Sunday, 24th September 2023

On professors and civil servants, soldiers, legislators

By Victor Anosa
10 October 2022   |   2:40 am
I make this contribution in view of the logjam between the Nigerian Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities.

[FILES] ASUU and FG on negotiation table

I make this contribution in view of the logjam between the Nigerian Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities.

I have been privileged to serve in two Nigerian universities for an unbroken period of fifty years (1972- 2022), at Ibadan from July 1972 until retirement in 2010, and as a full-time Contract Professor from 2010 – 2022 at Umudike.

In between, I spent sabbatical and research leaves at Maiduguri, Nsukka, Awka, and Umudike, as well as at Davis, California and Giessen, Germany. I went to Ibadan on a Federal scholarship in September 1964, became a university scholar in 1965, and graduated in 1972, in part because my course, veterinary medicine, took five years after A Levels; the Civil War stole three years of my youth.

My path to Ibadan was made possible because sitting in the famous November 1961 University of Cambridge West African School Certificate examinations in my Anglican secondary school at Aba, I came top of my class with six As and one credit, an aggregate of 12, and a division one certificate.

I spent 1962 and 1963 for the Higher School Certificate at the famous Government College, Umuahia, and also topped my class with A, B, B and A, A, B passes in the Universities of Cambridge and London examinations, respectively. Ibadan studentship was tough and demanding, but I also excelled, passing out with three distinctions and winning several prizes.

I joined the academic staff at Ibadan as Research Fellow/Lecturer two weeks after graduation, got a master’s degree from Glasgow in 1975, a PhD from Ibadan in 1977, and rose through the academic ranks to become Professor in October 1983.

I am not advertising myself as I am well aware that our abilities come from God, and we should not be proud or arrogant about our endowments. My point is that my profile resembles closely the profiles of most Lecturers and Professors in the generations before me, in my generation and thereafter. The idea of the university grew out of the Church grammar schools in thirteenth-century Europe and was then called studium generale or universitatis, a place where educated elite from many countries gathered in Paris, Oxford, Cambridge, etc, to teach, in Latin, bright students selected from all over Europe.

The practice in universities worldwide then and today is that the best graduates especially those with first and second-class upper degrees in each class are encouraged and enticed to enrol for higher degrees and thereafter to join the academic staff as Lecturers.

When I came to Ibadan, such graduates were awarded postgraduate scholarships to study in Nigeria and some of the best Universities in the world, and on completion of their Ph.D.s were employed as Lecturers.

This is because universities worldwide recognize that the brightest students make better postgraduate students, better researchers and Lecturers. Second-tier graduates with third-class and pass degrees are very valuable elsewhere in the industry, government administration, and secondary school teaching.

In the colonial and immediate post-colonial years, Professors in Nigerian universities earned 3,000 pounds consolidated annually while Permanent Secretaries earned 2,750 pounds.

The Permanent Secretaries and Professors had equivalent perquisites of office. During the Civil War, the Permanent Secretaries worked themselves up the relevance ladder while the soldiers were on the war front.

As the war ended, the soldiers became the de facto rulers of Nigeria for decades and often employed some Lecturers and Professors as ministers, advisers and commissioners.

With time, the soldiers elevated themselves above everybody, and Permanent Secretaries, led by the super permanent secretaries of the war period, also manoeuvred themselves ahead of the Professors who had no one to appreciate them, not the Permanent Secretaries most of who did not smell first class or second upper degrees, not the ministers who came from different academic backgrounds, and not the soldiers most of who left secondary school with lower grades of passes in school certificate examinations while some, in the early years, did not even pass school certificate.

The soldiers and civil servants shared the same grudge against academics, and may have said to themselves: “you, our former mates, were feeling superior, but now we are in charge”.

There were no strikes in Nigerian Universities from 1948 to 1973 until August 1973 during my first year of service at Ibadan.

Following a dispute with Lecturers and Professors, General Gowon did the unthinkable: rather than negotiate, perhaps under the advice of civil servants, he asked the Lecturers to pack out of their university residences. It was somewhat gratifying to see him start as a first-year undergraduate in England after he was overthrown!

The non-stop military regimes of Buhari, Babangida, Abdusalam and Abacha dealt devastating blows on the universities in two areas: degradation of research and teaching facilities, and pauperization of workers generally including academic staff.

While some of them said they were giving their today for our tomorrow, they actually took our yesterday and tomorrow.

In 1980, my salary as Senior Lecturer was N770 per month which was $1,500 (N1.00 = $1.90), it was N1,500 ($2,250; N1.00 = $1.50) in 1985 as Professor. By the time Abacha finished with us, my salary as Professor after 15 years in that position had plummeted to N8,500 per month in 1998, a mere $100 since he pushed the naira to N85 to $1. It was under this situation that ASUU embarked on a seven-month strike in 1996.

Abacha ignored ASUU, conceded nothing, and later broke the strike by following Gowon’s example by asking the pauperized academic staff to pack out of their university residences within 24 hours or face forceful eviction.

It is instructive that I made two short time research visits to an international research institute in Kenya in 1992 and 1993 where I, the same me, was paid $3,000 tax-free per month, with free furnished accommodation and a car after work daily!

The consequences of the decay in the university teaching and research facilities, and the poor pay which made it impossible for academics to pay their bills and so trek about the campus during the Babangida years and worsening during the Abacha years, led to a massive brain drain of academics to Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, USA, and Saudi Arabia for the medical personnel; indeed anywhere they could earn dollars, as small as $1,000 or less per month for Professors.

Four of the five Professors in my small department with a staff strength of eight academic staff emigrated, three of them to the USA. My departmental colleagues and others who left were some of Nigeria’s best brains, mostly trained abroad with Nigerian money, and over 98% of them never came back.

To rub in the disdain that Babangida and soldiers had for academics, he gave out subsidized cars to all categories of public servants, including soldiers, policemen, customs men, and civil servants, but none to Lectures and Professors. Fortunately, President Obasanjo hiked Professors salary to N100,000 per month (referred to as gbim gbim by my colleagues) in 2000, thereby effectively terminating the brain drain.

A second unsavory consequence of the poor salaries paid to university workers and the poor research and teaching facilities was that the career choices of the brightest graduates changed; instead of their traditional return to postgraduate studies on the campus as proud prospective academic staffs, they poured into the private sector where they earned some N30,000 – N50,000 per month, compared to the paltry N8,500 paid to their Professors.

In Ibadan, the Department of Economics produced six first-class graduates in one session and all of them went to the private sector. Since the brightest students refused to return to take up academic jobs, the university had no alternative but to lower the standards by bringing in less qualified graduates to fill the vacancies that arose.

As Head of my Department in 1988, I pleaded with the best graduate who led the class consistently to take up one of the three vacant positions created by the resignation of four Professors in the Department. I had to descend to her, a fresh graduate because there were no applicants with masters and PhD around.

She bluntly refused to cite poor pay and scanty research grants and facilities, and I could not persuade her by reminding her that gifted persons have a duty to the nation to return to the campus and teach future generations.

A third consequence is that whereas Nigerian universities attracted students and academia from the international community in the sixties to the early nineties, you can now hardly find one international students and academic even in our so-called first-tier universities today that once attracted many of them. Our universities cannot today be rightly called studium generale or Universitatis in the real sense of the names, but rather studium locale.

Fourthly, based mainly on my research publications funded mostly by international organizations derived from my periods in Glasgow, California, and Kenya, I was admitted to the fellowship of the Nigerian Academy of Science (FAS) whose first members included titans like Chike Obi, Awojobi, Ezeilo, Bassir, Oyenuga, etc, and which still remains an elite club for Nigerian academics.

The FAS enabled me to contest successfully for the fellowship of the World Academy of Sciences (FTWAS) in 2012; this academy embodies top scientists from the whole world with the exception of Europe and North America.

Attendance of conferences of TWAS in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2014, and Vienna, Austria in 2016, made me realize, most sadly, that Nigerian science is now, unlike before, lagging far behind those of China, India, Singapore, Malaysia and even South Africa based of the quality of papers presented.

Democracy brought legislators into the fray, and they are carting away a large chunk of national wealth by using threats of impeachment of the Executives at state and federal levels as a potent weapon. Their salaries run into millions monthly, and Senators awarded themselves some N25 million monthly as constituency allowance that they don’t need to account for.

I imagine that their wardrobe allowance is more than the N450.000 total monthly salary paid to a Professor at the bar today! Since you need a school certificate to be a Senator and even President of Nigeria, our Senate and House of Representatives are full of persons who would not qualify to stand before university students.

Nigerian universities have always effectively managed their funds judiciously as academics can never tolerate corruption, in part because the rigid hierarchy in the civil service or armed forces does not exist in the university as Professors see the leadership as equals.

The imposition of IPPIS on the universities, which is a major factor in the current dispute, is a gross mistake. Can you imagine all the universities in England or Canada receiving their salaries from one organization? When it was introduced, I saw it as a portal for monumental corruption.

The civil servants, soldiers and politicians have combined to control the politics and economy of Nigeria, and have conspired to rubbish the Lecturers and Professors who are undoubtedly the best brains in any country including Nigeria.

The success of Britain in colonizing many countries and now creating a massive Commonwealth of over two billion persons derived from the contributions of the graduates of Oxford and Cambridge since the thirteen century.

Japan, China, Taiwan, Israel, Singapore and Korea, with very few natural resources, have soared economically because of the solid education given to their citizens; they have recognized their brightest citizens, giving them adequate pay and funding for research for national development and to teach their students.

Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world and has the largest number of children not in school in the whole world despite huge natural endowments, has abundant petroleum but cannot refine ordinary petrol and so imports all the petrol needed by citizens at great costs all because our rulers do not appreciate education and merit.

Crucial jobs are given to those who have the preferred names and belong to the same religion as the rulers, while the geniuses in our midst are ignored. A Professor, with all his intellect and learning, should not be paid less than N2 million a month, still, a pittance compared to a Senator’s emoluments.

This will encourage many bright youths to aspire to become Professors. With good lecturers and professors, and adequate laboratory and teaching facilities, our universities will return to their past glories of the sixties and seventies when our degrees compared well with those of the best in the world.

Unless the government wakes up to its responsibilities, another wave of brain drain, from now on, will destroy our universities irreparably. As the universities decay, Nigeria, what is left of her once beautiful possibilities, will decay into insignificance.

Professor Anosa, FAS, is a Pathologist, at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike. 08033214985