Reflection on ASUU’s rescue mission in Nigerian universities and government response

Government officials and representatives of ASUU at a meeting over the IPPIS and other matters held on 12th March, 2020 at the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Abuja

By Albert Onobhayedo

I doubt if those this write-up is intended to address will ever read it. In a society where the reading culture has dwindled steadily and questionable/scandalous educational credentials are paraded on the corridors of power, reading is never a popular pastime.

If governance were buoyed by sound education in Nigeria, it would have, by now, attained an acceptable character, relative to service to the people and national development. Arguments to the contrary and the ‘certificates’ some individuals may tender to justify them, cannot neutralise the palpable truth that governance in Nigeria is bereft of the fruits of good education.

The taste of good education is in its utility.  This write-up beams a searchlight on the eclipse of reason, enlightenment and sensitivity in government circles, which manifests in the extant approach to governance and engagement of stakeholders in Nigerian educational development, especially ASUU.

It leaves us with a few lessons: 1) that ASUU’s proposals are borne out of patriotism. 2) that the government must address the welfare of lecturers urgently and 3) that they must desist from the fratricidal withholding of lecturers’ salaries under whatever guise.

Focusing on the welfare of university lecturers and the ASUU strike, I challenge the government to carry out self-evaluation on a scale constructed out of Amanda Greene’s tripod – Competence, Fairness, and Caring – The Three Keys to Government Legitimacy.

I urge those in authorities to do this evaluation themselves because the attempt I made yielded unprintable conclusions. In my reflections, I realised that competence flows from knowledge which ought to dispel bigotry, parochialism and crudity, but searched in vain for a semblance of it in the manner the government handles the academia.

Also, I was unable to establish an acceptable level of fairness in the remuneration of lecturers who double as researchers and hold the key to the promise land.

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Key is used here as a metaphor for the insight required to distinguish between appearance and essence, assumption and reality, fantasy and plan, budgeting and misappropriation, statesman and scoundrel, brigandage and politicking, expert and charlatan, area boys/men and disciplined politicians, and to propel scientific/technological development.

It was disconcerting and tormenting, trying to make some sense out of the manner the government relates to ideas that emanate from the ivory towers. The prevailing attitude, in this regard, does not suggest any modicum of realization in government circles that Nigeria can never develop without its universities and intellectuals. It is worrisome that the government, very often, treat idea flowing from the ivory tower with disdain and worse still, proceeds to persecute, punish and starve lecturers for volunteering them. 

Basking in the delusion that being in government is coterminous with patriotism and knowhow, several elements in the corridor of power, disparage the insightful propositions of the academia to the detriment of Nigerian development. 

In civilized climes, beyond Ideas, even protests and industrial actions are welcomed as legitimate ways of overturning obnoxious policies, and to chart a sound course towards development. If those in power had been patriotic and knowledgeable enough, poor governance and corruption would not have destroyed Nigerian Airways, NITEL, Nigerian Railway, Yaba Laboratory, the enviable standard of public primary and secondary schools, colleges of education, polytechnics, universities and general hospitals of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Neither would they have ignored ASUU and succumbed to external promptings and conditionalities to devalue the Naira and impoverish the people. Concealed in some of the conditionalities to procure loans, including the devaluation of the Naira (which ASUU rejected) is the desire by some foreign elements to crush the poor and the middle class by eliminating social services, thereby making them less productive economically and even in fecundity.

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No developed nation will volunteer ideas that would make Nigeria its equal in the committee of nations. This is why the enthusiasm among foreign powers to make prescriptions for the value of the Naira as well as economic and social institutions in Nigeria is not replicated in the transfer of technology to the country.

Now, Nigeria is confronted with IPPIS. The position of ASUU on IPPIS is reminiscent of its rejection of World Bank/IMF loans and associated conditionalities. The union warned the government against an IMF and World Bank induced Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and devaluation of the Naira, but it was not heeded. As a result, the Naira that once stood like a colossus amongst other currencies, has atrophied into mere straw that is blown about by even the gentlest of breeze.

The same fate awaits Nigerian universities if ASUU’s position on IPPIS, revitalization and the welfare of lecturers are ignored. IPPIS will chain Nigerian universities to external interest, clip their wings and help the government to get away with poor funding, inadequate facilities, and ridiculous salaries of lecturers who are virtually the least paid in the world.    

ASUU has presented the government with a free and home-grown alternative software, UTAS, designed with the good of Nigerian universities in mind, but the government, surprisingly, still panders to IPPIS which the union has warned is laden with foreign interest and would reduce our universities to glorified secondary schools. Government patronage of IPPIS, clearly, disregards its suffocating consequences for the functionality and image of Nigerian universities.

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Those in the corridor of power should stop denigrating the collective intelligence of the Nigerian academia because some of the designers of IPPIS may not even be as good as some Nigerian students. Afterall, a team of Nigerian students from UI, ABU and UNIPROT recently beat over 150,000 students from other parts of the world to clinch the first position in the 2020 HUAWEI global ICT competition.

As UTAS is being tested, some elements have smuggled in a “hardware” issue to obfuscate the process of approval, an indication that there is more to IPPIS than meets the eye. The same elements appear to be determined to silence, starve and crush ASUU members for thinking for the nation.

The withholding of lecturers salaries over their patriotic intervention in the squalid state of Nigerian universities is callous, reprehensible, fratricidal and tantamount to sacrificing ones own children and prophets on the altar of a foreign god – IPPIS. What a father! What a policy! What an understanding of the value of universities! What an untoward response to good counsel! What a challenge to government legitimacy! And what a shame!

Dr. Albert Onobhayedo is of the Department of History and International Studies, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria

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