Tired of staying at home because of the ongoing Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike, some students of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria, Kaduna State, have visited the Sultan of Sokoto and the Emir of Zazzau to express their frustration. ABDULRAHAMAN ZAKARIYAU (300-Level Mass Communication) reports.
WHEN will the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike, which enters its 81st day today, end? Nobody seems to know, but what is certain is that students are tired of staying at home because of the strike. To show their anger, some students of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria, Kaduna State, have sought the help of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar and the Emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris, in getting ASUU to call off the strike.
They carried placards with inscriptions, such as: “FG/ASUU must shift ground to avoid danger”; “FG must be reasonable, ASUU must be considerate”; “We are tired of staying at home”; “We may be forced to be violent in our demonstrations”; “Prolonged strike is a government’s irresponsibility at its peak, ASUU stubbornness at its height” and “Failed education, failed Transformation Agenda”. They took to the streets, protesting their teachers’ action.
The procession could be mistaken for a religious exercise as the students were in Muslim flowing gown and kaftan. Some wore babanriga. The female students, who wore hijab, trailed their male counterparts.
The demonstrators were led by Abubakar Rafindadi Aliyu, president of ABU’s Students’ Union Government (SUG). They said they were expressing their frustration over the protracted ASUU strike. The university teachers are fighting the Federal Government over the implementation of the 2009 agreement, which highlights ways of improving tertiary education.
Abubakar, who addressed the students at 11:50am, said: “We must speak out loud to traditional rulers and urge them to intervene in the ongoing ASUU strike. We need to propagate the interest of Nigerian students. It is with hope and prayers that we would coordinate ourselves peacefully and speak to our religious and traditional rulers to come to our aid.”
At noon, they left for the palace of the Emir of Zazzau in four different 14-seater buses and five cars. Chanting solidarity songs, they moved peacefully into the palace to urge the monarch to prevail on the ASUU to end the industrial action in the students’ interest.
The students were allowed to see the emir a few minutes after 1pm.
Expressing his colleagues’grievances, Abubakar said: “Your Highness, we regard you as a royal father, which is why we came to you today to bring forward our complaints and report the government and ASUU that are working to destroy our future. We want your Highness to use your goodwill to intervene on behalf of students.”
Responding, Alhaji Idris said traditional institutions in the North had tried to resolve the issue, adding: “The traditional rulers and parents are more worried than all of you.”
Describing the students as future leaders, Alhaji Idris said: “That is why we want you to be well trained. And if there is any hitch or anything that would prevent you from acquiring education, nobody will be happy to see it happening without acting to stop it.”
The monarch assured the students that the traditional rulers would do everything to ensure that the strike is called off, advising them to continue to fight for their rights in a peaceful manner.
The students left the emir’s palace at 2:35pm and proceeded to the secretariat of the ABU chapter of ASUU. They were addressed by the chairman, Dr Mohammed Kabir Aliyu, after singing solidarity songs for several minutes.
Abubakar told ASUU officials that they were angry about the continued closure of universities, adding students would embark on advocacy to achieve reconciliation between ASUU and the government.
Aliyu explained that if government could inject funds into the system, ASUU would call off the strike, saying the money would be used to build new infrastructure to replace the outdated facilities in public schools.
At 6am last Tuesday, over 40 students, including members of the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN) and Nigerian Fellowship of Christians Students (NFCS), gathered to take the demonstration to the Seat of the Caliphate. At 12:10pm, they arrived at the Sultan’s palace.
Addressing the Sultanate Council, Abubakar said: “Your Eminence, our purpose of coming to see you today is to register our displeasure over the activities of the government and ASUU that are out to destroy our future. We want to let them know that without education, this nation would not attain any meaningful development. This is why they must agree and allow us back to school.”
Abubakar told the Sultan that students were aware of funds released by the government to Nollywood and the amount set aside to celebrate Nigeria’s centenary anniversary, saying if such commitment was not given to the education sector, the youth may be forced into criminality. He urged the Sultan to intervene on students’ behalf.
Responding, Alhaji Abubakar said: “I am having cold caused by stress of Nigeria,” adding that there was nothing about ASUU’s demand he was not aware of.
He said he had intervened in past disagreements between the union and the government, adding: “There are problems on both sides. The lecturers are asking for allowances but some of them have not worked for these allowances. There are many issues and the best way to look at them is through honesty, sincerity and transparency. It is not to go on strike, but to talk and talk.” He said there was no government in the world that could fully fund education.
The traditional institutions, he said, would play their role in making the parties see reason to agree, adding that the onus is on the government and the striking lecturers to reason.
The Sultan said he had been talking with ASUU and the government, expressing the hope that there would be a way out soon.
He said: “Strike is supposed to be the last resort, because when you go on strike, innocent people will suffer. The problems are multiple but I believe ASUU should always consider the students. We have been doing a lot; we are not unaware of your problems. The worst thing to do to youths is to keep them at home doing nothing. But I will urge you students to always be ambassadors of peace.”
The students, who wore long faces on arrival, filed out of the expansive Sultan’s palace in smiles, reliving the jokes the monarch shared with them.
At 2:30pm, they travelled back to Zaria.
Abubakar said: “The struggle continues until we achieve victory. My fellow comrades, we are going to see the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, and ASUU President Dr Isa Faggae.”