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A letter to President Tinubu on public universities

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…

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. From this proclaimed inherited bad economy, the ruling class has managed to get the best things of this world for themselves.

It is in this bad economy that they are able to get money to buy jeeps that can protect them from violent attacks and violent pot-holes. In this same bad economy, the wife of the president gets something even though ‘our mommy’ claims her family does not need our money to survive.

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 Nigerian 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 and the school administrations have also become nonchalant like their political class counterparts.

It is very bad in some institutions; door labels/tags are paid for by staff. I have a colleague who had to bring his generating set to school to power his class because he wanted the students to get some things.

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. 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.

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 them. As a responsible union of intellectuals, the union calls the attention of the government to the degeneration of things in public universities and the implications for national growth and development. Omo Olodo-Ide, the government of Goodluck Jonathan carried out NEEDS assessment of public varsities in 2012. The findings shocked many.

The government found that about N1.13 trillion would be enough to arrest the infrastructural decay. Only former President Goodluck Jonathan released N200 billion 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 the 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 the 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 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 their attitude to work is 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 research for your universities to rank among the 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 infrastructures 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 universities need 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, can be reached  via [email protected] 

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