Nigeria's teachers under pressure to end strike

2013-11-07 14:25

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Lagos - Teaching union leaders in Nigeria are coming under mounting pressure to call off a lengthy higher education strike that has put university courses on hold for months, leaving hundreds of thousands of students in limbo.

Members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) walked out in July over claims that the government had failed to implement a 2009 agreement to improve their welfare and upgrade facilities on state-run campuses.

The strike - the latest by lecturers in recent years - initially enjoyed public support. But sympathy turned to anger and protests from students as talks ended in stalemate.

Like many things in Nigeria, university education is polarised between the country's minority of the super-rich and influential, who are able to afford to educate their children privately, and everyone else.

There are currently about 1.2 million students in public and private universities in Nigeria, according to the National Universities Commission. Privately-run institutions are less affected by the walk-out.

Most people have to rely on the over-burdened and under-funded public sector, where even the most senior university don earns about $2 000 a month and teachers rank among the lowest paid civil servants.

'Incessant strikes the lot of public universities'

"How I wished my father had enough money to send me to a private university," said Enitan Alonge, whose four-year engineering course at the University of Lagos was due to finish in September.

"I would have long graduated and be saved from the incessant strikes that have become the lot of public universities in this country," the 21-year-old told AFP.

Alonge said she had some sympathy for lecturers but the strike was having a "devastating" effect on students and had robbed students of a whole semester of study.

"We appeal to ASUU to suspend the strike so that we can go back to school. We have stayed at home for too long," said Alonge.

There are signs that students could get their wish, as Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan personally took charge of negotiations this week to break the deadlock.

ASUU president Nasir Isa Fagge said he would consult with his members on the outcome of the talks with Jonathan before taking any decision.

"We are expecting that our members will respond appropriately to the message of Mr President," he told reporters, without elaborating on details of the talks.

Local media said the government had agreed to a five-year funding plan for the universities.

Independent newspaper This Day said 100 billion naira ($630m) would be released this year, while 220 billion naira would be released from 2014 to upgrade campus infrastructure.

Labour Minister Emeka Wogu said he was "optimistic" the strike would be called off, asserting that the ASUU were "very happy" with the meeting.

Industrial action

"We believe the presidential intervention has resolved the logjam," he said.

"The ball is now in the court of the union leaders to meet with their members to convey the outcome of the meeting to their members."

A source close to the talks said the teachers might call off industrial action by the end of this week.

Alonge, meanwhile, said she had enrolled on a computer course to pass the time, while a 17-year-old law undergraduate in the northern city of Kano, John Alagbe, revealed he had learnt how to cut hair during his enforced lay-off.

"I took a barber's course for two weeks, after which I set up my own small shop where I am now making some money," he said.

"The little savings I make from the shop will supplement whatever my parents give me when I return to campus," he said.

Read more on:    nigeria  |  west africa

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