March 24, 2023

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Adenekan Ayomide had been studying at the University of Abuja for two years when lecturers went on strike in February. The 27-year-old undergraduate hoped he could get back to school soon, but immediately took a job as a taxi driver to pay the bills.

Unfortunately for him, the university staff union’s strike has now been six months in, and hopes of Ayomide’s return to classes anytime soon are slim.

“No one talks about school anymore,” said Ayomide, who says he has more than one job and that his budget for college now looks unrealistic.

University strikes are common in Nigeria, which has more than 100 public universities with an estimated 2.5 million students, according to the National University Commission of Nigeria. Universities here have recorded at least 15 strikes since 2000, cumulatively spanning four years.

However, the latest strike has dealt an even bigger blow to the education sector, which is struggling to recover from the COVID-19 lockdown and earlier strikes that have lasted most of 2020.

Haruna Lawal Ajo, director of public affairs at the University Council of Nigeria, said there were no alternatives to learning for students because “over 90 per cent” of lecturers at Nigerian universities were members of the Academic Staff Union.

Lecturers on strike have demanded a review of their conditions of service, including the platform the government uses to pay their income, improved funding for universities and wages withheld since the strike began.

Talks between the lecturer and the government stalled this month, dashing hopes of a compromise deal.

Lecturers have blamed the government’s stance, arguing that the government is still failing to provide higher salaries for lecturers or more funding for the education sector, which it agreed to in 2009.

How can the government be trusted if it does not deliver on its 2009 promises by 2022? asked Femi Atteh, a lecturer at the University of Ilorin in north-central Kwara state, who now runs a food retail business with his wife.

“I only see the ASUU (union) trying to fight for the rights of its people. … Nigerian lecturers are way behind on welfare compared to others,” Art said.

Atteh said some of his colleagues are going abroad for better opportunities and better pay.

“We’re in a terrible situation in this country,” said Sabi Sani, a lecturer at Abuja University. After 12 years of teaching, Sani said his monthly salary “is not even enough for my children’s tuition”.

When “more lecturers realize they can migrate, we’ll be left with unqualified lecturers to teach our children[because]all the qualified lecturers will run away,” he said.

It’s not just lecturers thinking about relocating for better opportunities.

Amidat Ahmed, a 22-year-old economics student at Abuja University, said the strike had prevented her from obtaining a permit because without lectures she could end her undergraduate studies at the school. She is now considering going abroad for a new undergraduate degree program.

“My life is stagnant,” said Ahmed, who is working two jobs, including a shoemaker, where she’s learning how to start a business later in life.

Here’s an example of making lemonade with lemons, she said.

“Other than that (studying the shoe industry), I don’t think I’ve done anything during this time, and it’s been six months.”

In Nigeria, students are looking for jobs to survive. The accumulation of rent and other bills has made things worse for many people from poor backgrounds in a country with a poverty rate of up to 40 percent, according to the latest government statistics.

Some students are better off financially during the semester because a small percentage of students receive funding from nonprofits and government agencies.

Ayomide remains on the road as a taxi driver after the latest round of talks to end the strike was unsuccessful.

“I don’t have 5 naira ($0.012) in my account and I can’t go home because I have no money,” Ayomide said. His only option, he said, was to work long hours. “Sometimes, I sleep in the airport or in the car.”

“We just have to go the extra mile and hope for the best,” he said. “This is the country we are in, so we have no choice.”

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