Our Leaders have Pathological Hatred for Knowledge – UNILAG ASUU Chair
Dr. Adelaja Odukoya, Chairman, University of Lagos branch of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has stated that Nigerian universities do not have foreign lecturers because they are no longer attractive as “a lot of decadence has set in and our leaders have a pathological hatred for knowledge”.
He stated this today when he featured as a representative of ASUU on Sunrise, a Channels Television programme. The programme focused on effect of the current ASUU strike in the country.
Here are excerpts of Dr. Odukoya’s explanations of ASUU’s position on the strike.
What is the Progress of Negotiation with Government?
“Members of ASUU are poorly paid and they are not in position where they steal money, where they embezzle government money. We can’t afford to even send our children to private universities in this country. By implication, our own children are in the same universities. The highest paid academic staff are Professors and they earn about 500 thousand naira monthly.
The strike in the first instance is forced on us. The last thing we do as academics is to go on strike. That’s why this agreement has lingered from 2009 to date. For us it is an unfortunate situation. The Minister (Minister of Education) has said that this strike will not last long. It is within the context and within the purview of government to do the needful. If the demands are met, immediately now, we have no reason to be outside the classes. So, we are expecting them to do the needful.
Talking about the state of negotiation, we are not talking about negotiations; we are not negotiating. These are issues that have been settled and agreed. We are waiting for implementation. For anybody talking about negotiations, then it shows a poor understanding of the issues, even on the part of government. This is why it is really baffling that even the Minister of Labour does not understand what we are saying. For example, he said, ASUU was given 30 billion naira for the revitalization of public universities. The 30 billion naira he was saying was for academic allowances. It is not for the revitalization of universities. So you begin to wonder how people who are supposed to manage this conflict don’t even understand the issues at stake, then we weep for this country.”
ASUU’s priority, against the backdrop of Nigeria’s lean finances. Is it conditions of service like emoluments or university autonomy/academic freedom?
“The issue of university autonomy… all those things are all-embracing. Let me put it this way; if you give us good pay and we can’t produce quality graduates, our conscience will not forgive us. We don’t want to be like the railway workers. When we had problems with the railway system, people were more bothered about their pay. Today we only have the railway and the workers are not there. The Minister of Education in 2003 as a journalist made it clear that but not for ASUU, we won’t even have universities. The little success and semblance of university that we have today is because of our struggles as ASUU, so you can’t talk of anything in isolation.
Universities must be well funded and we have agreed on that. In 2012, we compelled government to set up a committee for the NEEDS-assessment of Nigerian universities. Government came out to say to revitalize our universities, to make it globally competitive, in the minimum, it would require 1.3 trillion naira. Government released 200 billion naira. That was what the Minister did not get or understand. He said it was 30 billion…. Now, you can go and see what that little amount has been able to do in our universities. Government also said in the subsequent four years or thereabout, 220 billion naira will be released per annum.
As at today, government is in deficit to the tune of 880 billion naira on that. So, for me and for our members we are not ashamed to say we need to be paid for work done. Earned academic allowances is simply saying, ‘pay us money for what we have done. We are not asking for more’. We’ve been doing this job since 2009 and we have not been paid, and we are still doing it.
We have also been having the issue of fractional salaries. Since December 2015, Nigerian university staff have just been getting a percentage of their salaries. Sometimes 60%, sometimes 70% of our salaries and nothing is being done. We have spoken about it over and over again.
We equally have a 2014 Pension Amendment Act. What does it mean? University professors, when they retire, they should, like the Military Generals, be able to get their salaries. That is why I am saying these things are not separate. It is to motivate people to work hard to get to that level. If there are no professors, …you cannot mentor the young ones.
… We also have NUPENCO (Nigerian Universities Pension Commission). Just like the military and other sectors, we ought to manage our pension. Because of endemic corruption in this country, we can’t put our fate in the hands of others. It is part of our 2009 agreement. We said, what does it cost to get a license, they said, two hundred million naira. We paid. Give us our license, they said, ‘No, give us three million’. We paid. They increased it to five, six and at the last count, they said we need to pay one billion naira. We have since paid one billion naira in the last three years. We don’t have the license and our money is still with them. We are told it is in an escrow account. And by implication, several of our members are retiring without pension.
We equally have the issue of staff schools. Staff schools are supposed to cater for our own children. We’ve been training other people’s children and yet our own children cannot get quality education. Go to Zambia, go to Zimbabwe, go to Botswana, university lecturers have free education for their own children. So, part of the 2009 agreement said the Federal Government would fund staff schools as they are funding military schools and command schools. Staff schools are equally under the universal basic primary education. And they said, ‘Fine, we would fund’ but the university administration should fund, and we are doing that.
Government has commercialized and privatised the staff schools. When we challenged them, the government itself went to the industrial court. And the government lost at the industrial court. As I speak with you, government has not reversed their position. So, where are we?
Before we had this crisis, we competed with Oxford, we competed with Harvard. We should go back to that glorious era. To tell you that our universities are no longer attractive; we don’t see foreign lecturers in our universities because a lot of decadence have set in and our leaders have a pathological hatred for knowledge.”
ASUU’s position in the face of the current situation in Nigerian universities
“I told you the whole thing is linked. For instance, when we say fund universities, we have Professors and Lecturers who are not motivated. We have Lecturers you are owing since 2009 and you want them to go to class to teach. And more importantly, let’s not deceive ourselves about this whole issue about economic crisis. See what they are doing all over the place. Of course, the mathematics does not add up.
How much was the cost of oil in 2016, for instance? Or when Jonathan was there? Exchange rate was 165 naira to a dollar. How much is the exchange rate now? Let’s take the official exchange rate, 305 naira. By the time you do the mathematics, you even have more naira. We spend naira here. With the exchange rate of a dollar to the naira, we have more naira. All we need to do is to reduce greed. In Nigeria, officials don’t just steal; stealing is official. Starting from the Presidency to the National Assembly, all of them.
So, how do you explain this? They say we don’t have money. In state universities, they are not given subventions. Ogun State have not been able to pay subventions to the three universities there in the last six/eight months…. Ondo state, the same thing. The Federal Government, even under this administration is having several universities and you say you can’t fund existing ones.”
Do the Universities Publish their Accounts?
“Yes, the university do that in the newspapers. Anyone that does not do that, the government should be able to hold them accountable.”
Has the government made any promises regarding the time frame to clear some of these debts so that you all can go back to work?
“As the chairman of ASUU University of Lagos, or the chairman of ASUU anywhere, I don’t take my news from the newspapers when it comes to the issue of strike. We have our modalities for communication. I have not gotten anything from national. Maybe by tomorrow, I should be able to say authoritatively, this is the instruction from the Federal Government so far. Given the era of propaganda, lies and misinformation, it would be dangerous for me to rely on the news.”
What is ASUU’s Position on Autonomy of Universities?
“The issue of autonomy; financial autonomy does not mean that government should not fund education. Education is a public good. Whether you like it or not, you consume it. When we are talking about militancy, when we are talking about Boko Haram, we are talking about this…, go and take your statistics, you will discover that you can’t find somebody who is highly educated at that level. Every society has moved beyond depending on minimal resources. You now depend on human capital developed. Every society that cares about its own development, cares about education. … It is in that context that UNESCO said every country should fund its education up to the tune of 26 percent of its budget. We are barely 6 percent now. It was more than that under the past administration. So the issue of financial autonomy or university autonomy does not necessarily dovetail into people paying fees. This country is endowed. Go to even Canada, Britain and all those Nordic countries where they subsidise education, they still have free education. Even countries that are not as rich as our country. So that is the issue.”
What is The Way Forward
“You don’t keep on talking to a deaf person. We had an agreement in 2009 and up till now it has not been fulfilled and everyone says, keep on talking. We had the last one in 2013, it has not been fulfilled. We are still where we are. The only option left for ASUU, except violence and revolution, is strike. For those who are proposing any other option, let them give us.
Finally, for us as a union, we have a sacred obligation to the youth of this country; to give them qualitative education, to give them education that is globally competitive and we will not relent on that. Whether government embarks on propaganda or blackmail, we are steadfast on that.
We are parents, we are concerned about what is happening and we are ready to return to the university as soon as government meet our demands.”
Meanwhile, a concerned parent, Mr. Nkanu Egbe, as well as a former President of National Association of Nigerian Students (NAN), Lagos State Chapter, Mr. Yakubu Eletor featured with the ASUU Chairman on that program. The concerned parent expressed worry about the fact that his children have been affected by the strike. He enjoined the Federal Government to be more proactive in terms of communication.
Mr. Egbe appealed to ASUU to seek a way to resolve the strike “without disrupting the entire system”. He said “I believe that the current Minister by accepting that government has reneged on some of the things they agreed upon, has made the first step. I think that is the first time we are having the government agree and I think we should take it from there. They said they have released some money and so we can take it further.”
On his part, the former President of NANS appealed to ASUU to discipline its members who are not living up to their mandate as Lecturers. He said: “In some of our universities, some members of ASUU are not living up to standard. ASUU should also hold itself accountable. I am from the Lagos State University and there are things going on there, which I think that at the surface level people are supporting ASUU, members of this ASUU must also ensure that they live up to the desired expectations.”
Channels Television’s Sunrise programme was anchored by Alero Edu and Nneotabase Egbe.
We welcome President Buhari from his health vacation in the United Kingdom.
Long live Nigeria!
- Cornelius Ellah