ASUU’s dilemma and regular quick interventions


By Andrew A. Erakhrumen

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 in the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman 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…….”

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. 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!

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It is good that we remind the readers that members of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on December 24, 2020, suspended the indefinite strike they embarked upon since the March 23, 2020.

The suspended strike, was to call the attention of government, and other stakeholders, to earlier unfulfilled agreements, some, dating back to 2009! 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 has it that over a thousand members of universities’ academic staff, spread across Nigeria, are being owed salaries ranging from four to thirteen 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!

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 Abuja, to be enrolled (under dubious terms and conditions) on the fraud-laden and widely discredited Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System platform.

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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”.

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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.

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.

Andrew Erakhrumen, PhD is of the Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, University of Benin.

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