Nigerian universities’ eight-month strike is nearing its end

Millions of disillusioned Nigerian students may be recalled to the classroom soon.
Nigerian students protest the eight-month lecturers' strike
Nigerian students protest the eight-month lecturers' strike
Photo: Temilade Adelaja (Reuters)
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University students in Nigeria have been at home since Feb. 14 thanks to an indefinite strike by lecturers across the country. But following recent interventions by federal lawmakers, and court rulings, classrooms could reopen later this month.

On Oct. 10, the union representing the lecturers met with members of Nigeria’s House of Representatives. A video of the meeting seemed to show both parties amicably agreeing that the eight-month strike will be resolved “in a few days.” Emmanuel Osodeke, the president of the union that comprises over 80 government-owned universities, said the result of the strike will be that Nigerians will “be proud” of the universities in the country.

Strikes by academic staff in Nigerian universities are very common and many have spanned months. There have been at least 15 strikes since 2000. This year’s episode has not been called off just yet as the union’s zones would have to meet and decide on suspending the action.

But for millions of disillusioned students and thousands of unpaid lecturers, the prospects for a return to the classroom look good after protracted negotiations between lecturers and the Nigerian government. Femi Falana, a popular lawyer who represents the lecturers’ union, said on a TV program that “the strike will soon be called off.”

What has caused Nigeria’s long universities strike?

Like many before it, this year’s eight-month strike has deepened a lack of confidence in Nigeria’s tertiary education system, even with escalating out-of-school numbers at primary and secondary school levels. Mass youth migration abroad for graduate studies has increased due to worsening insecurity and economic crises but also because frequent strikes bring the quality of a Nigerian education into question.

Nigerian lecturers tend to have one reason for this: money.

For the last decade and half, the union has accused the federal government of often reneging on agreements to reform the independence of universities, revenue generation and funding. A 2009 agreement (pdf) reached under two presidents before the current Muhammadu Buhari administration remains contentious between both parties. Among other things, that agreement fixed a 26% minimum allocation from Nigeria’s annual budget to education, half of which should go to universities.

Since 2020, recent strikes have also been about getting the government to pay lecturers through an alternative payments system, separate from the one used to pay government workers in over 700 organizations in Nigeria’s civil service. This has proved a stumbling block with Nigeria’s technology regulator saying that the lecturers’ preferred payment system has failed multiple integrity tests.

Negotiations have gone back and forth all year, leading to a suit by the government at Nigeria’s Industrial Court questioning the legitimacy of the strike, a suit the union lost. An appeals court on Oct. 7 asked the union to call its strike off.

In the week since, lawmakers and president Buhari have become more involved in trying to resolve the strike, increasing confidence in an imminent end. Still, it is not clear that the union will get all it has asked for all year.

At his presentation of the 2023 budget this month, Buhari complained that Nigeria, constrained by resources, can no longer fund tertiary education alone. “This is why we have remained resolute that we will not sign any agreement that we would be unable to implement,” he said.