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Nigeria University Students Resume Classes After Strike

FILE - Students and workers carry placards as they march on the Lagos-Ikorodu highway to protest against the suspension of academic activities following a nation-wide strike embarked by lecturers in state-owned universities in Lagos.
Public universities ain Nigeria are resuming classes this week after a nearly six-month teacher strike.

Here at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi, history lecturer Maimuna Sadiq tries to pick up where she left off in June. "We had treated three topics. You mean, you can't remember? So you mean you were not reading?" said Balewa.

Students at public universities around the country told VOA they feel a mix of relief and stress to be back. "I am excited, apprehensive," one student stated. "You know, exams is next month so we have a lot of things to do. My project work is not completed. I have a lot to do." Another student added, "We have to rush the semester to end it early so that we start our next section early. Even today, Saturday, we had a lecture and also a test at the same time in order to make up the time that we spent on the strike."

Lecturers told VOA it is the students who lose in this scramble to make up for lost time. Repeated strikes can add months, even years, to the time it gets to get a degree.

Most say "let us wait and see" what the results of the extended strike may be.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities, known by its acronym ASUU, suspended the strike in December.

The government has agreed to invest billions of dollars annually in university infrastructure during the next five years. The government has also pledged to gradually devote one-quarter of the nation's budget to the education sector.

There are also provisions related to staff, like working conditions and payment of allowances for those in administrative positions.

But lecturers, like Laz Emetike of Delta State University, said the strike was really about pushing the government to make Nigeria's universities better. "You can not churn out half-bit graduates. You do it to the detriment of the development of that country. Consequently if there is improvement in the infrastructure, [if] there are good laboratories and so on, then we compete favorably with other parts of the world," Emetike said. "It's for the benefit of all, not a benefit of lecturers only."

Countries throughout the region, not just Nigeria, are reflecting on how to accommodate exploding demand for university admission, while also improving academic standards and paying teachers enough to keep them.

Experts told VOA that Nigeria can not afford to not address this. Hundreds of thousands who pass the college entrance exams each year already can not enroll in public universities because there is not room. Those lists are only going to get longer. Nigeria's population is expected to double by mid-century.

University lecturers said they will be watching to make sure their institutions get, and effectively use, the funding the government has promised.

But for the time being, the nation's halls of learning are once again filled with students and that is a good thing.

Ardor Hazzad contributed reporting from Bauchi, Nigeria, Ibrahima Yakubu contributed from Kaduna, Nigeria, Hilary Uguru contributed from Warri, Nigeria.