The allegations against ASUU are a legion. ASUU is held up as holding the university system hostage by over-use of the weapon of strike. In fact, some have gone as far as saying that tertiary education sector is the greatest undoing of Nigeria’s tomorrow and that it is a threat ASUU could have dealt with if it were holding its members to account in the same manner the Nigerian Society of Engineers, (NSE) or the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) or the Nigerian Bar Association, (NBA) does. Considering that most students in the universities are sponsoring themselves, the idea of the tertiary education sector being the greatest undoing of Nigeria’s tomorrow must be the perfect bad news for any society. Intervention spoke to many sources in compiling this story. One is a very well located university bureaucrat who could be said to have seen it all, having moved across three universities of three different generations in Nigeria. His language is that survival is hell for students and the society will pay for it if it is not already doing so. Majority of the students eat once a day and it is nothing to write home about, he says, adding that where they sleep and the number of students in a room is better imagined than mentioned in most universities. Speaking specifically on sexploitation or the sexual exploitation of female students by male academics, he argues that the scale is too high for the society to claim ignorance of the danger if the society were still a living space.
Evidence that he might not have been exaggerating anything could be the “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution Prohibition Bill, 2016” that an Amir Abdulazeez wrote about two days ago in the social media. According to the writer, the bill sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege prescribed a 5-year jail term for lecturers and educators convicted of sexual harassment of their male or female students. The writer went on to make frightening submissions as follows: Now, that a condition overwhelmingly exists which warrants the passage of a bill like this one is very disgraceful not only to the Nigerian academia, but to the Nigerian morality in general. But, the worst part of it is that the bill may never be able to address the smallest fraction of indecency and sex abuse going on in our tertiary institutions. In fact, students-teachers sex relationship driven by both silent and open threat is gradually and subconsciously becoming normal and legal in our universities”.
Mallam Abdulazeez also most eloquently put the case against ASUU as far as it concerns sexploitation. Again, he wrote as follows: These are some of the issues you seldom or never hear ASUU vigorously fighting to correct. The very system the union is seeking external intervention to correct infrastructural-wise is already internally rotten moral-wise. Again, ASUU is on strike for the same old but many reasons, but the moral degradation imposed by some of its members on the system isn’t one of them”
The details are what a serious medium would consider too grisly to go into, beyond mentioning, for instance, that, in one of the universities, female students not only have to offer themselves, they also have to find and pay for a hotel room where it would take place. It is a most bizarre manifestation of unequal power relations especially in universities located in rural areas where the female students are too poor, too timid to resist the gender clout of male academics and where there are no intervening variables such as the fear of the media or gender biased NGOs.
The question to ask at this point though is whether sexploitation happens in the universities the way the public understand it or the way the bill in the Senate posed it. There are all sorts of arguments on this. The first of these is the thesis about a society living in self denial. When former President Obasanjo hit at ASUU sometime in 2003 for the ‘crime’ of sexploitation, he was scolded at his back. It was said to be out of protocol for the president to confirm such a reality or to condemn the country’s academic openly. It is a job for the media, the NGOs and the religious bodies, not for the president, a position went out. Is it possible that if the president were supported, things might not have reached the current level?
On the other hand is the equally apt question whether those chastising ASUU are clean themselves, such as the Senators. A voice cautions: “Take that problem as one other area of our collapse. How come everyone expect ASUU to lead a moral campaign against what university council members, religious leaders, political leaders, security chiefs and Vice-Chancellors know about but cannot do anything about?”
Valid as some of these posers are, they fail to respond to the case against ASUU as articulated by Abdulazeez, for instance. If ASUU’s holistic canvass of first class public universities propels it to stage strike actions to save the system, why can’t that incorporate the possibility of disciplining academics involved in sexploitation? Is what Professor Asisi Asobie, one time President of ASUU once said an all time answer to this? Asobie had argued in 1996 that the academic culture is not obtainable anymore because the process of identifying and recruiting academics has gone to the dogs. He said that normally, departments recruited its own best products as graduate assistants, grooming them over time to become academics. The idea is to ensure that the very best produced by the departments are retained in the system so that there is no crisis of standard and continuity is guaranteed. What has happened, said Asobie, is that over the years, departments found themselves with academics no one could trace to any sources within the university system but from the powers outside – traditional rulers, powerful individuals in society, military governors, businessmen and so on. It is to people so recruited that he traces the infractions on academic and moral culture in the contemporary times to.
There are countervailing arguments about sexploitation. Among other things, it is argued how provocatively female students dress, the number of ASUU members that determined female students have sexually assaulted, how determined female students come into the office, lock the door and get lecturers compromised or how some of them wonder what the fuss is all about over what ‘everyone here is doing’ when a lecturer is resisting. “When they don’t get what they want, you are in trouble and “that is how they ruined … at the University of …”.
The case this interviewee mentioned is so well known that everyone would know the male victim if the university is mentioned. The story goes like this: The wig and gown lecturer was well known for rectitude and had successfully resisted every previous attempt to drag him into temptation. There was nobody who did not testify to that. But this morning, the female student arrived in a drop dead package, dispensed with arguing why what she was asking the lecturer to do was not such a moral breach and instead, went to perch on the said lecturer’s laps, daring him to resist further. The spirit was still willing to resist but the body was limping, more than weak. Mr Rectitude succumbed. Tragically, his office was located where students at the back of his office outside could hear the ecstatic commotion emanating from the axis of pleasure. Determined to uncover the student involved for the sheer mischief in that, the students gathered in front of the lecturer’s office, throwing allegations of shamelessness on the girl as she stepped out of the office. But the lecturer was crestfallen, a solid reputation built over the years destroyed in a matter of minutes.
What about the situation a former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies brought up in 2013 to the effect that ASUU is the anti-thesis of a great tradition of research, compared to say the United States of America. The DG said then “Let ASUU tell us what it has done for the country in terms of research. America is talking of driverless cars and we cannot even manufacture a bicycle!” Former ASUU President, Attahiru Jega recently lamented the collapse of methodology in Nigeria. He did not say so as a criticism of ASUU but it is an implied criticism since academics are at the nerve centre of academia in the system. Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, himself an ASUU stalwart, has written, complaining of over-use of the weapon of strike by ASUU, calling for innovation in the resolution of the crisis of funding.
So, is it, therefore, possible for ASUU to reflect on Abdulazeez’s homily? That is where he said, inter alia: Problems like moral degradation of the system, internal socio-administrative corruption bedevilling universities, many lecturers’ nonchalant attitude towards their jobs, inadequate or non-existent monitoring and evaluation of lecturers’ performance mechanism, unethical academic practices, nepotism and favouritism in employment are not among the major problems ASUU is concerned with. These are problems caused and promoted by lecturers, many of whom are also ASUU members as well as by university administrators who once were or still are. The union must make efforts within its control to see that we first have a cleansed system, before we can talk of improving it”.
Although the problem or the intensity of the crisis differ from university to university, the followings have been mentioned with regularity: An academic staff writes a book which has not passed through a publisher but the book is put in a dedicated bookshop from where all students taking the lecturer’s course(s) MUST buy a copy. Any student who doesn’t buy the book for whatever reasons – lack of money or disinterestedness in the book – runs the risk of failing the course and carrying it over as many times as the particular teacher in charge wants; a student fails a course and it is not possible to know why; in an examination session, some students end up with three examinations in a day; seventy per cent of the students who took a paper fail because the lecturer wants them to come back next session so that the lecturer will have more people buying his or her book in the impending session; someone is a doctoral student but has never read a single classic in the discipline beyond the class notes he took several years ago. So, there is a case of circulating the same thing year in, year out; it is impossible to observe a student taking money to buy a book nowadays; a whole book could be retyped, some names removed and republished in Nigeria, taking plagiarism to new heights in Nigeria. “If you know what is going on in the system, it is painful. A set of people have taken over the departments with no idea of the academic culture”, Intervention was told. To that, manufacturing or reports in the name of the external examiner is added. A Lagos based academic said he doesn’t know how widespread this is but that it is happening. The worst is the complicated case of sexual harassment already mentioned although, in some places, that is a non-issue. It has a taken for granted meaning.
The long and short of it is that ASUU is not the hero in many quarters. To make matters worse, ASUU is not exactly a communicator. Its press statements are usually long winding treatises, advertised in very tight prints that very few would ever read in the age of sound bytes, images and discursive missiles. It is the mother of all paradox in the Nigerian situation: ASUU is the only thing going for Nigeria whether you are talking of democracy and democratisation, tenacity or fighting capacity, correct leadership, accountability, leadership succession, national unity, initiative and innovation and quality. If majority of Nigerians understand what ASUU is doing, no government can take the country for granted. But ASUU lacks the capacity to make itself to be understood by majority of Nigerians. So, instead of being the hero, it is the villain.
The tragedy is how the country also is not, on its own, curious or humble enough to ask ASUU to, please, lecture it on how it solved all the problems that Nigeria itself has not solved one. ASUU has no problem of corruption or accountability, Nigeria has not been successful in solving that. Where corrupt enrichment is recovered, it is re-looted. ASUU has no problem of national unity or hitches in implementing rotation of power, Nigeria is confused about that. ASUU has no problem of democracy from the base, democracy from the bottom upwards is completely strange to Nigeria. The leader in ASUU as it was in NANS before is no more than the chief messenger. There are no cabalistic manoeuvres around any ASUU presidents, Nigeria has no answer to cabalistic intervention, from the local government chairperson to the president. Yet, Nigeria is not humble enough to ask ASUU to help it out. On the other hand, how come a union which has survived physical, financial and political power of the Nigerian State for 25 years fail disastrously to offer any coherent standpoint on one of the most pressing challenges for emancipation politics in the 21st century: the guarantee of freedom of women from biological subjugation against their will by husbands and ‘husbands’, money men, girl traffickers and now, academics.