Anybody unsure of ASUU’s depth of determination to push ahead on its current strike action and how long the strike may last should take this as the most concrete indicator from the bowel of the university system in Nigeria. The piece below must be that indicator for all those who know Prof Habu Mohammed, the author, as the quintessential easy going academic to be this defiant. So, the government of Nigeria has stopped the salaries of academics for non-compliance with IPPIS? Uhm!
By Prof Habu Mohammed
It has become necessary to write in order to further contribute to enlightenment about the need to persevere in times of struggles for the emancipation of the university system. It is really absurd, indeed awful, to hear that some of our colleagues have started thinking otherwise about the rationale for the current industrial action against the Nigerian state over the revitalization of the university system. I mean the system that not only employed us but in which we have to decide to carve a niche for ourselves as professionals and patriots.
One could remember when one joined the university system in the early 1990s, it was guided by the desire to teach out of interest in teaching profession, having been taught by enthusiastic lecturers whose motivation was essentially to impart knowledge, regardless of the odds. It was this crop of lecturers in the Nigerian university system or, if you like, the first generation of radical scholars, that were determined to fight the Nigerian State on issues of funding and revitalization of the university system as well as improving the welfare of academics, who were then “brain-draining” to Europe and American universities in large number. Since then, strike after strike to prompt the government to be on the same page with our union – the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) has been the story. That was till the signing of the famous 2009 agreement.
Academics have learnt speaking with one voice, irrespective of ideological, tribal, regional, religious or cultural divides and they were determined, regardless of non-payment of their salary, to maintain the tempo of their struggles in unison. The spirit of “united we stand, divided we fall” made academics, again, regardless of government’s divide and rule tactics, carrots and sticks approach and temptations to authoritarian tactics such as ejection from university quarters during the IBB government, to realize that the limits of tyranny is truly prescribed by the will of the victims of the tyrant. Consciously or unconsciously governed by Frantz Fanon’s famous saying against the Portuguese colonialists: “hunger and dignity is preferable to bread eaten in slavery”, ASUU members have always persevered. Thus, it is on the issue of hunger versus dignity that I found it imperative to write this piece to our members who are apparently blaming ASUU for the situation of hunger they find themselves following the stoppage of our salary in February of this year. Let this generation of scholars, younger as they are, know that workers’ welfare like human rights is never, ever given by the state, particularly a Rentier State like ours, but taken through conscientious struggles. Our collective resolve to embark on the current strike in the face of excruciating hunger and deadly COVID-19 is our investment for a better tomorrow. Salary wise, we started from nowhere and today we are somewhere but we still have a long way to go somewhere again. We can arrive our destination and say hurray only if we persevere and collectively resolve to stand on our feet.
Please, both the junior and senior academics have to navigate the same crocodile infested water of the Nigerian State. Hence, I advise that in case of the weakest link in the chain of our solidarity, local branches should have to assist vulnerable members to cope with pauperizing days ahead. There is also the need to be our brothers’ keepers these days to avoid social temptations that could endanger our integrity as professionals. Begging in whatever form among our colleagues is antithesis to our ethical code. Do not resort to any behaviour that can tarnish your image or undermine your personality as scholars. Hence, the need to look for any support within our members than support from without. After all, a strike and the stoppage of salary is a weapon of war. This war has just started. You need to tighten your belt until your waist come to the size of a prisoner of war whose experience of torture is one spoon of rice per meal per day. Lest we forget, we also need to remember that violating an agreement by a government is a crime, likewise imposing IPPIS on academics is a fraudulent way of rolling back the gains of our struggle thus far.
The Struggle Continua, Victoria Asserter!!!
Prof Mohammed, the author, is the Head of the Department of Political Science, Bayero University, Kano.