Let me make a clarification upfront, or perhaps a complication. By academia, I mean all persons working in all tertiary institutions in Nigeria. These include the universities, polytechnics, monotechnics, colleges of education, institutes, colleges of arts and science, etc. Furthermore, I use ‘academia’ because I am addressing not only the academics but everyone that works in the system. However, my referent would appear to be, not only the academic staff of universities but those of public universities. I choose them for two reasons: They have the largest number of academics, and, to my mind, the strongest reason to want, and make a change in the country’s political system. Not for their sake as individuals or groups, but for the future of the country.
In other words, I am using ASUU as a referent. Just as a handle. But I am addressing everyone that works in a tertiary institution, academic or non-academic. It is easy to understand why I am doing this. I am counting on your level of maturity and awareness as well as your sphere of influence. But the stronger reason why I am counting on you is because Nigeria’s eggs of life are in your hands. The future of Nigeria is in your hands, and it is a hundred times larger than your number. I suppose that you are teaching the young people, forming their minds in order to build the country. So, what would your labour come to, when there is no country, no future to build? And if you are bringing them up to replace you, then they must understand the language you speak. And if they understand the language you speak, then there is no better time to speak than now that they know their future is at stake, and they know who is mortgaging it.
- N23.3bn ‘fraud’: EFCC re-arraigns ex-Finance Minister Yuguda, Dasuki, Bafarawa
- 5 killed in fresh attack on Benue community
Now, to the business of the academics in the public university system, to whom I should, first of all, pay my respect and register my sympathy. I understand the system very well as that is where I started my academic career 28 years ago. It was, unfortunately, at the time the military had started to (seriously) meddle with the system; that meddling from which the system has never recovered ––nor is it likely to ever recover fully. Yet, you must never despair. Not at this time that I can see a silver lining in the sky; a ray of hope in the horizon. You have been brave and dogged fighters although you have always been misunderstood by the public. The military and the political class understood perfectly what you were saying and why you were fighting (them). They knew that a well-educated populace would not tolerate them for one day, not to talk of decades. But they also knew that their orgy would not last forever. This is our chance. The time is nigh.
If you went to school in the sixties and seventies like me, which also means that you grew up in those years, you must be weeping for this country every day. You would also be feeling guilty even though you may not have participated in destroying the country. You feel guilty because you did not do anything, or could not do anything, to arrest the situation. You must feel guilty that you got an excellent education and an excellent life, which are now denied your children and grandchildren. It is now your chance to join hands with the embattled academia, and especially the beleaguered and maligned ASUU, to upturn the political apple cart of the ancient class of looters in the different arms of government. I dare say that the 2023 elections are ASUU’s greatest opportunity as they are also ours. ASUU must seize this opportunity. Otherwise, they go under. For good. God forbid (ala Nigerian).
What should ASUU do? Our goal is to have a responsive and stable government that will work towards ending our numerous problems, which I have listed in previous writeups. Our strategy should be networking, synergy consultations and mobilization. The academia has everything needed to do this. Are the universities not the incubation centres for eggheads; those who think and develop policies, which ideas are converted into inventions? We are where we are, not because the professors have not been thinking but because greedy people in government prefer to kill ideas in favour of importation.
Some of us would grumble and say that it was the professors––who made returning officers by their professor colleagues––that messed up previous elections. I would not be quick to say that those who sold their birthright were not up to ten per cent. But we also need to know that the military and political elite had so impoverished Nigerian academics that some could easily fall victims to cheap blackmail. A bad apple may be said to spoil others, but no one would throw away a whole basket of apples when they can easily remove the bad one. The academia still has credible people.
Who was responsible for the rot in the first place? Today, the National Universities Commission is asking universities to provide statistics for ranking, including the number of foreign staff and students. In the seventies and early eighties, many of our academic staff were from Europe, America, Canada, India and Australia. We also had a good number from other African countries. As for students, we had a good number from all over the world although most were from African countries such as Ghana, Cameroon, South Africa, Kenya, Gambia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, etc. It was not for lack of good professors that the students left. Nor was it the universities that sent away the foreign staff. The military and political class did it. They did not only send away the foreigners, they also sent away some of our best brains. I salute those of you who have refused to run away. See what has become of the system; what they have done to it.
I know that you all desire to see sanity return to our university system. I know that you want an end to the endless strikes. I know that you want sanity to return to the process of appointment of vice chancellors, admissions, promotions, university administration and all. I know how badly you need the autonomy that the universities enjoyed in those good old days. You want to stop the recent meddling into staff appointments that has been made easy by the bogus payment system designed to ensure that not even an iota of autonomy is enjoyed by the university. You all want to be able to earn salaries commensurate with the work you do, even if they do not compare with what obtains in other parts of the world. The solution is for you to use the power of your education, experience (in mobilisation), contacts, and the army of students you command to ensure that we all work together to support a credible and progressive-minded candidate. We should have no party allegiance. Academics are known to be progressives. This is the time to prove. LET US ALL GO FOR A CANDIDATE WE BELIEVE WILL DELIVER. ASUU Chairmen, this is your time; your moment. Seize it.
By Dul Johnson, who is of the Department of English and Literary Studies Bingham University, Karu