As early as 5am every day, a young man in his mid 20s, Olufemi Akinyemi, sets out cooking pots in front of one of the private hostels close to the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, LAUTECH, Ogbomoso .
Wearing singlet and whistling to himself as the day breaks, he picks and peels a specific quantity of beans in a large bowl of water. He could pass for one of the many other local food vendors, who dot the ancient university town.
But Akinyemi is not like any other food vendor. He is a final year student of Agricultural Economics, who has all but completed his five-year course only for his educational journey to be stalled by a protracted strike that has crippled academic activities at the university.
Now, for Akinyemi, being a university undergraduate is on hold while his daily activities revolve around cooking Koko (pap) and akara (bean balls) which he vends to his increasing number of student customers.
After more than 400 days of strike at LAUTECH, an institution caught in the web of financial responsibility of its two owners – the Oyo and Osun states –the never-say-never spirit of some stranded students has turned the dire situation into a positivity, creating many thriving businesses in the process.
LAUTECH currently needs at least N4bn to pay accumulated salary and allowance arrears, but its owner states have yet to take a decision on the way forward.
This eco-system of businesses at LAUTECH like that of Akinyemi, has become a survival mechanism for many students who cannot bear to stay idle at home and contending with the boredom, which they say has turned some students to crime.
Like many of his counterparts, Akinyemi, chose to stay within the vicinity of the campus rather than go home to his parents. But then, when it was apparent, surviving more than a year without any academic activities would mean spending his parents’ money, he delved into the business of providing meals to his colleagues.
He said, “As soon as it became apparent that the strike was not going to end anytime soon, I set up my kitchen. I realised I had to take my life into my hands because it does not seem that the people in position of power care about us.
“What we eat most times around the campus area is rice and beans. I wanted to offer my fellow students more meal options. Every day now, I wake up around 5am to clean the beans and go to the market to buy fresh ingredients.”
“I am supposed to have finished my national service by now. It makes me so sad that the governors of Osun and Oyo states have decided to hamper our progress.
“I don’t want to travel home anymore because many do not even believe that I am still in the university. For the past three years, I have been stagnant. Even if I had a carry over, I would have made progress beyond where I am now.”
Ironically, despite majoring in Agricultural Economics, Akinyemi said he intended to face his Koko and Akara after his service year – whenever that may be.
For many students, the strike has put their lives on hold. But Saturday PUNCH learnt that many students are making the most of the period like Akinyemi.
Twenty-four-year-old Olaide Akanni, a final year student of Agricultural Engineering, has also teamed up with 11 classmates to cultivate part of the wasting expansive land within the university.
As of the time Saturday PUNCH spoke with him, the students have 1.5 acres of corn and two acres of cucumber.
Akanni explained that farming became a natural choice for him and his colleagues because apart from the affinity between farming and their field of study, they considered it as fun to make money during the strike.
He said, “Of course, we would not have been able to do this without the strike. How could we call ourselves students of agriculture and have land at our disposal within the school and still be idle for this long? That was why we decided that we should cultivate.
“I should have graduated by now if not for this strike. There is a psychological effect this strike places on students. Our friends are graduating ahead of us in other universities and we don’t even know when we would resume let alone know when we would graduate.”
As the strike becomes prolonged, many students who chose to stay around the campus have had to depend on their parents for financial support the same way they did when the institution was in session.
Akanni said farming was his opportunity to relieve his parents of that financial burden.
“Sending money to me every time when school is not even in session is not easy. This is my way of making things easier for them.
“Unfortunately, the strike is doing a lot of students more harm. Some of my classmates can no longer go for national youth service because they would be above 30 years by the time the strike ends. How do you expect such people to cope when most employers ask for fresh graduates who are below 25 years of age?”
He said many students of the institution are venturing into crimes while a few female counterparts are treading the dangerous waters of prostitution after being idle for too long.
According to him, some of his friends have even lost interest in education having been exposed to many ventures that could bring them money during the period.
But if many female students are venturing into prostitution during the strike, Iyanuoluwa Ojeniran, a 200 Level undergraduate of Transport Management, would have none of that.
Instead, she has decided to put her energy into hair styling.
“I don’t have a choice,” she said. “How else would I have been able to cope when we have been on strike since last year?”
Ojeniran said she is 23 and had been interested in hair styling for a long time.
Like other students who have become overnight businessmen and women in the varsity, the strike presented the perfect opportunity to concretise that interest.
She said, “I chose hair styling because it is a service many students who have refused to go to their bases need. Like my friends, I came back to school too when I became extremely tired of staying at home.
“I am not getting any younger. When the strike began, I looked at myself and realised I had no skills. I decided to go and learn hair styling. Now, I have started building a clientele of students and local residents.
“Currently, I don’t have a shop of my own and I am still working with someone. So, my parents send some money to help me cope. My parents are not happy at all about this strike but there is nothing anybody can do. When I gained admission, I thought I was going to graduate in 2018. I feel almost depressed just thinking about why the state governments are refusing to pay our lecturers and keeping us perpetually at home.”
On Monday, Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State appealed to striking teaching and non-teaching staff of LAUTECH to end their strike but the workers, who are protesting unpaid salaries and subvention are holding their grounds.
Ajimobi said the workers needed to end the strike and allow the students return to the lecture rooms at the earliest possible date because “the two owner states of LAUTECH are doing everything within our powers to quickly resolve the challenges associated with the institution.”
Students like Bello Temitope said the governor’s words were another appeal that had no action to back it up.
According to the 200 Level Computer Science student, who has now taken up tailoring since the strike started, she would continue to regret ever opting to school at LAUTECH.
She said, “I am studying a five-year course that was supposed to end in 2019. There are many other higher institutions in my state that I could have gone to but I opted for LAUTECH. Now, I regret that decision.
“I decided to learn tailoring when the strike started, because I had no other choice but to engage myself in something. My parents are still doing a lot too because they still send money. There is nothing to do at home; that is why many people are back in school.
“I don’t have a shop of my own yet, but I am working on that. I use someone else’s machine for now, while my main customers are fellow students.
“Unfortunately, I cannot even get my transcript so, going to another school is out of the question because that would mean starting all over again.”
Perhaps one of the most creative student-traders, whom the strike has produced is Richard Ajeigbe, a 500 Level student of Urban and Regional Planning, who has now taken up cooking and vending leaf-wrapped Moinmoin (bean pudding).
He said the strike made possible an idea that first occurred to him two years ago which he could not bring to life.
Now, he has become an expert vendor of three varieties of his product – egg-spiced, fish-spiced and crayfish-spiced bean pudding – selling for between N50 and N100.
“I sell up to 150 pieces of those every day. I started alone but when students started coming around and hanging around my stall, a couple of them later started to help out. They were curious about the whole idea,” he said.
According to Ajeigbe, who is in his final year, he had hoped that by 2017, he would be undergoing his service year.
He told Saturday PUNCH that now, all he could think about was making as much as he could as a food vendor.
He said, “I did my internship at the Lekki Free Trade Zone in Lagos and had thought that I was going there immediately after my service year to look for a job. But that is a chapter I have put on hold for now.
“The idea of selling this kind of food first came to mind when I realised that when students come to their hostels to relax, they usually turn to groundnut and garri as the easiest meal. I wanted to give them something affordable which can serve as both a snack and a meal.
“When the strike is over, my business would continue, I have also put processes in place for the business to continue even if I am out of town.”
However, what is unclear to Ajeigbe like all his other fellow students is when the strike would actually end.
The issue became a matter that called for the intervention of the Federal Government on Wednesday when the lawmaker representing Oyo North Senatorial District, Senator Abdulfatai Buhari, moved a motion on the floor of the Senate seeking the Federal Government’s help on the LAUTECH imbroglio.
But the Senate turned down the request, saying that the institution is state-owned.