There is this anecdote someone posted on my Facebook wall recently. I have not met the guy from Adam, but the graffiti said it all. In my view, it was as funny as it was a mirror and reflection of the malaise that has befallen our dear nation Nigeria and our education system in particular.
The guy said he travelled to the United States on vacation some time ago and someone came to him to inquiring the full meaning of ASUU. He felt ashamed of telling the American how spasmodic and erratic our education and academic calendar have become in our institutions of higher learning but rather explained to him that Nigeria, in a bid to become one of the 20 most developed economies in the world, was shopping for an alternative to oil and was therefore promoting tourism as that alternative. He explained further to the American that ASUU was an annual festival in Nigeria created by the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism in conjunction with our universities and the Federal Government where students stay at home for three months!
Funny as this anecdote may seem, this explains in a laughable manner the level our education system has fallen, irremediably, irretrievably.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on nationwide strike for close to three months now, leaving our children not only frustrated and dejected but equally stranded in their quest for a certificate that no longer has any value attached to it. Since July 1 when the National President of ASUU, Dr. Nasir Fagge led members out on a nation-wide strike, our universities are still under lock and key up till now and there is no silver lining in the sky when the strike will be called off.
I have very high regard for ASUU, what with the high level of manpower and academics who have devoted all their life to teaching and research. Such high level of manpower is readily an asset to any nation, and I should assume that the preponderance of these intellectuals in our clime is one of the things some African and Western nations consider when they say that Nigeria is endowed in both human and natural resources.
But it beats me hollow and I wonder why such an asset should turn, in some instances, to a curse. I am frazzled why a nation so blessed and so endowed cannot collectivise and optimise its area of comparative advantage to make a quantum leap in all indices of development. ASUU has descended to the level that people now make jest of it as an annual festival that compulsorily keep students at home!
For the past three months ASUU has held the nation to ransom and kept our academic calendar on pause mode. It has been in the field of battle, cavilling and throwing fiery darts at all corners. It has become an irritant and a tsetse fly sitting precariously on our scrotum, we do not know how to remove it or kill it without inflicting collateral damage on our testis.
Let me say this from the beginning. I am not a government agent, no one hired me to run down ASUU or pour invectives on such a distinguished union of highly qualified professionals, but sometimes we must do some soul-searching under some critical situations and tell ourselves the truth. ASUU has not impressed me one jot. The manner and frequency it engages the government in an endless battle for welfare of its members and sundry issues gives it off as a union that is purely driven by pecuniary motives. If it is not for salary increase today, tomorrow it will be for allowances. In the past ten years our university system has lost not less than 30 months to ASUU strikes. The frequency of this has become so regular that when NEPA takes light a market woman living in my neighbourhood would shout “hao ASUU again”.
For instance, when the country was preparing for the celebration of its golden jubilee in 2009, ASUU was on strike that lasted for not less than three months. In 2011, the South-East branch of ASUU was on strike, and today, ASUU is on strike again to validate the implementation of the agreement it reached with the Federal Government in 2009. ASUU is asking for the payment of N87 billion being the backlog of allowances owed to its members and the injection of at least N100 billion to upgrade dilapidated infrastructure in our universities. These are good demands which may have been motivated by a genuine desire to lift our universities from the bootstrap and quagmire it has fallen. But government has indicated its willingness to meet at least half of the requests, but ASUU is insisting for the whole or nothing. In fact we have lost count of the number of times the union goes on strike every year.
Trade or professional unions exist to, among other things, fight for the welfare of its members. In most cases, it regulates the conduct of members, metes out appropriate sanctions to erring ones and spells out the criteria or qualification for membership.
To say the truth, ASUU has never relented in the former, but it has performed dismally in the latter. It is like the case of Jesus Christ commending the Pharisees for tithing but at the same time denouncing them for “neglecting the weightier matters of the law, which is justice and mercy”.
ASUU’s influence on our education has become too cold for comfort; its penchant for strikes at the drop of a hat has become too demoralising that there is enough justification for government to review alternative means of doing away with the body. Shall we not privatise our Federal Universities? Can’t government introduce a clause when hiring lecturers in future that will make them sign undertaking not to belong to any union as a precondition for employment? In fact, should we not tie a lecturer’s pay to productivity? This is so because one cannot establish a linkage or the rationale why a lecturer who has been on strike for three or four months should be paid for the period he or she did not work. In all honesty, I blame government for ASUU’s recalcitrance because each time the body goes on strike members still receive their due wages. Of course, why is it that lecturers in private universities are not also on strike? It is because their conditions of service forbid them from doing so. This is the lesson the Federal Government should learn from our private universities if it must prevent future occurrence of such senseless strikes.
It is a pity that ASUU embarks on strike with Spartan spirit but develops cold feet when it comes to disciplining erring members. Today the standard of our education has fallen irretrievably compared to what the system was in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s because of the actions and inactions of ASUU. Our education system has collapsed because of lack of commitment of our lecturers. This is why foreign universities, starting from 1990, have lost faith in the quality of products our universities churn out year after year. The degrees issued by our universities are no longer accepted abroad if somebody wants to further his studies. We have come to this pass because there is no more effective quality control mechanism in the content and quality of what our children are taught in our institutions of higher learning.
A servant cannot be above his master, many of the lecturers in our universities are themselves products of the rotten system. They sort their way through and graduate through the hand-out system which stifles rigorous research and creativity and get employed as lecturers. The tendency is therefore high they will likely replicate the same because you cannot give what you do not have.
In fairness however, I must also blame the government for the parlous state of our universities. There is complete dearth of infrastructure. Nothing works, beaten down structures fester everywhere. Our universities are what they are today because of the successive decline in our budget for education. Our libraries are dead. You hardly can see any relevant and current books in them. Even with the quantum leap in Science and Information Technology you scarcely can see books on these frontiers of knowledge when you get to our libraries. And then I ask: how can we produce the Chinua Achebes, Wole Soyinkas, Egwu U. Egwus, Pius Okigbos, Emeagwalis or the Dele Giwas under such twisted atmosphere?
I have said this often and it will not be trite repeating it here. A friend of mine, who teaches psychology in one of the universities in Ogun state told me a story which is a reflection of the permissive moral decadence in our universities which, I may say, is traceable to ASUU. He told me how one of her female students invited him out to celebrate her birthday. She took him to a hotel for an amorous dalliance. In the nick of romance, she told him: “You teach me psychology in class, but today I am going to teach you fuckology”.
And some years ago when I went to see one lecturer, there was this female student in his office who ostensibly was looking for some favour. They discussed freely, and somewhere along the line the student suggested to my friend they go out for “night browsing“. I couldn’t understand what that meant, but later when the girl was gone I asked my friend what she meant by night browsing. He laughed hilariously and asked me: “don’t you know what it means to browse a computer?” The message was delivered!
How does ASUU discipline her members who indulge in this “fuckology” and “browsing” business? What quality control measures does ASUU have to ensure that the marks awarded to students are truly earned? What of those among them that compel students to pay for marks, how does it handle it?
I hold ASUU responsible for the moral disorientation in our universities and the dismal fall in the standard of our education. They must be blamed because they are a reflection of their products.
It is no longer hidden that many lecturers do not have the zeal to teach, let alone research. Many neither read nor write. In an era of knowledge explosion, many of our lecturers have fallen by the wayside; they still come to class without conscience and regurgitate lesson notes they prepared over two decades ago without an update. And yet, they get paid for teaching our children nonsense.
It may sound funny, but that is true. They are thousands of lecturers out there in our universities today who have never touched a computer, let alone explored the wonders of Internet. And it remains a wonder to me how such people cope in an age that demands more and more relevance in science and technology. On the strength of this, I am beginning to ask myself if university education is actually worth it.
ASUU has become a pain in the neck. It has failed our children. It has failed our nation. Its products are everywhere looking for jobs when it was supposed to teach them how to create jobs. Indeed, we cannot celebrate this 53rd anniversary of our independence when our universities are shut and our children languishing at home.
We must tear down this wall and set the nation free.