By Vivian Onyebukwa And Gabriel Dike
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) led by its National President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, ended a two-day protest this week with a strong warning to the Federal Government to resolve its differences with the Academic Staff Union of the Universities (ASUU) within the next two weeks so that students can go back to classes. Failure to that will attract more protests, Wabba said.
But investigations by Saturday Sun have shown that many members of ASUU whose salaries have remained unpaid for months now, have been seeking other means to make ends meet.
To survive the times, some of them have embarked on jobs like farming, petty trading, script writing, editing, car hire, and real estate, among others. There are others who are only surviving because of the benevolence of friends and family members. Cooperative societies, too, have been of help by giving them loans to feed or engage in certain businesses, it was gathered.
Our survival strategies
The plight of the lecturers was first highlighted some months ago by an actor, Uche Mba, who announced that he was going to engage in fundraising for them. Also, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka alumni association was said to have embarked on a similar venture for its lecturers affected by the strike. Some of the varsity teachers confessed that despite the efforts of public-spirited individuals who are out to help them cushion the economic effects of the strike, situations have become unbearable as to make them look for sustenance elsewhere.
Asked how he has been surviving, Dr. Sola Balogun, former Arts Editor with Daily Sun who now lectures at the Federal University, Oye Ekiti (FUOYE), told Saturday Sun that he has been trying his hands on petty farming and writing for a number of online publications.
Dr. Tochukwu Okeke, Head of the Department of Theatre and Film Studies, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, said he has gone into real estate, farming, and car hire services to keep himself and his family alive.
Without going into specifics, Dr. Joseph Umukoro Ognenetega of the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom, State noted that Only God has been sustaining him and his family in the absence of monthly income. Dr. Ngozi Donald Nwanguma, a lecturer in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Port Harcourt, also said “The Almighty God is taking care of us. How does one manage without salary?”
To survive the times, Dr Alphonsus Shireku Orisaremi, outgoing Head of Department of Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan, said he has been depending on the benevolence of the university’s cooperative society and his consultancy services as a theatre technologist. He said: “A sizeable fraction of those handling showbiz lighting in Nigeria today were trained at the University of Ibadan and I was the one that introduced high tech/digital lighting to them when I joined the university from AIT. And they do hire both services and equipment from me regularly. That’s how I survive.”
For journalist turned academic, Prof Diran Ademiju-Bepo, Head of Department of Theatre and Film Arts, University of Jos, what has kept some of his colleagues going are some editing jobs that come their way once in a while as well as the financial support of his spouse who is working.
“Some of our colleagues are into poultry farming, potato farming, maize cultivation, which they are already harvesting,” he noted. “Personally, I have a small provision store at home. This time, we have to become salesmen and women, with our children who are also affected by the strike. My wife has been very supportive and I can say that of very many of us and our wives,” Ademiju-Bepo stated.
Bepo, acting chairman, ASUU UNIJOS added that those feeling the pangs of the ‘no-work, no-pay’ policy the most are young lecturers new in the system and who might not have adequately prepared for the long strike.
Bem Alfred Abugh, another lecturer at the Department of Theatre and Film Arts, University of Jos, said coping with the strike has not been easy, especially “coupled with the economy of the country which in itself is not balanced and with prices of commodities rising on a daily basis. Even for those with cash, it has not been easy. Now, with the ‘no work, no pay saga’, it has not been easy at all but we just developed coping strategies so as to keep body and soul alive.
“Sometimes, those with immediate families and children in schools feel it more. In the course of the strike, school fees have had to be paid, unlike some of us without immediate families to feed or pay school fees for within this period. On the whole, the strike has been biting hard and it has pushed a lot of people into debt and others into crisis with non-understanding spouses. A friend told me of how his wife mistreats him during strikes like this when salaries are not being paid. It has not been a pleasant experience for many.”
Dr. Major Adeyi, Head, Department of Political Science at the institution said: “Some of us have had to cut the ‘cutables,’ if you know what that means. For instance, if you were to be at important family functions, away from Jos, like weddings, graduations and such, you may have to make apologies, and the concerned will show mutual understanding. You can send a token to each of them and save yourself the headache of travelling. So, whatever one can do without, you eliminate and remain hopeful that the strike will soon be resolved.”
Mr. Innocent Dajang of the English Department, UNIJOS, stated: “Again, as scholars, some of us who are in that line were able to secure few editing jobs coming in once in a while with tokens as appreciation. And of course, there is the huge support from our spouses who are working,” he volunteered.
Dr Gbenga Ajayi, of the Department of Surveying and Geoinformatics, Federal University of Technology Minna, (FUTMinna), added that his survival has been on the goodwill and generous support of friends and family members.
“The truth is that some of us took our lecturing task as a full time duty as it should be because teaching, community service and engaging in research activities are very time-consuming and it is quite impossible to engage in these things which are the tripod stand on which a lecturer’s duty rests, and still be engaged in any other business activities at the same time. So, trying to disconnect one’s mind from my calling as a lecturer so that I can engage in other business or consultancy services has been extremely challenging. To be candid, our survival has been on God as expressed by the goodwill and generous support of friends and family members. The long break has however given one more time to work on personal research projects and it has increased my research productivity in terms of drafting research articles and grant proposals,” he said.
Prof. J. O. Olaleru of the Department of Mathematics, University of Lagos, tried to educate you on the fact that not all lecturers are affected in the same way by the strike. He explained: “For those whose spouses are not working in public universities, whose children are grown up and already working, and for those who have access to loans from cooperative societies and those who are not relying on government salaries alone, the hardship appears endurable. However, for those who do not belong to any of the groups above, the whole thing is dehumanising. However, we will all continue to endure it until something satisfactory is done, with respect to our salaries. We have no better choice for now.”
Why we remain undeterred
Dr. Adelaja Odukoya, ASUU Lagos Zone Coordinator, said the Federal Government would end up being the ultimate loser. He believes that the greatest armour against “the deliberate deployment of hunger as a weapon of oppression and starvation against ASUU members is the unshaken commitment to the Nigerian project and the Nigerian university system by the lecturers.
Dr. Dele Ashiru, ASUU Chairman, University of Lagos, (UNILAG) said although the situation has been tough, the lecturers remain undeterred.
For Adebayo Oni, Resource Person, ASUU, nothing worthwhile is achieved in life without pain. “Whatever the motive of the FG in withholding salaries is can better be explained by them. We have travelled this road before.”
Former Chairman of ASUU, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Dr. Joel Okewale, described the strike as not just for the improvement of their conditions of service, but most importantly, the release of revitalization funding and of the White Papers on the visitation panels to the universities.
“Even though lecturers are still working on their researches while some are still attending to their students’ projects privately, the FG decided to stop our salaries. We are willing to pursue the strike to a logical conclusion,” he said.
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