ASUU, government and the cycle of irresponsibility
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) continues to berate the ruling class for allegedly planning to destroy tertiary education in Nigeria. But while it is obvious that successive governments have done a deplorable job of keeping the country’s universities afloat let alone improving them, the ululations of ASUU is little more than a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
The Union’s latest anti-government tirade came from the chairman of its Ibadan Chapter, Dr. Deji Omole, who lamented government’s “refusal” to inject revitalisation funds into public varsities as agreed in a 2013 Memorandum of Understanding. It is this refusal, the university don points out, that makes the destructive plan of the ruling class all very obvious.
Omole’s comments echo those made by the now-chairman of the ASUU’s University of Lagos Chapter, Dele Ashiru, during the last industrial action of the Union in 2017. Then the Union’s National Liaison Officer for Lagos State, Dr Ashiru had called out the ruling class for its “conscious, deliberate and wicked attempt to destroy tertiary education in Nigeria,” citing as evidence the government’s delay until the event of another strike before releasing more funds into the system. This, according to Ashiru, was the same pattern through which the political elite asphyxiated the lower tiers of education, all in a bid to make sure that the growing generation is not properly equipped to challenge hegemony and misrule.
There is of course much to be said about the irresponsibility of government and political leaders towards, not only education, but virtually every area of the nation’s life. It also seems very obvious, particularly as it has to do with education and health, that this irresponsibility borders on wickedness. For nothing else can account for how these two sectors are so poorly funded and mismanaged while the very people who are supposed to see to their vitality are busy crisscrossing the world in order to get quality education and healthcare.
If, because of the health issues that it presupposes, medical tourism by the nation’s elite does not come often with boasting and gleeful photos of trips, Nigerians are at least daily assaulted by visuals of the overseas educational exploits of the children of many politicians, spread all over traditional and social media for the people to see and agonise over how their own children will always be subordinates and slaves to those of the elite. There is no excuse that can be given to mitigate the irritation that Nigerians must feel towards these insults that are being diurnally flung at them.
The present All Progressives Congress (APC) government is particularly very disappointing in its approach to education since one of its cardinal promises to Nigerians during election campaigns was to take bold measures to revamp the sector. As recorded in its manifesto, the party promised among other things to target “up to 15% of the nation’s annual budget for this critical sector whilst making substantial investments in training quality teachers at all levels,” a promise which it has failed, in its three years of government, to fulfil. Saying this might be to surreptitiously give support to the mind-set of the breakage of government according to party. So it is important to note that there is no excuse for the APC government’s refusal to honour the MoU signed during the Jonathan-led PDP administration.
It is, however, no longer news that Nigeria appears to be cursed with unresponsive, irresponsible, and perhaps even “wicked” leadership and government. Although these ailments that seem to characterise the country’s leadership can never be acceptable, the more depressing part of the tragic story of Nigeria’s educational sector must be the descent of that sector’s professionals (representable with ASUU) into the cast of the very people that they deplore. There is so much that is questionable in how the union carries on with its agitation for the betterment of the country’s tertiary education, and in how the country’s universities are internally administered.
For one, ASUU’s consistent emphasis on its own constituency, tertiary education, is a clear indicator of either the union’s questionable character or its abject lack of insight into the foundational problems that bedevil the country’s educational sector. Meanwhile, the fact that these problems begin and progress from the nursery, primary and secondary levels of education is obvious to even the mass of Nigerians without PhDs. It is appalling that a band of seasoned educationists and intellectuals would ignore these foundational issues at all times and keep asking for money for itself alone.
It is also rather curious what ASUU and the university administrations have done with all the funds so far received from the government. There is, as reports intimate, a lot of profligacy and fancy spending going on within these institutions. Heads of Departments, Deans, and all manner of administrative heads are living large while departments and faculties are left to subsist on minimal budgets which make it impossible for electricity, water and internet service to be guaranteed. Hardworking lecturers, the mass of them that do not spend their money and time asking for money or sexual payment from students of the opposite sex, have to take really inconvenient funds from their meagre salaries to provide these basic amenities for themselves. They have to also personally subscribe to necessary peer-reviewed journals that their departments are failing to subscribe to, and send themselves many times to learned conferences that their institutions should normally sponsor.
The situation is made even worse by the exaggeration of the hierarchy within the university systems. Administrative heads from top down have made themselves into kings and demigods that must not be questioned, governing over voiceless subordinates. This is so because attempts by these younger scholars and intellectuals to criticise the system is now generally seen as a grave offense, punishable by anything from sundry aspersions to the denial of promotion. It therefore seems a little hypocritical for ASUU to continue in its outward criticisms when it has not put its own house in order.
Saving the Nigerian education system would require a holistic, foundational approach that will begin from bottom up, securing the proper initial development of minds rather than always seeking, at the tertiary level, to teach new tricks to old dogs. It would also require an attitudinal change in everyone involved. Students, teachers, lecturers, administrators and government officials would need to understand the need to set the right priorities and stick to them. Government should do better, yes; but rather than seeking out its exclusive good all the time, ASUU should expand its solidarity and collaborate more with the Nigerian Union of Teachers. It is only this way that the Union can be said to be doing its agitations the right way.
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