"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 2021

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Problem of ASUU and the Way Forward

 There’s probably no more pressing issue that imperils the collective destinies of Nigeria’s aspirational middle-class youth than the naggingly disruptive violence of never-ending ASUU strikes. This week, I’ve decided to invite Professor Moses Ochonu, my friend of nearly three decades who has invested tremendous emotional energy on this issue, to write a guest column on the just suspended ASUU strike. I hope his dispassionate diagnosis of the issues and his thoughtful counsel to ASUU will ignite a soul-searching conversation about pedagogical accountability in our universities and about productive alternatives to strikes. Enjoy:

By Moses E. Ochonu

ASUU has called off its strike. The strike will predictably be spun as a success, but it was largely a failure. It cost the union an enormous amount of societal symbolic and perceptual capital while yielding few returns.

ASUU won a few modest concessions, but most of them were in the form of government promises. We know how these promises usually turn out. The government reneges on them, leading to another strike, and another poorly implemented “agreement.” And on and on it goes in a rinse and repeat cycle that torments and shortchanges students and their parents. 

What’s more, the latest “resolution” does not break any new ground and is largely premised on the old MOU and the entitlements enshrined therein. The strike essentially reaffirmed the status quo.

What this means is that ASUU has not achieved much from the strike and merely cut its losses when it realized that it had no leverage and was losing the PR battle in the public domain. 

Speaking of losing support, ASUU loses a large slice of public opinion with each strike.

It shouldn’t be so because, all things considered, ASUU has been a net benefit to the Nigerian university sector. 

The problem is that it is a union moored to an outdated method of struggle, rigidly unwilling to acknowledge the limitations and diminished public appeal of its actions and rhetoric. For good or bad, most Nigerians now blame strikes as much as they blame government inaction for the problems in Nigerian universities. They no longer see strikes as a solution but as part of the problem. 

More tellingly, most Nigerians consider lecturers to be self-absorbed, tone-deaf, insensitive, and navel-gazing operatives who are incapable of seeing how they have become part of the problem and how they’ve become the primary culprits for the absence of moral and instructional accountability and the decline of academic quality control in the system.

Unless lecturers look inward, become self-critical, and begin to live up to their familiar claim that they are saviors of a comatose university system, they will continue to lose public support and will eventually become irreverent objects of scorn with no moral sway and only the power to blackmail and take hostages, the hostages being students.

Where is ASUU when Nigerians discuss the problems of poor and non-existent teaching; rampant sexual harassment; poor supervision and mentorship; corruption and ethical violations; plagiarism; a flawed academic staff recruitment process; lax and politicized academic staff promotion requirements; the absence of merit pay for productive and exemplary lecturers; tyranny towards students; and pedagogical poverty?

Not only is ASUU often missing from and uninterested in such discussions, it usually supports and provides refuge for its members accused of failing in these areas. The union is happy to be an incubator for and rewarder of mediocrity and nonchalance among its members.

And yet, to neutrals and independent stakeholders, the aforementioned issues, for which lecturers are culpable, and which are directly within their purview, are as responsible for the decline of university education in Nigeria as the funding and infrastructure issues often privileged in ASUU propaganda.

If you ask the question of why standards are falling, research quality and quantity declining, and graduates getting worse despite ASUU “winning” significant salary and funding increases over the last three decades, ASUU deflects by blaming the poor quality of admitted students; that is when its goons are not attacking you for daring to pose such a “sacrilegious” question. ASUU never takes responsibility or accepts blame.

It is no longer enough for ASUU people to deflect these issues by saying that these are policy and governance issues under the remit of regulators and universities management and that ASUU is a trade union that is only concerned with the pecuniary interests and institutional comforts of its members. 

If that claim is true then why does ASUU preface and bookend its statements and rhetorical expressions with the claim that it is fighting to save the university system for the benefits of everyone—students, parents, and society? 

Why not stick to the rhetorical script of members-only priorities? Why pivot self-interestedly and strategically to the mantra of bringing salvation to university education for the benefit of all?

ASUU cannot have it both ways. If they’re only a trade union then they should stop assaulting us with claims of caring about and trying to save our universities from ruin. 

ASUU people cannot insist on being judged as a trade union with a members-focused mandate when matters of ethics, abuses, and dereliction of duties are mentioned but then turn around, when they desire support for their strike, to claim that they are fighting for all stakeholders and trying to save the university. 

Clearly, ASUU is plagued by a crisis of identity and rhetorical confusion that it needs to resolve.

If ASUU people are truly concerned about the salvation of our universities, they have to start addressing the failings of their members and commit to helping to hold failing and erring members accountable. 

Only then will they win back the support of Nigerians who have become disillusioned with ASUU’s rhetorical claims and its increasingly counterproductive and fruitless industrial actions.

Let me sketch out what ASUU needs to do to win back public support and reacquire lost social capital.

ASUU needs to articulate a clear, unequivocal opposition to the problems of sexual harassment in Nigerian universities. For starters, it should drop its opposition to the sexual harassment bill being considered in the National Assembly and work with the bill’s sponsors to refine it. ASUU should articulate an equally clear opposition to plagiarism among its members. 

In both the plagiarism and sexual harassment domains, ASUU should abandon its odious practice of defending and protecting the accused and in some cases even threatening to go on strike on their behalf when they are punished.

The union should take the lead in stemming the problem of poor class attendance, nonchalant teaching, and poor research supervision, which are common practices among its members. 

The union should stop standing in the way of disciplining lecturers who fall short in these areas. 

ASUU should protest the irregular and corrupt recruitment of academic staff with as much fervor as it protests the nonpayment of earned allowances, and the union should insist on the implementation of rigorous academic promotion criteria, which would help rid their ranks of ineffectual and uncommitted lecturers. 

ASUU should support the implementation of merit pay, a system in which, in addition to base pay set uniformly by rank, lecturers who distinguish themselves through their teaching and research outcomes/output are given salary increases as a reward and as an incentive to catalyze excellence in teaching/supervision and research. 

ASUU should support and help develop the modalities for the implementation of student teaching evaluations in all universities.

Finally, ASUU should support and help champion the development of what I call a Students Bill of Rights (SBOR), which would outline the rights and protections students enjoy in their academic relationships with lecturers, and which would protect students against abuses, tyranny, unethical exactions, exploitation, and vindictiveness.

Doing all these would buttress ASUU’s claim that it is not only concerned with the welfare of its members but also with saving a collapsing higher education system.

Ochonu is Professor of African History at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, and can be reached at meochonu@gmail.com 


Saturday, January 9, 2021

Kukah, Pantami, and Self-Interested Government Critics

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Bishop Matthew Kukah’s Christmas message, which called attention to the deepening depths of death and despair that Nigeria has been dangerously degenerating into in the last few years, attracted the commendations of critics of the Buhari regime and invited the condemnation of regime honchos and defenders.

The impassioned, partisan responses the bishop’s message provoked was predictable, which explained why I didn’t think it was worth commenting on it even though several of my readers asked for my opinion.

However, Professor Jibrin “Jibo” Ibrahim’s January 1, 2021 Daily Trust column titled “Bishop Matthew Kukah: Can a Partisan Tell Truth to Power?” inspired this intervention. Ibrahim, who is a Christian (or at least a non-Muslim) from Kano (and an apologist for the Buhari regime, I should add), argued that Kukah’s criticism of Buhari’s incompetence isn’t disinterested since he not only didn’t criticize PDP governments that were headed by Christians, he also condemned people who did exactly what he is doing to Buhari now.

To back up his claim, Ibrahim reproduced a 2014 exculpatory and excusatory Kukah quote about the Goodluck Jonathan regime’s incompetence in securing the county. The quote uncannily mirrors what Lai Mohammed, Femi Adesina, Garba Shehu, or any Buhari regime propagandist would say today in defense of Buhari’s own incompetence.

 “Nigerians love to criticize their country perhaps far more than any nation I know of in the world,” Kukah was reported to have said during Professor Wole Soyinka’s 80th birthday lecture in 2014. “The President and the security agencies have become the objects of attacks and vilification and yet, there is very little that is being done to point at the way forward. I know that as day follows night, we shall pull out of this tragedy that we face as a nation. But the least we can do is to stand in the comforts of highways and homes that someone else constructed and thrown stones at ourselves and our people simply because we are living off someone else’s sweat.”

In other words, when Kukah’s co-religionists are in power, he chafes at social criticism of governments, but when people he doesn’t share the same religious faith with are in power he not only countenances criticisms of governments, he actually uses his pulpit to censure them in the severest forms possible. That’s not disinterested criticism; it’s self-interested criticism.

Bishop Kukah is my friend, and I had always assumed that he was an equal-opportunity critic of all bad governments, but now that I think about it, I frankly don't recall him being as severely censorious of Jonathan—or even Obasanjo— as he has been of Buhari even though Jonathan was the absolute worst president we had had until Buhari came to beat his record.

Was Bishop Kukah benign to Jonathan because he benefited from his government in either symbolic or material terms? I don’t know, but it’s entirely legitimate to be suspicious of the intent of his very accurate and unassailable assessment of the Buhari regime. If he wasn't nearly as critical of Jonathan when he also supervised Nigeria's descent into anarchy and precarity, which made Buhari’s emergence possible, his motivation can't be attributed entirely to telling truth to power.

Anyone who defended—or, worse, still defends—Jonathan has no moral right to criticize Buhari and expect to not invite ridicule or a questioning of their motives.

Nothing in Goodluck Jonathan's temperaments and comportment suggests that he is different from Buhari. Like Buhari, he fiddled and engaged in crackpot conspiracy ideations while the country burned. Boko Haram’s fury not only raged in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi, and so on, bombs periodically went off in places like Kano, Kaduna, and even the federal capital territory.

Instead of confronting the widening insecurity that engulfed the country, Jonathan sulked—and sucked. He said the insecurity was a plot by the elites of the North to get him out of power, a silly conspiracy ideation that has been undermined by the escalation of the same insecurity—and its intensification in the North— on the watch of a northerner.

"Some of them [Boko Haram members] are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government, while some of them are even in the judiciary,” Jonathan said on January 8, 2012 at the interdenominational church service to mark Armed Forces Remembrance Day in Abuja. "Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies. Some continue to dip their hands and eat with you and you won't even know the person who will point a gun at you or plant a bomb behind your house." 

That was an astonishingly astounding level of presidential cluelessness and irresponsibility that Kukah ignored, defended, or excused.  

 Recall that Jonathan also defended the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) when it carried out a terrorist attack in Abuja that it owned up to and even forewarned—similar to Buhari's defense of Fulani murderers and mollycoddling of Boko Haram terrorists.

As I pointed out in my October 16, 2010 column titled “A MENDacious President!” MEND had bombed the venue of a two-day “post- amnesty” dialogue organized by Vanguard Newspapers in Warri and even Jonathan’s own home in his hometown of Otuoke on May 16, 2007 after he was appointed Vice President. Why did he insist they didn’t bomb Abuja on October 1, 2010 when they—and even British intelligence agencies—warned that they would strike?

Does anyone who either ignored or defended Jonathan's disaster of an administration, which has been made only more tolerable in hindsight when compared with Buhari's, deserve to be shielded from having their motive questioned when they criticize Buhari?

In other words, if Buhari's successor turns out to be even worse than he is (the one thing no one can say with certainty about Nigeria's leadership is that it won't get worse than it is now), should people who ignored or defended Buhari be allowed to criticize his successor without having their motives questioned? I don't think so.

Bishop Kukah’s defense of Jonathan in 2014 isn’t different from current Buhari apologists’ defense of Buhari’s incompetence. He shouldn't be allowed to get away with selective outrage.

The truth is that every previous administration often benefits from a kind of cognitive bias that psychologists call rosy retrospection, which is the tendency to remember past times more positively as they recede into distant memories. Even Buhari will benefit from rosy retrospection years after his tenure. Should people who defend or ignore him now be given a pass if they come down hard on his successor?

But Kukah is not alone. My good friend Sheikh Dr. Ali Isa Pantami is now the object of Twitter attacks by young educated northerners who remind him that his cold detachment from the horrors that afflict northern Muslims today is such a disconcerting contrast from his erstwhile persistent, shrill, and lachrymose attacks on former President Goodluck Jonathan from his pulpit.

 In a widely circulated audio tape, he tearfully told Jonathan that, as president and commander-in-chief, he should take responsibility for the daily mass murders of Muslims in the North.

Today, more Northern Muslims are dying and being violently kidnapped than at any time in Nigeria’s entire history, but Sheikh Pantami hasn’t placed the blame for this on Buhari in whose government he served as DG of NITDA and serves as minister of Communication and Digital Economy.

Like Kukah, Pantami’s criticism of Jonathan wasn’t disinterested; it was self-interested. Although they have a right to their religiously tinged selective outrage against governments, those of us whose chronicling and censures of missteps in governance isn't animated by partisan or primordial impulses also have an obligation to call them out.  

Yes, Buhari is worse than Jonathan, but that doesn't erase the fact that Jonathan was also terrible president. No one who defended—or defends—Jonathan has moral superiority over current Buhari defenders.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Why Abba Kyari’s Death Was 2020's Most Momentous Moment

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

The year 2020 was a year of incalculable disasters for the whole world, but it was even more disastrous for Nigeria because it was the year all pretenses to governance ceased with the death of Abba Kyari, Buhari’s Chief of Staff who functioned as the actual president of Nigeria.

In this week’s column, I will bring together some of my published thoughts and predictions on Abba Kyari before and after his death.

People who follow my column know I have insisted time and again that Abba Kyari was Nigeria’s de facto president. For instance, in my February 22, 2020 column titled “The Tragedy of the Abba Kyari Surrogate Presidency,” I wrote:

“Premium Times’ February 17 unmasking of National Security Adviser Babagana Monguno’s secret memo, which revealed that Abba Kyari, Buhari’s Chief of Staff, exercises presidential powers on Buhari’s behalf, is only the official confirmation of what I have written in many columns and social media updates in the past two years.

“The truth is that Buhari has no cognitive, emotional, physical, not to mention intellectual, capacity to be president. And, since nature abhors a vacuum, Abba Kyari has filled the void that Buhari’s emptiness has created.

“Sometime in the midpoint of last year, a northern retired general told me Abba Kyari said in private that people who vilify him don’t realize that without him Nigeria would be rudderless and descend into chaos.

“He is probably right. When a man who fancies himself as ‘president’ is so wracked by dementia and cognitive decline that he can’t hold a meeting for more than 10 minutes, has lost the ability to follow conversations in a meeting, and has zero short-term memory, someone needs to act on his behalf.

“That Buhari is almost wholly emotionally and intellectually dependent on Abba Kyari is no secret in Aso Villa, but it came out in the open when Buhari himself publicly told his newly appointed ministers that Abba Kyari is the only way to him. In any case, most of the ministers were appointed by Abba Kyari.

“Kyari also made—and continues to make— some of the most consequential appointments of the last five years. For instance, he singlehandedly appointed INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu, DG of DSS Yusuf Magaji Bichi, and CJN Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, among others too numerous to mention.

“That was why Kyari could summon INEC chairman Yakubu to the Presidential Villa on October 26, 2018 to instruct him on how to conduct the forthcoming elections. As I wrote in my January 5, 2019 column titled, ‘INEC’s Troubling Missteps Amid Aso Rock’s Desperation,’ what happened on October 26, 2018 had no precedent.

“‘The Chief of Staff to the President is not a constitutionally recognized position,’ I wrote. ‘He has no legal powers to summon the INEC boss for a meeting’” Of course, I knew that Yakubu was beholden to Kyari because he owes his position to him.

“Kyari rode to his current cushy surrogate presidency through Mamman Daura, Buhari’s nephew, who has been Buhari’s link to the northern political mafia and to transnational financial transactions since 1983.”…

“In his surrogate presidency, Kyari is redefining the limits of audacious impunity and primitive acquisitiveness. For instance, in an unprecedented move in July 2016, he appointed himself a member of the NNPC Board and got insentient Buhari to sign off on it!

“When Air Vice Marshall Mukhtar Muhammed, Buhari’s close friend who died on October 1, 2017, read about Kyari’s appointment to the NNPC Board, he was concerned because there was no precedent for it. So he called Buhari to let him know that the optics of the appointment were bad, but he was shocked when Buhari told him it wasn’t true that he had appointed his Chief of Staff as a member of the NNPC Board, even though he actually signed off on the appointment.

“It turned out that Buhari didn’t know what he signed off on. Someone close to the late AVM Mukhtar Mohammed told me this story a few months after it happened. That was the moment I began to suspect that Buhari was held hostage by dementia. No one knows this more than Abba Kyari, who is taking advantage of it to the maximum.”

And in my April 18, 2020 article titled “Abba Kyari's Death, End of a Surrogate Presidency, and the Coming Chaos,” I wrote the following, most of which is materializing:

“With Kyari's death, Nigeria is now truly leaderless. Buhari is practically in the land of the living dead. He's a breathing mannequin whose only reason for living is to prove he isn't dead in order to justify the continuity of the rule in his name.

“Abba Kyari ruled the country on Buhari's behalf. In my viral February 22, 2020 column titled, ‘The Tragedy of the Abba Kyari Surrogate Presidency,’ this line appeared: ‘Sometime in the midpoint of last year, a northern retired general told me Abba Kyari said in private that people who vilify him don’t realize that without him Nigeria would be rudderless and descend into chaos.’

“Now, he is gone, and the chaos he talked about would start in the coming days and weeks. Mamman Daura, Buhari's nephew who introduced Kyari to Buhari, isn't only old (he is now in his early 80's) he is also now isolated from Buhari thanks to Kyari….

“There is a yawning, potentially disorienting power vacuum in the presidential villa now, which actually emerged really visibly since Kyari went out of circulation before his eventual death.

“Watch out for Aisha Buhari to assert herself more aggressively and to work to grab power in the fashion that Turai Yar'adua did. In fact, she already started this the moment Kyari took ill.

“One of the first things Aisha did was to cause Jalal Arabi, Permanent Secretary of the State House and Kyari's dutiful protege, to be redeployed from the Villa.

“The remnants of the cabal will, of course, fight back. But the fight between Aisha and members of the cabal, who are merely Kyari's proteges, would be a fight in the dark because Buhari who is supposed to intervene is an insentient being who's barely aware he's alive.

“The in-fighting will create noticeable cracks in the Buhari group that Osinbajo, Tinubu, and other interest groups would exploit to feather their nests and advance their interests. In other words, in the coming days and months, expect the cessation of any pretense to governance and an unprecedentedly factious, dog-eat-dog, recriminatory fight between competing power blocs.”

In 2021 Journalists Should Not Help in the Cover-Up of Buhari’s Dementia

If Nigerian journalists do their job and properly attribute stories to Buhari’s spokesmen—and to ministers and heads of government agencies— instead of to “Buhari,” Buhari’s dementia-inspired physical and symbolic absence from governance would be dramatized, and perhaps Nigerians can appreciate the depth of his disaffiliation from the country.

Buhari NEVER says or does most of the things that are often attributed to him. He doesn’t even know about the deaths he is always quoted as condemning or being shocked about—or about the appointments he is often alleged to make or terminate. 

For instance, according to Jaafar Jaafar, publisher of the Daily Nigerian, Buhari was made aware of Sam Nda-Isaiah’s death only when he read Femi Adesina’s press statement in the newspapers where Buhari was reported to have commiserated with Nda-Isaiah’s family!

Headline casters should adopt the universal journalistic practice of news attribution by attributing stories to people who actually originate them.

Examples: “Spokesman says Buhari condemned killings in Zamfara,” “Minister says Buhari fired NDDC board,” “Spokesman says Buhari shocked by kidnap of schoolchildren,” “Buhari’s Twitter handle says Nigeria will rebound,” etc. 

Don’t attribute anything to Buhari unless you actually see him saying or doing it. Maybe a memo with his signature can be attributed to him. Note, however, that his signature is often manipulated or forced by dodgy aides.

That’s the only way to dramatize the absurdity of a “president” who never talks directly to citizens, who never grants interviews to journalists, who never addresses news conferences, who never gives live broadcasts even in momentous moments, who is perpetually babysat and mollycoddled like a toddler, and who physically and metaphorically picks his teeth while the country he supposedly presides over burns and falls apart.