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No End in Sight in Nigeria University Teachers Strike

Most of Nigeria's universities have been closed since the beginning of July when teachers went on strike, demanding higher salaries, more resources and policy reform. (Hilary Uguru/VOA)
Negotiations between Nigerian college professors and the government this week failed to end a strike that has kept most of the country's universities closed for nearly three weeks.

Sonia Ashionye is in her final year at Delta State University and she’s supposed to be in school.

“Right now everything is dormant. We can’t continue with our projects. We can’t go to classes,” she said fixing a client's hair at a salon in the southern Nigerian city of Warri.

The strike, she said, was going to delay her graduation and exams were already being postponed.

“I am actually wanting them to call off the strike but the government in their own should do things, as in try to meet up with the demands of these lecturers so we can try to go back to school,” said Ashionye.

'The only way'

University lecturers, however, said striking was the only way to get the government to take their demands seriously.

Benjamin Agah is a political science lecturer at the Delta State University. He said, in 2009, the government agreed to increase salaries, build laboratories, and transfer government lands to universities by 2011. So far, he said, nothing has happened.

“The best option to any crisis is dialogue. But most time the federal government is not willing to actually dialogue with us. And even if they dialogue with us, the federal government will not implement it,” said Agah.

Some locals, however, said that the strike would do more damage than good to the education system in Nigeria.

Gabriel Osekene is a security consultant in Warri. He said the education system was already on the verge of collapse, and shutting down classes was only making things worse.

“They should call off their strike and turn back to school. And then go back again to your own round table. Meet with government. Meet with government and discuss it in your round table - a way forward. And see how the actions will be conducted because children are suffering,” said Osekene.

Funding shortages, bad governance

Others said the education system in Nigeria was desperately neglected by the government, falling short of the United Nations' recommendation to allocate about a quarter of national budgets to schools.

The Nigerian government pledged to work towards meeting this goal in 2009 but since 2011, when tangible results were supposed to have appeared, university and technical school teachers have been on strike at least three times.

Transparency International said Nigeria was one of the most corrupt countries in the world and, like many Nigerians, lawyer Gandhi Onyiye said the schools' problems came from wasteful governance and corruption.

“We know how many members of the national assembly we have. We know how many political aides and associates are attached to Mr. President. Cut down all these wastages. Prune down the cost of governance. And let's make progress. Put the resources in education,” said the lawyer.

Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa with more than 160 million people. And although it is Africa’s biggest oil exporter, most people live in abject poverty.

The country also faces an insurgency in the north and periodic attacks on oil and government interests in the south. Analysts say poor education systems left many of Nigeria’s young people practically unemployable and therefore more inclined to join militant groups, just to survive.

Teachers said the strike would go on indefinitely until their demands are met and officials said negotiations would continue. But some lecturers are wary that negotiations alone can be successful because past strikes have ended with promises, and those promises were never fulfilled.

Hilary Urugu contributed to this report from the Niger Delta.