"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: Problem of ASUU and the Way Forward

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The problem is that it is a union moored to an outdated method of struggle, rigidly unwilling to acknowledge the limitations and diminished public appeal of its actions and rhetoric.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 


10 comments:

Gwallaga said...

Impossible! ASUU members are themselves products of plagiarism, corrupt recruitments, corrupt promotions and neck-deep in sexual harassments. So how exactly do you want them to start, Prof? Don't undermine the mess in Nigeria. We pray to have a leaders that will be alive to their responsibilities in sincerely addressing the ills of this country.

Emma249 said...

Prof,
While I commend the efforts of you & Prof Ochonu to examine the issues bedevilling our education sector, I'll suggest you & Prof. Ochonu should come back from Atlanta & Tennessee to teach in one of our universities here in Nigeria. It will be unfair to stay from afar and reel out advices.

Meanwhile, none of Prof's recommendations solves the inability of the Nigerian state to invest massively in the education sector like it does to the Oil or Security. Following this, it takes only a sociologist & a psychologist to understand the implications of a poorly funded, poorly motivated, and discouraging work environment.

Unknown said...

This solution is attainable if ASUU has a reformist has her leader. We hope and pray they come across this solution you have proffer, it definitely going to be hard to accomplish this but it is attainable. I pray hubris won't take over their heart.

Unknown said...

Too many sweeping generslizations, half-truths, and blatant lies in attempt to call ASUU a bad name so that it can be hanged.Many if d accusations are unfounded and ungrounded. Such a superficial account. I wonder when last the author visited Nigeria or had a frank honest discussion with the dramatis personae of his story. Incredibly flawed narrative from a supposedly well-established intellectual.

Unknown said...

Some of the points made in the article to improve the the ASUU perception by members public are very instructive. However we are operating in a country where people and their personal interests do not always align with the institutional norms. I know that during the last ASUU strike, the union repeatedly alerted the government that most vice Chancellors in the federal universities were recruiting staff with the active conaivance of the IPPIS without following the due process for recruitment of such category of staff but nothing was done to stop them. The unoin also raised the issue of staff promotions that were done during the strike, nothing that the laid down standards were not followed. That too has been ignored by the relevant agencies. The essence of insisting that visitation panels be sent to universities after every five years is to check some of these anomalies but we are also aware that members of these panels hardly report the true state of the affairs of the universities they visit because they are usually bribed. What about auditors who check the books of the universities periodically? Even when such audit reports indict some universities management, the culprits are never sanctioned. The problem is therefore deeper than can be immagined. The only way to improve the system is for the government to ensure proper accountability from the ministry down to the various agencies. This can only be achieved if the right people are put in place and the institutional norms are adhered to.

Ade-Banjo Olympus Oyewole said...

Thank you for such a balanced submission on the state of higher education in Nigeria and the nocuous role the ASUU have been playing. I however appreciate, particularly you mention of the Student Bill of Rights which HELP Foundation proposed to the National Assembly in 2020. We hope to have more academics like you pull your weight behind us as we purpose to reform higher education delivery in Nigeria.

Here is our website where everyone can get their copies of the draft which is now in the national assembly - www.help4students.org.ng

Best regards.

Olympus Ade-Banjo
President, HELP Foundation for Students.

Abimbola Obayemi said...

Wonderful piece sir

Unknown said...

While I commend prof Ochonu for the attempt on the frequent ASUU strikes and their predictable outcomes, I will advice him to note and reflect on the following. Has he ever schooled in Nigeria (at least at university level)? If yes, What was the situation then and now? Is there any nexus between motivation and productivity? Would he be a proud academic teaching in the present Nigerian university condition? As a professor of African history, is the outside-in perspective preferred to an inside-in? Is his role as a diaspora academic meant to diminish ASUU's struggles over the years with successive governments notorious in keeping every agreement in breach? Are the Nigerian students, their parents and likes of prof Ochonu bothered to protest the deplorable condition of public varsities in Nigeria? Prof Ochonu needs to be charitable enough to himself and the academia by studying the demands of ASUU, the Nigerian leadership challenge, etc, which may have necessitated his flight to the US.

Unknown said...

I think Prof Ochonu should note also that even though ASUU should fight the problems he enumerates in this article,that doesn't mean they shouldn't fight for financial and physical improvement of their lives.Hope Prof knows that most people in government deliberately but surreptitiously kill Nigerian public universities: most of their children or wards go to universities abroad or private ones in Nigeria.This hypocrisy should also be examined by the "honest" Prof at Vanderbilt University!

Unknown said...

There are good points in Prof. Ochonu's writeup. This section caught my attention: "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?"
But it would have been good to note that these problems are not associated with the majority of ASUU members and the get addressed when they come to the limelight. Several lecturers have either been demoted, suspended or even sacked owing to some the issues mentioned.
There will always be 'Judas' or and some sympathizers in every '12'. The failing of these bad eggs shouldn't be generalized.
I see four pillars in the academic environment (1) owners and financiers (2) management and administration (3) academic staff (4) students. As such the problems of the university can be attributed solely to one of the pillars-ASUU members.
Finally, Prof. Ochonu can you compare the annual funding for Vanderbilt University with that of University of Ibadan?