By Oludayo Tade
The country is hard. Nigerians are not smiling. The harsh social-economic realities are hard-hitting. When Mr President announced that subsidy was gone, it actually meant GUNshot for many people who are still nursing the unending wounds from that policy declaration. As Nigerians battle to survive, the president and his team said they inherited a bad economy from their own government. That is, All Progressives Congress Muhammadu Buhari handed over a bad economy to another APC leader; the lion of Bourdillon,and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR. From this proclaimed inherited bad economy, the ruling class have managed to get the best things of this world for themselves. The meaning of awalokan (it is our turn) that the president said while campaigning is now becoming clearer. The people that constitute the ‘awa’ (We) are those from his primary political group who are being blessed with strategic portfolios. It is in this bad economy that they are able to get money to buy jeeps that can protect them from violent attacks and the violent pot-holes. In this same bad economy, the wife of the president gets something even though ‘our mummy’ claimed her family does not need our money to survive. The other WE (awa) that the president is attending to are those from his political partnership (the G-5 caucus) which made his presidency possible. They are being given portfolios befitting the contributions they made to the actualization of the Tinubu presidency. The third category of the ‘awa’-tokan (we that it is our turn) are those from the political party of Mr President. They have earned themselves ministerial appointments, board appointments and heads of agencies. The political actors are living large. The masses are told to keep tightening their belts. In all these, how are the university system and the lecturers coping?
Mr President, the university system is under attack by the ruling class. Maybe you don’t know or your aides didn’t bring it to your notice. Lecturers are using their blood to sustain the remains of the public university. To get courses accredited in many departments in Nigeria public universities by the National Universities Commission (NUC), lecturers in those departments contribute money to prepare for the accreditation because most of these universities don’t release money or the school administrations have also become nonchalant like their political class counterparts. It is very bad in some institutions; door label/tags are paid for by staff. I had a colleague who brought his generating set to school to power his class because he wanted the students to get some things. After being frustrated by the same system, he resigned and moved to a better place where he is better appreciated for his worth. He would only be coordinating people to earn his living. Some years ago, I could print project materials for students with my money, but today, I no longer do that. If I dare to do that, my dependents will suffer the consequences of that action. The burden of moving to school with the current price regime due to subsidy removal is killing. You are either teaching or attending meetings throughout the week. Salaries remain constant, expenses keep rising. Those you support with money at the end of the month tell you to help them add to what you pay them but you, as the source, nothing has been added to what you are paid since 2009!
Mr President, lecturers have been on the same salary since 2009. Your predecessors signed agreements with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) but were not faithful to it. As a responsible Union of intellectuals, the Union calls attention of government to the degeneration of things in the public universities and its implications for national growth and development. Sir, the government of Goodluck Jonathan carried out NEEDS assessment of public varsities in 2012. The findings shocked many. The government found that about #1.13trillion would be enough to arrest the infrastructural decay. Only former President Goodluck Jonathan released two hundred billion naira at once. He pledged to release for the succeeding year in tranches quarterly, the Union went on strike when that didn’t happen. Your immediate predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari came on board and literally used military approach and was not committed to education. Mr President, as I write, the federal government owes lecturers billions of naira of earned academic allowances for more than six years. If this is not clear to you, it is the money for doing excess teaching and excess supervision. This happened because federal government refused to recruit more lecturers and ASUU struck a deal that those doing more than they ought to do should be compensated until government is able to employ more hands.
While you were campaigning to become President Sir, and we were on strike, your Chief of Staff, then speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila mid-wife the suspension of the strike, reaching some informal agreements with ASUU. Now that you are in power, with him closest to you, we learnt you want us to sign ourselves into perpetual slavery that we will not be able to fight for our rights again in the future. I don’t want to believe this Sir. Or is it true that a comrade in government is a lost comrade? Mr President, the lecturing and supervision affected by the strike have been done and the students have graduated but the workers are yet to be paid. Some of our colleagues died in their offices. Some cannot effectively meet societally imposed obligations.
The commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Sir, it may interest you that many universities brought out advertisement for vacant lecturing positions. A few applied. Among those selected, some didn’t pick up the appointment. Those who picked up the employment in some universities did not stay up to three months before they tendered their resignation. They could not believe what they were paid and the volume of workload allocated to them. Those still on the job are waiting for their planned alternative to click before they abandon their institutions to their fate. What then is the sin that lecturers have committed to warrant such treatments? Someone asked: is it a crime to choose to lecture in a Nigerian University? Mr President, I will be happy if you can also persuade scholars abroad to come and lecture in Nigeria just as you are doing to attract investors to Nigeria. This will let you know how attractive the salary you pay to Nigerian lecturers is to attract scholars to your universities. Who will come to where there is no light to work? Who wants to receive poverty wage? Who will come to where the intellectual community is derided? Which foreign scholar will come to Nigeria to teach six courses and hundreds of students in a classroom that has no public address system? Mr President, there is growing frustration among lecturers and attitude to work is being negatively affected. There is no motivation, salaries have been seized and/or delayed with no explanations. There are regrets here and there among those who returned to Nigeria after their scholarship abroad. Shall we then ask those not catered for by Nigeria to be fervent in teaching and research without adequate funding and motivation? Do you expect poorly paid lecturers to use their salaries to carry out researches for your universities to rank among top universities in the world? Sadly, to appoint lecturers now, Abuja people dictate who should be employed into our universities. My fear is about the future outcomes of what government is (not) doing. As a Yoruba man, you know that the children we fail to train, will sell the infrastructure that we labour to build. You need to invest in people. Invest in Education because those you call developed countries bear that name because of advances in science and technology as a result of their investment in education. Public University needs urgent attention and rescue. The University system is asking you Sir, Mr President, Nìgbàwo, ló máa tó kàn wá (when will it be our turn)?
Tade, a sociologist writes via firstname.lastname@example.org
By Oludayo Tade