How Public University Teachers Underdeveloped the Nigerian University Graduates (II)

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ASUU STRIKEMost lecturers who detest frequent indefinite strikes are pusillanimous about speaking out openly; they prefer to hide their real opinions rather than endure intemperate verbal attacks from vociferous pro-strike colleagues. In most universities nowadays during congress meetings to decide on strike, lecturers who refuse to jump uncritically into the ASUU bandwagon are derided as pro-government saboteurs.

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To worsen matters, the atmosphere is usually so polluted and thick with enthusiasm for “total, comprehensive and indefinite strike” that it is extremely difficult to discuss the issue dispassionately. In most cases, opponents of strikes are harassed and shouted at during debates. Furthermore, the democratic credential of the decision to embark on indefinite strike in many universities is weak. For instance, at the great University of Lagos less than eighty lecturers voted for the present strike: an overwhelming majority who might have voted one way or the other did not attend the meeting because of indifference, and unfortunately so, because they felt helpless in the face of vociferous champions of strike.

One of the persistent rejoinders from supporters of prolonged strike against those of us who hold a contrary view is that we should not benefit financially from a process that we reject. Specifically, colleagues have told me repeatedly that, based on my negative attitude to recurrent ASUU strikes, I ought to return to the government any increase in my entitlements derived from the process.

Of course, university teachers, just like everyone else with legitimate employment, deserve living wages. However, it is an index of the growing overemphasis on pecuniary rewards by lecturers that most of them do not worry about the value they should add to the system to justify additional income after strikes. Perhaps, this is due to burgeoning materialistic orientation in the larger society and the inflationary repercussions of poor economic management by government.

Still, lecturers must remember that teaching in a university is a vocation, and that the opportunity for job satisfaction it provides to those who truly love imparting knowledge cannot be measured in terms of naira and kobo. Anyway, instead of rejecting increases in my salary and allowances as my critics mischievously challenge me to do, I would rather demand something better than what ASUU agreed with government.

The reason is that my critical stance on prolonged strikes demonstrates willingness to keep the system running at the risk of obloquy from majority of my colleagues who believe that strike “is the only language government understands.” Moreover, all lecturers suffer the same penalties for embarking on strike, irrespective of each lecturer’s position about it. I have not been paid for some months now, just like my other colleagues who “carry the strike on their heads,” so to speak.

Members of the public hardly discriminate between lecturers who support indefinite strike and lecturers that do not when they lambast us for keeping their children and wards out of school for extended periods. Consequently, my friends commit the fallacy of ad hominem by abusing me for not rejecting the financial benefit of strikes, forgetting that I pay my monthly dues to ASUU and my salary is also withheld whenever government applies the “no work, no pay” policy. Why should I suffer the penalties for strike without enjoying the benefits that accrue from the process?

In any case, there is no good reason why all lecturers should always support the strike option simply because it puts more money in their pockets – what about the avoidable collateral damages associated with it? I completely agree with Prof. Akinjide Osuntokun’s claim that frequent indefinite strike is destroying the universities; it is difficult to overestimate the damage he was thinking about when he made that statement. Recurrent strikes multiply instability in the system, make nonsense of the academic calendars of public universities, and cause cognitive and psychological dissonance among students. They prolong the agonies of underprivileged parents and guardians of students already traumatised by poverty.

For lecturers who really enjoy teaching, strike while it lasts deprives them of avenue for self-actualisation and fulfilment and dampens the spirit of productive research. If ASUU leaders are so sure that frequent prolonged strikes are good for the system as a whole to warrant universal support from colleagues, they should institute a scientific inquiry to ascertain the true position.

A properly conducted research programme on the effects of strike on different aspects of the university system and on various stakeholders can reveal whether the measure is good or bad, overall. It is just not enough to presume that strike is the only appropriate option for addressing the issue of poor funding and remuneration for academics merely because government usually makes financial concessions to end strikes. Let us now beam our searchlight on the management of universities at different levels, and the best place to begin is the National Universities Commission (NUC). At a Forum on Creating World Universities in Nigeria, organised by the Independent Policy Group Policy Think Tank of Mr. President, The Presidency, Ibadan, June 2005, Profs. J.F. Ade-Ajayi, O.O. Akinkugbe and Adamu Baikie, lamented that the NUC, which ought to be “a counsellor and watchdog” to the universities, has over the years mutated into a kind of dictator. In otherwords, NUC is now part of the hunchback afflicting our universities.

The clearest example of this is licensing of new universities and accreditation of courses by the commission without careful planning and thorough consideration of the faculty and facilities required for qualitative university education. Sometimes when I visit certain universities, I wonder how NUC could have approved such institutions, which, in terms of facilities, are worse than my secondary school in its heydays, Ngwa High School Abayi, Aba. In addition, many of the accredited courses in these “emergency universities” cannot survive quality assessment processes, because of grossly inadequate teaching staff, libraries and laboratories.

Interestingly, management of these institutions use different tactics to deceive NUC’s accreditation teams. Some Vice Chancellors, using financial inducement, falsely present senior academic staff on sabbatical leave as permanent staff, fill otherwise empty libraries and laboratories with borrowed or hired books and equipment, and lavishly entertain accreditation members (in addition to brown envelopes) just to secure a positive outcome. Aside from the fact that Vice Chancellors of these universities are lecturers, most principal officers of NUC are senior academics.

Therefore, whenever ASUU leaders criticise NUC for its shambolic accreditation exercises and other oversight functions on the universities, or tackle Vice Chancellors for corruption and dictatorial tendencies, it is an indirect admission that some senior ASUU members have failed in their responsibilities. The argument that government prefers malleable lecturers to do hatchet jobs in the system is beside the point: the main issue is that those selected are lecturers and, by definition, ASUU members. The conclusion is clear: some senior members of the academia entrusted with running the universities constitute part of the problems they are supposed to assist in solving. As we pointed out earlier, inadequate funding and poor planning by both federal and state government are partly responsible for the decay and brain drain in the sector.

 

Babatunde Akinsola
Babatunde Akinsolahttps://naija247news.com
Babatunde Akinsola is aNaija247news' Southwest editor. He's based in Lagos and writes on the Yoruba Nation political issues, news and investigative reports

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