South - East Universities' Crises: A Case Study of Imsu (1)
The crisis of IMSU is a tragedy of monumental proportion which should elicit sober reflection from right thinking members of Imo State. In the past four years, I have written several viewpoints on IMSU. So today, I do not intend to revisit the points raised therein but to dwell on the closure of the university in the last four months. As she does every time, IMSG has put up press releases to the effect that the university community (ASUU, NASU, SSANU, NAT) are politicizing the issue. The government has denounced the alleged nonchalance and insensitivity of these associations to the peaceful overtures from the government. On the allegation of politicizing the ongoing trade dispute, I cannot hold brief for the associations, even though I have not seen any scintilla of political machinations on the part of the ASUU in particular. In fact, there are many who feel that the crises in the university today were caused by the docility and indifference of these labour unions, especially the ASUU. Often when we expected them to assert their rights, they simply remained passive, indifferent and lukewarm. They would declare a strike today and call it off tomorrow for reasons which most people describe as 'trade unionism of the stomach'. Some people had accused IMSU labour union leaders of calling off their strikes after receiving financial gratification.
In order to reinforce its accusation of political agenda on the part of the IMSU labour unions, the government should make available the document on the agreements reached in July 2009 between the Federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to the public. The White Paper should be mass- produced and sold through the newspaper vendors or the government printer. On a related note, our editors should publish the entire 2009 ASUU/Government agreement. All a good newspaper needs do is to obtain this document and publish it free of cost as its role in corporate social responsibility (CSR). Once this document is made public, we can then peruse it and do a critique from the prism of informed mind. Until that is done my sympathy remains with the ASUU in particular, since I do not know much of what the other unions are asking for. My support for ASUU is based on the fact that IMSU as well as ASUU/IMSU has been so much treated with contempt, derision and disdain since democracy returned in May 29, 1999. IMSU is today a glorified secondary school and one wonders the quality of graduates this contraption called a university can produce. In fact, the degradation of infrastructure and learning facilities is such that on one occasion,, Governor Ohakim described IMSU as 'a poultry' while the former Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Comfort Chukwu, was always telling whoever wanted to listen that 'IMSU is rotten'. Since they made these revelations, nothing has happened to show that IMSU has been transformed to a modern citadel of learning. People must consider the consequences of sending our future leaders to scavenge for university degrees from institutions that are ill-equipped to produce graduates who can be certified as sound in character and learning. It is dangerous to posterity to continue to raise graduates in institutions that do not have the wherewithal to produce graduates. It is a barefaced coup against posterity. Yes, education is on the concurrent list and it is not an obligation for a State to own a university. State governments who find out that they can no longer fund their universities should close them down. We can no longer run universities on the basis of passion and emotions. IMO state has yet to comply with the UNESCO prescription that 26% per cent of the budget should be appropriated to the education sector. If the so-called number one State in education (Imo State) where education is said to be the biggest industry cannot domesticate this UNESCO baseline of 26% of the budget to the education sector, then we deceive and delude ourselves as we are merely laying the foundation for catastrophe and cataclysm in the future. When the governor described IMSU as 'a poultry' the connotational signification of the usage is that IMSU is like a place where fowls and ducks are bred. In farness to our Governor, this label is real but we must refuse any attempt to convert an Ivory Tower to 'a poultry' or a 'rotten place'. Since the governor diagnosed the problem, what has been done to ameliorate the situation? It's only imbeciles who will willingly continue to pursue university degrees in substandard institutions. IMO State is too sophisticated for this sort of deceit because there are no imbeciles here. This is the basic problem on our hands. On one occasion, the ASUU/IMSU members were on a nationwide strike with other units nationwide when the governor directed that they should return to classes or be sacked. He said that the lecturers were on sympathy strike and he even cast them as 'cultists'. In any place in the world, the best in the society are always found in the universities and civil/public service. A university should not be turned to a quasi political institution, which is what IMSU has since become. The autonomy which Nigerian universities have fought and won should not be rubbished through the use of surreptitious and subliminal political maneuvers in the administration of IMSU or through the use of draconian and unguarded utterances in addressing academics. The pertinent question is: 'are these not the same academics who taught these politicians? If these politicians are academically sound, why is it that several years after, the same academics are turning out half-baked graduates, more so, when modern technology should facilitate the turning out of super graduates? So, has anybody tried to find out the reasons for this aberration? The only reason is that in spite of the mega budgets to the education sector in Imo State, such earmarked amounts are never eye marked as the budgets are simply shared by politicians. Any academic who continues to produce graduates in an environment that is not conducive to learning is posing a threat to society and to posterity. So, if the academics of IMSU know full well that the environment is not fit for teaching and learning, the only honourable path of honour is to stay away and insist that the irreducible minimum requirements for a citadel of learning are put in place and these requirements include sound learning facilities, concrete infrastructure and adequate remuneration and conditions of service for those who work in such institutions, especially the academic staff.. In one of my viewpoints on IMSU, I said that in view of the massive decline and deterioration of teaching, learning and related infrastructure in IMSU, Imo State may not have the requisite top level manpower to man the critical areas of the economy in the next twenty years. Although this revelation sounds alarmist, I do not know how else to say it. There are times when a spade must be called a spade and not just a digging implement.
After the Imo Visitation Panel concluded its job, Governor Ohakim said 'we must get to the root of the rots in IMSU'. As we speak nothing has been done to address the rots which were allegedly thrown up by the Visitation Panel. After nearly four years in office, this government has not put up any structure or even a classroom in IMSU, there are no capital grants, no research grants and subvention is at an time low of N57.50ml per month. Compare it to the monthly subvention of N120ml in Ebonyi State University, a university with lesser financial commitments than IMSU.
This is, perhaps the only university which after over twenty years of existence does not own halls of residence for the students and such utilities as water, public conveniences and electric light are not available; the so-called library is laughable. Above all, at a time when virtually all universities have e-libraries on campus, IMSU has no internet (i.e. ICT) platform. Recently, the students went on rampage because the administration introduced a computer-based examination system for their semester examinations. In fact my discreet investigation reveals that the fresh students were compelled to embark on the demonstration by the senior students, most of who cannot operate the computer effectively. How can such students compete with their counterparts in other universities and in the global arena?
How can anybody justify a situation where after about 40 months in office, this government cannot announce the permanent site of the university, even when the Visitation Panel she set up recommended Ogbaku as the permanent site? Yet, within this same period, most governors have built and commissioned brand new state- of the- art universities with modern and exotic buildings to boot. Governor Akpabio of AKWA IBOM State has built a brand new state university, AKWA IBOM UNIVERSITY TECHNOLOGY,(AKUTECH) which commenced lectures in November. Yet, after about four years in office,, we are unable to eyemark any concrete project embarked upon by this government in IMSU, even though huge budgets were appropriated to the university in the fiscal budgets of 2007,2008 and,2009. Is there any special fund where these budgets are kept or have they disappeared into private pockets?
In spite of these huge budgets to IMSU, the institution lies in ruins, crestfallen, decrepit and desolate and ramshackle. The massive degradation and deterioration of infrastructure is palpable, ubiquitous and heart-wrenching. The students are subjected to horrendous trauma and agony in their search for knowledge which will be used for the good of the larger society in the long run. It's extremely despicable that in a State where education is said to be the biggest industry, the government has no scholarship scheme, no loans board and no bursary. Indigent students, especially the girls who are very vulnerable and prone to manipulation are left to do all sorts of things (anyhow, anyhow) in order to stay afloat. Out of desperation and frustration, some of the male students engage in crimes such as robbery and kidnapping while the young girls are victims to the Casanovas who are ever on the prowl to wreak havoc on these hapless students.
While other states send thousands of their students to foreign countries (Asia UK, USA and the like) for the purpose of pursuing degree programmes in critical areas such as Medicine, Engineering, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Petroleum Engineering and the like, Imo State Government sent her own students (27 students) to South Africa to watch the World Cup, an event which even those in the rural areas watched live on their television sets. While receiving the students, the Nigerian Ambassador to South Africa, General Marwa (retd), revealed that Imo State was the only government in Nigeria that sponsored her students to watch the World Cup in South Africa. This cannot be a commendation. It's rather laughable.
Imo State University has become a provincial University where over 90 percent of the students come from Imo State. This is not a positive attribute. The main functions of a university include teaching, research, and community development. I am not aware of any community development by IMSU and I am also not aware of any research breakthroughs there. Nobody in that university has won the prestigious Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA), an award for distinguished academics who have made significant contribution to research and learning. Although the academics in IMSU are generally sound, how can they embark on serious research when they are not being given research grants? Instead of setting up a state scholarship scheme, we have a situation where these politicians use looted money to run personal scholarship schemes where they extend such scholarships to there kiths and kin. The heinous crime of looting fiscal budgets and using same to run private scholarship schemes must be deprecated by all men of conscience; it's a gargantuan injustice which cries to heaven for vengeance. This is the new face of money laundering.
We need a State Government Scholarship Board and not privately owned scholarship schemes run by politicians, who have looted government funds, more so, when we know that just yesterday some of them were extremely impecunious (poverty-stricken).This government has never been serious about funding education. If it did, the Education Task Committee it set up about two years ago would not have been a monumental failure.
There is a need to re-emphasize that although education is on the concurrent list (i.e. both states and federal government can run schools), it is not an obligation for every State to own a university. Any state that decides to run a university must comply with the basic guidelines, the irreducible minimum set by the National Universities Commission (NUC). There is no such thing as State University Degree. All university degrees enjoy the same recognition globally. They are of the same quality; in every material particular - the holder has been certified sound in character and learning. Where any State Government discovers that it does not have the resources to fund a university, such a governor can close down its State University until its economy improves. It is not an impeachable offence to cut one's coat according to one's cloth. Above all, no responsible government can make the cost of education prohibitive and beyond the reach of the masses. When the Governor of Plateau State, JONAH JANG, assumed office in 2007, he closed down the State University because of the collapse of infrastructure there as well as the scarcity of fund to upgrade the university's infrastructure. He did not resort to charging outrageous fees because he knows that education is the bedrock of development. The university has just been reopened. It is unfair to be demonizing lecturers who are only asking for the implementation of minimum guidelines to be enthroned in IMSU. .Governor Ohakim's statement that 'I will pay the ASUU demands 100% but I have no money' is a vindication that the academics are not making frivolous demands. However, since economists always talk of effective demand and not mere demand, the governor should provide his repayment schedule to the labour unions for discussions on ways to resolve the impasse. In Anambra State, Governor Peter Obi says:'I will increase salaries by 50% and upgrade the monthly subvention to N90000; in Ebonyi State, Governor Martin Elechi says:' I will step up the monthly subvention to N120ml per month'. As I write, I am not aware of any concessions made by Governor Ohakim. He must make a commitment because; save for special contracts, 'Consideration' is an indispensable ingredient of any valid contract. A mere demand that is not backed up by the ability or willingness to pay is of nuisance value in the economic realm.
There is a consensus that what we have today 'is a poultry' (as stated by Governor Ohakim) It is also a rotten university (as stated by Mrs. Comfort Chukwu, former Commissioner for Educaton, Imo State. Since what is worth doing at all is worth doing well, the ASUU must insist that the irreducible minimum approved by NUC is implemented. Government must also announce the permanent site of IMSU and its development must be accorded accelerated and expedited attention. It is no longer acceptable to accuse the academics of politicizing the crises; after all, they also have their own wards in that university. Unlike the politicians who have sent their children to IVY League School in the neon-lighted cities of the world and GHANA, the ASUU members are not rich enough to do so for their children. So, it is unfair and unreasonable to accuse them of insensitivity to the plight of their students, more so, since their own wards are also adversely affected. Yes, It is very uncharitable and an act of demagoguery to accuse the ASUU/IMSU of being used by political opponents of the government. Such propaganda is the handiwork of demagogues who do not mean well for the university; it can only exacerbate the already precarious situation. This cheap blackmail which is capable of inciting the students against their lecturers must be curbed. Enough is enough; after all, these same students will inherit the enhanced salary and working conditions when they eventually become academics tomorrow. As keen observers of the political tomfoolery and buffoonery in IMO State, we have seen through the veneer of government's subterfuge.
The insistence of the government that it cannot borrow money to pay the university workers makes economic sense. Yes, it is a bad economic policy to service recurrent expenditure obligations through bank borrowing. But when did the government realize this truth? Is this not the same government that borrowed in billions in order to settle the outstanding allowances of former local government officials? In that scam with RedBrick Consulting Company, 60% of the entitlements of the former local government officials was released to them while 40 percent went to the private pockets of those who instigated the financial scam. A government that is used to borrowing from the banks can as well do so now because the ASUU episode is an emergency. By the way nobody has told us how much we are indebted to the banks. Addressing his people recently Governor Peter Obi said: 'I have not borrowed a kobo since I became governor and I will not borrow'. Can the government of Imo State tell us the extent of our indebtedness to the banks?
The problem with Imo State government is that there are several wasteful organizational practices (WOP) which catalyze hemorrhage in the balance sheet of the State. They include the retention of transition council chairmen whose tenure expired long ago. They are retained on payroll as special assistants and several retirees from the civil/public service are retained on payroll as they are assigned nondescript jobs.
A few days ago, the Imo Legislature approved the appointment of 10 personal assistants to each Local Government. This will result to additional 270 political appointees. What is the cost implication of maintaining such supernumerary staff? A situation where politicians who are working for the New Face Group and the PDP are retained on government pay roll is unacceptable. In the midst of this confusion, the same government says it plans to employ 10,000 fresh staff into the civic/public service. It is only in an economy that practises voodoo economics that a political leader can employ 10000 people in one fell swoop with a sleight of hand, more so, at a time when minimum salary is pegged at N18000 and the world economies are passing through a period of economic downturn. In this age of globalization, the emphasis has been on a small workforce of skilled personnel with cutting edge technology. Above all, the ideal employment in a democracy is not found in the civil/public service.
We have heard that Governor Ohakim has set up a committee to recommend appropriate school fees for IMSU. This panic approach is merely escapist and has not come to close observers as a surprise. Rather than emphasize on jumbo school fees, the panel should visit the Governor of Ekiti State and find out how he has slashed school fees in his state from about N200,000 per session to N50,000 per session, more so, since Ekiti State is not even an oil producing state. We have also heard that the recommendation will be passed to the Imo House of Legislature for approval. Most people already feel that the Imo legislature is a mere rubber stamp of the Executive arm. They have no opinion of their own; they are serving their stomachs and not the people of Imo State. However, it may be necessary to advise them to distance themselves from this booby-trap which does not bode well for their political career.
Whenever it pleases the Governor, he invites the Opia-led House to ratify some of his decisions. At other times, he simply ignores them entirely and pretends as if there was no House of Legislature. Was the Imo Legislature involved when the governor set up a Visitation Panel in order to sack Professor Chuka Okonkwo, the then Vice Chancellor. Professor Chuka Okonkwo's sin was that he comes from Imo West Senatorial Zone. Was the House called to ratify this cruel decision? The governor has variously used the House to violate the laws. Some of them include the proposed New Imo Government House, the secretariat of NDIEZE, the approval of the N40bn bond, the Midwest Airline-these are some of the numerous projects which did not reflect in any budget, yet the Imo House of Infamy adopted them. Is this not the House that set up a panel to investigate reports of financial improprieties on the Governor and yet refused to allow Samuelson Iwuoha and others to testify before the panel? Is this not the House that gave the governor the authority to sack barrister Ogwuegbu-led ISIEC, even when the Commission was sitting on a statutory tenure that would have expired about February, 2011. As a result of this heinous act of the House, the governor appointed his personal barrister to the position of Chairman of ISIEC. As already known, this Commission proceeded to conduct the worst Local Government Election in Imo State on August 7th 2010. In the face of these abnormalities, the Imo House of Assembly saw nothing, said nothing and did nothing. Is this what one expects from a legislature which is universally accepted as the engine room of democracy?
The debate on IMSU should be left to the people to express their views during the next elections in April 2011. Before then, the various candidates will unravel their manifesto on Education. The people can then vote for the candidates whose manifesto is acceptable to them.
The House should first of all tell NDIMO the date for the commissioning of the following projects: Oguta wonderland lake Hotel and Conference Centre, Oguta, Oak Refinery, Ohaji/Egbema, Nworie River Dredging, Imo Midwest Airline and others. Above all, the breakdown of those employed in the 10000 job episode should be posted on Imo Government website showing beneficiaries according to their Local Government Areas. One does not need to be a mathematician to know that simple arithmetic shows that in the ratio of 12:9:6 local governments for Orlu, Owerri and Okigwe Zones respectively, Orlu zone will have 4445; Owerri zone will have 3333 while Okigwe zone will have 2222 beneficiaries respectively. This political arithmetic of the 10,000 jobs and related issues on IMSU will be discussed next week.
(To be continued)
By John I. Mgbe,