ASUU and the Nigerian Dilemma, by Olusegun Adeniyi

Posted by News Express | 17 October 2013 | 3,681 times

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After all is said and done, Nigerians do love their country. And there is no better way to to ascertain that than when Nigeria is involved in sporting competitions or Nigerians are in contests that pitch them against nationals of other countries. That is when you see patriotism in action. But it is also true that Nigerians are disappointed with their country. The problem though is that rather than accept responsibility for our failings, we tend to put the blame on an abstraction--forgetting that the country is the sum total of what we all make of it. That is why you hear phrases like “Nigeria is useless” or “Nigeria is hopeless” or the extreme version “this country is cursed”.

What is often lost in such moments is that despite what the country has given to most of us, we have been unable (perhaps unwilling) to reciprocate by harnessing the resources (human and material) for the good of all. I spent four years at Ife as a university student in the eighties without any sponsor because my parents were too poor to help, and at a relatively young age, working as a farm hand (never mind that they called me manager) during the holidays. But even at that, if it were tuition-paying, there was no way I would have been able to cope. That is a debt I owe Nigeria and I am aware there are many people like me.

I am not here making excuses for our failings as a nation. Far from it. What I deplore is the hypocritical posturing by those who speak ill of our country without accepting the fact that the Nigeria of today is the product of our collective (ir)responsibility. These days, it is common to hear people who benefit from the patronage system that we run make all manner of claims, on the pretext that they had never been in government. Yet what I have come to learn about our country is that you do not have to be in government to be part of the rot and if anybody doubts me, they should go and get the list of the private jet owners after which they should also check their daytime jobs, how much tax they pay, the number of people they employ, etc. But we will come back to this issue someday.

Ever since the idea of the national conference started, I have taken time to pay attention to what many people are saying and I still fail to understand why anybody believes a conference, as desirable as the idea may sound, would just transform our country, without addressing the rentier economic philosophy that is based on some FAAC allocations being shared in Abuja every month-end rather than on the productive capacity of our people. For sure, fiscal federalism which ordinarily is implicit in our democracy but is being practised in the breach is a critical issue worthy of our collective interrogation; so also is devolution of power between the federal government and the states and local governments. But I worry that at a time almost all the critical institutions have collapsed, and we are seriously challenged on all fronts, the national attention is focused on some distributive politics.

For those who still care, it is exactly 110 days today that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) went on strike and the students have been left to their own devices. The lecturers are on strike due to the inability of the federal government to honour completely the 2009 Agreement with ASUU. The essence of the agreement was to: reverse the decay in the university system, in order to reposition it for greater responsibilities in national development; enhance the remuneration of academic staff by disengaging them from the encumbrances of a unified civil service wage structure; restore the universities through immediate, massive and sustained financial intervention; and ensure genuine university autonomy and academic freedom. On paper, these are laudable objectives but the real problem arose basically because neither ASUU nor the government bothered to examine the practicalities of what they were committing themselves into.

It is noteworthy that incessant strikes by ASUU in the last three decades have done incalculable damage to the country and its future. In the last ten years, beginning from 2003 when the universities were closed for six months to 2007 when the students were forced home for three months, ASUU strike has in fact become an annual “festival” in the university calendar. It is now running to almost four months that the campuses have been closed yet that does not seem abnormal because we have learnt to find a way around every problem. Since we have long conspired to kill public education at both primary and secondary levels, everybody sends his/her children to “private” schools. It is such a lucrative business that even some hairdressers now own such schools. But wait for this: almost every tout with some ill-gotten oil money is also now building a university! You don’t run a country like that and expect nothing but a failing state, even if you hold a hundred conferences!

According to official figure, there are 129 universities in Nigeria today. 50 of them are private universities of all sorts; 39 belong to state governments while the remaining 40 are federal universities – six of them established two years ago by President Jonathan. It is the lecturers in these 40 universities that are on strike though I hear their counterparts in states universities are also not working for some ill-defined reasons which go to the contradictions within ASUU some of which were aptly captured by egbon Jibo (Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim) in his Monday piece (http://premiumtimesng.com/opinion/146584-conversation-asuu-comrades-lets-get-real-jibrin-ibrahim.html).

While conceding that our governments at virtually all levels have not shown enough commitment to education, the fact also is that the lecturers hardly care beyond their personal interests. I understand that four years ago, ASUU forbade its members from filling a form distributed by the National Universities Commission (NUC) for a staff and student audit in the university system. How lecturers would oppose planning with data beats me but the argument of ASUU was that the federal government could not be trusted with what it wanted to use the statistics for. Yet the exercise would have revealed all those teaching “full time” in two or more universities as well as those doing little or no academic work but are demanding uniform earned allowances etc. Let us also not forget those who are teaching courses in which they lack even the basic knowledge!

After decades of crisis in our public education system, I believe we have come to a critical juncture in which we need to hold honest conversations about so many issues, including the state of infrastructure, alternative sources of funding, curriculum models, instructional methods, staffing policies as well as available educational resources in terms of libraries, laboratories, computers etc. and whether the current regime of free tuition can realistically be sustained. Such intervention is very important for the future of our country because even if we resolve the current ASUU strike, we may soon be back to square one.

The foregoing therefore explains why the current excitement about the political “National Conversation” just reminds me of the Yoruba analogy of the village eunuch who gleefully tells his relations that he could insert thread into a needle hole a hundred times without missing – even in his dream. However commendable that may be, his hapless family members would rather wish he could deploy such expertise at insertion into a more productive enterprise!

•This piece by Adeniyi (shown in photo) originally appeared in his column “The Verdict” in today’s edition of ThisDay. He can be reached via olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com


Source: News Express

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