By C. C. NNAJI
I want to broach a very controversial subject in this short piece. So I would plead that you digest the message and not devour the messenger.
Academics the world over (but especially in Nigeria) are plagued with the incurable illusion that it is their responsibility to restore sanity to a morally bankrupt system. They seem to erroneously believe that by wrestling the government to a standstill, they will be heaped with encomium from the masses. They are willing to forfeit their salaries just to score a point about their patriotism. _Patriotisms_ – there is no question about that, but why has ASUU become accustomed to bruising herself only to brag about it to insensitive people who don’t give a damn? Everyone knows the history of ASUU’s protracted imbroglio with a succession of insensitive and callous governments and their foot soldiers. Litany of negotiated and re-negotiated (even re-re-negotiated) agreements has been signed between ASUU and government representatives who did not have the slightest intention of keeping their words. Somehow, they have mastered the art of tricking the hapless and hunger-stricken lecturers back to their rusty classrooms and shabby laboratories with high expectations which are soon dashed.
ASUU’S ENDANGERED PUBLIC IMAGE
Many Nigerians and even students have no inkling what ASUU is fighting for. The government, aided by her plethora of Machiavellian propaganda machineries, has succeeded in pitching the public against ASUU. Government officials have painted ASUU as a recalcitrant and utterly selfish pressure group who down tools at the slightest provocation. They have succeeded in etching ASUU as a persona non grata in the consciousness of the populace, so that the mention of ASUU brings out the worst in them. No wonder ASUU is fast losing public sympathy and cooperation. The die is cast and the public have taken sides with an oppressive government, against ASUU’s noble cause. I have even heard people muse that lecturers do very little work and should be replaced with young graduates should they embark on “ _unnecessary_ ” strike. However, everyone who is familiar with ASUU’s age-long struggle knows that it is a struggle for the survival of the Nigerian battered educational system. Every other labour union embarks of strike to earn better wages – it is only ASUU that goes on strike for increased budgetary allocation to education, autonomy of universities (to preserve the sanctity of our universities and mitigate the notorious influence of political jobbers), better infrastructure (including upgrade of students’ hostels and learning facilities) and the list goes on. Being appointed head of department in some universities is regarded as a curse because you will sustain the department from your lean income or be regarded as a failure. Lecturers sometimes contribute money to provide basic necessities during accreditation, just to give the department a facelift and avert de-accreditation; and also keep the students in school.
TIME FOR CHANGE OF STRATEGY
What is the wisdom in fighting for increased funding of education when allocations meant for educational institutions usually disappear into the pockets of government officials, and whatever trickles down to the university is then (mis)appropriated by whoever is presiding, depending on his moral disposition? The lot of the ordinary lecturer is by no means bettered by increased funding to education. Candidly, I do not believe that it is the duty of ASUU to force government to up her allocation to education. Rather, I believe that the matter of increased funding should be the concern and agitation of every well-meaning Nigerian – students, parents and non-governmental organizations. But sadly, this herculean task has been left for ASUU alone, and the government has exploited the ignorance of the masses to her advantage. What has the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) been doing if not to parley with the government to the detriment of the collective cause of Nigerian students? Being elected into the students’ union government of any higher institution is now seen by many students as the gateway to financial freedom or as a launch pad for their future political ambitions. I think it is high time ASUU made students and parents to share the responsibility of engaging the government for increased budgetary allocation to education and infrastructural development.
Instead of engaging a disinterested government in an endless and vicious cycle of disputes over issues that should concern every citizen, ASUU should simply do the following
(i) develop a documentary of the state of education in Nigeria and release it into the public domain for people to judge for themselves;
(ii) publish the names of the children of government officials who are schooling abroad vis a vis their legitimate financial capacity to afford such luxury
(iii) partner with NGOs to sponsor a bill that will prohibit public servants and elected officials from sending their children abroad for study;
(iv) embark on strike less frequently and only for improved pay package.
ON IMPROVED PAY PACKAGE
I say “improved pay package” because lecturers are grossly under-remunerated for their job of nation-building.
Any serious nation would pay unstinting attention to the place where future leaders are moulded. A country where fathers misappropriate their children’s school fees is utterly hopeless. _A nation that thinks that her university lecturers and professors must be humbled with the scourge of poverty must have got her brain on her feet._ While I do not suggest that lecturers should be enriched by payment of bogus salaries, I believe that they can be given a decent package (and I propose and African average) for their role in knowledge transfer and human capacity development. How can a brilliant young man who has spent about twenty years or more of the prime of his life to mould other people’s children, reach the peak of his career (professorship) midlife, only to discover that his salary is not up to that of his student who was just got employed in the Central Bank or an oil company or even some federal parastatals that do next to nothing?
Some have been made to believe that lecturers do not even deserve their current peanut of a pay package. But the students know that some lecturers work round the clock. They carry their works home and travel with the job, and yet “they don’t’ deserve a better pay package”! I remember when I was just employed as a young lecturer and was assigned a Faculty course of 700 students, in addition to some other departmental courses.
I had to teach this course alone for lack of manpower, conduct a one-on-one assessment of the course for every single one of them, grade the scripts alone and publish the results without any help. This amounts to a staff to students ratio of 1:700 and what was my salary? I earned less than an interstate commercial driver. How can you entrust an brilliant and ambitious young man with such huge burden of responsibility and pay him peanuts for salary? *You gleefully pay him peanuts to shape the destiny of your children!* Isn’t it a big fat shame how we de(value) our nation-builders?
My question then is “why should ASUU jettison my welfare and go head on with the government on funding of universities”? With all the rigorous hurdles one has to cross in the university system to become a professor, why should he earn an amount that can barely take him home? And now that government has resorted to the Ill-motivated Poverty Perpetration and Instigation System (IPPIS) for payment of salaries, the pie has finally crumbled for lecturers.
I strongly urge for a change of the objectives as well as the materials and methods of this study (apologies – I meant struggle) on “strategies for better pay package for lecturers”. We cannot keep doing the same thing over and again, and somehow hope to get better results. ASUU has come a long way and has exerted sufficient amount of energy in engaging the government. It is now time to move on and let the owners of the struggle take over from where we stopped.
I suspend my case!
Engr. Dr. C. C. Nnaji
Department of Civil Engineering
University of Nigeria, Nsukka