By Prof Ibrahim Bello-Kano
Not many people have heard of the term “doomsday prepping”. It’s a common mentality among people who suspect that some disaster, some doomsday, is coming their way. In my view, university lecturers should adopt the “doomsday prepping” mentality for many reasons.
Nigeria is changing for the worse, and very rapidly. The economy is in rapid decline, the roads are primitive, and the security situation is abysmal. The present Administration is implementing a wholesale set of neo-liberal economic policies which is meant to transfer resources from the poor to the rich and from the impoverished workforce to the Government or the State or the Administration. The IPPIS is only the opening shot in the impending war against our living standards, wages, salaries, and hard earned, in the case of the lecturers, negotiated agreements on pay, allowances, and other non-salary entitlements. Others that could potentially follow, and which many of my colleagues might consider practically unimaginable or impossible, is the sale, to highest bidder, of university staff houses. If you asked people of my generation and above, those who gave their youth to this job and profession spanning at least 30 years, we never thought that something like the IPPIS would be possible. For years from the mid-1980s until now, our pay and what Maslow calls “hygiene factors” were growing and improving steadily if not satisfactorily. Already healthcare provisions for lecturers are virtually non-existent. Now the system cannot even guarantee one a reasonable health insurance.
There is a burgeoning and growing, indeed an explosion, in student numbers. The student intake is growing by each admission year. Some of the classrooms and lecture theatres have no fans, or natural or artificial lighting and good ventilation. Some have furniture that destroys one’s clothes! Facilities such as car or housing loans are now no more than old memories. The meager pay or salary is losing its purchasing power by the minute. I could go on regarding the terrible changes taking place in the Nigerian university system. In some cases, for example the NUC accreditation process, were turned into “cheapscapes” (cheap labour at best). Indeed it may well be that a future Administration would reverse the present retirement age for both the teaching and non-teaching staff. This is why I have the following suggestions for my colleagues:
- Whether you’re a Graduate Assistant or a Professor, build your own house and not rely on university-provided accommodation because that may soon disappear or be out of your reach.
2). Don’t live from salary to salary or the proverbial “from hand to mouth”. Find other sources of additional income quick.
3) Abandon the romantic, possibly utopian, idea that you could right the wings of the system, preserve standards (virtually nonexistent now), or improve the system in a general and generalized climate of attacks in your income and a degenerating and merciless national political economy.
4). If you had a major health break down, the university would be the last place to help you. May be ASUU would be there for you.
5). Keep in mind that you will leave the job sooner or later. Don’t forget that the retirement age will inevitably come (that is, if you’re lucky to live long enough to reach it).
At present, the FGN, or the Buhari Administration is obsessed with the money it pays to us. It does not care about the danger of demotivating or demoralizing the workforce. So why deceive yourself that you could run yourself aground or even ruin your health toiling for a system that does not care about your own financial security or well being? You know that there will always be what we call “passive resistance” by a disgruntled workforce, which cannot be controlled or explained away by reference to “institution building” or the need to avoid “decline in standards”. Individual responses to the decline of what Maslow calls “hygiene factors” are potentially always there.
Those who think that they have a mission to “save” the universities or prevent decline in standards are, in my opinion, just being “messianic” (in the very bad sense of the word) or even being “utopian” (flimsy and unrealistic) in their thinking because such thinking does not stem from a cool, rigorous analysis of the prevailing context. How long can anyone go on thinking that optimism is key when it could potentially blind one to the objective conditions on the ground? Nigerian universities have declined in profound ways and it would take more than objective structural forces to set things right. I daresay that this country has broken down irretrievably. Those of us alive now must think of new survival and coping strategies or how to ride out the impending storm. How one does that is personal and subjective, of course. This is where freedom lies: think of yourself and, for good measure, help the university community come to a realistic and intellectually penetrating understanding of the matter at hand, or create the values that might make your personal freedom viable. One way of avoiding being taken by surprise by anyone, human or structural agent, is to adopt the “doomsday prepping” perspective and the measures I’ve outlined above.
Finally, ASUU is our only hope to reverse the present trends. I predict that the ideological battle over IPPIS will go on for a long time. Success might not be easy and quick. But united behind our union, and thinking clearly without romantic or utopian illusions about our role in the system might, in the long run, win some concessions for us, and enough time to do “doomsday prepping” and more.
Ibrahim Bello-Kano is a Bayero University, Kano Professor of Literature