Professor Johnson Olaleru’s open letter to the president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) published on December 14 in the Nation Newspaper is worth a reply. Before I venture into that, let me begin by briefly intimating my readers on the relationship I have with the erudite Professor of Mathematics.
I met Prof upon gaining admission into the University of Lagos in 2011 but did not take his courses (Functional Analysis and Measure Theory) until after two years—in my finals. Brilliant, fair, disciplined and parental, Professor Olaleru to the best of my knowledge embodies every feature of a thoroughbred academic. The challenge he put to me a couple of months ago to pursue my Phd overseas has kept me on my toes ever since. Save his strong subscription to one of the two Abrahamic faiths (Christianity) which like Islam, is believed by me to be a major weapon fashioned against Africa by the colonialists to further the perpetuation of mental slavery, Professor Olaleru remains a mentor that I look up to both morally and intellectually.
We are all witnesses to the despoliation of public schools via the allocation of monies that can barely sustain a high school in the US to the education sector
Having said that, permit me to return to the raison d’être of this essay which is to engage Prof Olaleru on a number of his submissions. First, it was great knowing that he feels the pulse of ASUU on the revitalisation of public institutions of higher learning and by extension, education in general. His plight however, lies in the method ASUU engages in each time the need to press home its demands arises. To the writer, ASUU’s failure to embrace a change of tactic is both undemocratic and unintelligent, a conclusion he reached based on the premise that since the country is back to democratic ways, industrial actions such as strikes should have ceased to be adopted as a tool for collective bargaining however effective it was during the military days.
However appealing such assertion sounds, the thought that the consignation of the military to the barracks, away from commanding positions of the society has made the psyche of democratically elected leaders demilitarised is both fallacious and lacks parallel to the bitter realities on ground. This is because since the beginning of the fourth republic, Nigerian leaders across levels have never acted as though their legitimacy was derived from the public. Nothing in Nigeria suggests that demilitarisation has occurred in any way, shape or form. Olusegun Obasanjo became a civilian head of state while retaining his camouflage, sending the military to Odi and Zaki Biam to commit crimes against humanity. He staged a clampdown on organised labour, decimating it to the extent that it could neither bark let alone bite. Like military heads of state, he removed state governors at will, withheld the allocations of local governments in Lagos State, forced the hands of governors and contractors to donate to his presidential library and to cap it up, forced a terminally ill man on the nation, a price we all paid for not allowing him perpetuate himself in office against the provisions of the constitution he swore on the bible to uphold. His successors, Umaru Musa Yaradua, Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari did not fare any better. The massacre of members of the Islamic movement in Nigeria (IMN) in December 2015 culminating in the burial of over 350 in mass graves and the continuous detention of its leader, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky against the pronouncements of the court are all sufficient to prove that Nigerian leaders wear—paraphrasing the revolutionary philosopher, Frantz Fanon—democratic skins, autocratic masks. Expecting ASUU to engage such a government in “civil ways” will further add to the agonies of its members and the public whose interests it is to keep education adequately funded.
Prof Olaleru’s claim that the ownership of most private universities reside among politicians who have made it a duty to destroy public universities lacks statistical backing does not hold water; for it is a well-established, verifiable fact that over 75% of private universities are owned by clergymen and politicians, two “professions” that continue to thrive exponentially even as the country keep sinking into intractable ditches of poverty and misery. We are all witnesses to the despoliation of public schools via the allocation of monies that can barely sustain a high school in the US to the education sector or what else could have emboldened politicians like Olusegun Obasanjo, Atiku Abubakar, Afe Babalola and clergymen like David Oyedepo, Dr Enoch Adeboye, Dr William Kumuyi to venture into building universities had they not established that the existing ones had collapsed, never to come alive?
Prof’s difficulty in accepting that the individuals holding elective/appointive positions in the executive and legislative arms, including professors are mostly “selfish, insensitive and intransigent that ASUU would not be able to speak to their conscience through the pen” is indicative of his self-denial of the evil nature of these men. As a Nigerian resident in Nigeria, Professor Olaleru knows too well that all entreaties by the masses to make politicians cut waste and reduce their bogus salaries and allowances (hardship, newspaper, wardrobe, housing, furniture, vehicle, recess, estacode, constituency, etc.) in order to free money to cater for the public good have always fall on deaf ears. We all know what the $1.7m and $1.5m each member of the Senate and House of Representatives earn annually for doing practically nothing could do to our education sector. Citizens have shouted at the opulence that characterises the lives of state governors; workers have railed on the waste that occurs among state legislatures; newspapers, blogs and even the international community have joined in speaking out against the stealing of our collective patrimony by Nigerian politicians to no avail. Prof Olaleru is conversant with this as I’m sure he cannot in all honesty give a name of a single politician, including those with background in the academia who accords education its rightful place. The truth is that no amount of writing will make them stop appropriating our commonwealth to themselves. This is what makes it difficult for many Nigerians to vilify ASSU’s actions.
In a bid to further buttress his arguments against the strike, Prof asked what ASUU’s reaction would be should ‘all public medical personnel in the nation also go on “total, comprehensive and indefinitely” boycott of all hospitals?’ His motivation for asking this question is beyond my comprehension for we are all witnesses to a few times public health facilities have had to be shut over reasons that parallel those advanced by ASUU. His comparison makes it impossible not to ask what the sins of Nigerians are to have made successive governments starve every single sector the resources needed for running them. The health workers are complaining of pitiable working atmosphere; the teachers are forced to teach in overcrowded classrooms; pensioners are dying all over the country while awaiting their entitlements; businesses are crumbling; all of this happens while the elite keep swelling their bank accounts and using state resources to send their wards to schools overseas, go on medical tourism and allocate bogus life pensions to themselves.
Prof’s suggestion to ASUU on the need to find alternatives to strike without proffering any himself does not advance his position beyond the criticisms he laid on the modus operandi of the union. Also, his assertion that ASUU does little to nothing on professors whose inaugural lectures are riddled with grammatical errors, the shadiness in TetFund allocations, and the promotion of persons who are not fit to be senior lecturers to hold professorial chairs is tantamount to asking the union to usurp the functions of senate and/or governing councils of universities whose acts of nepotism, cronyism and favouritism suggest a betrayal of the trust reposed on them. In my opinion, ASUU’s intervention can only come in form of exposing such ills and partnering with sister unions to police funds, ensure strict compliance and join the management in ensuring that members of staff carry out their duties in line with global best practices.
While there are lots of merits in Prof’s arguments which ASUU must look into in order to keep its rank and file intact and further win over the heart of other members who perceive the union as too militant and unintellectually combative, an objective analysis of the Nigerian state in light of the morally deficient and visionless characters who preside over it would leave no one in doubt that no amount of writing and talking would make them disembark from the ruinous path they’ve put the nation, one that has sealed their eyes from seeing that their stealing, treachery and perfidy got us to the pitiable condition we are in at the moment. The US ambassador to Nigeria, William Symington told his audience a couple of days ago the story of a local politician in Africa who got a number of projects done on how he accomplished them even as his predecessors could not. His response was revealing: “It is amazing what you can do if you do not steal the money.”
I hope other labour unions would toe the line of ASUU by going on strike for it is unconscionable to have a tiny fraction of the populace appropriate to themselves monies that were produced by workers and other members of the public. The unfortunate happenings in Nigeria where those who work go hungry while the sloths smile to the bank is enough is cause a total shutdown of the country.
Nigeria is not poor by nature’s design. The individuals who drained her are very much around pretending to possess the dexterity to remove her from the life support they intentionally put her. It is for this reason that ASUU must remain resolute. The people must rise in unison to take their country back.