Tuesday , December 5 2023

ASUU: Continuous Shattering of Distortional Lines

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By Andrew A. Erakhrumen

Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on roll-over strikes. The current one is for twelve weeks from the 9th of May, 2022. It resulted from ASUU’s industrial dispute with the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN). In line with Nigeria’s subsisting labour laws, the Minister of Labour and Employment (MoL&E) – Chris Ngige – intervened! He claimed to be apprehending the ongoing strike and acting as a conciliator. The laws want it so! But is it? We earlier commented that this MoL&E, “…..who gets excited when being referred to as FGN’s “Conciliator-in-Chief”, behaved like a “conspirator…..grandstanding through the media, muddling up issues and heating up the system! He, severally and arrogantly, stated that ASUU should go and negotiate with the Federal Ministry of Education. Happily for all, he left to pursue an ill-fated ambition to become Nigeria’s president! His exit allowed ASUU’s and FGN’s renegotiation teams to proceed appreciably in the efforts at resolving the industrial dispute. Steady progress was acknowledged to have been made at the renegotiating table where and when this ‘conciliator’ was absent!

Sanity was returning! Light was to be seen at the end of the tunnel! Nigerians were hoping to heave a sigh of relief! Alas, this ‘conciliator’ popped up, like an interloper, causing distractions, as usual, through the media! This is a ‘conciliator’ whose actions and inactions (like the stoppage of the humiliating ‘pseudo-salaries’) contributed in extending this strike action! What can be the reason for someone’s excitement seeing an extension of strike in universities? Is there any hint of inferiority complex on his part? Does he have an axe to grind with academics in universities? Does he want an ‘award’ from ASUU for ‘job badly done’? It is difficult to discern a good reason for this conciliator’s hateful conspiracy against ASUU! We do not know for now and may never know! We can only repeat that “…..this ‘conciliator’ always…..exude large quantity of…..Mephistophelian disdain for academics in the Nigerian University System, as we espoused in an article entitled Systematic Demeaning of Nigerian Academics…..” This is noteworthy but not for this intervention! After now, we will delve into the matter for our discussion here!

We have just talked, briefly, about a political office-holder. It is a right to talk about their deeds in office, as long as their rights are not infringed upon! This should be done, untiringly, because they held, or are still holding, public offices. Today, high-ranking public office-holders are buying into the deliberately-designed and systematically systematised damning half-truths against ASUU. One of such office-holders is Nigeria’s vice president – Yemi Osinbajo. A propaganda line, in this instance, is that “ASUU is asking for N1.3trillion from government”. This is always said without saying what the amount is meant for! The vice president was quoted to have also allegedly made a variant of this comment in his recent public engagement! It is unimaginable and unbelievable that a sitting vice president (a professor-turned-partisan-politician), sadly, do not have the correct information concerning this N1.3trillion that has been employed in scandalising ASUU. Perhaps, this is all about politics and politicking for these public office-holders!

Educators should continue to puncture and dispel misleading innuendoes and untruths. It is part of their calling. We will reiterate, for the sake of clarity concerning the vice president’s purported comment, that “…..this…..is not only deceptive but also clearly deflective from the complete truth! Putting it rightly, in 2012, FGN and ASUU jointly conducted a Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities…..when FGN continuously found ASUU’s long-standing position, regarding the poor condition of public universities, unbelievable…..” The FGN received the assessment report and found out that the then-available public universities would need at least that amount for revitalisation. Consequently, the necessity for revitalisation funding, that ASUU has long been agitating for, was substantiated through the said Needs Assessment. After another round of agitation by ASUU in 2013, it was agreed that N200billion be injected into public universities (not ASUU’s pocket!) that year for upgrade of facilities.

The remaining N1.1trillion was to be spread over the next five years at N220billion per year. As typical of Nigerian governments, (military and civilian), only the 2013’s N200billion was made available by the Goodluck Jonathan administration! This initial revitalisation funding resulted in some noticeable positive impacts on a handful of public universities’ facilities. Although, ASUU later realised that the N200billion was ‘dubiously’ extracted from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund)! What a very condemnable unscrupulousness! From 2013 to date, only a paltry cumulative amount of less than N60billion has been reluctantly made available from the N1.1trillion after ASUU struggles! Even so, inadequate funding and its attendant debilitating effects, in these public universities, still persist and are worsening! This unwholesomeness should be worrisome to responsive and responsible governments! What a sad reality!

Amazingly, the number of public universities has increased, and is still increasing, since the said Needs Assessment! New public universities are now seen by politicians as mere ‘items’ and/or ‘constituency projects’ for political bargaining! They could not care less about university’s expensiveness as a project! Once they score cheap political points, unplanned public universities, without funding plan, can simply be sited anywhere! These universities are chaotically ‘decreed’ to life without plans for sustainability! To politicians, the future will take care of things! For instance, Saturday Punch Newspaper of 19th of March, 2022, reported that “the National Universities Commission, the regulatory body of universities in Nigeria, puts the total number of federal universities at 49; state-owned universities, 55, and privately-owned universities, 99”. The newspaper went ahead to inform “that since the ninth National Assembly came into power in 2019, no fewer than 186 bills had been initiated for the establishment of new universities…..”

We further quote the newspaper that “notable among the bills are [those] for the establishment of Federal University of Tourism, Wamba 2021; Federal University of Entrepreneurship, Onitsha 2022; Federal University of Transport, Daura 2021; University of Broadcast and Film Studies, Jos; Nigerian Police University of Information and Technology, Abeokuta, [among others]…..” On the 5th of April, 2022, the Nigerian senate passed into law, a bill for ‘establishing’ six University of Medical Sciences, one each in six geo-political zones! Public universities are being proliferated without feasible funding plan! They are only being ‘sited’ not ‘established’. Well-informed thoughts opine that to site universities does not automatically mean that they are established! Those in government pretend to be unmindful of the awful condition the existing decrepit public universities and the poorly-paid lecturers/professors are now in! Do we need to mention the negative impacts of the ongoing huge brain drain in Nigeria’s public universities?

Most – if not all – these newly mushroomed universities are at best unworthily glorified by even being referred to as “Glorified Secondary Schools”. This sincere comment may be offensive, to some, but the reality on the ground does not suggest otherwise! Indeed, political correctness is unnecessary concerning this important issue! Painfully, TETFund – an ASUU’s brainchild now ‘kidnapped’ and ‘vandalised’ by politicians and some civil servants – is becoming the (only) source of funding for these universities. In fact, these new universities are sarcastically referred to as ‘TETFund Universities’. They will certainly be abandoned like others before them! For the state-owned among them, their abandonment will be soon after tenure expiration of most state governors (like the newly minted ‘running mate’) that will remain nameless here. The mismanagement of TETFund has led to it being perceived as a ‘national cake’ that private academic institutions (mostly private business outfits) now want to have indefensible slices from!

Unfortunately, the situation in public universities has worsened since the earlier-mentioned (2012) Needs Assessment. This, largely, resulted from governments’ non-responsiveness/irresponsibility concerning public facilities and non-implementation of agreements with ASUU! Do not just agree with us! Check the classrooms, teaching/demonstration aids, studios, laboratory/workshop facilities, library space/content, lecturers’ offices/associated conveniences, students’ hostels, health centres, university environment, just to mention a few, in all the currently-available public universities. Many of these universities are bedevilled by massive uncontrolled weed even before this industrial crisis! Tragically, the only solution – from those we identify and name as ‘Parasitic Commercialisation Vendors’ after benefiting from these public institutions – is to commodify public universities! What a wicked and inconsiderate prescription to an under-developing country with predominantly poor people and many failed privatised public facilities!

Concerning funding, Nigerian governments always advance weak arguments that the resources available are not enough. This is when it is clear that the country has been maintaining a leaking purse and one of the most unproductive and gratuitously expensive government officials! Another feeble argument is that the little they provide is mismanaged/misappropriated (perhaps by members of university management teams?) when, as we have been saying, “…..they [FGN in particular] possess a monopolistic control of all the investigative/[prosecutive] agencies/organs that can tackle this problem, if it exists…..” 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 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.

Undoubtedly, ASUU (a human institution) consisting of Homo sapiens sapiens is not claiming perfection! Yet, there are persons with unexplainable morbid embitterment and malevolence against this union! Having issues with individual member(s) and/or non-member(s) of ASUU should not be a basis for rabidly maligning all members of ASUU. In spite of this comment, we have noted that “…..it is needless to join issues with idly embittered and malevolent people! Mostly, they were, and are still…..morally bankrupt! To gain undue advantage yesterday (and today), they participated in immoral acts that they are now condemning! We will never encourage sleaze in universities but these people would have helped if, yesterday, they had insisted on moral acts that concretised the position of Chinua Achebe (1930–2013) that “one of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised”. We will stop here for now! However, ASUU members should keep their eyes on the ball concerning their current patriotic struggle!

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

About Charles Igbinidu

Charles Igbinidu is a Public Relations practitioner in Lagos, Nigeria

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