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Plights of academics in Nigeria’s public universities

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It is becoming worrisome that protecting, providing and promoting the welfare and well being of Nigerian workers mean little or nothing to our government.

As a matter of universal principle from John Lock and Thomas Hobbs perspectives, the primary responsibility of government all over the world is to protect her citizens, provide for her citizens and promote the welfare of her citizens. Failure to do these may suggest that the government is irresponsible and inconsequential. Workers are the engine house of the economy of every nation. Karl Marx puts it more succinctly, for him workers are the most essential part of the factors of production. Yet capitalists have always relegated them to the background, paying them peanuts and alienating them from the materials and benefits due them.

These capitalists who take the form of economic capitalists, political capitalists and religious capitalists are not interested in the worker’s welfare but are concerned primarily about their profits. The history of oppression and intimidation of Nigerian workers dates back to the colonial era and has continued with successive Nigerian leaders since independence till date leading to uncountable numbers of industrial trade disputes, actions, interventions and the likes.

One leading trade union in Nigeria that has been able to withstand government tyranny and manipulation is the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). ASUU is the only recognized and authentic union representing the interests of academics in Nigerian Universities. ASUU has been selfless, fighting for the interests of the poor in Nigeria while playing down on what her members should really earn. It might interest you to know that Nigerian lecturers are the least paid in the world. A Ghanian lecturer earns far more than their Nigerian counterpart and you wonder while there is unabated brain drain. Look not too far. Our academics are poor, hungry and abandoned in Nigeria. Despite the excess workload, the poor work environment and the poor remuneration Nigerian academics are required to conduct and publish their researches or perish. To publish a paper in an average international journal cost between $300 to $500; when converted to naira it will cost between #120,000 to #200,000.

An academic is expected to publish from his meagre salary or perish. Fellow Nigerians, can’t you see the burden that the academics bear in Nigeria. Now, if we were to quantify the amount of work being done and carried out by a public servant (academic) on a daily basis, it is far beyond what the politician does in a week or a month. Is it not therefore ironical and sad to see all the wealth generated by the sweat of the public servants going to politicians as allowances and what have you?

It has become very necessary for Nigerian workers to speak out because the level of oppression is getting out of hand. The most senior academic (professor) in a public university in Nigeria earns a maximum net salary of 400,000 naira a month which is the equivalent of about $1,000. This is for a Professor who has spent so many years in studies and research, has obtained the highest degree, passing knowledge to generations of students. On the other hand, the lowest politician in the country who may not even have a university degree earns as much as 1.5m Naria which is the equivalent of $4,000 per month. They earn this fat salary for doing nothing tangible, go to work at any time while some of them spend most of their tenure on holidays outside the country spending taxpayers money. 

In Nigeria, while public servants wallow in poverty, hunger and total neglect, politicians live in opulence and splendor. With each successive government’s public servants in Nigeria are subjected to ridicule. How do you explain the incessant attempt by Nigerian politicians to box public servants to the corner? If it’s no monetization, it is Single Treasury Account (TSA) or it is IPPIS. All of these are attempts to impoverish the public servants, alienate them from the mainstream of things and condition them in a mould for easy control and manipulation.

The payment systems created are designed to weaken trade unions, remove the autonomy of institutions like the university autonomy and to cripple the development of the Nigerian state. The introduction of the TSA was aimed at crumbling the smooth operation of the public universities while the introduction of IPPIS payment system on Nigerian workers is intended to destroy the autonomy of the universities, complicate the problems of the Universities and establish external control of the universities. Although some public servants in the university system have fallen into the trap of this government (IPPIS) for fear of hunger and deprivation, a few like ASUU are resolute not to trade the sacrifices of heroes past in attaining the autonomy we have enjoyed for years. ASUU is resolute on this matter not to succumb to government’s blackmail and intimidation. 

How can it be said that while government invited ASUU to the negotiation table, and while the negotiations were ongoing they went behind to stop the payment of salaries of the members of ASUU running into months just to compel and manipulate them into their trap (IPPIS). 

It is so unfortunate that this is happening in a so-called democratic country. Our democracy is to be questioned. Our democracy is being raped and Nigerians are quiet. Where is the freedom of the people if salaries of university lecturers are being withheld for rejecting a payment system which is to the detriment of public workers?

If the payment system is so good and laudable, why are the politicians not on the same payment system? Why are they enforcing what they can’t go through on citizens? Let us remember that, a bitter pill you cannot swallow, must not be given to your neighbour. 

We are therefore calling on the president, the responsible ministers, the senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the members of House of Representatives, the Civil Society Organizations, religious bodies and all well-meaning Nigerians to join ASUU in demanding responsible governance and the immediate release of the withheld salaries of lecturers for the months of February and March. We must all join hands in revitalizing our universities as the children of hard-working public servants and average Nigerian may not be able to afford the fees of private universities which are owned by either present or past political leaders. Do not rob Peter to Pay Paul. Let Paul work as Peter is working to get paid.

Dr. Omonigho wrote from the University of Benin, Nigeria. 


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