By Farooq Kperogi
On Thursday, Education Minister Adamu Adamu told news reporters that the federal government had resolved all outstanding disputes with ASUU and that the federal government’s insistence on withholding the salaries of lecturers for the period they’ve been on strike was the only reason ASUU said it won’t call off its strike.
It has turned out that Adamu lied about his first claim. (I’ll return to this shortly). Curiously, however, ASUU, ignored Adamu’s first claim and reacted only to the second claim.
In responding to the second claim, ASUU’s president basically confirmed what Adamu said and then directed viciously unvarnished cruelty to poor, lowly, helpless, and traumatized students who did ASUU no wrong; most of whom, in fact, support ASUU.
He told Channels TV that if lecturers aren’t paid salaries that they didn’t earn during the period they’re on strike, they’ll punish students by making them repeat the academic session all over again (many universities were on the cusp of completing their sessions when the strike started) and that the admissions granted to new students will be rescinded.
This threat would have made partial sense if the children of ministers and politicians were enrolled in public universities. But none of Adamu’s children is enrolled in a public university. His daughters attend private universities in Abuja and his son, I understand, attends an Iranian university.
Neither Adamu nor any high-ranking bureaucrat would be affected by ASUU’s planned cruelty to students. These monsters of depravity in government couldn’t care less if public universities are closed forever.
So, why would ASUU propose to punish innocent, powerless, and defenseless students because of the actions of thoughtless, out-of-touch government officials?
That was where I drew the line, and my attitude toward ASUU changed. My sympathies are always and will always be with the oppressed and the underdog. Punishing students with undeserved “spillovers” and arbitrary cancellation of admission is cruel, unusual, tyrannical, cowardly, and unjustifiable. I’ll oppose it with every resource I have.
For far too long, undergraduate (and postgraduate) students at Nigerian public universities have been treated like expendable rags by their lecturers. It’s this knee-jerk, age-old derision for students that the ASUU president betrayed in his outburst.
Well, if ASUU is able to convince the federal government to make exceptions for it—like it always did in the past—and exempt it from Section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act, which says, “where any worker takes part in a strike, he shall not be entitled to any wages or other remuneration for the period of the strike,” that’s fine. But they shouldn’t punish students if they fail.
Nonetheless, after the publication of my column yesterday, ASUU members said, contrary to Adamu’s claims, no agreement had been reached between ASUU and the federal government, and that the federal government merely told ASUU that it would add an additional 60,000 naira to the salaries of professors and 30,000 to those of others, which won’t materialize until next year when the life of the current government would have expired.
That’s unacceptable, and I wholeheartedly support ASUU’s opposition to this fraud and condescension from the government.
But why didn’t ASUU immediately disclaim Adamu’s lie that the government had resolved all disputes with it instead of being hung up on making the case for why its members should be paid for work they didn’t do and threatening to punish innocent students?
For me, it betrays both incompetence and defective prioritization on the part of the ASUU leadership. A union of academics should have mechanisms for real-time, rapid-fire responses to issues that concern it in moments like this.
I read an article by Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik, an ASUU member, bemoaning the absence of ASUU on social media. ASUU has no official handle on any social media platform, and people have taken advantage of this to crowd the space with fake ASUU handles.
The union periodically issues press statements saying it has no social media presence. Who does that in the 21st century? And we’re talking about a union that has among its members professors of communication!
When I wanted to write my column, I searched the internet for ASUU’s reaction to Adamu’s claim that the federal government had resolved all disputes with ASUU. I didn’t find anything. All I saw was the ASUU president sulking because Adamu said lecturers won’t be paid for the period that they’re on strike.
Based on my knowledge of Adamu as someone who isn’t flippant, who isn’t given to lying—and the fact that ASUU hadn’t denied his claim—I chose to believe him. Now, I’m as disappointed with Adamu’s disgraceful, undignified lie as I am with ASUU’s 24-hour silence over the lie.
I have a strong suspicion that Adamu’s recent viciousness toward ASUU is inspired by the ASUU president’s venture into partisan politics.
On August 12, for example, he said to young people on AIT: “For all those who have subjected them to this [strike], they should vote them out. It’s their right. They should use the Permanent Voter Cards (PVC).”
“We are mobilising [the] Nigerian people,” he continued. “We are educating [the] Nigerian people to know that the present set of leaders have no feelings for Nigerian students and have no feelings for Nigeria as a country.”
Many people, including the Premium Times, interpreted this as a call to not vote the APC in the forthcoming 2023 election. Honchos of the Buhari regime also now see ASUU as politically partisan and are treating it like they would treat opposition politicians.
That’s why although I agree with the ASUU president’s sentiments, I think his political partisanship is counterproductive to ASUU’s cause. ASUU should steer clear of partisan politics.
The ASUU president also said people should not vote for people whose children either live abroad or went/go to school abroad. But that’s an impossibility. There is hardly any Nigerian politician running for office today who can pass this muster.
Most of Atiku Abubakar’s children went to school abroad. Bola Tinubu’s children went to school abroad, too. And Peter Obi’s children went to school abroad and live there.
Just like Bola Tinubu’s APC has allowed ASUU strikes to linger, Atiku Abubakar’s PDP was no different. Months-long ASUU strikes took place when Atiku was Vice President.
And, as governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi allowed a strike by lecturers at the Anambra State University to last for more than 5 months and even sacked the school’s vice chancellor “because of his alleged romance with the striking workers of the university,” according to the Daily Sun of January 19, 2011.
So, the top three contenders to the presidency all have the same attitude toward university lecturers, which makes the ASUU president’s partisan recommendations pointless.
Finally, it’s now clear that the government is both unable and unwilling to fund public universities. We must find alternative sources of funding them.
There are not many countries in the world where universities are closed for more than half a year because of a strike. That isn’t sustainable. There has to be another way.