The recent disruption of essential services in some federal universities is one too many. On March 18, 2024, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Educational Institutions (NASU) embarked on a seven-day warning strike to draw attention to some of their demands. Two days later, members of the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAATs) also embarked on a three-day nationwide warning strike to press home some demands. 

Consequently, all workers in the registry, works and maintenance, bursary, security and student affairs withdrew their services in many public universities. This crippled activities in many of these universities and even affected some students who are taking their examinations, especially computer-based tests (CBT). Power and water supply as well as internet services were disrupted as lecture halls, theatres, libraries and laboratory facilities were locked. Medical facilities were also not available as some health centres were shut down.

The President of SSANU, Mohammed Ibrahim, said if the Federal Government failed to accede to their demands after the seven-day warning strike, the unions would meet and decide the next line of action. The unions had, in 2022, embarked on an eight-month strike, together with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). The strike grounded activities in the universities. After a series of warnings, the government of former President Muhammadu Buhari invoked a ‘no work, no pay’ policy against them. In October last year, President Bola Tinubu approved the payment of four of the eight months withheld salaries for ASUU members. Non-academic staff members were excluded in the payment. The two non-academic staff unions argued that they were also important in the universities and should be paid their entitlements. Ibrahim regretted the disdainful treatment for SSANU and NASU members, saying the university was a chain and “you don’t treat a group different and others indifferently.”   

It is regrettable that the Federal Government allowed this strike to take place in the first place. SSANU and NASU gave sufficient warning before they embarked on this warning strike. Government ignored their pleas and warnings. They have threatened that total strike will follow if nothing is done to meet their demands.

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We are still counting the cost of the last strike. The school system has been greatly affected and the society is the greatest loser. Already, our academic standard has been questioned. In 2020, the universities lost one academic year to ASUU strike. In 2022, the same thing happened. In effect, this means a student who should have spent four years in school would end up spending six years. Many students died during the strike. Some female students became victims of rape and other forms of violence. Besides, people no longer have confidence in the products of our universities. Parents who have the financial means have resorted to sending their children to private or foreign universities.

There must be a closure to all this. As much as possible, government should not allow any strike to take place in our universities any longer. The demands of ASUU as well as SSANU and NASU are not out of this world. It is what government can meet if it is serious. ASUU’s demands, for instance, include better welfare for its members, revitalisation of the universities and improved academic environment, among others. SSANU and NASU’s demands are similarly what government can easily meet if it stops wasting money on unnecessary things. Education and health are two most critical sectors of any economy. If government gives adequate budgetary allocations to these two sectors, there will not be any resort to strike. A professor in a university cannot be earning about N400,000 a month while a senator is given a vehicle worth N160 million. Library and laboratory facilities of these schools are antiquated and dilapidated but government prefers to spend billions of naira to renovate the residences of some political office-holders. We just have to get our priorities right.

Every worker is important, and there is need for dignity of labour. The non-academic staff members are as important as the academic staff. The university system will be affected if any one of them halts its services. We cannot continue to close down the universities for one reason or the other. Government should resume dialogue with these unions.

We call on the government to do the needful. All the relevant points made by the striking unions should be looked into. We also urge SSANU and NASU members to remain open to dialogue. Education is very important for the growth and development of any nation. Any country that takes education seriously should take the warning strike seriously. Nigerians are tired of incessant strikes in the universities. The university system cannot bear another avoidable disruption.