ASUU and the fight against corruption in varsities
Our people say that an itch of the buttocks never really subsides unless it attracts public opprobrium. I am an unrepentant foot soldier of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) but can no longer continue with majority of our members to endure in silence the distress caused by the persistent monthly deduction of the union check-off dues from our meager recession-tailored salaries by a roguish, mean and shameless local branch executive of ASUU at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka which also fails in the least of its constitutional duties to summon its members to their entitled regular congress.
To convene members to deliberate on salient issues as a necessary prelude to the recent ASUU national warning strike, declared without their input and consequent effective participation or to assemble them to discuss the querulous state of our troubled nation has become fleeting illusions that bring back painful and nostalgic memories of our past democratic foundation and intellectual freedom. For a group of local thieves to deprive their colleagues the right to freedom of Association granted to every Nigerian by its constitution and also guaranteed for all persons by the African and the United Nations Charter on Human Rights just to deceive themselves that their robbery of our check-off dues and illegitimate rule over us will go unchallenged without a full congress of ASUU is an immense crime beyond retribution.
Having rendered the branch impotent, they hope to prevent even the necessary dialogue among colleagues over our social welfare, the lethargic state of our union and universities, a tribally and religiously scarred and disintegrating nation our Pan-African ideal of economic and social integration in a nuclear threatened and globalised world. Our once vibrant and democratic local branch has been subdued by the synthesis of two factions of miscreants nurtured by a spreading pestilence of primitive accumulation. Thus a poverty of leadership at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka branch of ASUU for which the national body is not exonerated from blame is shamefully supplanted by a fragmented leadership of poverty where the most sordid, hungry and greedy of our lot rob their academic colleagues workers and students of their means of subsistence, applying the worst forms of chicanery to accumulate wealth by the most odious means. One who lives in poverty still has hope to be free from it, but what happens when poverty lives within us as in the process of primitive accumulation?
Here is how Karl Marx defines Primitive Accumulation in volume 1 of Capital, his epoch making enquiry into the history of society. It is “the fearful and painful expropriation of the mass of the people and forms the prelude to the history of capitalist accumulation. It is accomplished with merciless vandalism and under the stimulus of passions the most infamous, the most sordid, the pettiest, the most meanly odious.” Primitive Accumulation is by no means a localised phenomenon, but as a general form has infected all Nigerian Institutions –the church and mosque, the legislature from states to federal (also known as the Alibabas and the many thieves), together with the executive branch with a constitutionally anchored immunity clause to protect itself from the people as it robs them, the judiciary or temporal Lords and of course ministers, commissioners and security agents. It has however not spared our sanctimonious Ivory towers, the universities where the nation reinvents itself. Only recently, another local branch executive of ASUU, ASUU-Unilorin was sacked by the National Executive Committee of ASUU for the embezzlement of the union check-off dues, without remitting the necessary percentage due for the National Secretariat. One wonders whether the National Executive Committee would have taken such strong disciplinary measures against its Unillorin members if it had regularly received its own remuneration. Should money purloined from members against their will be the decisive factor in settling factional disputes for local branches by the National Executive Committee of ASUU?
Primitive Accumulation by Academic Staff as a general form is not unique to Uni-Ilorin or UNN, nor is it only a threat to the national body of ASUU, but its abundant permutation can be traced at Universities of Lagos, Port Harcourt, Jos and virtually all Nigerian Universities. Gone were the days when members of the National Executive Committee proved their love for ASUU by their altruism, sacrifice and patriotism for the nation, that if need be, included giving up their lives. Those were trying times when ASUU confronted military dictators that ruled by decrees, military tribunals, and firing squads with their blood bedewed human targets displayed to entertain the thousands of unemployed spectators or televised to our homes for leisure. Under the castrating policies of Western money lenders, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the military regimes strove with their Structural Adjustment Programs to turn our Universities into wastelands through poor funding for scientific research upgrading infrastructure, and the welfare of students and workers.
ASUU mounted the decisive opposition against these neocolonial policies and sustained our Universities towards national development; it posed significant challenges that ended military rule with the patriotic and altruistic leadership of the Eskor Toyos, the Iyayis, the Olorode, the Jegas, the Y.Z Yaus and many others. These leaders often attended National Executive or Delegates Conferences with their personal income, and often funded the transport fee of other comrades as their pockets would permit and slept together in the cheapest hotels in the streets of our various University towns. For these ASUU leaders, corrupting gifts –in cash or kind-or to utilize their highly noble and privileged position in the sordid pursuit of primitive accumulation in place of service, integrity and patriotism was an unmentionable and unprintable crime. How many members of the National Executive Committee of ASUU today can make these altruistic sacrifices including detention away from their families in the worst dungeons that could last from days to years? What rules and amendments have been made in the constitution of ASUU to protect the branch and national leadership of ASUU from these corrupting times of primitive accumulation, or are we to assume that our present leaders are simply immune to this leprous pestilence that in world history has not spared even the infallible popes and sanctimonious Imams?
Onwubiko is a Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.