By Andrew A. Erakhrumen, PhD
Certainly, it is now clear, beyond any doubt, that those in charge, collectively, of running Nigerian governments, at all levels, have declared war against academics in the Nigerian University System (NUS). The devious reason(s) for this war, which has been stealthily waged for more than four decades, is/are best known to the Nigerian governments and their officials including other local and foreign collaborators. However, the reason(s) – of course, not altruistic – cannot be divorced from the currently sustained age-long struggles, by academics in the NUS, to rescue the country’s continuously progressively collapsing public universities from total collapse. It will be unbelievable that there are still academics, in Nigerian public universities, who do not already perceive and/or experience this current reality. Nevertheless, it can be understood that many of our other fellow oppressed citizens may not be well informed concerning the above-mentioned current reality. This article is partly meant for this group of fellow oppressed citizens to get them informed and seek for their continuous support for the seemingly perennial struggles, by Nigeria academics, to prevent the imminent total collapse of public tertiary educational institutions, most especially the universities.
This article is also meant for the oppressors, in and out of government, whose interest, collectively, is the destruction of the public wing of the NUS for their private accumulation of wealth, in the same way they succeeded in destroying public primary and secondary education in the country. This intervention will be used to inform these oppressors that their hitherto underground war – against Nigerian academics including other well-meaning citizens within the rank of the intelligentsia and intellectuals – is no more a secret. These oppressors have now been so frustrated that government officials and other local agents of foreign “hawks” now come to public to spew filth from their mouths. Obviously, our advice in a recent article has not been heeded by them. For the sake of reference, we humbly concluded in that article that “…….Therefore, to always engage the well-meaning intelligentsia and intellectuals, especially ASUU [Academic Staff Union of Universities], not with logic and superior arguments, but with propaganda, name-calling and group labelling is definitely unwise and unhelpful to any government asking to be taken seriously”.
This interaction will be short because a lot had been said concerning some people without leadership qualities in Nigeria but who have found, and/or manoeuvred, themselves into leadership positions. These people, instead of working toward developing themselves by learning from those who know, have decided to parade themselves as what they are not. Are these present crops of “Nigerian leaders” leaders or dealers? The answer, according to Bob Dylan (Robert Allen Zimmerman), is blowin’ in the wind. Nonetheless, we will still try to briefly interrogate some of the arrogant, insolent, contemptuous and dismissive comments, by some government representatives, that give a perfect mirror image of the long-standing mindset of the ruling class in this country. Perhaps this statement concerning the long-standing mindset of the country’s ruling class may have been confined to the realm of conjecture if these government officials who are supposed to know better (although some of us are not deceived to expect much from them) had not come to public space to make comments not even expected in a “beer parlour” as a result of what we aptly term as “diarrhoea of the mouth”. These vacuous remarks (expected from them) may be very disappointing.
To be sincere, these shallow thoughtless remarks being referred to are not unexpected by some of us even as some people believe that it should be, especially when they come from someone at the top echelon of an education ministry. Such is the case of the Nigeria’s current Minister of State for Education who was credited with a statement urging members of ASUU “to leave teaching and consider going into farming”. Definitely, there is nothing wrong with being a farmer or engaging in farming. In fact, many of us are farming in different ways. Farming is a great profession recognised worldwide. This profession, with the crude implements it was, and still, executed, provided the wherewithal – before and even during the era of Nigeria’s illusory wealth known as the “oil boom era” that has been rightly renamed “oil doom era” – for many to be what they are today. This country has done well in being a very good example of countries described in The Spectator in 1711 that “It is generally observed, that in countries of the greatest plenty there is the poorest living”.
Nigeria’s current socio-economic condition can also be captured, unfortunately, by the recent concept of resource curse that described – according to Wikipedia – how countries rich in mineral resources were unable to use that wealth to boost their economies and how, counter-intuitively, these countries had lower economic growth than countries without an abundance of natural resources. The socio-economic challenges being encountered in this country did not just befall it overnight. This phenomenon was gradual and systematic. The citizens, particularly those that call themselves leaders, are to be blamed for not doing the needful and rightful when the wealth from crude oil was abundant. Two questions to ponder on: Are Nigerian “leaders” (1) having what it takes to, and (2) doing what is/are necessary to, lift the country out of the present economic/financial doldrums? We are perfectly aware, but not bothered, that owing to our views here, we may be deliberately misconstrued and termed as opposition politicians. Irrespective of this sad reality, we will not allow ourselves to be distracted from what we are already interrogating here.
As we were saying, what some of us abhor regarding the statement, which would have been taken as a good comment, credited to the Minister, is the clearly demonstrated vain arrogance behind his demeaning of farming and farmers. Concerning the Minister’s comment, the reader should permit us to quote, word for word, from a recent press release by ASUU University of Benin Branch. It goes thus: “The hollow utterances of Citizen Nwajiuba who has a responsibility to the Nigerian people is a reflection of the contempt in which the ruling elite in Nigeria have held and still hold the entire Nigerian populace. Let it be known that it is crass irresponsibility for citizens privileged to be in the corridors and bedrooms of power to talk down at other citizens. The statement is an alarming reminder that he is unwilling and, perhaps, lacks the capability to dig deep and think out solutions to the numerous challenges confronting the NUS. It is doubly alarming that a man who went through three Nigerian universities and should be at home with the palpable challenges Nigerian universities face can talk in a manner even motor park touts and layabouts should be ashamed of”.
In defending his/her boss – the Minister of State – one person, who is considered an intellectual Lilliputian, was purported to have signed a document he/she titled as rejoinder. As a Director in the Ministry of Education, he/she arrogantly concluded this worthless rejoinder by stating that “The outburst of the Academic Staff Union of Universities is clearly a matter of transferred aggression, totally unfounded, misguided and absolutely unnecessary”. Surely, this trash, called rejoinder, is not worthy of ASUU’s attention. However, we need to point it out here so that the mindset of those in government can be exposed the more. This fellow, foggy with whatever, also recommend in another forum that government should sack all lecturers on strike and recruit replacements from eastern European countries! Can you imagine this senseless suggestion from a dim-witted buffoon? This, obviously, is one of those “uncivil” civil servants who try to denigrate academics in line with the declared war against Nigerian academics, we talked about earlier. These shady characters, with years in government’s ministries, departments, agencies and parastatals, have perfected the incorrigibly dubious arts and acts of subverting due process in carrying out government businesses.
These “uncivil” civil servants are the ones that teach many politicians how to go about almost all the crookedness that led this country to where it is today. Unfortunately, these are the same people summoning audacity to talk down on Nigerian academics. What a shame! The readers are to be informed that before we decided to go into writing this article, we were aware that the main aspiration of these attention-seeker reprobates was, and still is, to attract cheap attention to themselves. We know that they will always go all the way to be in the news at all cost. They do not care if the stench from their mouth inconvenient others. Do they even have respect for themselves? Some of us have been to Abuja, in the Federal Capital Territory, to see many of these reprobates engage in worthless frolics when public servants in other serious climes were being productive for their countries. They think dragging academics in the mud will give them that undeserved cheap publicity. They see themselves as Very Important Personalities but in the candid words of the quintessential Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (1938–1997) they are merely Vagabonds in Power (V.I.P.). Let us move our discussion away from those nitwits who do not care about Nigerian education sector.
These V.I.P only care for the education of their family and friends which they realise out of this country. They are ready to spend resources stolen from the public till on education overseas (and in some African countries) but give hollow advice to Nigerian government to privatise public education. As at the time this article is being published, the public universities are still on a resumed erstwhile suspended total, comprehensive and indefinite strike from the 23 rd of March, 2020, after a two-week warning strike. The reasons for the strike are still the same old demands: renegotiation of 2009 Federal Government-ASUU Agreement, the 2012 and 2013 Memorandum of Understanding, and the 2017 and 2019 Memorandum of Action. Specifically, ASUU wants government to fund the revitalisation of public universities, pay outstanding balance of arrears of earned academic allowances (EAA), and salary shortfall in some federal universities. Others include under-funding and proliferation of state universities, payment of EAA to loyal ASUU members in University of Ilorin, visitation panels to federal universities, renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement and the deliberately concocted confusion called Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System (IPPIS).
It is no more news that lecturers in federal universities are being owed between three and eight months “salary”. This anomaly (is it really an anomaly?) resulted from government’s insistence that this group of university workers must enrol on IPPIS payment platform against superior argument that the platform is not having the capability of taking care of universities’ peculiarities and that it infringes on principle of university autonomy as enshrined in section 2AA of the Universities Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Act 2003 (also known as Universities Autonomy Act No.1, 2007). We will not dwell on the well-informed arguments against IPPIS because the proponents of the payment platform, led by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), knew before now that the platform is fraught with inherent challenges – that have manifested for everyone to see now – which they were not ready to remedy. This is implied from Dr. (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s quotation of IMF’s Article IV Country Report published in April, 2014. An extract from it reads: “…. expanding the IPPIS to the rest of the federal workforce, including…. educators may be difficult”.
The proponents of IPPIS knew, ab initio, that there will be resistance, from university lecturers, to the payment platform not because of any other reasons other than the fact that IPPIS was designed for workers in the core civil service even with its inherent multiple flaws and proneness to the same financial corrupt practices the proponents (“financial hawks”) and our “follow-follow” governments say they want to forestall with it. Is it a secret anymore that IPPIS is a money-making machine for the private consultants and their collaborating clique in the Ministry of Finance? A lot had been said concerning this disaster called IPPIS even as ASUU has been able to develop University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), as an alternative to IPPIS, as demanded by government. However, the annoying aspect is that the withheld “salaries” are the same being paid to lecturers since 2009 where a professor, yes, a professor, go home with less than N400,000 a month! The salary scale in the 2009 Federal Government-ASUU Agreement which enabled this current scandalous pittance called salary was due for renegotiation in 2012 but the same characters we have been talking about here had been successful in stalling all efforts at renegotiating this agreement.
Unfortunately, some lecturers in the public universities have been so frustrated – and it can be partly understandably so, considering the current economic realities – that they are opining that ASUU struggles should be limited only to their welfare since ASUU is a trade union organisation that is supposed to be mainly for “Bread and Butter”. There was an experience of one such university worker who said he/she was ready to give his/her lectures under the tree, since there are no reliable lecture venues, as long as he/she is paid at least N1.5 million a month! This may sound lugubrious but that is the level to which the characters running the affairs of Nigerian state has brought public universities and their workers. We will be insincere with ourselves if it is not pointed out, here, that some Nigerian academics are part of the challenges encountered in, and by, this country and its education sector. We may not be able to go far into this aspect of the discussion; however, we have always suggested that academics should purge themselves and their constituency in order to prevent situation(s) where such advice as “physician heal thyself” will not be necessary. We will return to this discussion, in another interaction, using this same pen, to discuss this issue.
For the avoidance of doubt, ASUU is not only a trade union but union of intellectuals seeking – according to ASUU’s ideal – not only the socio-political and economic/welfare interest of its members within the framework of promoting the cause of university education in Nigeria, but the entire good of Nigerians and Nigeria. The implication of this is that the university lecturers and their union do not only have the responsibility of defending their rights, but also that of their other weak and oppressed compatriots, against the predatory tendency of the state. What some university lecturers asking ASUU to focus only on “Bread and Butter” do not understand is that the government will be very happy and willing to concede to such demand. In fact, that has always been what the government wanted, for a long time, considering some of their officials’ utterances and body language. However, the danger, which ASUU has identified before now, is that the crumbling public universities will be successfully crumbled (since effort towards their revitalisation would have been jettisoned by then) and the currently observed tragedy in the public primary and secondary schools will then be achieved. It will not end there, many of the university lecturers will, definitely, then end up at the mercy of private universities since the ephemeral “jumbo salary” then being paid to lecturers would not be justifiable in those collectively crumbled public universities.
Do we need to state here that the next line of action, then, by government will be downsizing (or right sizing)? The stage will then be set for the proprietors of the private universities to offer any amount as emoluments to lecturers laid off, in the manner of “if you cannot take it, leave it”. Some may say that when we get to the bridge we will cross it. Nevertheless, it is important to state it clearly, here and now, that the “bridge” as identified, is not, in any way, far away but can be avoided, since there are other better routes charted by clear-headed individuals. Let it be said that crossing this “bridge” will not bring any sustainable long-time benefits for lecturers in public universities. This is the kind of mindset that made some members of staff in federal universities to enrol onto IPPIS platform in order to safeguard the pittance they currently call salary. As at today, proofs abound that the IIPIS platform has been a massive disaster beyond imaginable proportions. It appears that the crises it has generated in federal universities are currently more than what made ASUU to resist its implementation in public universities. The people we talked about earlier that are currently having “diarrhoea of the mouth” decided to “play ostrich” throughout the period of the outbreak of a deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic when they were supposed to use the opportunity of lockdown and compulsory stay-at-home to think about how to resolve ASUU strike.
As earlier stated, ASUU resumed an erstwhile suspended total, comprehensive and indefinite strike on the 23rd of March, 2020, and as this article is being written, the strike is still on. The industrial action has been treated with contemptuously arrogant disdain and absurd pretence that depicts it as a non-existent, or at best, a trivial issue by the Nigerian current ruling elite. This is characteristical of them and their predecessors! This is the same group of people, when they were in opposition, gave the impression that they have solutions to the challenges in the Nigerian education sector. These same people – when they were hustling to get into government – asked the then Federal Government to honour its agreement with ASUU in order to end the [July–December, 2013] strike that paralysed academic activities in the country’s public universities. Please, read the following excerpts from the official statement of one of them, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the then Interim National Publicity Secretary of their political party, as published in the Daily Post Newspaper of 21st August, 2013: “…….no government worth its salt can afford to play with education, because it is the path to national development. ASUU was not making any fresh demand beyond the agreement it reached with the government in 2009. Agreements are meant to be honoured, and breaching them comes with some consequences ……. The [EAA] ASUU is demanding cannot be renegotiated”.
He went ahead to state that the then Federal Government’s lackadaisical approach towards the 2013 ASUU strike “is an indication of the kind of priority that this Federal Government attaches to education that while it has refused to meet its own side of an agreement it reached with ASUU since 2009, it could pay out 3 trillion naira in non-existent fuel subsidies to fat cats, spend 10 billion naira annually to maintain the jets in the presidential fleet and do little or nothing to prevent the stealing of 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day, which translates to $120 million in a month, money that surely ends up in some people’s pockets! What we are saying is that if the Federal Government would reduce its profligacy and cut waste, there will be enough money to pay teachers in public universities, as well as fund research and upgrade infrastructure in such institutions. Hungry teachers can neither teach well nor carry out research. And poorly-taught students can neither excel nor propel their [country] to great heights”. Those are not our words but that from people currently in government. That official statement is not only unbelievable but mind-boggling.
In fact, the statement was concluded, in the newspaper, with the following: “Education is the key to national development. This is why UNESCO has recommended an allocation of at least 26% of national budgets to that critical sector. Therefore, talking about national growth and development without adequately funding education is a pipe dream!” Sincerely, one would have thought, if the date on, and names in, the newspaper were not available, that the statement from which the above excerpts were taken had just been made by the current President of ASUU today! Has the situation changed in the public universities since 2013? The answer is NO! What have they done to remedy the challenges they identified, as encapsulated in the excerpts above, since they got into power? We are reminding them of what they said against their predecessors and hence demand that they practice what they preached. Fortunately/unfortunately, depending on one’s stand, “the chickens have come home to roost”. Schools are reopening, public universities are scheduled to reopen on 12 th October, 2020, so very soon wind will blow and the underside of the fowl will be exposed.
Based on the foregoing, what we are trying to convey, at this juncture, to Nigerian academics in public universities, is that all the verbal and published written attacks on them that we put together and term here as “diarrhoea of the mouth” including withholding, for months, of the paltry sums currently called salaries, by government that do not value education, are just like the effort of a drowning man who will clutch at a straw. Their desperation is at its tipping point. Remember, no pain no gain! Ignore their antics! Stay close together! It is said that it is always darkest just before the day dawneth! There is light at the end of the tunnel! They are aware that their day of reckoning is close. That is why those “uncivil” civil servants, we earlier described and others we do not have time for in this intervention, are producing and churning out “official” circulars in torrents.
The government and its local and foreign agents should know – quoting the National President of ASUU – that “all the agreements ASUU have been having since 1992 with the government have always been having the provision that circulars emanating from the civil service which do not have origin in collective bargaining with the government won’t be binding on [ASUU]. Circulars that will be binding on [ASUU] are those coming out of ASUU’s negotiation with the government like what [ASUU] had in autonomy for university, retirement age and others. They can be respected because they are products of collective bargaining”. This current battle is as good as won, so there is no need for any Nigerian academic to falter now. Truth, also be told, there are still future battles to be fought, against the ingrates, but Nigerian academics, sticking together, will surely overcome.
Dare to struggle! Dare to win!
A luta continua; a vitória é certa.
Andrew A. Erakhrumen, PhD, writes from Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria