News The African Way

ASUU’s Dilemma and Regular Quick Interventions, By Andrew A. Erakhrumen

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“……. The cradle of humanity continued to nurture ……. our own species, which we’ve immodestly named Homo sapiens, ‘Wise Man’ ……. [who] is more like a banana-republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump.”  (Yuval Noah Harari)

It is very tempting to conclude, and difficult to resist the temptation of concluding, that those at the helm of affairs, concerning governance, in Nigeria, do not care about high-quality education. Yes, with the way they – both past and present governments – have managed, and are still managing, public educational facilities, from primary to university levels, one may not be faulted when this conclusion is one’s innocent and objective position. Nevertheless, this position (when taken with sincerity of purpose) is only correct when the education and associated facilities being talked about are those meant for the children/wards belonging to the ‘common man’. Once it concerns those for the children/wards belonging to those in government, it is easily discernible that they know the value of, and appreciate, high-quality education. That is when we will, again, know that, concerning university education, for instance, they are aware that “……. it is the education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them and a force in urging them…….” 

The words, quoted above, are from Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801–1890) in “The Idea of a University”. Owing to the fact that governments in this part of the world thrive in cascading mediocrity, they are always comfortable with an unenlightened and poorly educated populace that cannot constructively engage them in line with Newman’s expectations quoted above and others. Certainly, as we will see later in this intervention, they (and their collaborators within and out of Nigeria) are “agents of darkness whose eternally incurable interest is not only to commodify education but also, as a result of this, plunge us into perpetual darkness and ignorance” as we often say on different platforms. It is no news that these agents of darkness have succeeded in destroying public primary and secondary education in Nigeria. They have also been ‘successful’, so far, at crumbling public tertiary educational institutions – particularly the universities – and are still aiming at their total collapse in order to enhance the chances of their ‘business enterprise’ (with the exemption of a few) they have classified as private (universities).

It is important to quickly clarify, here, that there is the need for ‘real’ private universities in Nigeria as long as the proprietors have a firm focus on “developing a high-quality human capacity for positive transformation of the society”. They are also advised to endeavour to “know what formed the foundation for, and philosophy behind, many of the now-successful private educational institutions, [for instance], in Europe and North America”. Knowing, also, that governments, in those places, did not ‘kill’ public educational institutions for private ones to grow! This takes us to what we intend to talk about henceforth. Our talking point will have to do with the unwanted government-contrived crisis in our public universities. At this juncture, it is good that we remind the readers – quoting from our earlier intervention – that “effective from 12:01am of the 24th of December, 2020, the members of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), as a result of their acceptance of Agreements, tagged: Memorandum of Action (MOA), reached with Federal Government of Nigeria on the 22nd of December, 2020, suspended the erstwhile total, comprehensive and indefinite strike they embarked upon since the 23rd of March, 2020”.

“The suspended strike, as always, was to call the attention of government, and other stakeholders, to earlier unfulfilled Agreements, some, dating back to 2009”! As we stated, in the intervention, that “based on past experiences in this country, there are good reasons, for some [people], to be sceptical about government’s “sincerity”, concerning (timely) implementation of this MOA and others, as others in the past were implemented in the breach”, it now appears that our above-stated concern was a foregone conclusion just ‘marking time’ for manifestation. One need not be a Michel de Nostredame also known as Nostradamus (1503–1566) to be able to envisage the regular breaching of agreements, entered into with ASUU, by Nigerian governments. For instance, news already have it that over a thousand (1,000+) members of universities’ academic staff, spread across Nigeria, are being owed salaries ranging from four (4) to thirteen (13) months respectively! If this is being denied, by Federal Government and its agents, we know, in person(s), those that are being owed that much at the University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria!

In addition, the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation has deliberately refused to remit check-off dues to branches of ASUU, thereby completely violating terms of the signed agreements between ASUU and the Federal Government. It is annoyingly, now, in vogue that clerks at Accountant-General of the Federation’s office audaciously place telephone calls to university lecturers/professors requesting them to come to Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to be enrolled (under dubious terms and conditions) on the fraud-laden and widely discredited Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System platform. It is difficult to blame these shady minions as they and their bosses are used to the infinitesimally small number of ‘academics’ (are they really academics?), who have nothing, in terms of virtue, to stand for, possessing poverty-stricken mind, hankering after appointments of whatever kind, adopting strategies like bootlicking, character assassination, and other dastardly deeds, against perceived and/or would-be contender for positions, within and outside our academe. Funnily, these few but loud people (like the Nigerian politicians we criticise) also leverage on primordial factors such as clannishness, tribalism, ethnicism and religious bigotry! They can be shameless in their quest for inordinate ambition!

These characters care less about every other thing apart from “belle face front” as Reuben Abati use to say in some of his analyses. Unfortunately, they are listened to by unwary innocent audience when they criticise politicians (in People Deceiving People and All People Conniving) of what they, themselves, are engaging in. Look around you, they are there! You know them; perhaps, you do not know that you know them! With this kind of people, therefore, why will those in government – at all levels – not want to disrespect and demean Nigerian academics the way it is currently being done? The preceding comments may ‘taste like a bitter pill’ that is almost always difficult to swallow even if it may be what will provide cure for an ailment! We, in the academia, must also look inwards, pointing searchlight on this kind of issues. It is unfair to point at a speck in other’s eye while one’s own is having a log in it! So, when people engage us to know the reason(s) for this kind of activism, through questions like: (1) Are you doing these in order to be recognised for appointments? (2) If you are beneficiaries (of the rot) will you still hold the same opinion? Most times, we shrug and move ahead because it is far better to convince with good deeds.

We are consoled by our awareness of the fact that one of the responsibilities of an academic is to ask salient questions and also contribute toward efforts at answering them. It means that he/she should aim at identifying faults that need rectification particularly in the society – a human institution. In other words, an academic – by training – becomes an activist wired to trace faults! This may be in different forms and levels but the common denominator is that he/she is expected to have been so cerebrally empowered to identify and sensibly fearless in pointing out these identified faults! Dissents, from status quo, are behind ground-breaking innovations by Homo sapiens. Nonetheless, we quite understand the apprehension of many that stems from positions like the one depicted in the above-quoted Harari’s words. Those words – with careful analysis – make it clear that Homo sapiens, worldwide, has not ceased to be Homo sapiens! Let us all think deeply about this! In closing this part of the discussion, we know that some demented and dim-witted minds will want to twist the submissions here but we want to foreclose this by stating, confidently, that the charlatans we earlier described are not the accurate ‘faces’ of our universities! They are not! We have many academics that are worth their salt, with unassailable integrity, in our universities!

We were going too far from the main talking point in this intervention! As stated above, the government has breached, and are still breaching, aspects of agreement with ASUU. Certainly, ASUU that we know must have written to government about this but actions are not being seen to have been taken to remedy these infractions by the concerned agents of government. This tends to lay credence to our claim that the industrial crises in our universities are largely contrived. In fact, the current reality is gradually providing more answers to the following questions we have asked on another platform: “……. are there bureaucrats in government whose interest is that strikes be activated for their selfish interest? Is it true that the ONLY language understandable by government when there is industrial dispute is strike? Why do government adopt the same failed and perennially failing tactics in addressing industrial disputes in our universities? Are we actually ready to move with the world with the way our universities and their human capacity are treated? Are we, as a people, not playing out the script written by the imperialists, and their foreign, and local agents, who believe that we cannot manage (public) universities and so we do not need them?”

We are always amazed that those who are supposed to know, always pretend not to, even with the consistent efforts at educating all stakeholders, by ASUU, that there are unique peculiarities concerning universities, worldwide, when considering their internal working dynamics that are different from the mainstream civil service coupled with the recognition of these peculiarities by aspects of (Nigeria’s Federal) Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1993. An Act [which has been subsequently amended by the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2003 and Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) Act 2012 which states that “the powers of the [University] Council shall be exercised, as in the Law and Statutes of each University and to that extent Establishment Circulars that are inconsistent with the Laws and Statutes of the University shall not apply to the Universities”. Consequently, we are still flabbergasted that this central government is still working hard to forcefully turn Nigerian federal universities to arms of core civil service. In other words, (paraphrasing an analyst’s words) “they want to “ministerialise” our public universities”. Unbelievably that simple!

The essence of this intervention is to start, in earnest, to inform stakeholders and members of the public that their universities are about to be destabilised, again, by those whose job is to ensure stability there. Nobody enjoy industrial crises, particularly, in our universities where proper knowledge generation is the main business. As earlier implied, this capacity for knowledge generation is continuously being weakened by government’s insistence (through their actions/inactions) on destroying public universities in Nigeria while their children/wards are safely enrolled in higher institutions overseas and in private institutions locally. Speculations are rife of how politicians and people in government sustain their children/wards in those institutions but sometimes, we ask: where do civil servants derive the humongous resources needed in enrolling and sustaining their children/wards (including other non-defined dependants) in those institutions? Anyway, most ASUU members do not have that kind of resources; thus, ASUU – through capacity building and leveraging on available institutions within the Nigerian entity – will continue to resist attempts at totally collapsing public universities. Consequently, it is necessary that ASUU members should not ‘sleep’ deeply, as those whose intention is to pauperise (them), the more, are eternally at work.

Erakhrumen, PhD, writes from Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria.

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