By Douglas Anele
SOME of these damages are long term, and would require years of uninterrupted improvement in quality to put right. Secondly, at ASUU congress meetings, lecturers scathingly excoriate top government officials. We are fond of name-calling the president, minister of education members of the legislature and all the sybaritic occupiers of high official positions.
We say they are wicked, corrupt, insensitive, dishonest, inept, etc. At such meetings, and in the media, my colleagues express disgust at the very low quality of leadership by political office holders. We claim to love education so much that we are willing to continue â€œthe struggle to save our universities from collapse.â€ All these are interesting and largely correct.
On the basis of such unflattering and negative judgment of government officials, one would expect lecturers, particularly senior academics, to reject government appointments as a moral weapon to register clearly our disapproval of the manner in which Nigeria is governed. But, alas, the reverse is the case. Academics, including professors of many years standing, do not even give it a second thought while accepting governmentâ€™s invitation to â€œcome and chop.â€
Some enlist supernatural help in order to be appointed minister this, commissioner that, special assistant so-and-so. If academics love teaching and education as they claim, why are we not hearing cases of rejection of government appointment by lecturers? Why are many of us hoping, praying and lobbying hard to get political appointment? Please let us face the facts. As a result of material and intellectual poverty and skewed understanding of the vocation of teaching and of the essence of political leadership as service not material gratification, many lecturers are eager to join the bandwagon of nouveaux riches, forgetting that the love for moulding minds, which constitutes the core of the teaching profession, is its own reward.
I do not wish to be misunderstood on this point. No reasonable society can joke with the welfare of its teachers, because the future development of every society depends on the quality of its educational system. Therefore, teachersâ€™ reward should also be on earth as well. Yet, it is nearly a contradiction in terms for lecturers to claim that they love education and at the same time frequently stop teaching their â€œbelovedâ€ students for indefinite periods of time to compel government to sign agreements which the latter would not fully implement.
Again, there is something definitely wrong when a senior academic or professor eagerly takes up an appointment as a special assistant (Man Friday) to a moral and intellectual Lilliputian who happens to be a governor, minister, or commissioner etc. Our penchant for lobbying for government appointment through bootlicking and worshipful adoration of top government officials is one of the covert reasons why various administrations, both past and present, treat us patronizingly and with condescension.
If lecturers can resist the lure of political appointments consistently and stop hobnobbing with morally bankrupt political leaders, then the sanctity and dignity hitherto associated with university teaching would gradually return.
Perhaps, some academics are motivated by genuine desire to serve the country in another capacity. But we can differentiate those motivated by the desire to serve from those who simply want to improve their socio-economic status through their lifestyles while in office, and afterwards.
From my own experience most of the lecturers that I know who served under different governments at various levels belong to the second group. That is the truth. Hypocrisy is a human trait for sure, but an authentic academic should avoid it like a plague. Many of our university lecturers criticize government simply because they have not been invited to â€œcome and eatâ€ out of the legendary national cake. This explains why some of them, when they eventually get appointed, begin to talk down on their colleagues.
Others abandon the classroom completely and transform into professional politicians. To put it in a nutshell, the love for teaching is dying in our universities. The argument that strike is the only weapon at our disposal is disingenuous. It all depends on the government and the temperaments of those involved in negotiations. University is a long term investment.
Therefore, both the government and ASUU should work towards an evolutionary strategy for addressing the myriads of problems facing our institutions of higher learning. Governmentâ€™s reluctance to adequately fund education at all levels is a pure disgrace in a country that falsely claims to be the giant of Africa.
Yet ASUU itself should not cut the nose of quality education which it claims to protect to spite its face by remaining unyielding with respect to indefinite strikes. The union should be much more flexible, considering the fact that no amount of funding can completely undo the damage arising from incessant indefinite strikes in one or two years.