The lingering strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) has given rise to many issues bordering on public health, as all stakeholders are grappling with the negative consequences of the situation. While the students are the most affected, their lecturers also share in both the economic and psychological impact of the strike action. With no salaries for seven months, many lecturers are fighting the financial battles of their lives. In fact, many of them have become hypertensive and depressed, posing a serious public health concern.
Not being able to meet up with their family obligations, many of these lecturers are frustrated, angry and psychologically unstable. This psychological instability leads to other behavioural outcomes, such as substance abuse, drunkenness, violence and suicidal thoughts. Reports emanating from some universities show that many lecturers have lost their lives due to the “no work, no pay” stance of the Federal Government.
According to one such report, the University of Maiduguri has lost about 76 teaching and non-teaching staff, since the beginning of the strike. Another report says the University of Calabar has lost 21 lecturers. However, ASUU chairman of the university, Dr John Edor, said the institution has lost between 10 and 15 of its lecturers.
Sadly, those were deaths that could have been avoided, if the government had been sincere in its handling of the matter and if the affected lecturers had money to take care of those health conditions that sent them to the grave. It is a great injustice to future generations of Nigerians for government to neglect the deterioration in the university system while wasting huge resources on the so-called fuel subsidy.
Every responsible government should avoid allowing its universities to embark on such prolonged strikes, as we have in Nigeria, where politicians are embezzling trillions of naira. The demands of ASUU are legitimate and should be accorded utmost consideration but in Nigeria, the government seems to misplace its priorities while channelling huge financial resources and undue attention to frivolities.
On the part of the students, many of them have embraced drug trafficking, drug abuse, prostitution and kidnapping because their time and minds are no longer engaged in academic work. The women among them now engage in commercial sex work to survive as they have become liabilities to their parents and guardians.
Some are carrying unwanted pregnancies and different kinds of sexually transmitted infections. Many will give birth to illicit children, who will then grow up to become a menace to society. Others will give birth and throw the children away because of the stigma that comes with pregnancy out of wedlock.
It is indeed a tough time for Nigerian students, whose aspirations border on making the best out of life. Unfortunately for them, the government in the kind of country they find themselves, in does not value sound institutions like the university system and, thus, is doing nothing to safeguard them from the distractions that the ASUU strike has created. Some of these students have become targets for rape and ritual killing, while others seek greener pastures abroad through illegal routes like the Mediterranean Sea via Libya.
Even the mental health of the students is affected. There is no way students who engage in substance abuse and drug trafficking can think straight. The effects of drugs on their brains and the class of people they encounter in the line of their illicit trade will definitely have adverse effects on their thinking and behaviour.
The government needs to be worried that millions of its university students are not in school. It is absolutely worrisome to note that most of the people who populate government offices in Nigeria enjoyed free education and government scholarship during their university days. Most of them are widely travelled and do know how universities are run in other climes but have refused to replicate the functional systems they find in other countries.
There is no greater harm in recent history than what the Nigerian government is doing to university students with their refusal to accede to the patriotic demands of ASUU. What ASUU simply wants is a better university system that can at least compete with its counterparts in other parts of the world.
In the coming days, we are going to be having an increase in crime rate, drug-related violence, prostitution, human trafficking and other illicit trades. All these will lead to a common end – illness and death – unless government and ASUU reach a compromise.