been on strike for more than four years since 1999.
“The consequences of this development are severe on the part of the students who are victims of these industrial actions by ASUU following a labor disagreement with the federal government. The resulting effect of these strikes is inconsistency in the results of scholarship, research and learning.
“At the end of each strike action, ASUU members receive their salaries, government officials and politicians receive theirs, Ministers of Education and his Labor counterpart receive their salaries and allowances for meetings “unproductive” with ASUU, but students receive nothing but inability to mobilize for NYSC due to age limit, limited job opportunities due to age limit, untimely death of students needlessly traversing the bad Nigerian roads, all in the wake of the ASUU’s relentless strike.
“Most of the industrial action could have been avoided had the government been responsible enough to keep the promises/agreements freely entered into with ASUU over the years and fulfill its end of the bargain.
“Public tertiary institutions in Nigeria have taken a downward slope in recent years and there is an urgent need to fix the system. Many students no longer trust the academic results of higher education institutions due to strikes and neglect of infrastructure by the government.
“These developments explain the high level of migration of Nigerian students abroad in search of stable and quality education. Many of our students are trapped in war-ravaged Ukraine due to strikes at our universities and lack of adequate infrastructure development.
The students therefore called on the federal government to honor the freely entered into agreement with ASUU and renegotiate areas that need to be renegotiated, while ASUU be open-minded, progressive, and realistic in its terms.
They suggested that the federal government do whatever it takes to convince ASUU to suspend its strike and return to the classroom to ensure continuity of the academic calendar, and also consider urgent investment in the revitalization of public institutions of higher education in Nigeria to meet population growth and emerging needs.
“We demand that Nigerian students who are victims of the ASUU relentless strike be represented in all negotiations between the Federal Government and ASUU, and both parties must prove that their children have attended or are attending a public university in Nigeria” , they said.
The students therefore pleaded with ASUU to call off the strike while they find new ways to hold the government to account without necessarily going on strike.
They insisted that if their positions are not reviewed and implemented immediately, they will continue to protest every week, and even choose a more strategic location that will have a significant impact on the economy.