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Still on ASUU’s endless strikes

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The Editor of the Guardian, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo

The Editor of the Guardian, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo

There is good reason to continue the discourse on the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) started on this page last week. Expectedly, last week’s outing generated more than a passing interest. But I shall limit the review to just two reactions from two stakeholders. Both came from opposing viewpoints in terms of content, form and even identity. One was verbal through a telephone conversation, while the other was written through email.

Godwin Sogolo, emeritus professor of philosophy called to fault the logic of over generalization in my write-up. His point was that ASUU does not approximate the academia and if a handful unionists decide to put activism above scholarship, that cannot be taken as a pervading rot in the university system. “We have very serious scholars who are working so hard to make the universities the ivory towers that they are,” he pronounced with professorial finality.

We had engaged for close to one hour on phone. But I was debating Professor Sogolo, grandmaster of logic, who is also my teacher and mentor. It was he, while on sabbatical at The African Guardian Magazine as Executive Editor, who got “convinced about my competence” and promoted me from a reporter to a staff writer, skipping being a senior reporter in 1991.

He has continued the mentorship till date. He calls to grade me every Sunday after reading my column. It has been good overall, but on few occasions, like the case last week, we would spend good time advancing opposing views on the same subject matter. He is a purist. If I slipped and crossed tenses or committed such other textual infractions that were more mechanical than structural, he would draw my attention and then advise me against “committing small, small errors that could affect the quality of my writing.” I would say, “yes sir” and we would then move to the point.

And the next point, almost on a weekly basis, is my returning to the classroom to earn a doctorate degree. He has even offered severally to pay for the form for me. But that is outside the point. I have told him that I do not have the patience to drive at a doctorate degree for 10 years in a university in Nigeria, not on account of my inadequacy, but mainly due to a system that has made learning punitive and burdensome. The only way around this is to break off for a while and move offshore to earn a PhD within normal or even record time and return. The cost of this in cash and time is not part of the things in my short to medium term plans.

Prof Sogolo has always played down this point. He would nicely add that I would not be affected by such delays because my capacity to run the programme would be manifest. That is a fine assessment to fire my interest. But you see, another serving professor may do the same assessment and it would become ugly enough to keep me on a PhD programme for a decade. It is not about individuals; it is about a system, which requires dynamism and accountability in a world that recognizes the same baseline – meritocracy as opposed to mediocrity.

In our engagement last Sunday, I mentioned this to Prof as part of the public perception of the university system in Nigeria. It is a point that ASUU or the silent majority he is talking about must address quickly. Due to either bad strategy or convoluted vision, ASUU has muddled up the fundamental objectives of its struggles by drawing more attention to itself (as if the entire university system is all about the welfare of academic staff) than it is drawing to the copious fault lines in a system that is outdated on almost all parameters.

For instance, there is the much weightier issue of re-inventing the university curriculum to align instruction with production, such that products of the system would become value addition instead of value affliction to the world outside. Methodology has remained static. For effectiveness, there can be a partnership between the world of theory, which the university represents and the world of practice, which industry represents.

I am saying that most of the abstract postulations in business and management studies for instance, would take concrete forms if an Aliko Dangote stood in a lecture theatre to teach a class of Business Administration students. I had shared a platform at Stanford University and when it came to the topic of reviving failed businesses, CEOs that had attained such feat were sourced to present their perspectives to the class. With due respect to all accomplished scholars in journalism, who else can teach newsroom management and establish all the vividness better than an editor or news writing better than a good news editor and chief-sub?

This beautiful collaboration between theory and practice has not quite happened because ASUU is not wired to scale down to a subordinate role even when such tactical retreat is aimed at strategic long-term gains for the university system. With ASUU, it seems to be less about scholarship and so much about ego, intrigues and self-aggrandizement in the engagement process.

The written reaction came from a certain Franklyn Nlerum, who lives outside the country. Hear him:
“Dear Mr. Ogbodo, I have just read your Backlash of today on the above subject matter. From both the points of facts and argument, the article is very incisive and apt. Well done!

“The resort to strike by ASUU does not seem to be effective and yet ASUU, which is a body of intellectuals, has not deemed it necessary to evaluate and reappraise its strategy. The relevance of the University to the society in Nigeria is doubtful. The content of most programmes and the extant pedagogy in our universities make university education in Nigeria almost worthless. I have been involved in ASUU.

“Upon experiencing further studies in Canada and the United States, I realised the huge gap between the developed countries and Nigeria as regards education. In the last 6 years, I worked with a Professor of Engineering, and a leader in ASUU, who hardly made any technical contribution to our work but was steep in politicking and criticizing others. How come Professors in Nigeria cannot provide valuable consultancies to every sector of the economy? We hardly read of research findings to deal with problems of our society. The focus is on becoming Vice Chancellors. The struggle to become Vice Chancellors has turned universities into ethnic enclaves.

“I do not see ASUU acceding to the cogent and compelling propositions in your article because it will be asking their members to give what they do not have and this is contrary to the Latin maxim “nemo dat quod non habet” – no one can give what he does not have…”

That is it; almost from the horse’s mouth as they say. My purpose is to find solution and I have one to give right away. In this government as in previous ones, there are so many ASUU members. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is one. Another is Prof Itse Sagay, who for his activism had issues at the University of Benin under Prof. Alele Williams as Vice Chancellor. There are many others enough to charter a branch of ASUU in government to be called Academic Staff Union of Universities in Government (ASUUG).

Going forward, ASUU should work through ASUUG to implement all agreements, agreeable or disagreeable, that it has reached with government over time and stop this incessant paralysis of the school system through senseless strike actions.

My good friend Dr. IK Muo of Bisi Onabajo University Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, has also reacted. I stopped him this week because I am still talking. It is bad manners, even in ASUU to interrupt the speech of others. I have finished talking and he will talk next week. And please the floor is now open for the debate to save tertiary education in Nigeria. It is not a business to be left entirely in the hands of ASUU, which rhymes with asun, the Urhobo word for nightfall!


In this article:
Abraham Ogbodo
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2 Comments
  • Abdul Hakeem Rabiu

    Mr. Ogbodo, I am of the opinion that the real-time problem is our inability as a people to see beyond the nose. Government is peopled by citizens of this country who are perhaps lettered enough to understand the dynamics you posited. As you observed, I am thinking, as people, we are concerned about personal not necessarily national development. A mean status.

  • Oyewale Tomori

    Oh Yes! Abraham, you are right about ASUU, and right about the government and all those involved with university education in Nigeria. The greatest danger to university education in Nigeria is the unwillingness of those of us in the University system from ASUU to lecturers to accept some responsibility for, and contribution in no small measure to the rot and disaster, otherwise called university education in Nigeria. Of course, this is by no means to say that successive governments, including the current, have not contributed their own unfair share to the destruction of university education. Let us not forget the damaging contributions of the citizens of our great country- especially parents. I put most of the blame on ASUU and the university lecturers themselves, because we are the primary stakeholders in the university system, and we have “colluded” by commission or omission to let those who care little about university education in Nigeria (the government and parents) to lead us by the nose as university is dragged into disrepute and disgrace. I do not think that those in government care that much about university education, partly and wrongly, because they think they have alternatives to university education. Since it has been a very long time ago that the university has made meaningful contribution to national economy and social well-being, the university system seems to have lost relevance in national development!

    So, what do we do?
    The first step is for the university system to examine itself and focus on being relevant to national development. We should stop forthwith the system of internal evaluation which we call accreditation. The ideal accreditation process should be impartial, objective and conducted by a third party, not by the people who provided the guideline or those implementing the guideline.
    Immediately we see a major problem with the accreditation of our universities as conducted by the National Universities Commission, the regulatory body for universities in Nigeria. The NUC sets the operating guidelines for universities, oversees the university accreditation system and draws the accreditation team from staff of the universities being accredited. A more transparent accreditation system, not involving the NUC and university staff serving as judges and juries, but involving independent third parties should be introduced. In this way, it is possible to truly determine which programme should be accredited. It may eventually change the poor public perception of our university system and products – unemployable graduates, poor quality of teaching, arising from pitiable quality of teachers, examination malpractices, etc.

    Second government should place a moratorium on creation of new universities. Our premise for setting up universities is based on false analysis. Because we have a million students leaving our secondary schools, we think we should establish enough universities to place all of them. We are driven by the craze to get ALL secondary school graduates, forgetting that not all of them make the cut off points for university admission based on the results of JAMB examinations.

    There is no creativity in determining the programmes and courses run by our universities. Each one- old or new – have “cut and paste” academic briefs with play on words! There must be close to 141 of 141 universities offering degree programmes in botany, zoology, philosophy, statistics, microbiology etc.

    We should go further and start to conduct accreditation exercises that are impartial, objective, transparent, free of “brown envelope” intervention and conducted by a third party certified for accrediting university programmes. Any programme that fails to meet accreditation criteria should be scrapped or given time to make amends.

    We lament the poor global ranking of Nigerian universities. We should not lament, but rather accept that the rankings truly reflect not just the deplorable state of our universities, but also the depth of decadence of the state of our nation…. a nation perpetually on the periphery of excellence! We dream of Nigerian universities conducting “cutting edge” research when we cannot guarantee regular supply of electricity, when we use the equivalent of pond water as distilled water, when we sterilize equipment with cooking stove burners! One of our newspapers reported that Power grid collapsed 28 times in nine months, and we want to do cutting edge research. It reminds me of one of my secondary school teachers who told us we can do anything with our mouth, such as clearing grass on a football field in two seconds with the mouth! Certainly, we can do “cutting edge” research with candles to power our laboratories and polluted water to grow pure cultures of organisms. Before we ever think of conducting any research at all, we should first deal with providing adequate basic infrastructure and facilities, not just to the university, but the entire nation. We are on the way by appointing one Minister to deal with power, works and housing!!!!!!!

    Finally, we now need more than ever, to have our industries and universities work together to make use of any future research outcomes and products from our research establishments…. but first our universities must re-focus and determine to finding solutions to our national problems.

    Thanks Abraham. I think the Guardian should go beyond writing editorials and open a forum for further discussions on making our university (tertiary) education more relevant to solving the problems associated with orderly socio-economic development of Nigeria. Nigeria must make science and technology the foundation for her economic and social development

    Oyewale