The ASUU Strike & our Mental Health

Simbiat Shuaib
University of Ilorin

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is as familiar to any Nigerian student as their respective universities. ASUU is a trade union that seeks the wellbeing of its members, but unfortunately, as a result of an unending disagreement with the Federal Government, it has all but become synonymous with industrial action. That is why there were no surprises when the union embarked on a warning strike in the second week of March over demands for more funding for public universities and renegotiation of the 2009 FG/ASUU agreement, payment of outstanding earned academic allowances, etc.

Initially, the strike was sort of a welcome development for the students as most of us saw an avenue to relax a little before returning to our rigorous lifestyle. But as weeks turned into months and meetings led to only more, it became clear that the union did not have the best interest of the affected students at heart.

Unsurprisingly, this excessively prolonged stay at home has taken its toll on many students in various ways — most notably, mentally. I suffered continuous anxiety attacks myself and nearly resorted to unhealthy coping mechanisms. So, when students couldn’t bear to stay quiet anymore and took to the streets of social media to trend the #EndASUUStrike hashtag, I decided to reach out and have them open up about how it has affected them mentally. Here are some of the responses I got:

Esther, University of Ilorin
The strike has affected my mental health in many negative ways. I have cried numerously, suffered emotional abuse from the people I stay with, and contemplated suicide many times during this strike. It has been traumatic, and it still is.

P. S. I am currently not at home. School is like the only place where I can have my life to myself.

Mohammed, University of Ilorin
My life feels like a cycle of endless hours on social media, from WhatsApp to Twitter to Duolingo. I’m constantly sighing. On Twitter, someone is celebrating a major medical win, and I feel my tears forming again. I sigh and log off. It doesn’t take long before I go back, and this time, I’m smiling because of Zikoko quiz. Scrolling down, I see #MedFiesta tweets, and of course, I painfully put my phone away again, with a very loud sigh. I mean, I had only two weeks left; now it’s been nine long months. Social media haunts me and, yet, provides an escape for me from the pain 2020 has sentenced me to.

Saleemah, University of Ilorin
The first few months into the strike, I experienced some episodes of relapse, from dark memories. Many times, I felt indifferent about stuff, and I had mood swings, more often than not. Thanks to the supportive people around me, it’s been greatly better.

Glory, University of Jos
Amidst the crisis, relatives and friends at home keep bombarding me with questions about school, graduation and even marriage. I finished secondary school in 2012 and got admitted into medical school in 2014. I am 25 years old now and eight years have gone by without a degree. Each passing day, I wake up depressed; I’ve lost interest in the things I loved to do (politics, outreaches and chilling). I woke up one morning and wanted to go “cool off” inside a dam (Lamingo Dam). In one sentence, I am tired and depressed.

I’m a 200-level (supposed to be 300-level) medical student. I miss my friends. I had not-so-good grades that I should make up for, and I’m playing at home instead of being in school. I actually miss the atmosphere of school and how serious I should be about a lot of this. All of it is a lot. ASUU is playing with us because they don’t know how much damage they’re doing.

I was delighted by the two-week warning strike. School was stressful as hell, and it was supposed to be a breather. Over the last eight months, I’ve had three terrible panic attacks (one almost landed me in the hospital), the worst pregnancy scare in my life, and I lost a major job opportunity. Even though I’m above 18, the “omo, get inside” mentality and island traffic do not let me go out often. And the BS about taking online courses to keep yourself occupied doesn’t help either. If not for the lack of privacy at home, I’d have tried self-harming.

My mental health has been shit since this strike. I don’t enjoy staying at home, but during this strike, I’ve been stuck here without any escape. Every day, I struggle not to get choked to death by the tension and everything else here. I think now I’m more conscious of my mates that aren’t in public universities and how their lives are going so smooth; the comparison and the feeling of being inadequate and not measuring up sets in, and I think myself into depression every time with it.

I think with the strike I have had enough time to think about my life. I haven’t done that in ages and, lmao, I never knew I’ve been messed up like this. School has been a mask I use to cover all of these, and now, it feels like everything is off and I’m seeing myself for all that I am.

Jola, University of Portharcourt
This ASUU strike has been an eye-opener for me. Living with parents in a tough Nigerian economy has not made it any better either. Before the strike, I believed I had a close relationship with my parents, especially my mother, but being at home for eight months has made me realise the mental divide between us. Communication is zero, understanding is zero, and I’m barely holding on.

Bisola, University of Ilorin
I was navigating a situationship breakup at first, and that had me depressed. There’s no one to talk to. I took a break from social media for two weeks because the news about their unproductive meetings was very saddening. As if that’s not bad enough, neither of my parents have been paid for almost nine months. Imagine not having money in your account — you can’t buy any personal stuff, and for the littlest thing, I have to ask my parents for money. You can imagine how things are in my home. It’s only God that has kept my sanity.

This strike is honestly like an abyss — unending and dark. No one can hear your screams, wails or anything. Time goes by and you’re still in that damn abyss.

Ibrahim, University of Ilorin
It’s been tough on me mentally. I’ve gotten depressed, and it’s exacerbated my anxiety. I can’t fully commit to any long-term project for fear of leaving it halfway done if the strike is called off. I’m constantly confused, stressed and low on energy. It’s just thrown my life into a pit of uncertainty.

Funke, University of Ilorin
There has been an absolute lack of productivity from my end. I am not age-sensitive, but when I go on Twitter and see my mates doing so much, it really makes me feel less about myself, my abilities. Sometimes, it’s also motivational and gets me to do things, but at the end, I should be in my clinicals and worried about my reading schedule, not whether I should go into digital marketing or programming (which are good sha).

Damola, University of Ilorin
It’s been crazy; anxiety attacks are frequent, and I’m always crying. These days, I feel like quitting school and moving on with my life. At least then, I’ll know I have nothing that’s holding me down. I just want this to be over.

Jamiu, Ahmadu Bello University
This is not the first strike I’ll be experiencing in school — it’s like the third or so — but this is the longest, and it has been a terrible experience. I get bored, anxious, depressed and restless. I compulsively search ASUU on Google or Twitter to find an update. I read every article about the strike that I come across; it has become an obsession. lt also affected my social relationships as I withdraw more from people and get easily irritated.

Seeing my friends in state and private universities post convocation pictures gets me sad. Recently, I was typing well wishes for a friend, and I was sniffling, trying not to cry. I had eight weeks left for God’s sake; now, it’s been ten months. My mum tries to encourage me, but it doesn’t work. Everything is dark and gloomy, and small things bring deep sadness. This thing has made me hate Christmas carols — they’re too jingly and happy and upbeat, and whenever I hear them, I feel like whoever is playing it is mocking me. I don’t know what I would do with myself if we do not resume in January. I honestly have no idea.

As heartbreaking as these stories are, there’s also the hollow feeling that comes with the realisation that, upon eventual resumption, there will be no arrangements to cater for students psychologically. No assessment and management plans. Nothing. Just vibes. Exams and lectures that were paused midway would commence immediately. We’ll be flung into the dysfunctional system and expected to readjust. What happens to those of us that cannot manage that?

*Names have been changed to ensure anonymity.

P. S.
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PENDICAL an educational weblog creates a platform for medical personnel/practitioners including medical students to share inspiring stories, lifestyles, and resources for medical personnel/practitioners or anyone aspiring to be a physician thereby encouraging and promoting diversity in lifestyle, mindset, thoughts and experience among medical personnel and medical students. PENDICAL started out, like many realities, a dream. It is a weblog whose contributors are medical personnel. In a most profound way, medicine and health meet art in the realm of writing. What we seek to achieve cannot be summarized into bullet points, but if through the pieces herein someone’s path is more illuminated or another is inspired to reach beyond its ‘limits’, if doubts are cleared from this mind or the spirit of another are lifted after a long day, PENDICAL would have served well in the line of duty. Our core values are creativity, excellence, truth, and passion.

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