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ASUU strike, a success — Prof Hamisu Muhammad, ABTU VC

Strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities have become a recurring decimal to force the federal government’s hand to comprehensively address the problems in…

Strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities have become a recurring decimal to force the federal government’s hand to comprehensively address the problems in the tertiary education level. With the latest strike just called off, how far do you think the agreement ASUU reached with government would permanently solve the perennial ASUU/government face-off?
The concessions are good enough. Of course, as any economy goes, you can’t say you have enough of it. But I am happy that the intervention from the federal government will go a long way in solving some of the problems of the universities.
The beauty of this face-off between ASUU and government is that the latter set up a committee to look at the problems of the universities, both federal and state. The committee came up with a report where all the problems facing the universities have been documented.  The report is available with the government and the union. So we know actually why the intervention came. It is a specific-targeted intervention.  
Anybody put into the system will address these particular problems and this will impact significantly on the system. It is not a one-off intervention; it will span over six years. Every year, government will be pumping N220 billion into the system. If there is consistency in implementation, I am sure universities in Nigeria will be first-class tertiary institutions and will rival any university in the world.

So can it be rightly concluded the strike was a justifiable success?
Yes, it was a success.

One matter that bothers a lot of people is why vice-chancellors, being the chief executive officers of their institutions and knowing where the shoe pinches most, have to wait for lecturers to champion their cause. Why is this so?   
To be honest, it is an aberration. It should be the other way around. But then, vice-chancellors are not trade unionists. They are government employees. Trade unionists, in their charter document, have that flexibility to challenge their employers and are in a position to go on strike. But you, as a manager, cannot. You can only formally put in your requirements. You can’t, as the administrator of the system, go on strike. On the other hand, it’s not anything that’s abnormal for lecturers to down tools. That arrangement is part of the checks and balances in the system.

So do you directly or indirectly accord ASUU support to force concessions out of government?
No, we don’t give them support. There are 1001 ways of getting what you want from government. The appropriate way is to dialogue with, and not to confront government. But the unionists have their own way of doing things. We can’t say we are supporting the strike because no vice-chancellor would want to see his academic calendar distorted and be happy.
If one looks at the characteristic of strikes, one would see that students, parents, teachers, workers, even staff doing their post-graduate degrees, everyone is affected. The collateral damage is enormous. The man-hour lost was also just too enormous. So we can’t be happy with the situation. But then, that’s how the system works.
To what extent would you say vice-chancellors are responsible for the decay in the university system, in terms of not instilling discipline in students and lecturers the way they should, and in the quality of education their students receive?
Vice-chancellors, being the chief executive officers of the universities, whatever it happens, I agree, boils down to their responsibility as the chief manager of the system. But it is also a collective responsibility. There is a general decay in the entire system in the country – in discipline, in commitment, in many areas. Every sector is complaining of indiscipline, of non-commitment, etc. The university system cannot be singled out for blame. We are part of the Nigerian system.
By and large, the university system has checks and balances of instilling discipline. We have the Discipline committee, the Ethics committee and other committees to check vices in the system. Still, as I said, we can’t be an island in the country. Whatever affects the larger society affects the university system.

Specifically, how has your administration at the Abubakar Tafawa Balawa University been able to whip lecturers into line as regards improprieties like unlawfully assisting students to pass exams and sexual harassment that lecturers perpetrate?        
During my term as VC at ATBU, we’ve penalised two lecturers, one for unlawfully aiding and abetting students to pass exams. He was ordered to appear before the Discipline committee and he confessed. He was dismissed from the system. The other penalised staff was found to have come in with false certificates, a false degree. There were complaints about him here and there. He also appeared before the committee and it was established he truly forged his certificate. He was expelled.
Some students also forged their grades in the West African School Certificate (WASC) and National Examinations Council (NECO) examinations for their admission. But we’ve checks through which we determine the authenticity of their claims. We have a screening committee. If we detect any fake submission, we have a system whereby the student will be given fair trial and fair hearing. If it’s confirmed the student, indeed, forged his/her credentials, we dismiss the student.

ATBU was established essentially to be a technology institution. Are there inventions, discoveries or other areas in the area of technology that the university has been able to contribute to national growth?       
Yes, there are. The university actually developed a briquetting machine which compacts sawdust into solid fuel for cooking and what have you. We also have some inventions in terms of solar cookers, as solar is the in-thing now. We are good in that area.
Some of our staffers are also involved in bio-pesticide, in collaboration with Swansea University, U.K., where we can apply organic bacteria instead of chemicals to treat pests. They have discovered a very strong bio plate to them. There is also a recent solution where you can inject a fruit tree, like the mango tree, for a bigger fruit. We have gone far in this area.
Our major problem, not only at the ATBU, but in the university system generally is the issue of patenting and commercialising the results of our researches, our inventions. That is why, for now, it is hard to increase our researches in the universities. It is not enough to make a success and put in on the shelf. You need to commercial them, you need to bring them out to the public, where investors and entrepreneurs will look at them, buy the patent and finally commercialise them.
That’s part of the challenges the university system is facing. I believe when we finally stabilise in, say the next 10 years, we will see the wonders the country’s university system can churn out. Even if we are able to get the N220 billion annually for the next six years, we’ll all see a great change in the outputs of Nigerian universities.
We also do exhibitions during our competitions where various works of the departments in the university are exhibited. That is important if we invite investors, entrepreneurs to come and see and then take them to a higher level in commercialising and marketing those products.

What conscious efforts are universities making to promote those products, especially with a view to generating revenue from them? How are they attracting investors and entrepreneurs for patronage and partnership?
That is the essence of attending and organising conferences and exhibitions; it is to woo investors and entrepreneurs and discuss with them to take our products to higher levels. There is general apathy in the country. The relationship between the universities and the industries is at its lowest ebb now. It is part of what the union is calling for. Government should do a policy where the industries in the country should be advised or cajoled into going into relationships and partnerships with the universities on researches, instead of taking them to their parent companies in Europe, USA or Asia. They should use our universities and our research institutes. Our government would do better to encourage industries here to partner our universities.

The fashion in Nigeria now is for many universities to establish business outfits in the pursuit to generate revenue internally. How has ABTU fared in this respect?
That is part of the challenges facing universities. If you don’t have a strong research background or equipment, if you don’t have a state-of-the-art equipment, as we are complaining, you can’t do any cutting edge research and production. That is why we are crying that we should have intervention from government to let us have some funds to buy equipment so we can equip our laboratories, do modern and deep research, and partner investors to take our products to higher levels. If we can have some funds, there is no way we won’t be able to generate real income. 

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