Undergraduates has revealed ASUU strike turned them into caterers, PoS operators and clothiers.
BLESSING AFOLABI writes about varsity students who turned entrepreneurs during the recent strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities
February 14, 2022, remained unforgettable in the life of a 200-level student of History and International Studies at the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Opeyemi Usman. The undergraduate stood arms akimbo and a forlorn mien decorated his face as news filtered in that the Academic Staff Union of Universities had embarked on a strike. He was overwhelmed by the development and the fear of being holed up at home unproductive for an unknown period.
Usman told our correspondent that the frustration ignited by the strike nudged him to start up a Point-of-Sale business, adding that the idea came when he searched for ways to fill the needs in his area.
The undergraduate said the PoS shop located at Challenge area, Ibadan, Oyo State, which he named ‘ASUU strike PoS,’ attracted customers and increased sales and patronage. He added, “When I got fed up sitting at home, I started the PoS business in August at Yoruba Road market so I could bring home some money.”
The UNILORIN student said he charged N20 on every N1,000 transaction and planned to continue when he resumed school, stating, “I bought another PoS machine two weeks ago which I plan to use in school upon resumption. I am on the lookout for someone I will employ to monitor it so that I can face my studies and the PoS business in school.’’
Usman said he was grateful to God that he ceased to be a dependent student who could do nothing for himself, stating that he now fends for himself and others. He noted that he desired to venture into other businesses if only he got start-up capital. He said, “It’s difficult to get a start-up capital for a business. I had to go through a lot to source money to buy a PoS machine. I am hopeful I will do other businesses in the long run.”
ASUU strike saga
In the last nine years, ASUU had embarked on strikes due to the failure of the Federal Government to meet its demands. The most recent eight-month-long strike started on February 14, 2022 and left students angry and frustrated amid lamentation of wasted time. Prior to the strike, the union embarked on a four-week warning strike top notify the Federal Government. The union continued with the strike after weeks of warnings when the Federal Government didn’t meet their demands. The demands were hinged on revitalising public universities and a review of lecturers’ salaries and allowances, among other matters.
The union also rejected the Federal Government’s incorporation of its members’ wage into the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System.
In September, the Federal Government made a fresh offer to ASUU to accommodate its University Transparency Accountability Solution peculiarities in its IPPIS but ASUU rejected the offer and insisted on UTAS.
Also, the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Folashade Yemi-Esan, noted that the government couldn’t run two parallel payment platforms for workers due to the huge financial implication, urging ASUU to allow the university system to be captured under IPPIS.
The ASUU President, Emmanuel Osodeke, however, said that allowing the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation and the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation to determine who should be paid in the universities would usurp the powers conferred on the governing councils of the institutions. He criticised the IPPIS for failing to capture the nuances of university systems.
Several groups decried the action and sought urgent intervention by the Federal Government but the strike persisted until September when the minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, took the union to court to resolve the issue. The court ruling ordered ASUU to resume academic activities despite the Federal Government’s stance on the no-work-no-pay rule mandating lecturers to resume classes without being paid the salary backlog. In a new twist, the Federal Government paid ASUU members half salary for October, describing the move as pro rata. The union held a National Executive Council meeting to address the issue.
According to an online data company, Statista, in 2022, the unemployment rate in Nigeria is estimated to reach 33 per cent. This figure was projected to reach 32.5 per cent in the preceding year. Chronological data indicated that the unemployment rate in Nigeria rose constantly in the past year.
Nigeria start-up bill
On October 19, 2022, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) signed into law the Nigeria start-up bill passed in July which was initiated by the executive arm seeking to create an enabling environment for tech-based start-ups in Nigeria. This law holds enormous benefits for the economy while aiding young start-ups to identify and express their business challenges.
More fascinating accounts
Sharing her experience, a student of the University of Lagos, Habiba Shoretire, left campus for her home hoping the strike wouldn’t last long. Unfortunately, the strike lingered from a mere warning to an indefinite one. Shoretire, who is a 100-level student of the Department of Business Administration, decided to strategically harness her skill to establish a business.
Shoretire told Sunday PUNCH that she learnt to sew clothes as a secondary school pupil during the weekends and holidays to while away time not knowing that it would help her later in life. She added that she started making clothes in 2019 just for herself, family members, and friends when she bought her first sewing machine.
She said, “This strike was the breakthrough for my business. I would say it was a blessing in disguise. Though I know many people saw the strike as a time waster, it was the opposite for me. My customer strength grew. Many people knew about my business and started patronising me. The least price I charge per cloth is N3,000 and that depends on how complex the style of the dress is. In fact, I started saving money for a new sewing machine.’’
However, the student-cum-fashion designer with a disappointed visage said that she would have to pause her business for a while due to the resumption of academic activities, adding that she had spent most of her proceeds from the business on school essentials.
She added, “I planned to buy a new industrial sewing machine to enhance my business since I started getting many customers but that has gone into school runs. I will face my academics because there’s a lot to do but once the session ends, I will return to my business. I have plans to own a fashion school and line but till then I will keep my fingers crossed.”
In her account, a final year student at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State, studying History and Diplomatic Studies, Oluwaseyi Osokoya, said she started her business; Props Adora, during the Covid-19 lockdown, stating that the strike prompted her to focus more on it and venture into business consultancy and other trades.
She said that the strike favoured her as she started off selling props for product photography, wholesales souvenirs for events, and eventually business consulting. Osokoya, however, said that it was when she wanted to start her cloth designing classes that the strike was called off.
The student said she had a big dream of being an entrepreneur, stating, “I want to be an employer of labour with multiple streams of income. I don’t mind being called a jack of all trades. I love anything connected to art. I do graphics design and business consultancy. During the strike, I helped other businesses get started by suggesting business names for them, branding their logos, setting up the business’s social media accounts, and giving them tips on how to get customers.”
She said that her focus was to assist start-ups in getting the basics for branding their business such as giving them a unique name, logo, and customer reach.
She added, “I do a lot of brainstorming and discussion with the business owners to create a clear picture of what the business entails to their customers once the name or logo is seen. Some people cannot come up with a motto for their business. I do that as well while avoiding copyright issues. I have been able to achieve this by reading wide to learn about all types of jobs.’’
The student-cum-business consultant told Sunday PUNCH that her drive was her love for arts and helping people get things right with their business, adding that the skills were self-taught.
She said, “During my leisure time, I take time to learn new things. I was about to start learning to sew clothes when the strike was called off. I long to learn hairdressing, shoemaking and other things. I wanted to focus more on my business but we are being rushed and exams are starting soon though new issues are rearing their heads, especially with the payment of half salaries to the ASUU members.”
Narrating her experience, a 200-level student of Accounting at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Omowunmi Akinremi, said she attended a catering and culinary services school in 2016 after losing her mum and started baking until she got admission into OAU.
She noted that upon getting into the university, she got a mentor whom she worked with.
She said, “During the strike, I only went home to see my family once. I was in Ile-Ife throughout the strike, baking, and cooking for people. The period of the strike was utilised by me. Sometimes, I bake with my mentor for several events. I love baking. I also make money during academic sessions because some students pay me to bake bread, cake, and other pastries for them. I take orders for food which I cook and deliver to them. Since we resumed, I bake different pastries only on Fridays because I have to attend lectures.
“My plan is to start up a pastry supermarket where one can get anything baked from bread to cakes. The only thing delaying me is seed capital. If I get some money, I will start. My school doesn’t prevent me from doing such a business. All I have to do is employ someone to help with sales after I bake so I can attend lectures.”
She noted that the proceeds from the business helped her meet her financial needs in school, adding that she planned to utilise social media to boost her business though she had started with Facebook.
A student shoemaker, Bello Abdullahi, studying Computer Engineering at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, disclosed that he started shoe-making training with his boss in Abuja immediately after the strike commenced.
In an interview with our correspondent, he said the love for shoemaking propelled him to learn and become a good cobbler, stating, “It was my personal interest that made me delve into shoemaking. I love the way shoes come to life after several processes.”
He stated that he made sales from making shoes for people, adding that he was unsure if he would venture fully into the business owing to a lack of capital and the academic activities he had to fully concentrate on.
“We hope for the best’’
For Praise Omoyeni, who is in her second year studying Mass Communication at the University of Lagos, her interest was in makeup and makeup products. She said she was idle during the strike, stating that a family friend enrolled her in a makeup school where she learnt the skill which according to her was financially rewarding.
She said, “Sincerely, I don’t want to practice in line of broadcasting although I might do something related to mass communication in the long run maybe adverts. I want to be an entrepreneur.’’
Another student, Deborah Adewumi saw the strike as an opportunity to improve herself in cloth designing. She noted that the strike afforded her the opportunity to get more customers while improving her cloth designing skills.
Adewumi, who is a 300-level student of English at the OAU, told our correspondent that she used the strike to further hone her skills.
She said, “The strike wasn’t a waste on my part. I made money from sewing during the strike. I have a sewing machine and I won’t stop designing. I might do something else alongside but cloth designing is what I love and I don’t think anything can stop me from utilising the skill.’’
On challenges she faced, she said it was quite difficult to master the skill, adding that she had plans to own a fashion school after graduation.
In her narration, a fresh graduate of English and Literary Studies at the University of Abuja, Amaka Olikagu, awaiting the one-year mandatory National Youth Service Corps scheme, said she was into the learning of shoe-making. She told our correspondent that she was held back by an issue in her department whose resolution was delayed by the strike.
Though yet to get a shop for her business, she noted that she shared a space with her boss and operated a store on WhatsApp where she displays the shoes. She stated that designs determine the prices.
She said, “This business is one I pride in though it might be termed to be populated by the male gender. I am proud of my work especially when I see people wear what I made from scratch. I believe that a woman can make good shoes too.
“The major challenge is the increase in materials used so it is affecting the price I charge my customers. I would rather charge and deliver a good job with quality than do a shoddy job. I have two shoes to make for my customers to be delivered before the week ends. I have some customers in Makurdi, Benue State though I’m still working to gain more customers outside Abuja through social media. I already have plans to get reliable courier services for a smooth delivery process.”
Olikagu said she looked forward to focusing fully on the business after her service year, noting however that she wouldn’t reject any opportunity to utilise her certificate to earn a living.
Commenting on the issue, Executive Director, iRead To Live Initiative and researcher on children’s right to education and sustainable development goals, Mr Jacob Sule, noted that he believed entrepreneurship shouldn’t affect anyone’s studies, adding that he managed a business on campus as an undergraduate law student.
He advised students to understand themselves and project their businesses strategically, saying “You don’t want to be doing business when lectures are ongoing or exams are fast approaching. It’s all about planning and being proactive. Get as many skills as you can while in school. Take on online courses on the basics of managing businesses. The pandemic came with its blessings by bringing people closer on social media. So I will say, students should identify their target audience, acquire relevant skills and start their business in a modest way.”
Sule urged the students to avoid blowing off profits by learning accountability, stressing that beyond taking exams and getting good grades, the curriculum should be redesigned to create an avenue for students to take courses on entrepreneurship to make them globally competitive.
He added that universities should also encourage students to seek relevant work experience by interning while studying.
In his view, a professor of Economics at the Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu State, Felix Onah, stated that it was commendable to set up a business because it helped to develop the country. He defined entrepreneurship as the activity of setting up a business and taking on financial risks in the hope of profits, adding that entrepreneurship enhanced economic growth since more goods and services would be offered.
He said that schools and the government encouraged self-employment through entrepreneurship, adding that government agencies such as the National Directorate of Employment encouraged entrepreneurship by making loan capital available to competent school leavers for such a purpose.
He, however, urged the students to avoid distractions that could affect their academics, stating, “Students should first focus on their education to get properly equipped and thereafter pursue self-employment.”
On his part, the chairman of ASUU at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Dr Adeola Egbedokun, opined that entrepreneurship was a good step in the right direction since it was a part of the school’s curriculum. He noted that it was designed to make students who took courses in entrepreneurship put what was learnt into action and affording them an opportunity to express themselves and also make some money.
He stated that owning a small business couldn’t affect their studies in any way since there was time for everything.
He said, “Students have now resumed studies but I believe that they are smart and have the capacity to separate business from studies.”
He advised that they should focus on their studies for the period they have to study and apportion time appropriately for school and business while understanding the season they were in.
Egbedokun noted, “Government should ensure these students are identified and support them to advance their skills after graduation. The institutions must facilitate their recognition and engage some of them who have skills that can be harnessed in the university. Individuals who have the need for their skills can also engage them.”
SMEs boss comment
Speaking on the issue, Executive Secretary, National Association of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, Mr Eke Ubiji, commended the efforts of the students who defied all odds to start up small businesses amid the prolonged strike.
He stated that the fact the students took their time to learn skills to start up a small enterprise required a lot of thinking, creativity, and discipline, adding that if the students could remain consistent, they would become popular brands to reckon with in the long run.
He said, “The bold step taken by the students is quite encouraging. Some of the popular brands we have out there today didn’t have formal education and weren’t graduates of higher institutions. They started from little and almost nothing but one unique quality they had was originality and everyone reckons with them now. If one wants to start a business, it requires thoughtfulness and deep thinking to enhance sustainability so that whether one is there or not, the business will thrive.”
He advised students to leverage technology as it was a tool to enhance their business brand, adding that branding was important for a small business to grow and thrive.
He noted, “The small businesses must make their products likeable for people and be ready to put in the work to sustain it. Having a business as a student will not affect one’s academic programme.”
Ubiji stated that having a skill and starting a small business as a student was an advantage owing to the rate of unemployment in the country.
He added that though there was a drawback on capital for investing in the businesses, there were funds released by the government to support students in the category.
He said, “Last year, there was a provision of SME funds for start-ups. In fact, the present government has passed a new law. There is an act for start-ups now; it is no longer a bill. It has been signed which means the law recognises them and they are licensed to start business and the diligent ones could get a facility to commence full operation.”