The Igbo have a saying: one’s height is not a yardstick for determining one’s maturity. A Nigerian professor, who shall remain unnamed, recently said that the present ASUU strike was a good thing because it gave their students time and space to improve on their writing. And this professor knows this because they’ve been reading the works of these students and they are writing world-class fiction.
Honestly, 2020 should officially be known as the Year of Foolery. Of all the mind-bogglingly thoughtless things I’ve heard in recent times, this was one of the worst. Followed closely by a tweet from what claims to be the official Twitter handle of ASUU (it isn’t) asking students to take the opportunity of the extended “break” to learn new skills, to travel, to make the best of it because “At no time will conditions be favourable.
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Successful people only seize opportunities.” Apart from the fact that this is really a stupid thing to tweet at students who are home against their will, getting an education is the opportunity those students chose to seize. Studying for a degree is that opportunity. That is the opportunity they signed up for and would really like the chance to see to its fruitful end. Not to stay home for an extended period of time to learn new skills and seek out travel destinations. That is not to say that those who have the good fortune to travel and pick up skills should not, but framing the strike as a godsend shows an alarming lack of empathy towards students who are the real victims here. Regardless of what the issue is between ASUU and the government (disagreements over UTAS and IPPIS which has apparently held up payments of salaries since February etc.), the expectation from one whose vocation is teaching is a level of concern and understanding for those that they teach. How are you a teacher and the fact that your students are home does not cause you any heartache? The tone-deaf reaction of ASUU (whose what appears to be its real official handle retweeted a “What trade have you learnt during this long break?” tweet from the fake account) and its individual members is hugely disappointing. Especially considering how long it’s been since the students have been out of school.
To put the length of this strike into context, students have been home for as long as it would take a woman to go through a full-term pregnancy. And with the way things are looking – I have just seen an article that says that ASUU regrets that schools might not re-open this year – they might be home in the time it would take for that baby to start crawling. How on earth does it not make their professors angry? The students themselves are understandably upset. A few days ago, they announced their plan to protest to force the government’s hand. As a graduate of a Nigerian university, and as one who was a victim of strikes and unintended school ‘breaks’, I share in their frustrations. Certainly, the last thing I would have wanted to hear from my professors was to treat the strike as if I were on a gap year I had chosen myself. Going to a public university in Nigeria was challenging enough. I remember the first and last compulsory Computer 101 class I took. Stuffy classroom, more students than room. I perched on a window with others who had turned up late (shame on me) to watch the lecturer draw a computer on the blackboard to show us what a computer was and how a computer worked. I was not about to waste my time in a computer class with no computers, and so I never went back. When I think of my undergraduate days, I am shocked at the level of dysfunction we were expected to put up with. Yet, even with that dysfunction, I cried each time we were sent home due to a strike because each one saw my graduation date and graduation dreams slip further away.
A cursory trawl through the tweets of the students affected by the present ASUU strike is a triggering throwback to the fears and anxieties I had dealing with being on a forced break from school with no fixed end in sight. They are wondering how far behind they’ve fallen, how old they would be when they graduate, the effect of that on their job prospects. It is likely that some will fall by the wayside and never return to school whenever the government and ASUU get their act together and sort out this mess. It must feel to these students like they are at the rim of darkness peering down into a deeper darkness. Perhaps, the professors who think these students are in any frame of mind to enjoy this period should go through these posts for some revelatory insights. They might also discover just how many of them are also calling out their teachers for their lack of empathy. Students expect educators to be their natural allies, not to sound like uncaring government officials whose children are all in universities abroad and who have absolutely no skin in the game.
To be fair, both ASUU and the students are collective victims of successive administrations for whom the health of the education system has never been a priority. According to a Business Day Article published at the beginning of October 2020, between 1999 and 2020, our universities have been on 19 strikes totaling a cumulative period of just under four years. That is a damning indictment on Nigeria. I empathize with my Nigerian colleagues, but my biggest sympathy is reserved for the students. Aluta continua.