By Andrew A. Erakhrumen*
Irrespective of the current challenges bedevilling Nigeria, it doubtlessly still has some of the best brains in the world. Indeed, a significant number of the enlightened citizens (not the ignoramuses) of many countries – developed or not – are not oblivious of this fact. This is why the sincere among these enlightened ones (like a number of us in Nigeria) are always troubled concerning why this country, with its abundant high quality human and natural resources, has not been able to surmount the myriad of challenges bedevilling it. The foremost reason for this is not far-fetched. As many observers have rightly noted, it has to do with the disastrous political elite the country has been saddled with. To dispel any ambiguity, this class of elite is inclusive of the political interlopers in the form of military politicians! It is from this class of political elite that the country has been deriving its leadership. Every political entity is expected to have its history. This may or may not guide (all) towards making today better than yesterday. Thus, if a group of people allow their today’s condition to deteriorate, especially when the means to make it better is/are available, then something must be wrong (perhaps with such a people)! Well, that is enough for now, as we intend to simply limit this intervention to Nigeria’s (higher) education sector.
Within this important sector (although, not considered so for “commoners” by Nigerian governments) are the public universities where Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on a twelve-week roll-over strike since the 9th of May. This is a follow-up to an eight-week roll-over strike from the 14th of March, after a four-week roll-over strike commenced on the 14th of February – all in 2022! What has been the response of Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) to the ongoing strike action through its agents superintending over the relevant ministries? It is not a secret that instead of being humble in ignorance and aim at collaborative confrontation of the challenges highlighted by ASUU in public universities, what FGN and its agents have only been engaging in (as usual) are strategies anchored on false propaganda and attacks – on ASUU and its members – that clearly show their Mephistophelian disdain for academics in the Nigerian University System. Visibly, Nigeria’s public universities are under attack! Unfortunately, these attackers are those claiming to have passed through these universities! Listening to them speak concerning industrial crises in public universities, one will easily conclude that they do not think before speaking! We need not mention names nor single anyone out here! We leave this for the public to do!
Worldwide, universities are universal entities! They have their uniqueness that differentiates them from the core civil service – everywhere! Lecturers in (Nigeria’s) public universities are not working for government but the good people of the country! This obvious fact is not alien to Nigerian governments even as they are still fighting tooth and nail to localise public universities and further pauperise lecturers therein! How then do those who want these academics to ‘split atom’ expect this to be done with the prevailing economic enslavement and poor/lack of facilities? The undiscerning mind, is at best, unfair to be expecting an ‘almost-impossible’ from these poorly-motivated fellows that the contemporary Nigeria’s backward system has forcibly restricted to operate in a milieu, and with facilities, designed for the early/mid 20th century. This is the unfortunate reality foisted on hardworking scholars when the world’s research mindset has already been upgraded to be in search for solutions to possible research questions in the forthcoming 22nd century. Of course, we are not unaware of some Nigerian academics that have attracted support(s), from other climes where sanity is appreciated, for their works within/outside Nigeria.
We will not discuss, here, the well-publicised annoyingly scandalous and heart-rending shameful pittance that lecturers/professors currently earn as ‘salary’. We will be stating the obvious that welfare and working conditions for this category of workers in publicly-owned universities are appalling! This is as important as other reasons for ASUU’s insistence on better funding for public universities’ revitalisation. Experience has shown that when it concerns public education, the government always want the people to believe that funding is not available because government is broke! What an embarrassing lie? After puncturing this lie, with facts and figures, governments reluctantly engage in their seemingly ‘time-tested’ strategy of tokenism (that we renamed as ‘peanutism’) by giving out peanuts without dealing with the identified major challenges. The FGN has gone into this mode again by suddenly remembering that arrears of minimum wage consequential adjustment (effective from 18th of April, 2019) has not been paid to workers in federal university. We are reminding FGN that this is not among the reasons for the current ASUU struggle. We all know what led to the current strike; let us tackle it and avoid any pretentiousness.
This deception, by governments, of giving the impression that they care about the welfare of workers is what informed our opinion that “…..ASUU struggles in the last ten years, or so, have always been deliberately reduced – by governments and their ‘megaphones’ – to agitations for the peanut known as EAA [earned academic allowance] and lecturers appear to be falling, always, for this scam! The EAA is what governments and their agents do hype, loudly, during industrial disputes and lecturers seem unable or are reluctant to shoot this propaganda down! Enemies of public universities have always been deriding ASUU’s struggles using well-nourished propaganda efficiently tied to this EAA…..” This is what the government is aiming at by the recent payment of the said arrears to some of the entitled workers! They wrongly perceive ASUU’s strike action as the problem rather than a symptom of (a) problem(s) requiring solution(s)! What government is aiming at is a suspension of this strike so that it can go to sleep again! Then, in future, the cycle of strikes will be reactivated for the public to chastise ASUU and its members. Members of ASUU should be cautious, avoid this ‘booby trap’ and focus keenly on their main demands.
It is worthwhile to note that some of the new propaganda lines against ASUU’s patriotic struggle are: “FGN reached agreements with ASUU under duress”; “ASUU/FGN 2009 Agreement was signed in error”. Can you beat these absurd lines? Where are these shallow arguments coming from? Why are people who are supposed to know, such as the new Tertiary Education Trust Fund boss (Sonny Echono) and current senate president (Ahmad Lawan), displaying their ignorance publicly by being quoted to have allegedly bought these propaganda lines? Even if what they were quoted to have allegedly said is/are true, is/are the agreement(s) cast in stone? Cannot it/they be renegotiated? Is the ASUU/FGN 2009 Agreement not supposed to be renegotiated every three years starting from 2012? Which of the party (ASUU or FGN) delayed the renegotiation until 2017 or (2022)? Scandalously, all those brandishing these propaganda lines as the core of their uninformed argument had NOT read the ASUU/FGN 2009 Agreement! Do Nigerian ‘leaders’ read? Obviously, they do not, because all their questions have convincing answers to them in the same agreement(s) they blindly criticise. Ignorance is really a disease!
Nigeria really needs help considering the dearth of quality leadership that can take it out of the deep ditch into which it has long been plunged by successive similar bad leadership drawn from the political elite we made mention of earlier. The country is seriously in need of a paradigm shift regarding the recruitment of leadership in order to avoid the looming dirge for Nigeria! Hear Olusegun Obasanjo (military Head of State: 1976–1979) and (‘civilian’ president: 1999–2007) through an open letter to former president Goodluck Jonathan in 2013: “…..corruption has reached the level of impunity….. The most dangerous ticking bomb is youth unemployment, particularly in the face of unbridled corruption and obscene rulers’ opulence…..corruption, inequality and injustice breed poverty, unemployment, conflict, violence and wittingly or unwittingly create terrorists …..” These words are from someone who detested any form of criticism while in office! Nonetheless, we are only interested, here, in the message rather than the messenger! So, we ask: has things changed for good since that 2013 lamentation? You have the answer!
Many, belonging to the political elite earlier-described, are out there trying to hoodwink Nigerians, again, the only reason being to occupy or reoccupy public offices! Unbelievably, they have been ‘successfully’ guiding the country to scorn its best! It is time for all well-meaning Nigerians of voting age to wake up! They have the civic responsibility of obtaining and using their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) in ensuring that the ‘locusts’ among these politicians are wiped out permanently! This process should start in the upcoming 2023 general elections. Do not be deceived that votes do not count like in the past! Votes are beginning to count, or else, why should there be an increase in vote buying? Hence, university workers should not be apathetic towards the political process! They should also obtain and use their PVC wisely in 2023! In the meantime, ASUU members are advised to not be distracted by FGN’s ‘peanutism’. They should be resolute towards ensuring that the “…..draft 2021-renegotiated 2009 ASUU/FGN agreement [is] signed and implemented forthwith…..” To be coupled with this are other demands aimed at improving ASUU members’ welfare/conditions of service and public universities’ quality and international ranking.
*Andrew A. Erakhrumen currently teaches at the Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria.