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Varsities and Buhari’s ‘Change mantra’

Time-tested culture of probity, intellectualism and good character are fast disappearing from Nigerian varsities. But Prof Oluwole Ogundele of the Department of Archeology and Anthropology, University of Ibadan, who blamed it all on injustice, corruption and maladministration in the system, says the trend is reversible.

IT is indeed, not an over-statement to claim here that a deep crisis or near-complete anarchy is imminent on many of the university campuses in Nigeria.  Such a nightmare or unpleasant scenario is an anathema to the expected leadership roles of this geopolitics within the African continent and even beyond.

Inevitable (incessant) strike actions certainly lead to truncated academic calendar with attendant negative consequences for the future of Nigeria in several respects.  The time-tested university culture of probity and fine-grained intellectualism coupled with unparalleled good character is gradually disappearing from our consciousness.  The university normally is a centre for the larger society to draw inspirations, ideas and ideologies from, in an attempt to engender robust life and living within the confines of sustainability and global relevance.  It is a unique space for eggheads including some of the finest minds.

The above explanation vividly shows that modern human society cannot experience sustainable development without giving enormous space to university education.  Most of the movers and shakers of healthy societal growth/development are normally produced here.  Therefore, some structures are naturally put in place in order to realise this broad goal. These structures include a governing council and management team for each university.  This is in tandem with the broad/global university culture.

However, we are not unaware of the need to reasonably domesticate some aspects of this culture of universalism so as to promote local relevance.  In other words, both local and global geographies have to be factored in when developing an appropriate architecture for our university system.

But sadly enough, the Nigerian university system today is generally failing with respect to crisis management in all its ramifications.  This is traceable to the new but ugly culture of avarice, pure greed and insensitivity to the pains and problems of members of staff as well as students.

It would not be an exaggeration to say here loud and clear that many academics and political class members (with a few exceptions) are gradually becoming moral equals.  Incessant crises on the campuses are a reflection of deteriorating relations between the management team and workers as well as students.

Contrary to what existed in the past, mindless hedonism, arrogance, stubborn resistance to change and unfettered parochialism are the guiding principles of many contemporary university managers.  Not unexpectedly, our collective integrity is now in grave peril.  Blatantly unfair, obnoxious decisions by these almighty university managers inevitably lead to a chain of protests and reactions by the oppressed and exploited workers and students.

Leadership at any level is a combination of gains and pains.  Nigerian leadership, particularly at the university level today, recognises only the former.  University management must necessarily strike equilibrium between it and the followership in order to pave the way for sustainable peace and progress. Leadership is not about silencing the followership, especially those who direct the affairs of staff unions.  It is too easily forgotten that the management team cannot silence everybody with “brown envelopes” or “juicy” but vanity positions outside the statutory duties of workers.

The socially acceptable and honourable thing to do is to learn to chart the pathways of peace through the lens of inclusiveness coupled with transparency.  Currently, profound knowledge productions remain at their lowest ebb as good quality time and money are wasted on endless, but largely unprofitable meetings.

This situation further irritates the followership that is already frustrated as the management stubbornly continues to offend its (followership) sensibilities. It seems to me that only very few universities in Nigeria do not suffer from the above absurdities.

Anybody with the faintest idea of social justice and/or sanity will not jump into the conclusion that NASU (Non Academic Staff Union) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) – both non-academic unions – are irresponsible for agitating.  “Baboons” are ravaging our “collective corn field”.  They have to be chased away before the innocent, committed workers begin to die of starvation.  In other words, agitation is the inevitable consequence of oppression and economic exploitation of the masses.  This is a bio-social universal!  No matter how monstrous a university management team is, truth will finally prevail.  Our managers of the university system must quickly begin to appreciate and appropriate this age-old fundamental of good governance.  This is how we can successfully nip complete anarchy in the bud.

Today, there is disequilibrium in the university system basically because of integrity flight.  Therefore, uncritical castigation of traumatised workers and students alike whenever they protest/agitate is a big disservice to Providence and fellow humanity.

It bothers me a great deal when I see many Nigerians, regardless of their academic attainments and/or social statuses behaving like a funny lot!  Indeed, we are second to none in this connection.  This unwarranted passivity underscores the reason our leaders, through time and space, relate to us with contempt.  We pray more than those saints in the heavenly kingdom but very poor in matching our prayers with action.

Union leaders are now becoming more radicalised than ever before in the face of undeserved material poverty of monumental proportions.  As the Yoruba people would say, “ebi lo ma ko were logbon” (meaning “hunger is capable of healing a mad man).  The ‘falcons’ can no longer hear the ‘falconer’.  This underscores the reason workers (even when their leaders are getting tired) are not ready to listen to empty rhetoric from the management.  The language they understand now is “action!” “action!!” and “action!!!”  The development is a testament to good leadership deficiency and by extension, failure. Nigerians must be in control of their destinies.  Analysts of the current situation in the universities must remember that social justice is a pre-condition for peace.  “Eni ebi npa kogbo iwaasu” (meaning, a hungry man does not listen to a sermon).  This is a fact!  It is indeed a dead wrong assumption that workers who are being regularly shortchanged and therefore disenchanted with their jobs would remain docile at all times.

It has become a fashionable style of administration on most varsity campuses in relatively recent times, to cripple Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) so that the dreaded culture of impunity can go on unabated.  We are losing some of the finest segments and values of the academia due largely to unthinkable avarice, greed and unbridled appetite for vanity positions!  Things are rapidly falling apart as most university lecturers suffer in silence even when their legitimate allowances are not paid up by the management.  So, ‘the man dies’ in most professors, and their junior colleagues who have fallen into a state of despondency.  Thus, for example, this writer is yet to receive his first instalment of monetisation arrears since 2009.  The second instalment was paid to me without the first.  Over one hundred workers of the University of Ibadan (U.I.) belong to this category.  “Wallahi” (as my Muslim friends would say), my monetisation arrears developed wings and flew away between Abuja and Ibadan.  What a wonderful system!  Both the management and ASUU continue to look the other way even when they were approached several times on this matter.

Therefore, commentators on the varsity crises in Nigeria must not forget that the issue of causality has to go hand-in-hand with effect(s) in order to pave the way for a robust, scientific explanation.  Denying staff members their legitimate allowances and/or arrears is a reflection of godlessness at its peak and by extension, an invitation to anarchy.  Every Nigerian, including his friend(s) is free to contribute to the critical reflection on ways to salvage the Nigerian university system that is in a coma but this engagement has to be located within the domain of logic.  All interested persons must find out the fundamental reasons why non-academic staff unions have become so radicalised recently since ASUU has been put to sleep.  It is a negation of the principles of natural justice and of course, common sense to castigate NASU and SSANU who are now the last hope of workers that are being consistently cheated by those who are supposed to show exemplary leadership!

Management must stop caricaturing workers and students as if they are a bunch of morons.  Indeed, the management team has to be prepared to set realistic/workable and staff-friendly priorities so as to raise workers’ morale for optimum knowledge productions.

It may not be advisable to completely disprove the popular belief on our campuses that governing councils (with a few exceptions) are a mere rubber stamp for most of the decisions made by the management.  This is dangerous for profound university education and societal progress.  Nigerians must learn how to pool resources together for the good of all.  In this connection, humility and uncommon integrity need to necessarily occupy centre stage in the scheme of things.  If there is a moral, then this ugly scenario should be erased very quickly from our consciousness as a collectivity.

From Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife to UI in Ibadan, things were/are falling apart as councils’ meetings could or cannot resolve fundamental issues and problems.  It may interest you to note that these meetings are accompanied with fat honoraria while workers groan with pain.  This ugly culture of hedonism and self-indulgence must stop in the overall interest of Nigeria.  ‘Thank you’ to President Muhammadu Buhari for returning sanity to OAU, Ile-Ife recently.  Those who condemned the sacking of the OAU governing council and the controversial new vice chancellor need to do a rethink.  No responsible, responsive president as Visitor to all federal universities in Nigeria would fold his arms in the face of imminent danger of total collapse or anarchy.  Now, there is peace at OAU, Ile-Ife.  Workers and students can now focus on their duties and studies.  Both President Buhari’s timely intervention, and of course, the dogged determination of SSANU and to a limited extent, NASU did the magic.  Where was/is ASUU?

It is a deceit to be expecting peace in any university or organisation in the face of injustice and transparency flight.  Our common thoughts cape (the university system) is feeling comatose.  One tragedy in human society is to be in bondage without any incorruptible leadership to approach for freedom.

Now the story has begun to change as President Buhari is ready to kill corruption in our geopolitics including the university.  There is no time and need for empty rhetoric or sterile, shallow theorising.  In saner climes and cultures, public office holders normally resign in the face of complete or near-complete cluelessness about sensitive issues.  Unfortunately, this aspect of leadership behaviour is alien to the Nigerian people across socio-economic scales.  They would rather continue to pontificate to the chagrin of people with good conscience and profound integrity.

Given this scenario, President Buhari cannot afford to keep quiet as most of our varsities today are gradually sinking into the mud of maladministration.  This is how we can save Nigeria from remaining on the losing side of the existing world educational system and modern development.

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