by David Usman
The recent industrial action by university academic staff in the UK was an interesting experience for me, coming from Nigeria where I hold a lecturer’s post in Sociology. In Nigeria, strike action has been used consistently by academic members of the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education as a means of settling disputes where negations and dialogues proved to be unsuccessful (Fatile and Adejuwon, 2011). For example, recent strikes by universities lecturers in my home country resulted from government refusal to fulfil parts of an agreement reached between 2013 and 2014 covering improvement in conditions of service, review of wages and salaries, protection of university autonomy and provision of educational infrastructures.
In Nigeria, unions are well established and it is widely accepted in society that the strike is a medium through which the trade unions justify and defend their entitlements and concerns of their members. It is a necessary means of strengthening industrial relations when contentions are collectively understood and resolved by the employees and employers. No society can be truly democratic where the freedom to embark on a strike is frustrated or threatened by government or employers of labour.
There are both private and public universities where I come from. The private universities are owned by wealthy individuals and organisation such as churches and are mostly attended by children of the wealthy and a few middle-income earners. The public universities, which most Nigerians attend (and the sector in which I work) are funded and run either by state or federal level governments. University strikes may only take place in the public universities because of poor wages and lack of proper funding by the government.
While the university strike in the UK is one of the most significant actions in recent memory, with record numbers of participation and major disruption to teaching, by Nigerian standards, it would rate, if I may say, as quite a timid affair; when lecturers are on strike, gates of the institutions are usually closed to disallow both academic and administrative activities. Academic members who showed no support are forcibly taken out and where they showed resistance, they are beaten (in few cases) and their membership mostly withdrawn from the union.
In support, other unions such as non-academic staff who are not party to the initial strike accord empathy as a sign of solidarity. In some instances, academic staff strikes have gained peaceful demonstration where students paraded around the institutions and towns with placards showing solidarity for their lecturers and further mount pressure on the government in resolving the impasse. Where the strike lasted longer and students were forced to remain at home with their parents this triggered sympathy and solidarity by some sectors, such as the transport workers union, market men and women union, because most of these students’ parents were involved in one form of trade or other – it’s easier to organise such solidarity movement.
On the part of the government a huge amount of money is lost to strike action for instance, salaries and allowances unpaid during the strike action are required to be back-paid once lecturers are back at work. This triggers consequences that allowed university managements to claw back much of the wages paid and disruption caused. After resolution of the strike, lecturers were usually required to work over contracted hours and were made to forfeit periods of their annual leave or holiday to deal with academic issues such as teaching, conducting exams, marking, supervision of students’ research and other related academic activities which were not covered during the strike period.
There is no universal support for strikes, even among academics, and some researchers have described university strikes in Nigeria ‘incessant’ and called for measures which would prevent and avoid them in future because of the adverse consequences on all the stakeholders (Ibrahim, 2015; Ige, 2014). Just as in the UK, students are always at the receiving end of an industrial dispute, and we academics struggle with this, too. The extent of their suffering is arguably much more severe as strikes last longer than in the UK. Students end up having to complete the academic session without adequate coverage of the syllabus or input from lecturers (Matthew, 2014). In some cases, where strikes have lasted for many months, forcing students to repeat an entire session; this creates an additional financial burden on them and a lost year delaying their graduation and ability to earn (Ibrahim, 2015). These negative consequences are intensified in relative terms compared to their counterparts graduating from the private universities (where strikes are almost non-existent) and undergirds a general discrimination in terms of employment where private graduates have better chances in the labour market and even in public sector employment (Aremu et al., 2015).
In recent years, the academic unions in Nigeria have been much heard in the public space. The threats of strike actions always bring tension to the management of the university by paralysing service delivery in strategic areas such as teaching and meaningful involvement in undertaking research. The group and their representatives are always united against the government on any condition of service that is deemed unfavourable. They have reiterated that their commitment to work will be induced by good working conditions which allow them to devote their working time purely to academia for the realisation of the organisational goal and self-realisation of objectives.
The academic union has urged that apart from the increase in wages to meet the challenges of high cost of living, enduring and stimulating academic environment will not only improve the ability of members in capacity building but will also encourage staff commitment in the realisation of government objectives of providing functional education to students. The academic union always implored the government to provide effective means of communication that will stimulate employee-employer’s engagement and collaboration. This will play a role in re-establishing the eroding relationships that is prevailing. The union has persuaded that the government need to devote more attention to improving better working condition such as good funding that will cater for functional information technology centres (ITC), modern laboratories with modern equipment and library facilities that would meet the current challenges of educational needs of the learners and lecturers.
Fatile, J., &. Adejuwon. K., 2011. Conflict and Conflict Management in Tertiary Institutions: The Case of Nigerian Universities. European journal of humanities and social sciences, 7(1), pp. 274-288.
Ibrahim, A., 2015. Impact Appraisal of Academic Staff Union of Universities Strike on Quality of University Education in Nigeria. The Online Journal of Quality in Higher Education, Volume 2(3), pp. 84-88.
Ige, A. M., 2014.Towards the Stemming of the Tide of Strikes in Tertiary Institutions in Nigeria: Stakeholders’ Roles and Responsibilities. European Journal of Academic Essays, 1(7), pp. 18-26.
Matthew, I. A., 2014. The Challenges of Being a Student of Any Public Tertiary Institution in Nigeria of Today. Journal of Studies in Education, 4(1), pp. 128 -144.
Aremu, Y., Salako, M. A., Lawrence, M. A., & Ayelotan, O. I. (2015). The implication of academic staff union strike action on students’ academic performance: Ex-post facto evidence from the University of Lagos, Akoka, Nigeria. Global Journal of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, 3(8), 12-24.
- Photo Credit: onlinenigeria.com 6/11/2017