Varsity teachers in Nigeria have been denied their salaries for the month of July, 2020. Payment was originally stopped in February, 2020, because of the refusal by the teachers through their union, Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to enroll on IPPIS.
However, the government yielded to public pressure and paid up to June. Public opinion had been that it was utterly wrong, unreasonable, and insensitive for government to have stopped salaries in the COVID 19 situation.
In its wisdom, the government has again stopped varsity teachers’ salaries. Perhaps, this is government’s way of celebrating its victory over COVID 19. But the questions that must be asked are: 1. Has the war against COVID 19 been won? 2 Was there any war declared against COVID 19 in the first place in Nigeria?
It must be clearly stated that ASUU’S disagreement with the government is far beyond the issue of IPPIS, which is but a recent issue concerning method of payment of salaries.
ASUU’S major problem had been, and remains the blunt refusal of the government to recognise that there is crisis in the nation’s varsity system. The different angles to the crisis are poor funding of education, inadequate infrastructure and equipment, lack of autonomy, inadequate establishment/ understaffing, poor remuneration for varsity teachers, and the refusal by the government to honour and implement, let alone renegotiate agreements freely reached and signed with ASUU.
I have been a varsity teacher for 35 years; I can tell that there is no teaching or learning going on today in the real or active sense of the words, teaching and learning. The reasons are simple and straightforward. Apart from the challenges of poor funding and grossly inadequate infrastructure and equipment, teachers are absolutely demoralised and consequently demotivated as a result of abysmally poor remuneration. The highest paid professors earn a monthly gross salary of #500,000.
The point, indeed, is that the government and the roguish and thieving wielders of political power have little or no interest in education, as can be seen from the scandalously wretched budgetary appropriation for education, usually 6-8% of annual budget. It must be emphasised that leaders’ concept of leadership in Nigeria is not that of service or progress but selfenrichment.
ASUU may be compelled to enroll on IPPIS, but that will not resolve the crisis in the varsity system. ASUU may even discontinue with its principled and patriotic struggle for the survival of public universities, but, doubtless, that would be the last straw that will break the camel’s back.
The choice before ASUU is EITHER to continue with its principled and patriotic struggle, and thereby ensure the survival of public universities, OR succumb to government propaganda and blackmail and thereby enable the government to bury the remains of academia.
But as an organisation of intellectuals, ASUU must continue to constructively engage the government on the necessity for the survival of public universities. ASUU must continue to provide the leading lights. Members of ASUU are not elected members of the legislature or parliament as an organ of government. Indeed, but by virtue of their training, learning, exposure, experience, and global visibility, any government that ignores them and their perceptions does not mean well for itself, the nation, the people and their future. For, as intellectuals, member of ASUU think for the larger society. As aptly noted by one scholar not too long ago, intellectuals are the legislators of the world, whether acknowledged or unacknowledged.
And so, because intellectuals cannot stop thinking, they must continue thinking, and thinking not for mere sake of thinking, but thinking to generate and articulate informed ideas and knowledge for public good and progress.
Since some struggle is required for progress of society, any such struggle is objective inevitability.
JGN Onyekpe, PhD, FHSN.
Onyekpe is of the Department of History and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos.