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SCHOLARLY CURRENTS: Rethinking ASUU’s approach in the government tug of war by Prof. M. S. Ibrahim

SCHOLARLY CURRENTS: Rethinking ASUU’s approach in the government tug of war by Prof. M. S. Ibrahim

A few days ago, scrolling through my department’s WhatsApp group, I stumbled upon Prof Amoka’s essay, “The Nigerian University Professors and Their Sad Reality.”

As usual, it was an engaging exposé spotlighting the Herculean responsibilities carried by Nigerian university professors. With passion, his narrative delves into the quagmire of the Nigerian political elite’s insensitivity and its endless crafty strategy of financially stifling the nation’s public university system. His essay revived the frustration keenly felt within the burdened academic community in Nigeria, vividly portraying our shared frustration and a disheartening realisation of our powerlessness in achieving cherished goals. For his unwavering commitment to disseminating the messages of the Nigerian academic, Prof Amoka deserves commendation. The country’s academics grapple with palpable helplessness as Nigeria’s educational fortunes steadily erode due to the deliberate assault by successive generations of political leadership. The repercussions of this stark lack of positive commitment from the political elite continue to cast shadows over Nigeria’s education and national development.

Without doubt, the true vocation of academics, especially professors, is to sculpt a better society. However, as we hustle through our daily pursuits, a lamentable paradox surfaces: are we, as academics, truly shaping society, or are we inadvertently moulded by the very societal forces we strive to influence? This raises a poignant inquiry, highlighting the challenge of our supposed mission and prompting us to reflect on whether, in the midst our frequent lamentations, we can genuinely claim success in our struggle.

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Time and again, in closed forums of academics, I have stressed ASUU’s need to elevate its struggles with intellectual vigour rather than sheer doggedness. Permit me, once more, to pose my recurring justification: if our intelligence, enlightenment and finesse truly surpass the political elite, why are we repeatedly outmanoeuvred by them? In nearly every engagement, they achieve their objectives, leaving us falling short of ours. Could these perplexing ironies stem from our tendency to separate classroom knowledge from practical situations? However awkward this question may seem, it prompts contemplation on whether we truly believe in the principles we teach inside the classroom, fostering cognitive dissonances that undermine our cause.

It raises questions: Why do our professors of communication, information management, marketing, community mobilization, etc. not scrutinise the reasons our efforts to convey ASUU’s ideas to key stakeholders often fall short? Many, including students, parents, government, civil society organisations and fellow academics, struggle to grasp our messages. Defending this shortcoming, a committed ASUU “comrade” friend of mine argues that having to delay struggles until every member understands the union’s pursuit is impractical and time wasting. This perspective baffles me. However, this is not to blame the sacrifices of ASUU leaders for the unwanted outcomes of the rigid negative posture of some public servants or the doubtful commitment from the political elite to our education system. For example, how else does one explain a minister under the previous government making the pledge that, “I will make sure ASUU members beg for food to eat”? Also, another public servant boasted that, “I will show them the power of the man with the button.”

Similar to the poor communication and marketing mentioned above, as stewards of management knowledge, why do our experts in management and administration not help us recognise the harmful cognitive dissonance in us teaching evidence-based problem-solving methods in the classroom but hesitating to apply them when our own issues arise – all because we are “comrades”? Is it not incongruous for teachers of Law, International Relations, Administration, Political Science, Public Policy, etc., who passionately extol the virtues of lobbying in classrooms, to then dismiss the same lobbying as unethical or as “begging” whenever they don the regalia of “comradeship”? Why do the experts among us not caution us when we say the slogan “United we stand, divided we beg.” This slogan may imply, albeit wrongly, that we abhor begging or that we consider it to be belittling. For clarity, the Council on Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying (OECD) defines lobbying simply as “oral or written communication with a public official to influence legislation, policy, or administrative decisions.” As such, lobbying is not unethical or belittling except, like any other human act, if it involves dishonesty, manipulation, or actions that are illegal or demeaning –  a circumstance not ordinarily inherent in our activities as academics.

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Since the return to democracy in 1999, the political elite has persistently pursued the commercialisation and privatisation of tertiary education in Nigeria – an initiative consistently opposed by the academia, especially ASUU, on behalf of Nigerians. But with each round of the tug of war, the government inches closer to beating ASUU’s resistance into desired shape. For example, government’s actions, such as forcing tertiary institutions into the flawed IPPIS and subsequently using it to impede recruitments and hard-earned staff remunerations and welfare, represent calculated steps. Ironically, the recent approval to exempt tertiary institutions from the IPPIS may just be a poisoned chalice that marks another stride towards the overarching objective of commercialisation and privatisation. Additionally, even the student loan scheme may be part of this process of commercialisation and privatisation. Nonetheless, if well implemented, the student loan scheme holds many potential advantages for the country, such as reducing the ongoing brain drain phenomenon.  To be candid, ASUU has observed and acted helplessly and powerlessly, sometimes even engaging in disjointed, self-harming battles, including the well-known unnecessary efforts to systematically frustrate the medical academics who are members of ASUU. This needless battle accelerated the long-desired formation of NAMDA, as medical academics sought to take control of their destiny out of ASUU’s grip. But despite being a momentous step for medical academics to shape their own path, it was a significant milestone that weakened ASUU, and ASUU did not even see itself facilitating this journey. Not to digress, the intricacies of the needless struggle to frustrate the medical academics is best left as a story for another day.

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For Nigerian academics to succeed in their effort to improve society through enhancement of education, a paradigm shift is imperative – one that involves confronting challenges with scepticism and open-mindedness, discarding our age-old dogma. This shift demands profound collective introspection and acknowledgment of uncomfortable academic truths essential for progress. As intellectuals or “comrades,” we are not infallible; we are human. Without this acknowledgment and a much-needed turnaround, every utterance becomes a mere lamentation. However fervent, lamentations alone are impotent and cannot secure victory. Thus, our long-held notion that “the good shall always prevail over the evil” may remain a hopeful expression, and we may just find ourselves trapped in our unproductive unwavering doggedness and idealistic discourse. If this happens, our “aluta” may only continue to be “continua” while our “vitoria” never becomes “e certa.” This is because, contrary to our notion, life’s reality dictates that, at times, the forces deemed “evil” emerge triumphant over those deemed “good”. It is a harsh truth that cannot be ignored.

Dear Nigerian academics, as we wisely navigate the intricacies of our academic and societal challenges, the fruits of our perseverance will undoubtedly come to bear. Therefore, let us summon the courage to acknowledge that our well-intentioned ideas must be proficiently communicated and marketed to resonate with students, parents, colleagues, civil society organisations and other critical stakeholders, including the political class. As stewards of management knowledge, in addressing our issues, let us fervently apply the pragmatic, evidence-based problem-solving methods that we ardently teach in the classroom. Let us begin to embark on lobbying to the same extent that we extol the virtues of lobbying in the classroom. To achieve these, as intellectuals, we must agree to thoroughly study, fully understand and impassionedly exploit the functions and strategic use of lobbying, advocacy and activism in varied challenging situations. As intellectuals, let us consistently remember that to make indispensable U-turn is human. Let us accept that bending our knee will not diminish us, just as bowing will not break a bone in us. Let us bury idealism and uphold pragmatism. Idealism may feel ecstatic, only pragmatism will guarantee our success.

Muhammed Sani Ibrahim is a Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at the Department of Community Medicine, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria


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