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ASUU Struggles: Propaganda and counter – narratives

Andrew A. Erakhrumen*

“An army marches on its stomach”

We have come full circle, again! It is no more news, unfortunately, that after efforts by members of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) at preventing industrial dispute with government were frustrated, they reluctantly activated their suspended strike, with a four-week roll-over strike, on the 14th of February, 2022 after ASUU-National Executive Council (NEC) Meeting of 12th to 13th of February, 2022, held at University of Lagos, Lagos. In line with the nomenclature for, and modus operandi of, the disruptive roll-over strike, it has been extended (not unexpected) on the 14th of March, 2022, for another eight weeks, after ASUU’s Emergency NEC Meeting of 13th of March, 2022 at University of Abuja, Abuja. Regrettably, this ongoing eight-week roll-over strike – according to the Union – is total and comprehensive! The earlier-mentioned ASUU-NEC, both at Lagos and Abuja, came after mobilisation congresses/press briefings were held from 31st of January to 9th of February, 2022, by all ASUU branches.

The congresses and press briefings served as follow-up to another round of ASUU’s Zonal Press Conferences that ended on the 15th of December, 2021. These actions resulted from the expiration – on the 5th of December, 2021 – of ASUU’s three-week ultimatum given to the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN). The earlier-mentioned ultimatum was issued after ASUU-NEC Meeting of 13th to 14th of November, 2021 held at University of Abuja, Abuja. The ultimatum was to give FGN more ‘undeserved’ time to fulfil its part of the Memoranda of Understanding/Action signed by both parties before and on the 23rd of December, 2020. Therefore, it is very important for those who blindly parrot the clownish opinion, that ASUU applies strike as the ONLY means of ventilating its discontentment, to know that other efforts were exerted (several letters were written, meetings, parleys, interviews, press statements, published articles, interventions, among others) to avoid this industrial dispute, but as always, those benefiting from deliberately-troubled waters in Nigeria’s public universities have ‘successfully’ brought us here, again.

What is/are the issue(s) this time? Relaying the same old story will answer this question as ASUU’s demands have not changed concerning revitalisation funding for public universities, non-payment of earned academic allowances (EAA), non-implementation of renegotiated 2009 ASUU/FGN agreement, non-payment of promotion arrears, inconsistency in payments by the fraud-ridden Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System (IPPIS) and non-deployment of University Transparency Accountability Solution as a reliable replacement for IPPIS that is mainly competent in fraudulence! Therefore, since we have found ourselves at this point, again, what is next? It should be clear by now, as we have stated severally, that these industrial crises in Nigeria’s public higher academic institutions are always contrived by those benefiting from them! We are convinced, beyond doubt, that this is partly the reason behind governments’ refusal to implement almost all collectively-bargained agreements reached with ASUU!

Well, ASUU is back in the trenches against a class of voraciously extractive political elite represented by predatory governments! Clearly, there are no two elephants fighting here! Rather, this is a fight between a deliberately-made disadvantaged ASUU and a big monster trampling on all! Struggle – for things already taken for granted in many other climes – is still part of life for Nigerian academics! These are scholars expected to concentrate on knowledge generation but have been methodically constrained, slyly by the system, to be struggling with issues of basic survival! We are talking about someone whose take-home pay (if paid) cannot take home! This is someone always battling, monthly, to ensure that part of his/her scandalously meagre take-home pay accompany him/her home! We are referring, here, to someone who is gravely distracted by the vagaries of economic challenges! This is a university lecturer whose pay has remained what he/she has been earning since 2009 in the federal universities and far worse in others!

Definitely, we are talking about lecturers that are more of perennial borrowers from cooperative societies and moneylenders! We are, unambiguously, referring to lecturers whose “fairly used” (expired) vehicles imported from the northern hemisphere (for those who have one) compel them to visit auto-mechanic workshops, regularly! It is marvelling how they have been able to cope with their demeaning paupers’ pay without cutting corners, considering the sense in the above-quoted words attributed, in instances, to both Frederick the Great (1712–1786) and Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821). We salute lecturers who have been soldiering on in these universities with their sweat and blood! However, we must acknowledge that thinking deeply about research in this kind of a caustic and discouraging clime is burdensome! Consequently, we will always kick against a system that aims at killing the willing horse. Things must change for the better – for lecturers – in Nigeria! Certainly, we are not oblivious of some “bad eggs” – as also found in all other professions – who do not have business being in the university system as lecturers!

These unscrupulous elements are very embarrassing to ladies and gentlemen of complete integrity within the university system! We have, earlier, written about them and will surely still do, extensively, in future interventions. Moving forward, we want to emphasise that it is long overdue for serious attention to be paid to the emoluments of lecturers in public universities. We will be stating the obvious to say that many lecturers have been successfully deliberately impoverished, pummelled psychologically and captured by the state! This may sound unbelievable to some but it is a fact! There has been a long time surreptitiously systematised plan – by the Nigerian political class in collaboration with ‘willing hands’ within the university system – aimed at incapacitating intellectualism and intellectuals, particularly those referred to as ‘radical scholars’, in order to cow, silence and enshackle them! We dare say that many of those currently in government (as well as the corridors and bedroom of power) are, sadly, the dregs of society.

We strongly believe that these dregs of society are those being referred to by Wole Soyinka in this quote: “Books and all forms of writing are terror to those who wish to suppress the truth”. This pauperisation and eventual state-capture are the reasons behind the transient ‘success’ of governments’ strategy of tokenism (renamed here as ‘peanutism’) in dealing with public university workers. For instance, ASUU struggles in the last ten years, or so, have always been deliberately reduced – by governments and their ‘megaphones’ – to agitations for the peanut known as EAA, and lecturers appear to be falling, always, for this scam! The EAA is what governments and their agents do hype, loudly, during industrial disputes and lecturers seem unable or are reluctant to shoot this propaganda down! Enemies of public universities have always been deriding ASUU struggles using well-nourished propaganda efficiently tied to this EAA!

Members of ASUU must counter these carefully strategised damning evil narratives attached to EAA that do not free them from financial enslavement! The EAA has not been, and is still not, the solution to their pecuniary challenges! Sadly, salary too, is not! Nonetheless, the 2009 ASUU/FGN agreement has been renegotiated in 2021. The 2009 version, with its salary component that is far less than the African average as at then, was to be renegotiated every three years starting from 2012. However, this was not achieved, thereby keeping lecturers in public universities on the same ‘salaries’ to date! Lecturers’ salaries and allowances, unlike political office holders’, are not hidden. For example, assuming there are no tax deductions, a full professor earns between N381,695.75 (US$915.14) and N501,680.25 (US$1,202.81) monthly! After subtracting obnoxious taxes and other deductions, a professor “at the bar” (who must have spent ten years as a professor) goes home, monthly, with something around N416,000! Many public universities are not paying this ‘peanut’ while there are others owing months of unpaid ‘salaries’! What offence have lecturers in Nigerian public universities really committed to warrant this shabby treatment?

This is the ‘peanut’ that governments (disputants in industrial disputes) shamelessly shout “no work, no pay” about every time they and their minions enable industrial disputes in public universities! It is – now – time for lecturers to resolutely insist that the draft 2021-renegotiated 2009 ASUU/FGN agreement be signed and implemented forthwith! There is nothing to be ashamed of in renegotiating for a salary increment for the first time since 2009! This slave wage must give way to a proposed better one already well bitten into by the burgeoning economic inflation! Experience has shown that Nigerian governments are at home with the disgraceful pittance they call ‘salary’ for poor workers. Thus, lecturers should ceaselessly demand for their right to live as humans! If they do not, no one will do it for them! As we always say, strike is something ASUU members very much love to hate. However, since we are here, now, it will be better to not fall for the regular fake promises and timelines that are observed in the breach by governments. The Union, irrespective of government propaganda, should ensure that its demands are met, concretely, before suspending the prevailing roll-over strike, to avoid its resumption any time soon!

*Andrew A. Erakhrumen currently teaches at the Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria.

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