My dear Prof Kperogi,
Greetings from your beloved country, Nigeria, which is ruling-class-battered, bandaged and bound in cerements for a likely interment.
Firstly, I have to address this to as an interpersonal exchange as this would give me the communication the flavour of an informal conversation, and I would, hence, be both brutally frank and friendly simultaneously.
Since I responded to your write up sometime during the peak of the unfortunate 8-month strike embarked upon by my Union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), I didn’t believe there would be occasion for us to glide back into any altercations of the sort I have accoutered to have with you presently. Instead, given the mature and admirable way you talked back, I only looked forward to widening the scope of our interactions for the ultimate good of our country, which is currently on life support, gasping for breath from the vile blows dealt it by the greed and lack of vision of the ruling class.
I did look forward to expanding the horizon of our conversation for the reason that, like you, I am very bothered about the fast drift of our beloved country towards the cliff; and also because I am quite proud of you as a scholar. In particular, your overall pyrotechnic brilliance which comes out as strands in your mastery of the English Language, your agonizing search for facts, and the occasional filtering of your arguments using the tools of syllogism deserve praise and have earned you quite a huge chunk of respect from me. I remain very happy with and proud of you as a young Nigerian making exploits in the vineyard of intellection outside our shores.
However, from some of your recent write ups, it appears to me that you’re almost becoming a victim of your brilliance and erudition. You have become almost too magisterial in some of your outings than would be expected of an intellectual of your status and mettle. Let’s start from your recent twin essay on social media, “Tinubu’s Cognitive Decline, ASUU’s Misplaced Aggression”.
In this one outing, you have pursued two quarries: the vicissitudes of the APC Presidential Candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and what you consider “ASUU’s misplaced aggression”. That you wrote on these two important issues in one outing is quite in order and even commendable because that is one of the things expected of an intellectual with a fecundity of mind.
The intellectual must be a watchdog of all facets of his society, and intervene regularly to improve on the general health of his society. The cerebral gladiator must be what has become a cliché among us, “The conscience of his society”. This is where your first problem comes in: If, as one intellectual living in the US, you do bother this much about the health of your country, particularly its university students as manifested in this case, what makes you think that an entire constellation of same kinds of minds here under the name of ASUU would bother less about the welfare of the same students than you do?
Why do you think, or incline your thinking to the possibility that there cannot be even one among all these many intellectuals within the orbit of ASUU who would share in, or have, your own degree of “kindness” or “sympathy” or “positive consideration” for the students under our care and tutelage, and who would, hence, make some effort to reduce the “wickedness” of other members of the Union towards the students? In other words, what makes you think you would have necessarily been the kindest, the most passionate, the most reasonable and the readiest to be a frontline participant in the serial self-immolation that the Nigerian lecturers have subjected themselves to over the decades under the nation’s ruling class?
What gives you that over-sized impression that you would have been a lone voice fighting to rescue our dear students from the “wickedness” of other colleagues were you to be lecturing in this clime, as your write ups have loudly suggested? Who tells you it is your sole duty to legislate with such an imperial sway from outside the country on how we relate and empathize with these same students whose cross we have borne for many seasons?
Secondly, you certainly are aware that lectures and examinations have been going on frenetically in all the public universities in this country since ASUU suspended its strike on October 14, 2022, except in some South South universities waiting to be vomited back to us by the floods that had swallowed them from August through September, again, because of the insensitivity of the Government to the conditions of those living in flood-prone areas of our country. These academic activities have been on in the universities even as the Federal Government has continued to poke its hands into the eyes and mouths of ASUU through what is notoriously described as pro-rated payment.
In spite of this avoidable provocation, ASUU, as a collective, has decided that, in the interest of our same students whom you believe you’re rescuing from our “wickedness”, there should be no further disruption of academic calendars even as the members are in agony over the strange, fiendish slavery conditions imposed by our task masters in government. Of course, this doesn’t mean the Union has accepted to let go those salaries that have been properly worked for and earned under all considerations. This is why the Union decided to continue to increase awareness among Nigerians on the suffocation of its members by Government.
At the Onabisi Onabanjo University, for instance, our colleagues articulated the position that a certain session be cancelled if the lecturers would not be paid their withheld salaries; and, based on this one report from one branch of ASUU, you again flew into a rage calling the entire Union names and describing the utterance by that branch as “ASUU’s Misplaced Aggression”.
I am not implying that the OOU branch of the Union is wrong in its view. ASUU can’t be wrong even on this stance for the reason that the Government’s main reason, which has been lavishly cacophonic in the public domain, is that the lecturers cannot be paid for work they did not do. Now, the question is, how would you say the same lecturers who are denying themselves everything including rest, attention to the states of their health and all in order to complete the same tasks for the same period DID NOT DO THE JOB? Is this logical, Sir?
Further, you know very well that lecturers characteristically do three broad things: teaching, researching and publishing, and then rendering services to the wider community, for example, as you have been doing through your regular interventions to improve the state of health of the nation. The researches we do and the outcomes we publish are an indispensable part of the terms of our engagement as lecturers. Hence, the only component of our job that we do not do during strikes is teaching and examination of students; and that is what we are agonizing frenetically to complete for the period of the strike now. Then, based on the noble effort of our OOU branch to explain this to Nigerians, you would fly into a rage and call the entire ASUU names? I don’t think this is fair, my dear brother and colleague.
All that ASUU is saying is that since the Government, in its wisdom or foolishness, has argued that ASUU members didn’t work during the strike, let the members pass over the work government isn’t ready to pay for, and move on to whatever point the Government wants to start recognizing and continue from there. And then you went further to suggest to the Union to adopt the legal option towards securing the release of their criminally withheld salaries? This suggestion certainly has a tinge of mockery reminiscent of what the regime’s anti-ASUU Chief Priest, Dr Chris Ngige, has been using to taunt the Union since both you and Ngige know how buyable much of the nation’s judiciary is.
Indeed, we all know that, apart from a few rare exceptions, the judiciary in Nigeria has become the grave for the poor. Besides, note that this war is a class struggle, therefore, no part of the government enterprise would turn its teeth on the other; a master’s tool does not destroy a master’s house, it is often said.
In your taking on ASUU on this matter, you haven’t also done a fair and painstaking analysis of the ingredients of the strike. In the first instance, the strike, like all others, was precipitated by Government’s failure to keep to terms of its many agreements it freely entered into with the Union. Secondly, as it would never have happened in Atlanta or so, where you possibly are, no government would have allowed that strike to last beyond one week.
But our Government would usually not say a word about the strike up until one month or more. Thereafter, they would deny that there was any agreement with the Union, from where they would shift to the legitimacy or otherwise of the strike. In the particular case of this strike, the whole government officials went AWOL (Away Without Leave) for over one month pursuing the politics of nomination for elections to various political offices while ASUU and its strike were left in the lurch, like an urchin child on an open street. And all that period of Government’s criminal negligence of its responsibilities to the universities was added to the 8 months and the salaries withheld from the victims, that is, ASUU members.
I had expected you would deploy your magisterial pen to educate the government on this iniquity and let them know what obtains in climes such as the one where you are. I had thought you would wonder why these government officials, whose children attend the best schools around the world, would return from their children’s routine lavish convocation ceremonies to inflict misery and pain on the nation’s own universities entrusted to their care.
At the moment, most of the nation’s public universities are financially anemic, and their Vice-Chancellors are in grave pain scavenging for money to buy examination materials, fumigate buildings especially in flood-affected areas, make the hostels habitable, pay for external examination of their students and for external assessment of staff for promotion, buy diesel and or settle electricity bills and provide accommodation for the ever-increasing students. Indeed, it’s a near-total asphyxiation of the system; and yet your omniscience in the affairs of the country cordons off these harsh, bizarre realities?
Now, let’s move forward. ASUU possibly no longer needs sympathy. Not yours, not anyone else’. The Government has won the battle, but not against the lecturers but against Nigeria and Nigerians, especially the children of the poor. For one, the experiences from this strike have helped to consolidate the opinion of some colleagues that ASUU should no longer bother itself about adding proper funding of the universities or revitalization to its demands since neither the students, nor their parents nor the public appreciate the Union’s role in this regard.
Of course, as the real person who cares about the well-being of our students more than we do, I believe you will use your mighty pen to cause the Government to improve on the funding. ASUU will thank you forever. Next, the Government has been angry with ASUU for not letting them to introduce tuition fees. Government’s ill treatment of the lecturers, which has been supported by many students, some of the parents and some members of the public has consolidated the position of some of the ASUU members that the Union should let Government introduce or increase fees. I trust you will use the might of your pen, as one who loves these students more than ASUU does, to whip the Government away from this stance. Again, ASUU will thank you forever if you achieve this.
Thirdly, there is another quiet way the nation’s “ASUU Problem” is being solved: While some of the very senior and experienced ones are retiring without replacement because of IPPIS, some others are dying quietly while still some others are either leaving the job into other sectors of the nation’s economy or out of the country. The trend is on and, soon, the land will be relieved of these “wicked” ones so that the nation’s public universities will thrive. This is the situation that you react to without digging further each time a tangential mention of students reaches your ears of an omniscient and omnipotent superintendent of the system.
Finally, still believing in your interventionist role, let me share this with you. What’s happening to Nigeria and Nigerians is neither new nor unique. This is the way empires crumble and have crumbled over time. But there’s always a trend. Usually, the tyrants drive out quite a lot of the citizens to other lands as refugees. In time, the exiles team up with the few visionary voices left behind to cause a major change for the good of the country or empire. This was how the Old Ghana Empire collapsed to yield the Old Mali Empire, which also went down to give birth to the Songhai Empire. This was also how the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeni came back to Iran in the late 1970s.
These are lessons from history, which should be applied in the present Nigerian situation. History, in my amateur thinking, is no more than a tourist admiring the Egyptian mummies if the lessons of history cannot be examined and applied to the present and used to guide towards tomorrow. This, my dear brother and respected colleague, is what I expect you to be doing for your fatherland and not this occasional swooping in like a hawk on your colleagues back home to peck at their unclothed, bleeding backs with your intellectual beak and proboscis from your exile comfort zone.
Meanwhile, pardon my responding a bit late to your intervention. I had been away at a place called Irrua, in Edo State, where my colleagues and I went to bury one of our very dear, indefatigable, respected colleagues, Prof Anthony Usiaholo Okonofua, who passed during the strike partly because of challenges associated with the strike. And when I started writing this morning, I was again distracted by the announcement of the death of another colleague, Dr Odion Osiki, of the Department of International Studies of the University of Benin.
As you will find in his photograph, the baby on his back was that of one of his students in an examination hall. He had tied the baby to his back while the mother wrote her examinations to ease the poor student-mother’s task. He was, hence, rightly one of the “wicked” souls in our system who had no feelings for his students, from whom a more humane you have to rescue with your irritating and unfeeling write ups from your borrowed comfort zone. His types are not few in this “wicked” system bereft of the right intellectual fervency and sympathy for the underprivileged students.
Very finally, note that ASUU is like a sugar cane. The wind may lower it to the ground level, but in time it rises back and flourishes to sweeten the world while the wind sinks into oblivion, just as it will happen to these mighty men of today. Thank you.
PS: Congratulations, through you, to Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, a former patriotic minister in this same government, on his graduation as a law student from the privately-owned Baze University rather than from any of the nation’s public universities.
Professor Joseph A Ushie
University of Uyo, Uyo.