SHOULD ASUU FOCUS ONLY ON MEMBERS’ EMOLUMENTS AND WELFARE?
THE EMERGING POSITION OF some members of Nigeria’s Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, is that the union should refocus and restrategise, and concentrate on members’ emoluments and conditions of service. If this position ultimately prevails, then the union will be indifferent to the basic problems of: 1. Inadequate funding; 2. Poor infrastructure and backward state of utilities; 3. Lack of autonomy; 4. Cultism, bigotry, sectarianism, deadly ethnic and sub-ethnic politics in high places; 5. The reign of impunity, lawlessness, corruption, and abuse of office; etc, etc.
The emerging position is the direct result of the growing frustration among staff as the interest of successive administrations in the country has been scandalously worse than useless.
Today, academic courses such as engineering, medicine, and pharmacy are taught as religion, literature, and philosophy. Besides, students’ living conditions on the campuses are worse than those of lower animals. Then, university staff work and live in excruciating and agonizing poverty, in groveling and mucous penury. For example, the highest paid professor in Nigeria earns a monthly gross salary of about five hundred thousand Naira (#500,000), which today approximates to one thousand United States Dollars ($1,000). Nigerian professors are the least paid professors in the world!
The natural result is that a greater majority of the staff are absolutely demoralized and demotivated.
The new thinking that ASUU should allow the government to do whatever they choose to do with the basic problems of the universities, and that the union should focus instead on members’ welfare has it implication; should this position win the argument, then it is the death knell of public university education in Nigeria.
Therefore, while ASUU should priorities the issue of salary reviews and the conditions of service the union cannot afford to ignore the backward state of the varsities.
Should ASUU abandon this critical issue, should it begin to de-emphasize this, then we will not have what we can properly call universities.
For, whatever progress we have made concerning the overall development of our public varsities has been achieved only through the patriotic struggle of ASUU.
The emerging position makes reference to the example of Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, which focuses strictly on members’ welfare.
But if medical doctors have decided to talk only about their salaries and the conditions of their service, it is most unfortunate, because it means they have no weighty commitment to the well-being or the good health of public health, particularly the health interest of the poor.
Are they unmindful of the ethical or moral problem of earning enhanced emoluments while unconscionably certifying their hapless and helpless patients for the morgues?
As a union of intellectuals, as a union of the thinkers of and for society, as the leading light of Nigeria’s secular world, ASUU cannot ignore the role the universities are established to play; ASUU cannot ignore the preconditions without which the varsities cannot effectively play their role as varsities. Yes, doctors may negotiate and achieve high earnings and then ignore the wretched conditions of the hospitals and the health sector generally, to their shame, and ultimately become mass grave diggers, university teachers cannot afford blindness to the basic funding and infrastructure problems of the varsities; how would the varsities produce doctors and other professionals? University teachers cannot afford to abandon their commitment to varsity autonomy and academic freedom without which the varsity system will remain tethered and fettered, and so incapable of effectively performing its role; university teachers cannot afford not to engage the management of the varsities on the culture of cultism in high places, impunity, abuse of office, infraction, looting of funds especially internally generated revenue, etc, etc.
Therefore, while as a staff union, ASUU must continue to strive to achieve enhanced earnings for its members, it cannot afford to abandon its patriotic commitment to the survival of public universities and the access of the children of the poor to varsity education.
Government propaganda against ASUU is all nonsense and escapist. It is a demonstration of unwillingness to address the crisis in the university system. But ASUU cannot afford to be fatalistic and despondent. In the interest of the nation and its progress, ASUU should continue to creatively and constructively engage the government on the basic problems and challenges of the universities. However, in doing this ASUU must be conscious of a desideratum; there is a critical need for the union to embark on public enlightenment as the varsities are public institutions.