ASUU has outlived its usefulness

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By Shaka Modu

In 20 years, university teachers in the country under the auspices of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have embarked on strike over 15 times (a strike almost every one and a half years) that saw them stay away from work for about 50 months cumulatively, resulting in a loss of about 21% of academic time.

ASUU’s current strike over the union’s refusal to enroll its members in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) commenced on March 9.

The strike is also targeted at compelling the federal government to implement the agreements and resolutions of the Memorandum of Action discussed in the 2009 ASUU-FGN agreement, the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and the 2017 Memorandum of Action, all of which have not been implemented, according to some officials of the lecturers’ union.

Of course, the lockdown brought on by the pandemic may have impacted on the strike’s duration. ASUU, nonetheless, has refused to budge even after the gradual easing of the lockdown in the country. The last strike by the teachers before this one was in November 2018.

The 50 months tally translates to over four years of lost academic work by lecturers and study for students – enough time to be admitted to, and graduate from a standard four-year course in the university. This should prick and shame the conscience of ASUU if it has any. In that whole time, it is the students and the country that have borne the brunt of ASUU’s serial strikes. It is the students who have had to sacrifice their future for ASUU’s intransigent, unconscionable hardline stance that is more often than not, borne out of selfish considerations but cleverly disguised as an attempt to save university education in the country.

Of what use is one’s attempt to extinguish a burning house if all you go there with is more gasoline? ASUU loses nothing after each prolonged strike, it sacrifices nothing, instead, for all the months its members stayed on strike, they got paid their salaries and allowances. In other words, it profited the lecturers far more than the universities have gained. Here it seems lies the incentive to continue to embark on disruptive and destructive strikes that are more often than not, needless.

At a time trade unions have moved away from frequent strikes as a tool to force government or organisations to meet their demands, ASUU’s ‘Marxist-leaning’ leaders are stuck in a time capsule; they have refused to evolve with a fast-moving world. Even in their teachings, they have blatantly refused to update themselves with modern teaching techniques or acquire new knowledge in a world rife with competition and discovery. Teachers who are consistently on strike can hardly ever be productive in any material sense of the word.

Apart from producing half-baked graduates, can these university teachers tell us what value has come out of our so-called ivory towers? Has ASUU ever advocated for the modernisation of the university curriculum to bring it in tune with a fast-moving, digital world? How many of them have written books recommended for use in universities around the world? They sell to students at exorbitant prices hurriedly prepared plagiarised handouts.

How many of them are technologically proficient? The new age is upon us, the world is on a transition to electric cars, Elon Musk is planning how to colonise Mars, where are our researchers and leaders to envision a new nation for us? It’s not an exaggeration to say ASUU’s only contribution to our national lexicon is strike.

I believe if the teachers were made to forfeit their salaries each time they embarked on strike under the terms of no-work, no-pay rule, it is doubtful the union would be so eager to call a strike at the slightest opportunity or breach of its countless agreements with the government. And of course, ASUU would have always thought through its decisions. Its raison d’etre for calling a strike would not only have been far more altruistic, but would be viewed by the public to be so.

But a situation where the nation, the parents and the students consistently pay the price as a result of massive disruptions in the education calendar – with all the attendant mental, psychological and physical effects cannot continue to be tolerated. It is time we tell ASUU in no unmistakable terms that we are fed up with its goddamn antics. Parents and students have tolerated ASUU’s bad behaviour long enough. This union cannot continue on this path.

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Beyond this government’s legendary incompetence and failings and the wholesale underfunding of education by successive governments, particularly university education that has left it in a deplorable state, ASUU has been the most destructive monster, wreaking havoc on university education in Nigeria with incessant strikes. ASUU has remained constant in the rot plaguing our education, while pretending to be the conscience and advocate of its restoration. ASUU’s insensitivity to the plight of students and parents borders on the callous and wicked disregard for the future of education just like the government it is negotiating with. There is no difference between two of them. They are partners in the destruction of university education.

I am yet to be persuaded with evidence that the frequent strikes embarked upon by this senseless and perverse union have achieved much by way of improving the infrastructure on campuses or markedly improved the quality of teaching standards. As a matter of fact, after each prolonged strike, the quality of learning and graduates deteriorates because the academic calendar is often compressed into shorter semesters to graduate students who have been ill-prepared academically or otherwise for the challenges or rigours of post-graduation work environment. Companies are now saddled with the burden of having to re-educate and train these graduates to be employable.

As selfish as this union is, they are always too willing to suspend a strike once the government agrees to improvement in the take-home pay of the teachers, even if nothing changes in the status of the deplorable state of learning infrastructure or conditions of hostels or welfare of students. Students’ hostels still stink like police barracks unfit for human habitation with bedbugs feeding on our adolescent youths. The toilets and bathrooms are a disgrace to human civilization. Pay a visit to our university campuses to see for yourselves the degree of rot.

Visit the lecture theatres or classrooms where ASUU holds sway as lord of the manor and see the deplorable state. Go to faculties of engineering, science and medicine of various public universities – visit the laboratories and you would cry for our beloved country. Equipment being used to teach our youths in this fast-paced, technology-driven age of the 21st century was procured in some cases since the founding of the universities. How can they compete with their peers around the world?

But this is not really ASUU’s worry. They are much more interested in their pockets. I challenge ASUU to prove otherwise.

Particularly annoying is the fact that lecturers now see teaching as a part-time job as many of them are variously engaged in private consultancies. Even when they are not on strike, many lecturers are more dedicated to their own personal businesses and as such are unavailable to fill their teaching slots. Their lackadaisical attitude would earn many of them instant sack in the private sector. Many of them have a poor work ethic. Unfortunately, there is no monitoring system in place on campuses to ensure effective teaching by lecturers.

ASUU has inflicted a monstrous and aggravated damage on the education system. This shameless union has been embarking on strikes before 99 percent of the current undergraduates were born. No one knows for sure what ASUU really wants anymore. Even though their grievances seem to have evolved over the years, their tactics have not. It has staunchly defied the wisdom of old that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. If the strikes haven’t achieved much, by way of improvements in the system, why can’t ASUU change tactics and embrace new models of engagement? The only reason ASUU loves to call a strike so much is because it has become the pretext to receive undeserved pay. Strike pays, it seems, has become an excuse not to work, but to earn wages for doing exactly nothing. Mention ASUU and what comes to mind is their penchant for calling a strike rather than anything of noble value. No research, no innovation, no discovery. Once boisterous communities of character and learning have become hollow citadels synonymous with strikes and all manner of immoral and criminal conducts; with sex predatory lecturers stalking innocent female students.

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It appears lecturers measure the success and strength of ASUU’s leadership by the number of strikes they embark upon and their duration. How else does one explain ASUU’s easy resort to industrial action at the slightest disagreement? How else does one explain that the union has led its members to cumulatively stay at home for over four years of the last 20 years?

Anyone who passed through a Nigerian public university particularly in the last 30 years bears witness to ASUU’s disruptive and destructive model of conflict resolution. Many, myself inclusive, are victims of ASUU’s tyranny and abuse. We still bear scars of ASUU’s incessant strikes and bad behaviour to show our children. Now, sadly enough, we are helplessly and painfully watching our children experience worse pains as a result of the disruptive behaviour of ASUU.

These days, those who can afford it prefer the option of either sending their wards to schools abroad or enroll them in private universities in the country at a huge cost – borne by parents who have become frustrated and completely disenchanted with ASUU’s perennial strikes in public universities; where a four-year course is now counted four years plus X. X being an indeterminate variable. I dare say no student has graduated at the normal time from any Nigerian public university in the last 25 to 30 years owing to persistent strikes by university teachers.

The question I am pressed to ask here is, do these lecturers’ children really school here, or like government officials, have perfected the art of sending their children to schools abroad where the school system runs smoothly without strikes? I sincerely have my doubts that their wards school here. Because no well-meaning parent would subject their children to the disturbing, unstable and destructive learning environment ASUU’s tyranny and government’s poor handling of education have created.

It is instructive that ASUU has never taken any hardline public position against the plague its members have infected campuses with. I mean, the numerous scandals of money-for-grades, sex-for-marks, lecturers failing students who refuse their sexual overtures. It is now so rampant on campuses that it has become the norm. As the rot in the system has grown, so has the decadence and moral bankruptcy among lecturers. University education has painfully been reduced to organised citadels of immoral life, sex-for-marks temples of predator teachers with many of them caught with their trousers down in hotels, just as same campuses have become playgrounds of cultists’ degenerate wannabes, corruption and maladministration by university administrators who shamelessly embezzle whatever little funds that trickle down their way from our thieving political leadership. These, among many others, are the awful truths which this outdated union has turned a blind eye to or partnered in entrenching.

Gone are the days when professors commanded respect from the public. I can recall how many of us used to quiver in the eminent presence of a professor or a university don. They represented the best of knowledge, enlightenment, discipline and the moral fabric of society then. Today, they have become objects of ridicule, they aid and abet malpractices in exam halls, in elections, and exhibit all manner of bad behaviours that have contributed to the general level of decadence in our country.

Professors and lecturers aid people who should be on the fringes of society – dodgy politicians and certificate forgers – to manipulate elections in their quest for power. These dodgy characters, clearly without any idea or vision of leadership or responsibilities of public office whatsoever, go on to determine our destiny. Shortly thereafter, these shameless intellectuals would embark on a strike over one issue or the other to try and force the dodgy, unqualified politician they just helped to power only a few months earlier to the negotiating table. Of course, the dodgy politician is usually uninterested in negotiating with them, having bought his way into office.

In helping to foist these charlatans on us as leaders, these lecturers forgot or forget Octavia Butlers’ immortal warning on choosing leaders: “Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”

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The case of Professor Ignatius Uduk, accused of election fraud and ordered to be arrested by a High Court in Uyo, is a pointer to how bad many of our lecturers have become. Uduk, a professor of Human Kinetics, teaches in the Department of Physical and Health Education, University of Uyo. He, alongside Peter Ogban, a professor of Soil Science, of the same university, was accused of trying to rig the 2019 Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District election in favour of the former governor, Godswill Akpabio by altering results in his favour. Professors cheating for corrupt politicians in elections? Is there really a future here? The use of Vice Chancellors, professors, heads of departments in universities, as Presiding Returning officers by INEC in elections, was to boost the integrity of the election process. Of course that was based on the assumption that they had integrity. Well, the opposite has proved true – many of them are mere election riggers.

Now the news in town is that ASUU has agreed to call off its 8-month-old strike having reached an agreement with the government. The union took the decision after it agreed to accept the government’s total payment of N70 billion. It tweeted, “The Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, has shifted ground on FG’s offer. The Union insisted that payment of outstanding salaries must not be done through the IPPIS platform as promised, if the strike would be suspended.”

This was precisely the incentive to continue to call a strike. They want to be paid for work not done. At the end, it is only the students and their parents that suffered, not the government and certainly not ASUU. According to reports, the federal government has now offered ASUU N70 billion to end the strike. The hardline stance of the union’s leaders changed after the government pledged to release N40 billion for the earned allowance and N30 billion for the revitalisation of the university system. This further goes to buttress the well-established fact that ASUU uses the deplorable state of our universities to disguise its pecuniary motivation for strike. Once they get their money, to hell with every other issue they had used to pad up their list of demands.

Even if the union decides to suspend the strike today, the year is already gone, we are in December, the usual end-of-year festivities are upon us. How will students resume? So, proper resumption is probably going to be in January 2021. In other words, an entire year would have been wasted due to ASUU’s strike.

Furthermore, why has the union been so resistant to every reform in the university system? Because it profits from the rot. ASUU uses the rot in the system as a disguise to protect its selfish interests and perpetuate its power. It has infected all sorts of mushroom unions in the academic community with the strike virus. If things follow their usual pattern, I can bet that the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) are waiting in the wings to commence their own strike to force the government to implement another cache of demands for them.

Unfortunately, ASUU has refused to allow proper fees to be charged in universities, in its warped thinking that the government can fund university education. But it is clear that as long as we fail to charge proper school fees, tertiary education in Nigeria will remain in limbo and uncompetitive whether we like it or not. Along with proper fees, loan and scholarship schemes must be created to help bright indigent students to ensure they are not denied the opportunity for higher education.

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