By Prof. Ezekiel Ayoola
I felt sad when I heard what the Hon Minister of Education said yesterday. I have experienced strike for more than 30 years since I joined the system as an Assistant Lecturer in February 1989, but I have never seen a situation like this before. Even during the military regimes, ASUU was treated with some level of respect and honour.
We had hope after the 1992 strike that things would be better for the Nigerian academics and the universities. That is why some of us, out of patrotism and the willingness to contribute our quota to the development of Nigeria at least at the level of Education stayed put in Nigeria.
We refused to join the brain drain wagon. But look at where we are now. Suffering because we insist that things should be done right.
I remember my former Msc Supervisor who left the country in annoyance in August 1989 for America following the devaluation of naira ocassioned by the structural adjustment program (SAP) of IBB. He has been living comfortably, smiling in the US ever since, having experienced a fulfilled academic life. We have since collaborated and published articles jointly, using facilities and funds from his research grant.
Similarly, many of such people that were brain drained to other suitable lands are happy, smiling where they are doing their academic works. I remember our former UI ASUU Chairmen Prof Agbon and Prof Jimi Adesina. Now abroad (USA and South Africa respectively). They have been excused of the incessant strikes that refuse to be a thing of the past. Uncountable number of them that should be helping us in Nigeria are out there in the foreign lands where conditions are right and attractive.
My worry now is how do we retain the young productive colleagues that are still around in this system and how do we recruit and retain the talented ones we have trained, in this country, in the next few years if the refusal of government to do the right things to support academics still stands. These young ones are expected to take over from us when those of us the elderly ones exit the system. This is the tradition we inherited from our former teachers and mentors, encouraged by the system at that time.
My worry stems from the fact that at least we need to convince the young ones that making sacrifices for this nation would pay eventually. But can we do that in the present circumstances that we have found ourselves ?
How on earth should the negative consequences of this strike be laid on us, ASUU members, for asking government to do her work effectively on time, and for asking government to provide enabling academic environment including competitive pay that are taken for granted elsewhere abroad and even in some African countries?
Asking Students to take ASUU to court for wasting their time looks to me unreasonable.
Who should be accused of wasting Students’ time? ASUU or Govt that refuses to do the right thing at the right time? Govt that could not prevent the strike? I know it is not in the character of ASUU to wake up one morning to declare a strike arbitrarily without exhausting all the necessary avenues including lobbying. With strike experienced in the universities since 1980, why can’t the government utilize that experience to do the needful without the union going on a full blown strike any longer. If we have a problem that persists for that long, why does the government fail to listen to volumes of suggestions and writeups on the issue?. I know a lot of studies and research had been done on ways to prevent strikes in our universities. The reports are there in the libraries gathering dust. The research and devopment units of government ministries ( if any) and the Nigerian Presidency should wake up to their responsibilities. I know in the US seat of government, the White House, there is a Research and Development unit that helps the American Presidency with appropriate research based recommendations for the right policies and decisions on matters of national importance.
In this dispensation, why did the present PMB administration fail to continue the good work that her predecessor President Jonathan started on the Revitalization program otherwise called the NEEDS Assessment program while in office?. Why must the past labour on the NEEDs assessment thrown to the dustbins? What has happened to the principle of continuity in government? Its clear beyond any doubt that we have a government consisting of many people that think lowly of academics and their welfare.
A responsive government will listen to the persistent cries for the development of academic environment to the level where we can make huge national revenues through the instrumentality of the knowledge economy as in the contemporary progressive nations of the world.
For example, why is it difficult for us to have students from all over Africa, Europe, Asia, the Commonwealth trooping to Nigeria to receive education if our universities are right,? Instead of the other way round in the world of today. And this had happened in Nigeria before.
Why are our leaders competing among themselves to send their children and relations to top universities abroad?
For example, University of Ibadan was rated as one of the best ten universities in the commonwealth in the 1970s. And the university trained many people from America, Europe, Africa and the rest of the commonwealth at that time. And many top experts from foreign countries worked in the university at that time. Why can we not manage success in this country? What are the factors responsible for our present predicaments. These facts should occupy the inquisitive mind of any government eager to develop the country and leave a legacy that will be difficult to rubbush.
Again, why can’t we have well known foreign experts accross disciplines making Nigeria their destination for sabbaticals and tenure appointments at this time ?
Its obvious that this nation can never develop if the present attitude of government to the issue of top level educational insitutions and academic welfare persists.
Already, progressive nations around the world continue to shop for people in all areas of endeavours from all over the world, that can contribute meaningfully to their quest for developing knowledge economy. It is known in the academic circles that the existence of top rated academics in any discipline is not location bound. We shop also shop for such people by making our environment conducive and making academic salaries comparable to the world or African standard. This should attract and retain such world class experts in our universities.
It us doubtful that our government knows that there are developed countries of the world where there are no appreciable deposits of physical minerals like petroleum products and other solid minerals like ours but they only develop knowledge infrastructure that launches them to first class nation and earns them appreciable incomes.
Wisdom suggests that we should aspire to do similarly. Relyingon petroleum and other minerals to drive our economy is archaic. We should move the way if progressive nations of the world.
For example, National incomes of nations like Japan and China depend largely on education, through knowledge based economy. Could they have developed to that level by treating their scholars with disdain and contempt like we usually experience here in Nigeria ?.
Does our present government know that knowledge economy will largely determine the developed nations of the world in the 21st century?
We already know that the third world of the 21st century would be those countries that will be left behind in the development of the knowledge based economy.
Again, is it reasonable for any government Minister to ask students to take their lecturers to court for wasting their time? Where in the whole world had that happened? Does ASUU have direct contract with students?
I know that Universities admit students based on the fact that facilities, manpower and other resources are available to teach what the universities are accredited to advertise and teach.
When a university fails to make such conditions available, who is then to be blamed?. Lecturers or the proprietors of the institutions. Lecturers and Professors are just important components of manpower needed to achieve the aims and objectives of universities. They are living components capable of reasoning and advise proprietors on the best way to go through negotiation and dialogues.
Apart from default in teaching, who would the students take to court when electricity, water, reasonable and respectable accommodation, Library facilities, standard laboratory, sufficient lecturers in quality and quantity, that are inadvertently promised to students are not available.?
Should they take their lecturers to court for defaults on those matters?
Talking about payment of outstanding salaries. Lecturers’ letters of appointment include the three tiers of responsibilities especially at the professorial level. Teaching, research and community services.
In the last six months, only the teaching component had been affected by strike. We still carry on our research. Some new top level research outcome have been published by many ASUU members especially in disciplines where you don’t need laboratory facilities and assistants. And our colleagues in laboratory based disciplines engage in collaborative works with colleagues especially in foreign universities that are not on strike. I know many people have published top rated articles in the last six months. May be ASUU should list our research papers published in the last six months for govt and the public to see. In my own part, I have published some recent papers, some have been accepted for publication while a number of my articles are undergoing peer review prior to publication. This is the story for many of us.
Also I know that in spite of the strike, many of us have been mentoring our post graduate students, and have been reading and correcting their draft thesis albeit unofficially.
Also, we have been writing letters of recommendation for our former students who are looking for jobs and academic placements both in Nigeria and abroad. I know of some of our undergraduate students who have relocated abroad in the last six months to continue their studies. Such students had received recommendation from us that facilitated their admission. ASUU members stand in loco parentis for all levels of students, strike or no strike. Its part of our community service.
Many of us have been attending vitual and physical conferences abroad on our expenses. All these are geared towards the continuous marketing of our academic institutions, we continue to register our presence and that of our universities in the global academic community. This also enhances the quality of certificates issued to our students. Our refusal to be isolated from participation in the world class professional meetings ensure our university and our nation’s continued relevance in the world academic market since we know that the strike will one day ends. These are some of our research and community services. We cannot afford to be left out in the development of our various disciplines just because we are on strike.
I have attended many virtual meetings in my discipline discussing recent developments at the frontiers of knowledge. I know that’s what many of us have been doing apart from teaching.
In spite of the strike we still have our letters that hired us to do those assignments. And students need not to be on ground for the two out of the three components to be done.
I believe reason will prevail and our negotiating team should not be tired of emphasis on these points. They should argue and present these justifications for the release of our seized salaries in addition to the need for government to respect the principle of collective bargaining. We have moved far beyond a unilateral award of salaries that can be withdrawn by fiat. One wonders why it took another round of strike with its pain and inconveniences for such salary award to come.
It is important for the present government to know that uncensored discussions, dialogues, negotiations and lobbying, consistent with the rules of law should be undeniable benefits of democracy. All of us fought for and suffered for this democratic dispensation. The dispensation came with pain and blood. We did not earn it freely. Many patroits passed away in the struggle for democracy. And we should all be allowed to reap the fruits thereof. We should not resist the benefits to a few politicians who are currently smiling to the banks at the expense of the majority.
Ezekiel O. Ayoola, PhD. Professor of Mathematics & Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration) University of Ibadan, Nigeria.