Even more unfortunate is the fact that academic union strikes that shut down the nation’s (public) tertiary institutions for long periods have become the Réspondez S’il Vous Plait (R.S.V.P.) to get governments to respond to calls to honour agreements previously reached between the parties. This raises questions like: does the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) realize the extent of damages their bickering and the accompanying striking actions wreak on the educational system in Nigeria vis-á-vis its contribution in national development? Do they appreciate that, in their unyielding heavyweight brawls, it is the students whose interests they allege to defend that suffer the pains of the stampede? Are they fully aware of the consequences of their actions on the student psyche; that it sums up to the most effective crash course in student’s disillusionment on the dividends of education? If they do, these incidences of reoccurring strikes say otherwise.
It is said, whenever two elephants are fighting, it is the grasses that suffer. ASUU, in an attempt to force the government’s hand, halts academic activities, an action that puts the lives of students on hold. These striking incidences in Nigeria are so common that almost every Nigerian student at that level of education must have experienced it at least once. So much that, when those who eventually graduate reminisce about their school experience, they trade stories referencing them as battle scars. Unfortunately, however, these traumatizing episodes leave emotional/psychological scars, too, with debilitating impacts on student motivation, performance, and limiting their chances at gainful employment.
Psychologically, when a student’s plans are disrupted time and time again, as it is with the frequency of academic strikes in Nigeria, it hacks away at their confidence in the value of hard work. Suffering the outcome of actions they have no hand in creating, some students end up imbibing the victim mentality—imagine a student who spends seven years at the university for a five-year engineering course; they are hardly moved and are easily resigned to “fate”—or seeking alternative opportunities. In some ways, positive; in others, negative.
Worthy of note is the fact that the positive is still a compromise. Students who have been forced to stay at home for too long, especially those lacking the freedom to go out, begin to seek an escape route. Positively, they strive to keep themselves engaged. They start learning trades such as barbing, shoemaking, bag making, hairdressing, fashion designing, cake baking, etc. They brand these trades: tailoring becomes fashion designing to make it attract some importance and relevance. While it remains true this makes for positive thinking, a critical review will suggest otherwise. How many of these students, as children, when asked while in primary or secondary schools what their future ambition was and they raised their hands for any of these professions? Not even many wanted to become school teachers.
But the reality of the Nigerian situation—meagre chances of gainful employment plus frustrations from perennial strikes from the union—has redefined their dreams from that of grandeur to that of survival. Not especially when a bachelor’s degree holder with a second class upper is begging for a job of N30,000 per month in an economy where ten cups of rice costs N1,000. You add the usual spending on airtime, data, house rent (if living independently), fashion (hair making et al.), general upkeep (cream, soap, medications when the need arises, et al.), and you ask yourself what is left. Mere thoughts of these, coupled with ASUU’s perennial strike, have made many youths result in cybercrime, prostitution, or for the ‘thoughtful’ ones, starting businesses.
I mentioned many have started businesses out of rational thinking. Many young undergraduates, alike unemployed graduates, now engage in entrepreneurial businesses such as bags, shoes, phones, fashion shades, wristwatches, clothes, and all kinds of accessories. Do not get carried away by the perceived ‘innovative’ minds of these youths to try to do business, or by the variety of available options. Business start-ups failing in Nigeria are no news anymore, especially owing to a lack of sustained capital. Away from that, the major problem in this is too many sellers are involved. Put differently, the selling market is saturated to a point you ask yourself who is doing the buying when there are so many sellers. The high competition only means there are fewer buyers, hence slower sales, therefore discouraging dividend return, and as well hence a negative psychological perception of the business. When sales move very slow, youths that ought to have enterprising and budding minds start getting weary, feeble, discouraged, and eventually frustrated. Gradually, they go out of business and might even slip into depression.
Thus, it is 100% apt to assert and affirm that the psychological impacts extend to the areas of motivation, that is, lack of motivation as another devastating outcome of interrupted school calendars. In this case, academically, students lose interest in the actual learning process. Having lost so much time already, they are only eager to get the certificate, graduate, and go. They have lost belief in the system, faithless and disastrously uncertain about the future. Students, who have been at the receiving end of the outcome of so much disagreement, soon no longer feel valued and are focused on graduation as an escape route and a respite from all the uncertainty. An uncertain future is one of a geometric progression to doom.
Strikes disrupt student’s performances too. In public universities in Nigeria, the tradition is to rush students through the syllabus—after a long time absence from school— in an attempt to salvage some time from an almost exhausting year. In this arrangement, the lectures become long and crowded; the continuous assessments and exams are not adequately spaced; therefore, students are expected to cram such a semester’s workload in a few weeks and deliver essays that are considered to represent their capabilities and potentials. In the end, the standard of education is compromised. The outcome of such a process produces some of the ‘half-baked graduates’ anyone criticizing the performance of Nigerian students so eagerly choruses. Indeed, I boldly assertively repeat, should this not change, the future is gloomy and bleak. The light is fizzling, and hope is fast becoming past tense.
We might be aware of the numerous dynamics concerning employability in Nigeria. Age and experience make the top of this list. Among other things, these strikes make the number of years of study longer. Hence, instead of an average student to garner more experience working, they gain more experience in studying. Did I just say studying? They gain more experience learning to struggle, survive, rather than productively. It is a common belief that a hungry man’s first thinking would be how to murder the hunger slowly killing him, rather than of how he can grow himself and become useful to the society. You don’t call four years of compressed studying intercepted with several breaks amounting to two years, making for a total of six years “more of studying.” It is a strenuous psyche-affecting exercise. It is more unfortunate when you consider the fact, which is very unfortunate because employers don’t care about how many years it took you to get a degree. What they care about is how young and vibrant you are and how many years of service can be extracted. This unnecessary delay at universities further intensifies financial strain on parents who have to provide for feeding and shelter for a more extended period. It is even more deadly for the society where these students reside.
One other thing that both the union and the government need to be concerned about is the increasing disillusionment of Nigerian youths with the profitability in education. As it stands, a large percentage of Nigeria’s young are not enrolled in school. There’s another large group who have been denied admission due to issues touching on excess applications, affordability, and lack of interest. If the government and other stakeholders appreciate the importance of education as a socio-economic driver, they will not present Nigeria’s growing number of disillusioned youths—mostly the undecided and those at the cusp of choosing—with even more concrete reasons to distrust the system and to seek other avenues of occupation—which are not always profitable to the country in the long run.
My plea, once again: The Academic Staff Union of Universities and the federal government must devise different means of settling their disagreements, which must not involve temporarily decommissioning (public) tertiary institutions of learning for a seasonal face-off. If you are not bothered that our youths are maltreated, it may be bigger for my mouth to say that you are an irresponsible adult, and I won’t dare say so.