By Aminu Adamu Naganye
Campus-based businesses in and around Bayero University and Yusuf Maitama Sule University Kano have mostly closed following strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), leading to the loss of multiple jobs amid the harsh economic situation in the country.
The strike, apart from terminating academic activities across the campuses of the Universities, has left the institutions desolated as the absence of students grounded business activities to a halt.
A cross-section of petty traders, okada riders, restaurateurs, typesetters and other campus-based artisans have complained about how the strike is taking a toll on their businesses, scuttling their means of livelihood amid soaring inflation in Nigeria.
Nigerian public universities have been on industrial action since 14th February 2022 to pressure the government to fund the universities and settle some outstanding issues as contained in the 2009 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and 2020 Memorandum of Action (MoA) as negotiated by the Union of the University teachers and the Federal Government.
Why is ASUU on strike?
The university teachers signed an agreement with the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2009 for the revitalisation of public universities, which will enable the ivory towers to access 200bn annually for six consecutive years. The FG reneged as it only released once in 2013.
Government’s inability to implement other issues of 2009 MoU and 2020 MoA, such as salary upward review after three years relative to the strength of naira-dollar, payment of Earned Academic Allowance (EAA), etc.
The continued use of the controversial Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) did not capture university peculiarities and refusal to accept ASUU’s alternate payment system called University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).
Another point of concern by ASUU is the proliferation of universities by the federal government without adequate funding for the existing ones, which the union argues will further jeopardise the entire Nigerian public university system.
From warning strike to “extended” warning strike
The university dons have completed a 4-week long warning strike in an effort to press home their demands for the Government to honour the agreements. However, after a series of talks between government delegations and the leadership of ASUU, the union extended the warning strike by another eight weeks “to give the government enough time to implement the agreement”, according to ASUU President Prof. Osodeke.
Equally, meetings between the minister of education and the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) did not yield the resolution of the bone of contentions.
Businesses disrupted, livelihood lost
As the industrial action continues, its effect is taking a toll on businesses and vocations on and around the campuses, with many business owners facing bankruptcy. Although most businesses, such as petty traders, cafés, restaurants, typesetting and photocopying centres, barbing shops etc., have closed down, the remaining few yet to close narrate their harrowing experiences at Bayero University Kano and Yusuf Maitama Sule University.
Ummi Abdulaziz, whose shop in BUK could not sell goods of N1000 a day due to the absence of students, described the ongoing ASUU strike as unfortunate, adding that “The strike affects us really seriously. There are no customers now. There are no people around. We open our shop, but there are no buyers. We are adversely affected. Sales have drastically reduced or even stopped. I can’t even make 1k a day now…”
Ummi, who called on the Federal Government to meet up with ASUU’s demands, said the plight of students and campus-based business people should not be allowed to suffer for long. She urged the two parties to have “A discussion and resolve this problem once and for all.”
Another business owner who identified himself as Sarkin Noma Maitireda BUK said the strike had brought misery and deprivation to their lives as his sole means of survival was being threatened. He was thinking of moving out of campus to find ways to feed his family.
Maitireda further lamented, “Honestly, we are not happy with the strike. We are pained because of our business. Everything on the campus isn’t functioning now. We only sit down by our stalls and shops sometimes to even nap. It badly affects our lives negatively.”
He recalled nostalgically how he survived past strikes partly by leaning onto his savings and ultimately on support from family and friends, saying, “We used to survive on our savings, then we borrowed from friends and family. When the strike ended, and businesses normalised once again we repay our debts”.
He decried that the current situation in the country makes it extremely difficult for him to obtain any support from friends and family, saying “everyone is battling with his challenge.”
“We call on the Federal Government to consider their demands so that they resume their activities and our university to reopen.” He appealed as he narrated how he naps by his stall due to no patronage.
Adamu Aliyu, who used to rake N30, 000 daily on average through his stationery stall but now less than N1000, argued that business people suffer the multiplier effects of the strike more than other members of the university community, including students.
Adamu called on the Federal Government to fulfil its promises to the academics and observed that “the situation in the country today is very terrible. So, I call on the FG to consider the situation of the country generally and consider the students and campus-based businesses specifically.”
Mohammed Kabir of Chiroma Business Centre in BUK, whose typesetting and stationery business vicinity remain desolate, said the strike alongside soaring inflation in the country makes his survival as a father and a husband very difficult.
Narrating his challenging sailing through the harsh reality of the economy compounded by the ongoing strike noted that “it has been difficult for me to survive because before now we were feeding from hand to mouth because of the economic situation. Most of the materials we were using have skyrocketed because of inflation…and now strike….”
Kabir lamented further that, unlike previous university strikes where few works were available, currently, “Probably due to the economic situation of the country, everything stopped. Nothing comes.”
Kabir pleaded that in the interests of students and the nation, even if business owners would not be considered, the two parties should resolve their differences to allow academic and business activities to return to universities as soon as possible.
”As a matter of urgency, the Federal Government and ASUU should come together and have a dialogue to resolve the issue. For the interests of the students’ even if they won’t recognise us, business owners… FG should fast track implementation of the issues so that at least the strike can be called off”, he further stressed.
It is no different at Yusuf Maitama Sule University (YMSU), as academic and business activities are grounded following the declaration of the strike. Unfortunately, like students, most businesses on the campus have closed due to poor patronage created by the vacuum left by students.
Abdussalam Adam was among a few business owners that come around to open their business for a few hours daily but now is considering total closure.
His business centre that provides Café services, typing, printing and photocopying to students has been badly hit by the ongoing strike. As a result, his average earning of N5000 has been depleted to around N500.
“Seriously isn’t easy for us that have business here on campus. The strike isn’t affecting students alone. It affects us. When the students were around, there was much work to do. I used to make 5k, 6k a day but now ….since morning I am just having 500 naira with me”, he complained.
He stated that “If I have the opportunity to talk to the federal government, I would advise them to consider ASUU’s demands and resolve the issue. They spend more than what ASUU is demanding on their personal issues. Why not on universities?”
“New World Cyber Café has already temporarily disengaged its staff because of the strike, but they will resume work when the university’s academic activities resume’’ said Bitrus Monday, who operates the biggest cyber café at BUK.
Bitrus Monday, who decried that strike is becoming habitual in Nigerian public universities, stated that there is an urgent need for the parties to have dialogue that will lead to settlement of the burning issues soonest.
“We are negatively affected. They should help us settle themselves. They should have a round table discussion and sort things out. It is obviously becoming a yearly habit in our universities.” He said.
Food and vegetable sellers worse hit
Food-related businesses that serve the universities and their communities are currently facing unique challenges that differ from their past experiences during varsity strikes in the past.
Shamsu Haruna, whose famous Gurasa Joint at BUK serves hundreds of students, staff and other university community members daily with this Kano delicacy, appeared visibly hapless due to the destructive effects of the strike on his business.
Shamsu soberly recalled how busy and deeply engaged his staff were when students were on campus. He noted that more than ten people were fully engaged in full-time jobs in his Gurasa Business but now are rendered jobless because of the strike.
He reminded the relevant authorities of the ephemerality of power and authority should they fail to discharge it for the public good, adding that “Other powerful, influential people have gone so also the current leaders will go. But what they do now is what they will be remembered for. They should try and leave a good legacy. They should consider the situation of the country and resolve the problem.”
He further noted that although members of non-teaching university staff are not on strike, his business has lost over 85% of its customers, expressing that “As we are in a very difficult situation because if you consider the market, we’ve already lost over 85% of our customers. This is not a small loss in business. We pray that God intervene in this situation… But Federal Government and ASUU should remember that life is transient.”
Restaurateur Fatima Ibrahim owns Al-Khairat Restaurant and has been in the campus-based food business for years, but the current strike is giving her a hard knock.
The strike is painfully touching for Fatima as her once-booming food business is struggling to recover after a near-death experience occasioned by the corona pandemic lockdown. “I used to go to the market to supply foodstuff on a daily basis, every blessed day, but now we go to market once a week. Unfortunately, after you prepared the food, there were no customers. Sometimes you sell, some other times you dispose of it.” she noted, adding that “FG and ASUU should please sympathise with the students and us to solve this conundrum so that they shouldn’t jeopardise the future of the students.”
Similarly, at Medinat Restaurant, the disturbance of the peace caused by the lingering university academics’ strike is making resilient Medinat Mohammed have sleepless nights. Her narration reverberated unpalatable experiences by other business community members of the university since the commencement of industrial action in public universities.
”I used to cook 4-5 mudus of rice and prepare other varieties of meals, but now half mudu doesn’t finish a day. No students. No teachers”, she bemoaned
Determinedly tenacious, Medinat said of her over 20 years of experience in the business, this is the most devastating strike she experienced, alluding to the spillover effects of coronavirus pandemic lockdown “Sometimes we take a loan and after the cooking children will eat, and we (staff) too eat from it and pay transport…for over 20 years selling food, this strike is the worse because we did not recover fully from corona lockdown. It is only through the grace of God that we survive.”
She appealed to the Federal Government to settle critical issues it had earlier agreed on with ASUU so that normalcy return to the university campus.
Unlike other businesses, vegetables and fruit sellers are the most hit, languishing in their anguish due to the perishable nature of their supplies. Their harrowing experience cannot be understood entirely from the outside as they had already lost some quantity of their goods the very first week students deserted the university as explained by Alh Isah Gurgu Maikayan Miya, “With this strike, our business was completely put to a halt, completely grounded. Things have turned off. Our reliable customers, students, are no longer on campus. Academic staff no longer come. Some vegetables decomposed the week the student left because we brought them much and no buyers. So to get our daily meal now proves to be extremely difficult.”
He sadly revealed how he is now making an average of N1000 a day which is far below his average daily sale of N10000 before the strike, which according to him, “cannot cater for my family needs.”
He urged the Federal Government and ASUU to “please sympathise with students and we business owners”.