Ekundayo: In whose interest is ASUU's strike?

By The Rainbow

THE Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASSU), is on strike again and many Nigerians have come out openly to condemn or express solidarity with ASUU, according to the profundity of their awareness, ignorance, bias, selfishness and patriotism. The variegated reactions that rent the air reveal that Nigerians love university education. However, many do not really have a total understanding, mastery and clarity of the intricacies and undercurrents of the 'war' that ASUU members are waging. It is pertinent, therefore, to ask the question: In whose interest are university lecturers on strike?

Always, the first reason often advanced on behalf of ASUU, or to spite ASUU, is  'non-payment of just salaries and earned allowances!' 'More money for greedy lecturers who are never satisfied!' Indeed, just and deserving remuneration constitutes a part of the 'ASUU/FGN 2009 Agreement.' But it is fallacious, unpatriotic and unscientific for anyone to commence and conclude a debate of ASUU strike exclusively on lecturers' remuneration. Remuneration is not the pivot on which ASUU demands are anchored. Since the salary and allowance item of the 2009 Pact is the one constantly ballooned in public to spite lecturers, one may appropriately start the argument from there.

Is it a sin or an offence for lecturers to press for deserved wages? Nigerians should organise a National Salary Conference, so to speak, to debate who among Nigerians should earn more or less emoluments. Will Nigerians in such a conference approve that local government councillors, parliamentarians, etc should earn more than medical doctors, lecturers, nurses, policemen and soldiers who put their lives at risk to build the nation and save lives? Would Nigerians decide that senators, House of Representative members, etc be paid higher than professors who toil all their lives to dig deep into the mines of knowledge to advance society? Nigerians should read the lecturers' salary structure (CONUASS II) published by NUC on the page 45 of Vanguard on July 8, 2013. A Graduate Assistant (GA), the lowest rank of university lecturers, earns 1,274, 177 naira at step 1 and 1,458,567 at peak per annum. These are inclusive of all allowances. If you divide these by 12 months, what do get? By the time tax and other deductions are made, the take-home pay for GA comes down to about 70-something thousand naira! A professor, the highest of the rank, at step 1 earns 4591,149 and 6,030,963 naira at the peak per annum. Divide them by 12 and you have 382,595 and 502,580 naira respectively per month.

Now, compare this to what a local government councillor, the lowest of political officers, earns as furniture and dressing allowances in a month or year. NUC should also publish the following statistics: FGN allocations to various sectors, ministries, the Presidency, security votes, National Assembly; the annual emoluments structures of the president, his ministers, special advisers and assistants; governors, commissioners and their assistants; NUC Secretary, directors, boards' chairmen, ambassadors, special aids, personal assistants; the unconstitutional office of the First Lady and the salary structure of lecturers in other African countries. A computation of the National Assembly President's and Speaker's annual emoluments compared with a professor's shows that a professor will have to live for at least 500 years to earn such mind-boggling oodles of money! So, wetin teachers do dem nau?

The 2009 Agreement is the origin of the present tug of war between ASUU and FGN. In the 2009 pact, FGN agreed that it would provide learning infrastructure, laboratory and other science equipment to universities, increase education funding upwards from 2009 to meet UNESCO standard of 26 per cent of annual budget to education in general, give grants in aids to state universities, among others. FGN has failed woefully to honour these terms. Government in this regard has committed the apogee of flagrant, infuriating and embarrassing breach of contract. If FGN were an individual or a company, it would pay dearly for this shameless violation of contract. Since October last year, the 2009 Pact has been due for review and renegotiation, as provided for in the Pact. Yet, FGN has not even started implementing the terms in full swing, apart from the retirement age from 65-70 years for professors. Thereafter, they tantalised and tickled ASUU to suspend its strike in 2011. Since then ASUU has reminded FGN of the 2009 Agreement, begged, lobbied and warned FGN officially and unofficially to no avail. So, when some people talk of ASUU using other alternatives like 'dialogue' or so, the question is, what kind of dialogue? ASUU has dialogued, monologued, prologued and epilogued to no end. FGN remains intransigent still.

Why has government refused to honour the terms of the 2009 Pact? The correct answer to this question will situate the real nature and implications of the impasse between ASUU and FGN. One reason FGN often gives is that 'government has no money.' 'Government alone cannot fund tertiary education.' Is it really true that government cannot fund education? If government has no money to fund education for its teeming youths and children, then where does it get the money to fund corruption and grandiose projects successfully?  Whenever ASUU presses for improved funding for education, FGN urges vice chancellors and lecturers to look inward for 'internally generated revenue,' as if universities were enterprises, banks and oil firms. By 'internally generated revenue' FGN means charging high school fees, a move that ASUU has consistently resisted. If all ASUU is fighting for were just salary increase, then her members could simply sit back and allow FGN to charge school fees in order to have enough, as they argue, to pay lecturers well. However, ASUU members know that charging devilish school fees will deny many qualified Nigerians the opportunity of tertiary education. Besides, there is no guarantee that FGN will pay lecturers fairly well even if they charge a million naira fee per student. The basket of capitalism and greed can never get filled even if you empty all the oceans into it.

When their plans to sell public universities and charge prohibitive school fees failed as a result of ASUU's patriotic opposition, they introduced the idea of private universities, which is why we now have all manner of private universities mushrooming at different koros and corner-corners of Nigeria. Apart from religious bodies, who else have established private universities? Olusegun Obasanjo (ex-president), Ibrahim Babaginda (ex-Head of State), Atiku Abubakar (ex- state governor and vice president), etc. Their children are either in these private universities where a student pays between 300,000 thousand and 1,000,000 naira as fees or ensconced in foreign universities. Hence they do not care about their own universities. If the government claims they run public schools well, why are their children not in the public schools over which they are commissioners, ministers and presidents? If anyone reading this piece knows of any president's or governor's child in any Nigerian government owned school, let him/her inform the public now.

The undercurrent of incessant strikes by ASUU is the battle to save our educational system. For FGN, it is a battle to capture public universities and hand them over to private hands, as their foreign capitalist masters have directed them to implement. The motives are to cripple the bright prospect of our educational system, reduce access to education by the children of the poor masses while maximizing the opportunity for the children of the rich, cut down on the number of graduates produced annually and prevent Nigerian geniuses from having scientific and technological breakthrough. These are the issues at stake. So, FGN's ideological nature and focus which are reactionary to ASUU's altruistic position are the grassroots causes and catalysts of the turbulence and decay in Nigerian universities. Nigerian politicians and rulers are the foster-children of the demi-gods and executioners of imperialism and the inhuman policies of raw capitalism. Nigerian politicians and rulers display to the world neither true capitalism nor socialism. What Nigerian government exhibits is advanced witchcraftism, which has some trappings of capitalism. If you ask some of them to define capitalism, they cannot, nor can they articulate to the world their brand of governance. Nevertheless, the foreign imperialists and neo-slave masters find them expedient and love them so. If Europe and America today drop capitalism for any reason and adopt another -ism, say cannibalism, as a political ideology, our crop of politicians will embrace it without questions. The Nigerian state is out to personalize all public legacies. The things we jointly own as a people they display for auction and then come out to buy them off with our money that they stole. Look at what they have done to NEPA/PHCN, NITEL/MTel, Nigerian Railway and Airways, Ajaokuta Steel Complex, Aladja Steel, the refineries, etc.  The last concrete public institutions standing are the universities, which the Government is bent on capturing and privatizing as Kalo-kalos (machines that vomit money).

I have come to the conclusion that those who criticize ASUU for going on strike are infected with (either of) two viruses: the virus of ignorance, which is curable, and the virus of mischief, selfishness and compromise by those who feed fat on the system and harvest huge fishes from troubled waters. Fishers in troubled waters will cry foul and get worked up when a frank person draws attention to the troubled water. The way Nigerians are going, the way ASUU is condemned each time it calls its members out on strike, should ASUU, for any reason become deaf and mute too, as people want them to, then we will wake up one day to hear that Nigerian public universities have been put on sale, as PHCN, MTel, etc have. We ought to appreciate ASUU for standing firm.

Steve Bode Ekundayo is a Benin-based writer and social activist.