By Andrew A. Erakhrumen, PhD
Our dear country, not named Nigeria by us, may not be a nation yet in the truest sense. Nevertheless, it is predominantly inhabited, undoubtedly, by good people who are largely still communal even – using paraphrased words of Michael Peel – as they have been oppressed for decades by dictatorship, poverty and corruption, thus making them to cultivate a tough and canny survivalist attitude that is an understandable and sometimes admirable response to circumstance.
Irrespective of the mentioned “goodness” of ordinary Nigerians, the stark reality concerning their ruling elites, collectively, is one depicting contradictions in the form of raw wickedness to those they are supposed to lead (rule?). More often, these contradictions appear to have arisen from unexplainable source(s) but cannot be delinked from years of dictatorship accompanied by poverty and corruption of the mind. Today, with an abundance of citizens with bright minds, within and out of the country, Nigeria is unfortunately saddled with groups of people masquerading as leaders in rudderless ships. These people, undeserving of any respect, do not believe in Nigeria except their pockets and where they intend escaping to, in case of any negative occurrence in our country. Nigeria, to them, is just a mere geographical entity to be plundered!
Of course, the scenario being painted is not unique to people in power today. It has always been! The small difference is that this current group has taken mediocrity in power to another sore level “enviable” to their predecessors. In fact, they are so clueless to the extent, as usual, of declaring war against intelligentsia/intellectuals that they are supposed to collaborate with in developing the country. This is clear evidence that they do not care about the country they claim to be leading. As an example, how do you explain the situation whereby those referred to as ruling elites detest the academia and academics to the point that the university lecturers are subjected to all manners of treatment worse than being described as demeaning? These are the same ruling (ruining?) elites always mouthing different slogans indicating that Nigeria needs development. We know they are insincere but let us just say they are not, in order to ask them how they want to develop the country without the intelligentsia/intellectuals they are quickly happy to demean. Are they interested in knowing how the countries they “take off” to for treatment of headache and ear problem reached where they are in terms of development? It may sound unbelievable, but it is true, that this government, that detest intelligentsia/intellectuals, has no trustworthy plan to develop its citizens rather they prefer to keep them under perpetual domination.
The bitter truth, that we are in a mess or “one chance bus” as commonly said on Lagos’ streets, must be told. If we are not in a mess, how do we explain the withholding of university lecturers’ salary for several months because they dared to embark on industrial dispute with Nigerian government in order to insist that (government) bring into fruition the Agreements freely entered into through collective bargaining? What are the contents of these Agreements? In simple words, these are the highlights: (i) Nigerian academics in public universities want these universities revitalised with public funds for better performance (ii) These academics are asking for their earned academic allowances being owed them by government, cumulatively running into some billions, for years (iii) Lecturers in public universities want governments to set up visitation panels to look at how these universities are being run (iv) Nigerian public universities lecturers also want the collectively reached Agreements, in 2009, meant to be re-negotiated every three years, successfully re-negotiated, for the first time since the Agreements were reached and (v) Public university lecturers/scholars developed a University Transparency and Accountability Solution for the purpose which the diversionary, illegal, corrupt and anti-university autonomy payment platform known as Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System was meant.
For embarking on this patriotic struggle, the government withheld the “recalcitrant” lecturers’ salaries for three months, firstly, between February and April, 2020 and five months from July to November, 2020. It is an understatement to say that this government’s action is callous. In annoying sensible ears, a minister in this Federal Government was quoted to have said that the payments to lecturers in federal universities, in May and June, 2020, were made on compassionate grounds! Can you imagine this unpardonable faux pas? Since when did one’s rightful earnings become what are given on compassionate grounds? How else should opportunistic charlatans in government be defined? Government, a disputant in an industrial crisis, is shouting “no work, no pay”. We were expecting the government to have approached a competent court in this regard as threatened by one of its ministers but for unknown reason(s) they shied away. The government, perhaps for lack of sound advice, adorned itself with a vestment that simultaneously portrayed it as an accuser, judge and executioner of judgement. This is laughable to a fresh law undergraduate student just coming into the university from secondary school. Sincerely, once again, governance in our country has been taken to very low ebb.
Owing to this doubtful competence in governance, Nigerians are currently erroneously perceived as unserious people and consequently we have become a laughing stock on various platforms within the international circle. The government propagandists are perfectly aware of this reality but are still trying to satisfy their paymasters by churning out obvious lies on daily basis, trying to hide behind one finger. As this article is being written, the total, comprehensive and indefinite strike embarked upon by public university lecturers, since the 23rd of March, 2020, had, again, been suspended effective on the 24th of December, 2020 as a result of their acceptance of Agreements reached with government on the 22nd December, 2020. This is, certainly, good news to all. However, it must be put on record that there are some of the items in the Agreements still existing in the realm of the usual promissory notes given by a government that has lost significant goodwill in terms of being trusted by many Nigerians when it comes to promises from them (government). Indeed, they are jocularly described, by many Nigerians, as government with “All Promises Cancelled”. Hardly can this government and its agents be held by their words between morning and evening of a day. It is that pathetic concerning their trustworthiness!
All the same, as mutually agreed to, part of the withheld earnings (that they called salaries) has been paid to some lecturers leaving others’ out for as much as nine months arrears! Some of us are, therefore, still watching proceedings with justifiable scepticism. To put it simply, using Nigerian pidgin parlance, “we still dey shine our eyes” in order “to consciously and diligently monitor the implementation of the Agreements of 22nd December, 2020 in all the branches”. This interaction will not end until a response to some comments, on a social media platform is quoted almost verbatim. The response concerns a video of a Nigerian university lecturer – a Senior Lecturer – who took to Gaari processing, during the strike, in order to survive the harsh financial and economic condition she encountered owing to salary stoppage for lecturers who complied fully with the collectively agreed position of members of the Union for intellectuals. While we had vigorously argued in the past that engaging in agriculture and associated value chain activities is not only honourable but also a veritable means towards achieving financial and economic empowerment, however, the following quoted comments was aimed, by the writer, at addressing the clearly observable government’s age-long well orchestrated intent of deliberately demeaning Nigerian academics who are not their friends and those that are. It went thus:
“Comrades, the depiction in the video is very pathetic but not really new! Worse scenarios were experienced, concerning this kind of treatment of academics, in the mid/late 80s and 90s, under the military juntas. However, what some of us could not come to terms with is the fact that “elected civilians” – in the 21st century – will deliberately progressively “debase” university scholars to the level of begging and borrowing to feed themselves and dependants. This is unbelievably real! This is an absurdity! This country has gradually but unfortunately lost its soul! This really tells us where we are, today, as a people, when other countries’ citizens and their leaders are holding their academics as eggs. Walter Rodney wrote that Africa became an under-developing region because of the impacts of Europe. Nevertheless, with the way Nigeria and Nigerians are treating their university scholars, I think we are, unfortunately, not at the level of under-development Rodney painfully wrote about in 1972”.
In fact, we have seriously degenerated below what Europe left us with at the dawn of their so-called “independence”. This opinion may trigger unending arguments among different schools of thought but it is safe to say that Nigeria and Nigerians should discontinue deceiving themselves that they have a developing country. With our experience since March, 2020, this Senior Lecturer’s resort to processing Garri to survive financial and economic crunch is very much likely to be just a “tip of the iceberg”. We should not deceive ourselves as things may get worse in future! Therefore, we should see the current realities as war against university lecturers and consequently brace up for more (avoidable) future struggles. Even after they might have paid what they call “withheld salaries” they will still go ahead with the war, so be ready! This is because those I always join Fela Anikulapo-Kuti to call Vagabond in Power see ASUU [Academic Staff Union of Universities] as the only frontier to be conquered in their eternal quest to enslave Nigerians. We, in ASUU, definitely, shall overcome with proper strategies”
Andrew A. Erakhrumen, PhD
Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management,
University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria