It is obvious that the war between the union and the Federal Government has not been a good one for ASUU. A prominent member of the union died about eight years ago; there is a refusal by the Federal Government to accede to all of the union’s demands; budgetary allocation to education decreases yearly; private universities are on the rise; educational qualifications ending on the farm; there is also a madding desire by many Nigerians to have their children and other family members trained by universities abroad. These show that the Nigerian university system has become a leaning tower of Pisa, which ASUU is trying to save from a precipitous fall.
While I support the cause pursued by ASUU, I disagree with the union’s President who, when asked what would happen if the Federal Government went ahead and employed people to fill lecturers’ positions, claimed with a high degree of certainty that: “Well that is the worst case scenario but we have seen it before. We have even heard a case when the government said it banned ASUU. They proscribed ASUU and they declared all staff members disengaged but I can assure you that if they do that, they will lose over 90 per cent of their best hands, and the Nigerian university system will collapse. I can assure you of that”. (IPPIS implementation meant to justify $140m loan, The PUNCH, 15 March 2020).
If ASUU is banned, the Nigerian university system will not collapse for the following reasons. First, every federal university in Nigeria comprises ASUU, NASU and SSANU. The Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) implement the academic policies and ensure the smooth running of the institutions. They execute important administrative functions which make lecturers depend on them. These functions include admitting and registering students, especially freshers; registering electronically and manually returning students; mobilizing prospective students for NYSC programme; making examination materials available to lecturers and students; preparing examination timetables for all departments; facilitating lecturers’ salaries; maintaining and safeguarding the universities’ facilities; and taking care of lecturers’ attendance lists.
Second, the Nigerian university system will not collapse if all ‘professors’, who the ASUU President assumes to be ‘best hands’ are sacked because there are many Senior Lecturers (SL) who are overdue for professorship. Assuming the Federal Government places serving professors on ‘compulsory retirement’, this will definitely provide an opportunity for Senior Lecturers, Readers, or Associate Professors to be elevated. The exodus of the former implies the influx of the latter. In fact, the Federal Government can replace performing professors so that what is sauce for the goose will be sauce for the gander.
Third, statistics have shown that the number of job seekers chasing the number of vacancies in Nigeria nowadays far outweighs the latter. In January 2020 for instance, it was reliably gathered that about 1.4 million Nigerians applied for 5,000 vacancies advertised by Civil Defence. The same situation applies to Nigerian universities, polytechnics, COEs, etc. where qualified PhD holders mill around the institutions daily for teaching/lecturing jobs. In most cases, employment process is politicized by many institutions, denying qualified applicants a fair crack of the whip. If your father is not a good friend of the Vice Chancellor, no space for you in the university. Today in Nigeria, a vast body of workforce are gunning for university lecturing jobs: Dangote trailer drivers; teachers from reputable secondary schools; farmers-turned-graduates; entrepreneurs; then artisans, all with veritable educational qualifications.
What are the tasks of university lecturers? University lecturers lecture students the course(s) assigned them by their Heads of Departments. Lecturers review and assess coursework as well as assignment, and conduct examination(s) on the course(s) taught; mark the examination(s), compile the results and hand in the results to the Heads of Departments who forward them to the Deans of Faculties for onward delivery to the Senate for deliberation, review and approval.
Apart from conducting research and publishing in order to push back the frontiers, university lecturers also supervise project (i.e. research) students, from where their Earned Allowances emanate. They can also accept or reject any ‘External Examiner’ offer placed before them depending on remunerations. When on sabbatical in other universities, Nigerian university lecturers receive monthly salaries from their universities and in the host universities. Other tasks engaged in (e.g., attending conferences, securing scholarships, pursuing further careers and seeking further degrees, etc.) are geared solely towards their own betterment, academic recognition and promotion. Students are not beneficiaries of the consultancy services taken up both in the public and private sectors by the lecturers since these are not rendered directly to students, who are the raison d’être of any university.
Those who believe that the Nigerian university system will collapse if ASUU is banned should consider the fact that there are many competent hands begging to take up lecturing jobs and do the lecturing much better. It does not require building infrastructures; it is about equipping the classrooms and offices with lecturers. It is a feat that the Federal Government can achieve at one go especially as it wants to show its might and ego. The shake-out will be strategic: registration of new lecturers and their biometric exercise put in place; offices tidied up and readied; course materials prepared by new lecturers; and backlog from outgoing lecturers finetuned and made available to the incoming, accompanied with detailed, self-explanatory written notes.
The current ASUU President deserves commendation for his transparent character and unflinching spirit plus the uncompromising stance he and his ‘true members’ have taken in every negotiation with the Federal Government. But ASUU has to keep its teeming university students onside if it wants to be fair in this fight. The students say that they are always the ones taking the brunt of the downswing in the universities, hence tired and sick. Conversely, ASUU says that it is only ‘the language of strike’ that the Federal Government understands. Without doubt, the passage of time will tell who is tormenting who, who is deceiving who, who is frustrating the other, who is protecting the other, and who is lying to the public between ASUU and the FG.
In conclusion, university lecturers have roles that cannot be overlooked in society because the social, moral, human, scientific and technological developments of a nation are owed to them. It is disturbing however, to note that all Nigerian lecturers can get after their efforts and academic journeys are poor salaries, shabby treatment and deceit from the government. Lecturing in the university could be tagged ‘settled’ as the employees enjoy huge liberties, the profession is for the gifted few. It will be unwise to outlaw ASUU. But will ASUU’s problems, demands, griefs, grievances, strife, grudges and strikes end if, by sheer chance, ASUU President becomes Nigeria’s Commander-in-Chief and his zonal chairpersons become ministers and governors?