The Premium Times of 2nd September 2022 published an article titled: ASUU and the Limits of Permanently Winning the Argument by Jibrin Ibrahim, which is replete with misconceptions, misrepresentations and prejudices against the current strike action by ASUU. This article is a rejoinder to the said publication, and seeks to observe and correct some of the misconceptions and prejudices as follows:
- There is nothing wrong with ASUU embarking on strikes to pressurise FGN to properly fund University education for the benefit of the social and economic development of Nigeria, if that is the only language FGN understands. Afterall, strike is not a crime but a standard, globally recognised, constitutionally protected and a non violent way of expressing industrial dispute in all democratic societies.
- It is unclear why Jibrin Ibrahim refers to “no work, on pay” as both a “law” and a “policy.” Even if it is the former, it is not a not a divine law but a mundane creation, originally intended for use as a weapon against labour by capital. The Nigerian ruling class has now domesticated it in order to to break the resistance of workers and trade unions against exploitation, domination and tyranny. Its inherent class character as an instrument of class domination by the bourgeoisie makes it necessary for ASUU, organised labour and civil society organisations to actively work for its total abrogation.
- The assertion that “many academics use the period of the strikes to teach in private and State Universities,” for monetary gains “explains why the strikes often run for a long time” is an exaggeration. First, almost all the State Universities are closed during ASUU strikes; second, less than 10% of academics teach in private Universities; and third, I have not heard of any academic who supports frequent or prolonged strikes just to go and teach in a private University for a fraction of his monthly salary in a federal University.
- It is wholly incorrect to assert that the “focus of the strikes has become very narrowly focused on material benefits for lecturers.” Since 1992, funding, autonomy, condition of service, and other matters constitute the core demands of ASUU during strikes. Salary is just one aspect of many non-monetary components under condition of service. The others include provision of office accommodation and facilities, sabbatical leave, annual leave, research leave, sick leave, maternity leave, retirement age, provision of teaching and research equipment, administration of staff schools, and others. Under funding, we have education tax fund and the creation of TETFUND, budgetary allocation to Universities, FGN assistance to State Universities, transfer FGN landed properties to Universities, PTDF assistance to Universities, patronage of University services by government and corporations, funding assistance from Alumni Associations, duty free importation of books and equipment, adoption of cost-saving measures by Universities, establishment of a National Research Fund, and creation of Budget Monitoring Units on campuses, among others. Under autonomy and academic freedom, we demanded democratisation of the appointment of Vice Chancellors, Head of Departments, Deans and Directors, rejection of the appointment of Sole Administrators in Universities, review of all laws that impede University autonomy, amendment of the NUC Act 2004, and related matters. Therefore, is it fair to overlook all these vital issues and reduce the focus of ASUU strikes to a supposed quest for material benefits for its members?
- If it is true that “the Nigerian government is irresponsible and signs deals it has no intention of complying,” then all patriotic Nigerians, including Jibrin Ibrahim, should join ASUU in urging FGN to honour its commitment. Glossing over the need for taking such concrete steps and advocating for a generalised and abstract “struggle for a responsive and accountable government” is a diversionary waste of time. How else can we realised a responsive and responsible government in Nigeria? Is it not by demanding accountability and responsiveness by government in every locality? Marx teaches us that transformative changes are only realisable through concrete struggles in concrete situations. This is what ASUU is trying to do, for which it expects solidarity and not mischievous misrepresentation.
- While it is true that there are ethical problems in the academia, as there are in all Nigerian public institutions, the assertion that “many lecturers exploit their students through the sale of hand-outs and sexually harasse their female students” gives the impression that this malpractice is widespread. The same is the case with the misconception that “University professors are promoted on the basis of self-publication.” The correct position in both cases is that there are isolated incidences of abuse that happen from time-to-time, which are reported, investigated and punished by relevant University administrations with the active support of our Union.
- The point that “ASUU’s persistent demands that the agreements it reaches with government must be fully implemented is correct but does not reflect current practice” is noted. However, in spite of whatever constraints it is facing, FGN can and should do better than it has so far done. After all, ASUU has never insisted on 100% implementation of its Agreement with FGN. Here are two examples: going by the September 1992 Agreement, FGN was supposed to provide every Professor with a fully furnished office with a Secretary, which it failed to implement thirty years after, and ASUU has not included it among its demands in the current strike action Secondly, going by the 2009 Agreement, FGN was supposed to release N1.5 trillion as stabilisation funds to the Universities by 2011. Reluctantly, FGN released N200 billion in 2013, withholding a balance of N1.3 trillion, from which ASUU is now demanding the immediate release of N170 billion. If this generous concession by ASUU is not enough, Jibrin Ibrahim should feel free to peg a lower amount that would be satisfactory to the government.
- The fact that FGN is the entity which refuses to make concessions in the current impasse is crystal clear. After six months of procrastination, the Minister of Education announced that funding for revitalisation, earned academic allowances, and the miserable salary increases will be built into the 2023 budget, for possible implementation when the current administration vacates office after May next year. This is another way of saying the Buhari administration would not negotiate and ASUU can go to hell. Is this gross irresponsibility by FGN not enough to elicit a dedicated written response from Jibrin Ibrahim?
- It is true that a majority of Nigerian Universities are owned by State governments and private proprietors. However, FGN is not “ASUU’s only interlocutor” as Jibrin Ibrahim argues. The Union has dispatched dozens of delegations to engaged countless State Universities to protest, canvass or help in resolving many vital issues relating to governance, service delivery, quality assurance and harmonious industrial relations in the last twenty years. Additionally, in October 2014, ASUU led other University based Unions to organise a National Education Summit that examined and proposed solutions to different challenges in the Nigerian education sector by bringing together academics, educational administrators, lawyers, civil servants, Senators, Cabinet Ministers, State education Commissioners, civil society organisations, women activists and other stakeholders. The Union intends to replicate and sustain this type of intervention in partnership with relevant stakeholders in the future.
- Surely, the article by Jibrin Ibrahim also contains scattered phrases and passages on indifference to higher education by FGN, its penchant for non implementation of signed Agreements, and its unwillingness to nip rampant corruption in the corridors of power. However, these are glazed with patronising excuses that the government, “has run out of time to address the complex issues” because it “finds itself in a very difficult economic, political and security conjuncture.” On the other hand, ASUU is subjected to a concentrated and suffocating fire, and blamed almost wholly for previous and the current prolonged strike. This amounts to a brazen display of misconception, misrepresentation and prejudice against the Union. As a former Marxist, now turned social democrat, Jibrin Ibrahim has the responsibility of taking a step back from the Nigerian ruling class, accepting basic facts and expressing solidarity with ASUU in its current patriotic strike for the revival of the Nigerian University system. Signed
Department of History,
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
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