Strike survives ultimata

July 12, 1996

Nigeria's 38 universities remain closed four months into a strike by the country's lecturers despite efforts by the military government of General Sani Abacha to break their union nationally.

Negotiations came to a dead end when the government announced the dissolution of the Academic Staff Union of Universities at national level during the third round of negotiations.

Despite two ultimata to go back to work, the lecturers' strike is still solid and is turning into a struggle for the survival of the national union.

Attempts at the universities of Jos and Calabar to end the strike have failed. And the two factions of the National Association of Nigerian Students have called on students to stay away and continue their support for their lecturers, warning that any attempt to impose fees would be resisted.

Within government circles, two schools of thought have emerged on the crisis. Hardliners are pressing for closure of the universities until October 1998 when the military is expected to return to barracks. The other camp is campaigning for the arrest of union leaders and eviction of the lecturers from their university residences.

At the University of Lagos the administration announced that 62.2 per cent of the academic staff have "signed" and "returned" forms expressing their willingness to go back to work.

Lagos was the last to join the strike and could be the first to break it. Police tanks were stationed at one campus, while plain-clothed detectives patrolled another to forestall any act capable of disrupting resumption of academic activities.

Reliable sources revealed that Jelili Omotala, vice chancellor of Lagos, had given his word to General Oladipo Diya, vice president of the military provisional ruling council, Nigeria's decision-making body, that he would use all means at his disposal to break the strike and get the lecturers back to the classroom.

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