Nigerian university dons and the dangerous politics at ASUU branches


By Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik

A popular union of professionals went on strike just after the first wave of COVID-19 and the strike was suspended after about 3 weeks or so. My thought was that looking at the critical role they played in tackling the pandemic, they got a favourable response from the government before the suspension of the strike. But while discussing with a member of the union, I was made to understand that the strike was suspended on “promises”. I was like, why was the strike suspended then? And the response was that: “We are not ASUU. Unlike ASUU, it is not likely we can sustain the strike if the salary is stopped”. I started to realize the strength of the young academics, the supposed small boys and girls, and their sacrifices in the success of ASUU struggles over the years.

I am not much of a Unionist but the management of ASUU at the national level got me interested since the time of Attahiru Jega as the President in the early 90s. I have never heard of a system with a sustained engagement methodology where decisions are taken from bottom to top except in ASUU. It has successfully sustained that principle for years. Unlike other unions, ASUU members can’t talk of a sell-out whenever a strike is suspended because the decision to declare strike action or suspend it lies in the hands of the members in a democratic and very transparent manner. This system has earned the union a reputation at the national level.

The ASUU activities at the national level are a model that others used as a reference. The dedication of the members to their struggle with all the persecutions is a mystery some people are still trying to understand. Even the most corrupt government knows that as corrupt as the country is, ASUU at the national level cannot be induced. The question now is whether the ASUU branches at the various universities are living up to that standard? How do we get to have such a very strong national executive council but self-centered branch executive members? Possibly the selection process of the executives at different levels is responsible for the difference.

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I have been wondering why the election of executives in some ASUU branches is always unopposed. In the course of a discussion, recently, I was informed of a concept called “guided democracy”. In this type of democracy, the positions are made to be unopposed and only one person is nominated to contest for every elective position. This is the “democracy“ that some ASUU branches practice. They do not give members of those branches the chance to elect the best, instead, few people sit to decide their best to go for the available positions. Don’t ask me about the origin of “guided democracy“ because I do not know either. The next question is, who are these people that ensure the success of the so-called guided democracy? The congress or some few individuals (The godfathers)?

There was a congregation election recently and I got to the department one morning and saw a paper called “ASUU list” in my pigeon hole. The first thing that came to my mind was that I can’t recall any ASUU congress meeting where such a list was discussed. Meanwhile, as a loyal ASUU member, I picked the list and followed it except for one. I intend to ask questions later but unfortunately no congress meeting since then to ask my questions. This happens in every election within the university. The criteria for an ASUU member to make the “ASUU list” is not very clear to me and I am not sure if it was discussed in any of the congress meetings.

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ASUU as a pressure group is supposed to make the defense of the academic interest of the university and the members’ welfare a priority, but it appears that in some branches, it is used to protect the political interest of a few individuals that seem to have hijacked the Union. Those ASUU branches seem to be run by Dons that have constituted themselves as godfathers. They decide who goes for what. Unlike the national ASUU, they take decisions on your behalf and expected you to be happy with it and move on. They have successfully executed this style of leadership and have recklessly transmitted the same ideology into the academic departments.

Some HoDs sit with one or two persons and take decisions on behalf of the department and expect everyone to be cool with it. Engaging all to deliberate on such matters is considered a waste of time and not necessary. For example, in 2018, the tranche of the revitalization funds released for the universities was shared among the universities.

The respective universities allocated the funds to the departments based on their needs. While some HODs called a meeting of the departmental board to deliberate on the priority areas in the department for the allocated fund, some HoDs sat down with one or two puppets in the department and decided on how to spend the money.

We collectively deliberated, fought, and made sacrifices for FG to release the fund for the revitalization of the system because we believed that the public universities deserve better, but our opinion does not matter in the departments on the priority facilities that needed to be upgraded.

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You are considered too small, too young, not loyal, or too ambitious by the “godfathers” of the Union to aspire to be part of the decision-making body. They control the electoral committee as they tactically nominate and second their stooges to populate the committee. To satisfy the interest of their godfathers, they manufacture rules not in the electoral guidelines to screen out contestants considered “small boys” that are potential threats to their dynasty. Incidentally, most of these supposed “small boys” are older than the President of France.

Meanwhile, the Young Academics, as in the case of ABU Zaria, is a new platform that is absolutely loyal to ASUU and waxing stronger as an interest group across university communities. Imagine a collective decision by this interest group to decide not to participate in ASUU strike actions due to displeasure at their respective branches. But interestingly, they still have a lot of respect for their senior colleagues and strong loyalty to the Union. A deliberate attempt to suppress their interest may not be too healthy for the union and the system.

We criticize godfatherism in Nigerian politics, but here it is, raising its ugly head in academia.

Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik is of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

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