by Douglas Anele
Once again, another round of insensate indefinite strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has paralysed academic activities in federal and state universities nationwide.
According to the union, the decision to go on strike stems from government’s insincerity and lack of seriousness, which led to the non-implementation of some provisions of the 2011 agreement.
Specifically, the issue concerns “earned allowances,” that is, allowances meant for the excess workload by lecturers, which include teaching more students than the recommended number, supervision of post-graduate dissertations, and sundry administrative functions performed by lecturers.
For me, President Goodluck Jonathan is a great disappointment to his former colleagues, considering the fact that as a former lecturer, he should have invested heavily and wisely in the educational sector. When military dictators were in power, they put a lot of money into defence because that is their primary constituency.
There is no good reason why a former academic should not give preferential treatment to the education sector, because well-educated human capital is the most important factor in national development. As I have always argued whenever ASUU resorts to indefinite strike, successive federal and state governments have never lived up to their responsibilities to institutions of higher learning in the country.
This is because of heart-rending corruption and lack of deep appreciation by political office holders of the fundamental role sound tertiary education plays in national development, especially now that we a living in a knowledge-driven globalising world.
Speaking of corruption, Jonathan’s administration lacks the moral authority and iron will to deal with it decisively. Consequently, scarce public funds that ought to be used to improve education and other critical sectors of our national life are looted and the remainder is wasted on the sybaritic lifestyles of top government functionaries. That said, the reaction of Prof. Julius Okojie, Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission (NUC) to the current strike is disingenuous. According to him, ASUU should have persevered because the amount it presented to government for settling the unpaid allowances was huge. Prof. Okojie ignored the fact that there is enough money to meet most of ASUU’s demands, but President Jonathan and other top public office holders are not managing it wisely.
Moreover, given government’s half-hearted implementation of agreements with ASUU in the past, the union is justified in thinking that government does not really intend to keep its own side of the bargain this time around also. Nevertheless, if indeed it is true, as Okojie alleged, that ASUU did not get back to government after its National Executive Council meeting at Olabisi Onabanjo University before announcing the strike, then the union acted in bad faith. Why is ASUU in a hurry to declare an indefinite strike just for earned allowances, to which only some lecturers are entitled anyway? In my view, considering the serious damages to the universities caused by frequent indefinite strikes, ASUU should have been a little more patient, no matter the level of frustration with the unnecessary delays by government in paying the allowances.
From the foregoing, government is wrong in failing to abide by the terms of the agreement it has with representatives of the lecturers and deserves blame for giving ASUU an excuse to embark on strike once again. Yet, it would be intellectually dishonest, and false, not to highlight some of the ways lecturers have contributed to the financial problems in various public-owned universities. To begin with, university authorities across the country, just like politicians in government right now, are guilty of financial recklessness and mismanagement of resources.
Government-owned universities derive funds from two principal sources, namely, government subventions and internally generated revenue (or IGR). In terms of IGR, authorities of the University of Lagos are working very hard to optimise the revenue-generating potentials of the institution. But there are many leakages in the financial pipelines of our university system as a whole which prevent optimum utilisation of available resources to cater for the welfare of lecturers. For example, it appears that the universities are competing to see which one would have the largest fleet of redundant brand new cars and which Vice Chancellor would drive the biggest and most expensive jeeps. In addition, the new bureaucracies and directorates of questionable value to the growth of the system created in various universities cost a lot of money to maintain. We should not fail to mention the numerous, mostly unnecessary, foreign trips embarked upon by top management staff of the universities.
All this constitutes a huge financial burden on the system and prevents university authorities from paying lecturers what is due to them. Why are the local branches of ASUU unwilling or unable to demand accountability and transparency from relevant principal officers of their various universities? ASUU must begin to look inwards because several Vice Chancellors, bursars etc. will not survive painstaking scientific audit of their institutions: corruption and misappropriation of funds are not the exclusive preserve of politicians – there are also bad eggs in the universities.
Again, I do not support indefinite strike because of its negative effects on students and other stakeholders, including lecturers. Frequent disruptions in the academic calendar compromise academic quality, frustrate students and prolong the duration of academic programmes. The social costs are immense too, for both students and their families. It is disappointing that ASUU does not consider it appropriate to conduct a thorough scientific study of the repercussions of frequent strikes on various stakeholders within and outside the university system. As academics, we are supposed to manifest an unceasing desire for knowledge and truth.
Therefore, how can we, seekers and custodians of knowledge at the highest level resort to strikes ad nauseam without corroborating evidence of its overall effectiveness in improving the system? The mere fact that our salaries increase after each strike does not necessarily mean that we have become better lecturers and researchers, let alone guarantee positive change in other variables that determine the quality of knowledge impartation in the universities. Let us tell ourselves the truth: funding is a serious problem militating against high standards and best practices in Nigerians universities and government is the major culprit here. However, the kind of students and lecturers in our institutions of higher learning nowadays, I submit, is a bigger problem. Many students are not in school to be educated; they just want to get certificates as soon as possible and join the rat race for primitive accumulation. On the other hand, the spirit and attitude of people joining the academic profession, especially in the last fifteen years, is a negation of what the spirit and attitude of a genuine academic should be.
Of course, teaching in a university is fundamentally a vocation. Thus, anyone that chooses it must be prepared to put the quest for truth above everything else. Unfortunately, a crowd of self-centred, hypocritical, promotion-intoxicated careerists who are afraid to tell senior colleagues that run the system the plain truth, especially when the latter perform badly increasingly dominate the academia. Some of these misfits are so fanatic about strikes that they would resort to violence to prevent dissenters like me from teaching, forgetting that when everyone is thinking and acting alike, not much critical thinking is going on.
All the same, I am proud of many colleagues that reject the prevailing herd mentality for their erudition, intellectual honesty, truthfulness and genuine love for teaching. This group of lecturers must speak out against destruction of the university system by colleagues who continue to do the same thing every time and expect a different result each time.
– This BEst Outside Opinion was written by Douglas Anele