Government, corruption, public universities: The nexus


by Andrew A. Erakhrumen

A well-known bitter exposition that many, including most political office holders that love deceiving themselves at the state and federal governmental levels, do not want to relate to is the fact that industrial dispute may sometimes lead to strike especially in today’s Nigeria where the people running the affairs at the earlier-mentioned and other governments are – figuratively speaking – always ‘deaf’, ‘dumb’ and ‘blind’ to workers’ reasonable reasons!

As in the past, we again, “…..[apologise] to fellow citizens who may be physically challenged in these ways…..” While sustainable industrial harmony is needed in all workplace, strike appears to be the only language Nigerian governments seem to understand! However, we have stated “…..that strike is NOT the problem but a symptom of a deep Weltschmerz in our public universities; once this is treated, strike will be gone! It (strike) will, then, neither be needed nor relevant!

No serious worker in the public university system will just wake up and be canvassing for strike if there is/are no frustrating reason(s) generated by those benefiting from these crises! Whereas these industrial actions may be ‘fun’ to those saddled with the responsibility of promptly doing the needful and rightful concerning them; nevertheless, they are painful and costly sacrificial struggles by the workers involved!

Another painful unavoidable consequence of this kind of struggle (using a military terminology) is that there will always be “collateral damage”. Efforts at reducing these kinds of damages are very important. Ensuring that “collateral damage” is brought under control is the responsibility of the oppressed people because their misleaders do not care!

They do not have their children/wards in Nigerian public institutions of higher learning! So, public institutions can go to hell! That is their mindset! Their children/wards are either overseas or in private institutions at home. Their pictures, on graduation, are used to taunt/insult all! Nigerians still do not appreciate the damage done to public universities from poor funding and attacks on the unpaid/underpaid lecturers therein.

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Consequently, quality lecturers are engaging in the “japa” option by emigrating from Nigeria! Also, unfortunately but understandably, there is an increase among the remaining university lecturers in Nigeria that now engage in “side hustles” such as cab driving, trading and other menial jobs that may distract them from research/teaching! With the rate at which these public universities are progressively deteriorating, Nigerians will weep, bitterly, for them in the next few years!

For us, it is a very lazy, inept and silly argument from any government and its officials to always claim that the funds made available to public universities are stolen, embezzled, misappropriated, pilfered, or filched. They use other similar farcical technical terms to explain away missing, untraceable, unaccounted for, inappropriately utilised and corruptly applied funds for things other than what they are meant for!

The government is well-equipped with what is required to ask questions concerning all the funds it is claiming to be making available to these universities. After all, nobody will deliberately “open his/her eyes” and allow the hard-earned resources being invested in his/her business to go down the drain without asking questions.

The challenge here is that government, its agents and certain core civil servants are complicit in the alleged fraud (if truly so) but turn round to accuse the same universities of corruption! For instance, part of what the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been agitating, repeatedly, for is that government should always set up visitation panels, at regular pre-determined intervals, to look at how these universities are being run, openly check the financial transactions within these universities, among other things. Scandalously but not unexpectedly, Nigerian governments simply found this difficult to do!

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This is why we asked President Muhammadu Buhari, with due respect, in an earlier piece, that “…..where is [his] government’s White Paper on the 2021 presidential visitation panels to federal universities?” As this article is being written in May, 2023 (with the termination of this administration on May, 29 in sight) this federal government has refused, reprehensibly, to make the White Paper public! This is the same Buhari’s government that has been accusing public universities of corruption! What an irony!

Instead of addressing issues, this government decided to be chasing shadows for the past eight years; it has been one deception after another concerning renegotiating 2009 agreement with ASUU. Government first withheld lecturers’ eight months salaries, eventually ‘ran away’ from negotiation table, somehow discredited and abandoned its team led by Nimi Dimkpa Briggs (1944–2023), sued ASUU and formed another university academic union against the country’s laws! What a law-breaking government this has been!

This group of people has actually taken the established warpness in governance to another incredibly low level! These anti-intellectuals will be handing political power over (hope not to another set of anti-intellectuals), wilfully leaving public universities’ workers poorer, frustrated, disoriented and less productive than 2015.

It must be recorded here that history reveals that premeditated attacks on intellectualism and the intelligentsia community is not a new phenomenon! What makes Nigerian government-powered anti-intellectualism and the 2022 edition of vicious attacks different is that unlike previously, they clearly came all out to crush academicians while demonstrating worse traits of those derisively referred to as “agberos” – motor park touts! Surely, lessons should have been learnt from that fiasco!

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Moving forward, it must also be stated, here, that we are not saying that there are no crooks in public universities! Not at all! We are not oblivious of some prosecutions and judgements in law courts of competent jurisdiction regarding the foregoing. All societies do have “the good, the bad and the ugly” but the societal ability and willingness to handle those considered as deviants are very important in ensuring lasting deterrence.

For the purpose of clarity and emphasis, we reiterate that “…..these allegations and insinuations, by governments, should be taken away from the realm of speculations to that of evidence-based reality. Nobody should encourage corruption – anywhere! Hence, government and its agents should prove that they are not complicit in (the alleged) corruption [in public universities] by acting within the ambit of the law in bringing those involved – if any – to book. This has always been the firm position of ASUU…..”

Andrew A. Erakhrumen currently teaches at the Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria.

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