By Rotimi Fasan
THERE are very practical but undesirable consequences to the terrible situation in our universities. The wrong people, staff and students, find their way into our universities, the very space in which we expect to train and provide leadership for the country’s quest for scientific and cultural rebirth and development.
What is more, government’s failure to provide necessary infrastructure that aids university education has led to the rise of a new crop of pseudo-academics whose primary vocation is ASUU unionism. They hibernate in the system and function more or less like primary school teachers and only lie in wait for when a strike would be declared before springing into action.
They are neither regular in class nor do they see the need for research of any kind. Some hold the highest degrees possible while others remain stuck on doctoral studies begun many years ago, victims of a skewed system and/or frustrated supervisors that derive wicked pleasure in consigning students into academic limbo. Being so brutalised these pseudo-intellectuals are often brutal to their students and the system.
They lack the clear-sighted apprehension of the challenges facing university education beyond desultory mouthing of empty slogans. Nor do they possess the intellection of ASUU leaders of a bygone era. Some have assumed cult status in their domains of influence. Their purpose is to cripple academic activities as soon as government makes another strike inevitable. These are the ‘struggle’ entrepreneurs and union warriors who have turned ASUU politics into private meal tickets. They profit from government’s lack of foresight and readiness to live up to its responsibilities by providing necessary and adequate funding for public universities.
The activities of these kinds of clowns could be curtailed if ASUU strikes could come without pay. But who is to enforce such no-work-no-pay rule where the very foundation for the short-changing of the system has been laid right from the very top by irresponsible governments and their officials whose greed and criminal pilfering has ruined everything? Yet, it cannot be denied that the fact that people get paid for job not done encourages them to be lazy and irresponsible and hurt the system they claim ‘the struggle’ is meant to protect.
In the last two months since the ASUU strike commenced, I have been at a South African university of just about 7,000- student population. But the facilities in this 109 years old university, its academic and maintenance culture, trump what you will find in any of the best Nigerian universities.
But in my local university, the ASUU was so enamoured of the ongoing strike that it opposed an academic event, a grant award organised by their own colleagues to honour some of their junior members on doctoral studies. Many of these individuals cannot embark on field trips to complete their studies for lack of funding. Yet an opportunity that came their way was spurned and thwarted by other members who claimed ASUU was on strike.
The same members ensured ASUU had no input in the conduct of the post-UTME exam for prospective students, leaving a purely academic matter in the hands of non-academic staff. I wouldn’t see what was wrong in ASUU allowing its members to conduct this event that would take just about five hours at the most. In no distant time, the same ‘aluta’ warriors would whine about the poor quality of students offered admission.
Like them, we have state officials who get paid for the wrong job or jobs not done at all. This is coming back to the case of our bloated bureaucracy of over 40 ministers in Abuja alone without looking at the states or local governments. Among the ministers are the likes of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala with double designation. There are also the substantive ministers and the (junior?) ministers of state- all serving the same president!
This bloated bureaucracy is a drain on the economy and makes any call for sacrifice from any sector of the Nigerian public hollow. Surely this can’t be a functional bureaucracy in which everybody earns what they are paid or Nyesom Wike, the Minister of State for Education, wouldn’t be fighting a proxy battle for President Jonathan and his wife in Rivers State, while Nigerian universities are on strike.
He has had no word to utter about the strike nor did we hear of his input all through the various negotiations. What is the justification for such a man remaining in the system? When the universities are shut down for months at a time, we have no right to complain about teachers who cannot read or graduates on national service who can’t fill out registration forms.
To conclude on a personal note: While on research sabbatical at the University of London earlier this year, a student I had known back in Nigeria came to visit. He was studying for his masters in a university in London. More than any need for a leisurely visit, he had very urgent obligations for which he needed assistance. He was having trouble writing an acceptable proposal for his dissertation.
Only a couple of months before, he had submitted his long essay which he couldn’t have done without writing a proposal. While working on his long essay, I had seen him on a number of occasions and whenever I asked he had assured me he was making progress with the essay. You can then imagine the irony of him being stuck writing, not his dissertation, but the proposal, his work plan, to put it in simple terms.
Among other things he told me, his lecturers had wondered how he got his degree given his obvious deficiencies. At the time he came to me, his supervisor had been so frustrated she had totally refused to offer further advice on or read his work until he made personal efforts of his own.
His confession and discomfiture told me he had been sufficiently chastened for me not to remind him of my warnings and questions only a few months before. Yet what he experienced, not necessarily in similar terms or to the same degree, is what even many of us academics face when we travel abroad.
This is the tragedy of university education in Nigeria, that we are neither creating competent manpower nor opportunities for the next generation. President Jonathan, as a former academic, can make his contribution to the reversal of this deplorable situation by acceding to the demands of ASUU and fulfilling the terms of the 2009 agreement between the union and Abuja.