Nigeria’s Decaying Universities: Blame Govt, Not ASUU!

by Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

I have always had this lingering suspicion that apart from representing the deep-seated contempt that has come to define government’s attitude to the   welfare of public sector workers, its shoddy, often, disdainful, treatment of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and its demands for improved working conditions might have been carefully conceived as a long term project to continue provoking ASUU to embark on industrial actions until it fatally hurts its case before Nigerians.

The expectation, it would seem, is that as students continue to spend several months at home due to prolonged strikes, which might sometimes lengthen the duration of their academic programmes, parents and other stakeholders who bear the brunt of these constant disruptions will gradually review their sympathy for the teachers and begin to confront them as the problem instead of the government whose continuous reneging on agreements it freely entered into with ASUU created the mess in the first place.

As this new impression gathers steam, it might even receive significant boost from some other people nursing personal issues with ASUU who will hastily grab the opportunity to deploy cleverly crafted, but mostly specious arguments, to weaken ASUU’s position while presenting themselves as former ASUU members or friends of the teachers.

If indeed there was such a plot, it will be better to admit right away that it has already achieved considerable success. Given the opinions variously expressed even by people who ought to be better informed since it became clear that ASUU would go on strike, there is no doubt that government may already be wallowing in the illusion that it has become the owner of the game.

It would be very sad if a nation that has often been showered with universal acclaim for being home to an array of very intelligent people would easily be overwhelmed by government’s dull attempt to distort a clear narrative and launder what is so evidently an example leadership failure. Indeed, it will always remain impossible to puncture the insistence that the Nigerian government can comfortably fund the educational sector if it considers it important or cares about national development whose foundation sound education helps to lay and solidify.

Now, let’s confront the elephant in the room. Education is criminally neglected in Nigeria because many public officers have since lost faith in the sector and allowed a stubborn unwillingness to revamp it entrench itself in them. Having given up any hope or plans of ever reviving the country’s public educational institutions, they have settled for the easy and odious shortcut of laboring to accumulate whatever funds they could either earn or steal from the public treasury to send their children and wards abroad to receive quality education which is pitilessly denied many other Nigerians at home.

But the solution is simple: the people of Nigeria must now demand with one strong voice that a law should be made prohibiting public officers from enrolling their children in foreign or local private institutions. Once such a law comes into place today, Nigerians will see how easily our public schools and colleges will receive amazing transformations.

How can we be inundated daily with dizzying stories of how billions of naira are remorselessly squandered by public officers whose contributions to national development remain far below average, yet two key sectors, health and education, are callously neglected and allowed to sink into unspeakable depths? Until we stop public officers from deploying public wealth to secure their own health and educational needs from better managed foreign lands, not a finger will be lifted to ensure the reclamation of these very critical sectors in Nigeria.

On Friday, March 4, 2022, Nigerians were rudely confronted with shocking reports that President Buhari had just donated one million dollars to Afghanistan! The presidency also announced that Buhari will be spending two weeks in London where some doctors will be rewarded with another haul of hard currency for attending to his health. And this is because, after spending about seven years in office, he failed pathetically to build a hospital that he and other top public officers can confidently patronize.

Also, at various times, Nigerians have been served with beautiful pictures of Buhari’s happy children and those of other top government functionaries,   graduating from expensive UK and American universities. It would seem too that the president’s wife has found in Dubai a permanent luxury home from where she occasionally visits a horribly rundown Nigeria – currently being tormented by acute fuel scarcity, national blackout, horrible insecurity and the worst form of lacks and high cost of living.

So, with these essentials so securely available to the president other members of the ultra-selfish political elite, why should the fact ASUU is on a one month warning strike, (which has now been extended by two months) cost them any sleep? Why would the egregious fact that public hospitals have become extensions of mortuaries worry them?

The Nigerian people always appear so exasperatingly helpless in the face of abysmal misgovernance which seems to have become a norm in their country, but this should not be. They must now determine to regain the power they have so naively relinquished to public officers and revive their ability to influence public policies for the good of all.

This is how: the legislature is a very strategic arm in a democracy and when its powers are judiciously and patriotically deployed, it can greatly uplift a country and its systems. But a misguided assembly can watch the country sink to the lowest depths and not lift a finger to compel the executive to arrest the decay. Nigerians, however, possess the power to rouse the lawmakers to action by demonstrating clearly that they can reactivate their constitutional right to recall any lawmaker who chooses, for some selfish reasons, to passively watch the executive ride roughshod on the people. This is even more effective than the power to vote them in because of the humiliation that goes with a lawmaker’s recall.

Why should the government freely enter into agreements with university teachers which it had no intention of implementing? But instead of descending on the government, a growing number of Nigerians have allowed themselves to be deluded into blaming the victims – the teachers. Sadly, many of these Nigerians attacking ASUU members are handsomely motivated at their places of work and generously provided with working tools, yet they expect the teachers to educate their children under very appalling conditions.

What exactly, for instance, qualifies our lawmakers or the largely unproductive government appointees, for the millions they cart away every month as salaries and allowances while lecturers training our children for the future of the nation are so shabbily remunerated? Is it not very scandalous that our lawmakers watch indifferently while the foundation of the nation’s progress and development is being toyed with by an irresponsible executive? Clearly, they do not think that they are answerable to the people and that there could be consequences for their collaborative passivity!

It is most disgusting when Nigerian lawmakers behave as if the mere thought of impeaching a president or governor is such a horrendous sacrilege that must never even be nursed in the heart for a minute! Until Nigerians in different constituencies rise up and bring them face-to-face with the looming reality of losing their own seats when they fail to act to compel the executive do what is right, they will  never sit up to do their jobs.

Indeed, every Nigerian needs to be brought into this liberating awareness that by just volunteering his or her signature, the meal ticket of that flamboyant, but, irresponsible lawmaker can easily be withdrawn. The media and rights groups should help to entrench this awareness in Nigerians!

There might be some merit in the allegation that over the years, due to constant frustrating gestures from government, some lecturers have gradually lost their commitment to impart knowledge conscientiously. Well, let’s fix the system first, then that can be addressed.

Let them be paid well and the relevant tools for teaching, learning and research provided, then some mechanism would be put in place to demand quality services from the teachers without undermining university autonomy. Some have even been accused of enjoying the constant strikes so they can use the “free periods” (for which they are still paid) to moonlight at the private universities and other establishments. These are mere symptoms of the real disease. When the system is fixed, they will be arrested.

Those suggesting the decentralization of ASUU must be willing to admit that they neither mean well for ASUU nor the universities. They just want to weaken the ability of the teachers to compel the government to discharge its responsibilities to the education sector.

Also, those calling for the universities to be self-sustaining should banish from their thoughts the introduction of school fees which can only pile additional burden on parents in a very badly rundown economy. Are they seeking to exempt the government from funding the universities in order to make available to them more money to service their boundless profligacies?

For now, the teachers are not the problem of the Nigerian university system. Government should bring back the glory that was once associated with the ivory tower by equipping the libraries and laboratories, motivating the teachers and rehabilitating the dilapidated infrastructure.

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