By JGN Onyekpe
I have been part of ASUU’S struggle to save the public varsity system for over three decades. The story has been that of unchanging marginalisation of the education sector by the federal government in its policy formulation and annual budgetary appropriation.
Thus, what little progress we have made concerning the provision of basic infrastructure and staff emoluments and welfare has been in the aftermath of strike actions. It is so unfortunate that the federal government would do nothing for the public varsities without strike actions. It is much more unfortunate that the federal government would repudiate agreements officially reached with ASUU through protracted strenuous and rigorous joint meetings of government and ASUU’S representatives for negotiation. Some of the rounds of negotiation would last for more than six months, with high-cost implications for both parties, Government and ASUU. Yet, the agreements are never implemented.
The federal government has continued to recklessly repudiate its agreements with ASUU. The government does this with absolute impunity because it is accountable only to itself. Members of the union and their families bear the brutal brunt of this tragedy, as the wretched salaries of university teachers in Nigeria are stopped during strikes. The current strike began on February 14, 2022, and salaries were last paid at the end of the same month, against labour laws that provide for sustained payment of salaries to striking workers for the first three months of strike action. Today is July 15, the strike is now five months! What indeed would the federal government offer to varsity teachers to uplift their morale after months of its bellicose response to teachers’ patriotic and legitimate demand that the public varsity system is revitalised to effectively perform its core functions of teaching, research, and community service?
It is pertinent to inform the Nigerian public that, the salaries paid to university teachers in Their Republic, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, are the lowest in the world university system. University teachers and their families bear the brutal brunt of the situation!
Indeed, the Nigerian State, government, economy, and people, broadly society, are the ultimate losers.
It goes without saying that, the level of a nation’s growth and development is largely a function of the state of its education. How much progress can be made in a nation where critical university courses such as medicine, pharmacy, engineering, architecture, and building technology are taught as literature, religion, oral history, folktale, and social studies? Why would the critical courses not be taught the way they are taught today when the requisite facilities and infrastructure are not in place? How much progress can be made by a nation whose varsity teachers are totally demotivated and helplessly demoralised under the yoke and impact of primitive income regimes?
Few varsity teachers are today able to provide the quotidian needs of their households, let alone the luxury of owning a simple functional house of their own or a usable car! This is not simply because of the stoppage of salaries in times of strike, but the inevitable consequence of an utterly poor reward system for varsity teachers in a nation where the national leaders and legislators are the second highest paid in the world after Australia.
We are in for what may turn out to be the longest ASUU strike so far, in the history of the Union’s struggle to save the public university system. The fundamental problem is ideological. Having unquestioningly embraced and swallowed hook-line-and-sinker, the capitalist and commercial-advantage doctrine of global imperialism, apropos of social services in the Third World, so-called, the accursed thieving elite in control of the prebendary state and its federal government do not have the political will and sincerity of purpose to constructively address the crisis in, and poverty of, the nation’s public university system.
Therefore, it should not be surprising at all that, after their refusal to implement the 2009 Agreement with ASUU for over 12 years, they reluctantly yielded to pressure for the review of the agreement. But the same federal government could not endorse the draft of the renegotiated agreement submitted by the Professor Munzali Committee after six months of a most painstaking engagement, from December 2021- May 2022. The federal government chose, instead, to refer the Professor Munzali Committee’s draft to a new committee, i.e, the Professor Briggs Committee for review. The Professor Briggs Committee has since submitted its report. But the president of Nigeria, Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari would rather he rabidly scream “enough is enough” at ASUU than say a word on the Professor Briggs Committee’s document.
No university teacher today who themselves went to Nigerian universities before the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, in the mid-1980s would not weep for Nigeria’s public university system. The system is almost totally destroyed, and this has been the justification for ASUU’S principled struggle to save the system. Today, those of us trained in the 1970s -80s in the nation’s public varsities cannot give our students, the training we received in our generation. To put it mildly, today, the facilities and infrastructure are grossly inadequate. Second, the teachers are not only not motivated, but they are also treated with disdain and their contributions are bagatelles. Then, the majority of the students are unteachable, because of the foundational problem of the destruction of the primary and secondary levels of education by successive governments, and because of students’ essential needs and basic welfare challenges.
On the deep crisis ravaging Nigeria’s public university system, I cannot but weep, weep, and weep for the nation! I am deeply sad for the national president of ASUU, dear Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, and his Executive Committee. Looking at the president, in particular, one can see a visibly beleaguered and intensely troubled leader being deliberately psychologically frustrated by the government he is serving with maximum patriotism and selflessness.
The federal government has lost its legitimacy on the indices of security of life and property, physical infrastructure, employment for the people, food supplies, cost of living, healthcare, primary and secondary education, transportation, energy, and even potable water. Without a thought, the same government is digging deeper and deeper into the grave of the public university system, and, by so doing, digging its own grave. For, when a popular democratic revolution comes, the moribund state and its thieving agents and propagandists will have no hiding place. Therefore, the power that is should choose this day, between peaceful reform or mass revolutionary action, spontaneous or organised.
J G Nkem Onyekpe, PhD, F.Hist.S.N.
University of Lagos, Akoka.