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The universities and suspended strikes

By Morenike Taire

OF the innumerable sms messages this column receives each week in reaction, only a few stands out. The ones that do are not usually the most brilliant or profound.

Typically, it is the one delivered simply–sometimes even a tad simplistically–, with virtuosity and straight from the soul without the benefit of editing that hits the nail on the head with the most efficiency.

The perfect example would be the following: We seem to be emphasizing the issue of ASUU salary over and above other issues plaguing our universities; for example lecturers’ quality, unethical and unprofessional conduct (sexual harassment, ethnicity, victimization of students), equally responsible for the half baked graduates we’re producing in this country. Haba!

The merits of this point, so simplistically delivered, derives not from ingenuity (he has told us nothing we did not know hitherto), but from its genuineness. The sender of this text (name withheld), has enough courage and integrity to take the less popular, less politically correct side.

Because it has become somewhat politically correct for the Nigerian educated elite not of the political classes to stand staunchly on the side of ASUU and whatever else that active union ever manages to rustle up.

Perhaps it is the symptom of class self-preservation, for a section of society which feels its demise is imminent and that this demise is being orchestrated by the so called military industrial complex of the ’80s and ’90s, and by the complex, ruling political class of the moment.

It must be asserted on a continual basis therefore that it is heretical to pay a local government chairman or councilor more than double what a professor is paid by the Federal Government.

And it is by no means a piece of cake, as they say, to attain professorship even in a Nigeria university. Of course there are the cases of those exceptionally lucky women in the public sphere, who also happen to be exceptionally brilliant, who were conferred with professorship while working outside of the figurative laboratory.

Professors Akunyili and Okereke Onyuike are the exceptions rather than the rule and the former in her painstaking way has at least bothered to explain that her professorship was under consideration before she took the long break from teaching and research.

Usually, a professor would, after having spent many tough, sacrificial years working on a doctorate, then have to have initiated or cooperated on a line of investigation or inquiry within his area of specialty at least a few dozen times.

This would usually take, each time, months of research, writing and thought requiring extraordinary levels of concentration. When he is done, he would then need to get his findings published. This is by no means the hardest part of his work, yet no easy task. The long and short of it is that a professor is a man who is an undisputed expert in his field.

If this is not respected by policy makers and budget writers alike, there is the danger of intellectualism being threatened by complete annihilation, whether in theory or in practice.

It is easy to then lose sight of the fact of its being lost, slowly but surely, not only as a result of material and psychological under-motivation, but also the result of the sectional will of the sector of society not only responsible for preserving it as a heritage, but whose very sustenance and indeed very survival, is dependent on this.

It is not easy, either, to be elected a local government councilor or chairman, even where they are selected rather than elected- more the rule than the exception.

In nine cases of ten, it is extremely dangerous, and it is hard work. To even mention the remuneration at the LG in asking for more university funds is to disrespect the workers of that institution. The issues are in any case more complex than that, as the writer I quoted has little qualms about pointing out.

Asking for more money, even for research, is going to do very little for the state in which the Nigerian university finds itself today, even on the long term, and assuming it is sustained. Professors deserve to earn ten times what an LG chairman or councilor or whoever earns.

In fact, despite the conventional philosophy, the teacher’s reward is always going to be in heaven, and it is impossible to actually pay a teacher back for what he imparts into his students or/and protégés, particularly on this level.

Asking government to do something about remuneration by fiat however is like ‘re-branding Nigeria’. How does more money translate into better value in an environment where there is no value? The work of a professor goes much further than teaching, though it is a huge and important part of it.

More importantly, though, is that the professor is-or should be-the chief adviser of the nation in whatever field of human endeavor, thought or belief. The quality of work going on in the nation’s university reflects directly on the level of development of that nation. It is not necessarily the other way round.

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