It is over 140 days since the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on another industrial action. In this report, Daily Trust Saturday spoke to some lecturers on how they have survived without salaries for months, amidst growing inflation in the country.
Life has been difficult for most lectures in Nigeria’s public universities as the federal government responded to their strike with no-work-no-pay directive. However, the lecturers, through their umbrella body, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), have remained resolute despite the difficulties they are experiencing.
Since ASUU declared its initial four-week strike on February 14, it has continued to roll over till date, while other unions, including the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Educational Institutions (NASU) and National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) also declared nationwide strikes, thus, paralysing both academic and non-academic activities for months.
In Kano, some of the striking lecturers, who spoke to Daily Trust Saturday, decried how the strike had been affecting their lives.
Dr Ruqayya Yusuf Aliyu, a lecturer in Bayero University, Kano (BUK), a mother and wife, said with her knowledge and experience, she now rendered consultancy services to people and organisations.
“It has not been easy. Members devise their coping strategies through different means. I have been engaging in consultancies,” she said.
Her family members, particularly her husband, have been great supporters to enable her survive the strike, she said, adding that the “experience of married females (those married to responsible husbands) is even better, but for the males, it has been hell and pathetic.”
She, however, insisted that despite their difficult situation, the strike should continue until their demands are met.
For Dr Muhammad Hashim Suleiman of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the federal government does not follow the law aptly.
“The government, being the lawbreaker, decides which aspect of the law to enforce. The law states that you can activate no-work-no-pay policy after 90 days, that is three months, but whenever ASUU is on strike, the government feels they can intimidate us with hunger.
“We started the strike and non-academic staff joined, but they have been paying them while they have stopped paying members of ASUU and NAATS for four months now. We don’t know which law they are applying. Two different rules for the same people; we are all university staff,” he said.
Suleiman said there were multiple coping strategies academics were using to cushion the effect of the policy.
“Some are into businesses, little farming, and of course, the association itself has what is called “coping strategy” that helps members to survive the strike,” he added.
He said with their Spartan lifestyle, they not only survive but also extend helping hands to the most vulnerable people around their community.
“Academic life in Nigeria has taught us the Spartan way of life. People think because we are not teaching, we aren’t working. There are many components of our appointments, one of which is community service. We have a semiformal, not a registered organisation called ABU Young Academics (AYA).
Through the AYA, despite non-payment of their monthly earnings, lecturers were able to raise over N200,000 and foodstuff to support internally displaced persons (IDPs) in some villages, he also said.
Also, Abdullahi Ibrahim of the Federal University, Wukari, says he survives mainly on borrowing from friends and relatives.
“It has been very difficult in the past four months for me, but we thank God that we are sailing through. I basically survive on the little things I do. I am a subsistent farmer, so I farm what I eat. On other things, I borrow money for my needs from my friends and relatives.”
Despite the hardship Ibrahim said he won’t support the suspension of the strike unless at least 60 per cent of the union’s demands are met.
“Whatever the situation, we will survive and it will be for good at the end of the day,” he said.
Nuhu Mohammed of the Federal University, Gusau, noted that although the strike is the last resort at their disposal, they are not also happy.
He said friends and family members were the primary source of his respite since his salaries were stopped due to the strike.
Dr Ashir Tukur Inuwa of Bayero University, Kano, said, “God has been our provider. This no-work-no-pay policy they brought to destabilise us won’t succeed because we have devised other means we use to feed ourselves and our families. God has given us knowledge, and when God gives you knowledge you can make use of it to survive. So, with or without the salary we will survive, God willing. But they should be reminded that if they can stop our salaries for five years, we won’t back down. We will only suspend the strike when our demands are met.”
Professor Ben Ugwoke of the University of Abuja also said it had been a tough time saying he has been surviving on “academic writings here and there, along with paper presentations”.
“You very well know the prevailing economic situation of the country – how it has become difficult for people who are salary earners to make savings.
“It is sad; and many times one is full of pains to see one not being able to afford some basic necessities for the family. It is much more gruesome to see your own children’s future being wasted by government’s insensitivity,” he said.
He said they were buoyed by the fact that they were pursuing a better and more enduring educational system for the country.
University lecturers in Taraba State, however, said they were tired of the strike and expressed readiness to go back to the classrooms.
A lecturer in the Taraba State University, Musa Jibril, told Daily Trust Saturday that the prolonged strike had caused untold hardship to them and members of their families.
He said most of them resorted to small businesses, including farming and poultry, while many others use their vehicles for commercial purposes as a means of survival.
“To stay for four months without salary is a big problem at this time of high inflation; therefore, we want the government and our union leaders to resolve the issue so that we can resume work,” he said.
Another lecturer, Mr Markus Dauda, told our correspondent that the no-work-no-pay policy had brought untold hardship to their members.
He said it had been very difficult for their members, especially junior ones, to cater for themselves and their families.
Another lecturer in the Federal University, Wukari, Dr Audu, lamented that the prolonged strike had brought a lot of hardship to members of the academic union and it was time both union leaders and government address the issue and end the strike.
“To maintain self and family without salaries for four months under this period of high inflation is a big problem which requires personal initiative to survive,” he said.
A non-academic staff of the Taraba State University, Jalingo, who would not like his name mentioned, said his colleagues were tired of the strike.
He lamented that even when they were receiving monthly salaries, it hardly covered their needs for a month; hence the situation is worse now that they have not received anything for several months.
“You can imagine the problem non academic staff, especially the junior ones are facing under the period of the strike. We have suffered enough and we want the strike to end,” he said.
Also, some lecturers at the Federal University, Kashere (FUK) in Gombe State, who spoke to our correspondent, said the no-work-no-pay policy being implemented by the federal government had crippled them economically.
A lecturer who craved anonymity said that for the past three months he had been living on debt and assistance, mostly from members of his family, relatives and friends.
According to him, some of them are selling their property to meet up with their family obligations.
“Some of our colleagues have sold their cars, motorcycles, personal computers and mobile phones.
“However, ASUU cooperative societies give foodstuff like rice, beans, palm oil, flour and spaghetti to members on credit. They also offered to give us rams for Sallah, also on credit.
“But the strike has lingered long enough that even when we are eventually paid, we cannot afford to settle the huge debts we accumulated over the months,” he lamented.
On his part, a lecturer in the Department of Educational Foundation at the university, Umar Magaji Abubakar, told Daily Trust Saturday that he had been living on his savings for the past three months.
He accused the federal government of inhumanity to the university lecturers.
“In the current situation in this country, even those that are getting their salaries are finding it very difficult to take care of their families, let alone those of us who are not paid at all.
“It is not easy at all, but the situation has given us courage to look for other means of surviving. I can say that this struggle has made lecturers to be stronger and remain focused,” Abubakar said.
Another lecturer at the FUK, Abubakar Uba, said he engaged in small businesses, along with loans from friends and members of his family, “to settle only the most pressing issues.”
He, however, admitted that some of his colleagues were tired of the strike and want to return to work. “Of course it is only normal for a teacher to want to go back to the classroom where we belong, but in the same vein, we are equally ready to continue with the sacrifice until we attain our goal,” he said.
When contacted, the chairman of the FUK chapter of ASUU, Dr Shehu El-rasheed, said that despite the difficult situation, all the lecturers supported the ongoing strike.
“We all know that it is not easy, but this is a sacrifice that is worth doing; and there is no going back. We will continue until our demands are met by the federal government.
Also, the chairman of the University of Port Harcourt Academic Senior Staff Union, Dr Austin Sado, said their lecturers were doing all manners of menial jobs to survive the strike.
Dr Sado, who spoke to our correspondent in Port Harcourt, said some of the lecturers converted their vehicles to commercial transportation while others engaged in petty trading and other menial jobs to make ends meet.
“That is the price we have to pay to better the lots in our university system. If they think they can use hunger to intimidate us, it will not work. We are not going to give up in our agitation. We have told our members to look for what they can do to survive. The only thing I can assure you is that we will not steal. Many of our members are doing all manner of menial jobs to survive. Some that have vehicles are using them for transportation. Some are farming, some are frying garri. I am looking for a building site where I can go and serve as a helper. I am also into farming. I planted corn and cassava but they are not mature yet,” he said.
Another lecturer in the university who pleaded anonymity said, “It is a very tough time for many lecturers. We are doing a whole lot of things to sustain our families. I am using my vehicle for transportation. My wife is also into the business of buying and selling, all to cushion the effect of the strike,” he said.
A lecturer in the Department of Business Administration, University of Lagos (UniLag), Mrs Bolajoko Dixon-Ogbechi, said things had not been easy.
“You can imagine how horrible it is that you are not paid your salaries for over four months despite the fact that the government knows that our work is not like the traditional kind of work. We do community service; we do research, and it is only the teaching aspect of our work that is at a standstill. Although teaching is on standstill, we will have to go back to where we stopped and cover up once the strike is called off. So, what the government is doing to us is inhumane, heartless.
“Some of my colleagues have died. Just two weeks ago, a colleague of mine from the Faculty of Social Sciences died. It has been very tough. Some of us have health challenges they are managing, and they need to take medications but without salaries; they cannot do that. It is difficult paying our wards’ school fees, feeding and meeting up with other needs,” she lamented.
The immediate past Lagos zonal chairman of ASUU, Professor Olusiji Sowande, revealed that as a result of the prolonged strike and the no-work-no-pay directive of government, some lecturers ventured into businesses and farming, while some are using their professional experiences to do some jobs. For instance, those who are architects draw for private individuals to get some money, while those who are in the agricultural line have gone into farming.
He also said that some who are in the trading line had ventured into one form of business or another to sustain their families, while those who do not have any form of business are assisted by their family members. He added that those whose spouses are not in the academic line are carrying the families’ burden.
“Although we know that all of these things don’t come as a salary but they are sustaining themselves from the little they get,” he said.
The professor described the no-work-no-pay directive of the government as illegal, saying, “Government knows that what it is doing is illegal. The thinking is that when our members are hungry we will be forced to go back to work, but when we have a determined set of people who know what they are talking about, hunger may not work against them. The truth of the matter is that in the labour law, the government is not supposed to stop our salaries in the first instance.”
The zonal coordinator of the union in Lagos, Dr Adelaja Odukoya, while affirming that the no-work-no-pay directive has made life difficult for many, maintained that no government could use the instrument of starvation to oppress, exploit, or destabilise them. He said the situation had forced some members to be more creative than they were as they find other ways of survival.
“It is an individual thing. There are some of us who won’t feel it at all. The most important thing is that we are not bothered about the government because what we are doing is right,” he said.
The branch chairman of the union in the Ambrose Alli University (AAU), Ekpoma, Edo, Dr Cyril Onogbosele, claimed that no fewer than 19 lecturers had died because they could not afford medical care.
“Many of us are dying as a result of that. We cannot meet our financial obligations to our families because of unpaid salaries,” he said. However, the Director of Press and Public Relations Federal Ministry of Education, Ben Bem Goong said there is nothing illegal about the “no work no pay policy” and that it is a philosophy enshrined in the Labour law and recognized all over the world.
He said the lecturers will not be paid if they do not work and won’t be paid for the time they did not work even when they call off the strike, that the law is clear about that.