By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Dear Comrades-in-the-Struggle, from the depths of my celestial heart, I bring you spirit-felt greetings from the sweetness of the nether world where I have been along with some other spi-patriots since I was accidented in 2013 while on a mission for our great union! I look back with pride on the role which I played in the struggle to better the lot of the Nigerian university system. I also commend ASUU national on the way they have kept the nation on its toes to save university education. For, without ASUU, strikes or no, universities would have been long dead like public secondary schools in Nigeria, fit only for children of the poor. But let a new spirit arise henceforth.
Sadly, not much has changed since I left suddenly eight years ago. What are undergraduates doing these days with their degrees? What is the content of the curriculum like these days? Do you guys prepare your wards for 21st century challenges? I will leave that topic for another day. By the way, we are good here as good as good can be in the celestial world.
I guess you think it strange that I am writing to you from the celestial world to discuss mundane matters of bread and butter which concern mere mortals on the other side of the realm. But up here, comrades like Gani Fawehinmi, Beko Ransome-Kuti, Chima Ubani, Bamidele Aturu, Dimowo, the irrepressible Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, and many others are worried about the state of things in the universities in our former homeland. Aturu says universities cannot be insulated from the rot in the larger Nigerian society. That’s why, he says, most Vice Chancellors have become like PDP/APC politicians! Indeed, we could barely hold back Fela last week when in fury he said he wanted to descend to your plane and shake the university system to its foundations!
All the time we were meeting for Xray education, Abacha was looking at us with ‘corner eye! We simply ignored him because he is still highly mischievous though he lacks the capacity to bully anybody. Awolowo sends his greetings, deeply pained by the decrepit state of schools in some part of the country. That day when some schoolgirls were kidnapped in Chibok, the grand old man could not sleep a wink. He kept writing furiously all night to some fellow in Abuja. I wonder if the letter has dropped into the ugly ostentation that is Aso Rock. Azikiwe is in perpetual mourning over events in the southeast, especially in Anambra and Imo states! But our concerns are paralyzing, even for spirits who are immune to inertia! Precisely, we are worried about the strike which the insensitive federal government is goading you into all too soon!
How are things? Perhaps I should not ask you such a question. I can see from here all the shenanigans from Abuja. Of course, we are insulated from the decimating atrophy which governance has become in Nigeria. We are also worried about the cavalier attitude of government to the high level of killings and kidnappings in the land. Kaduna is killing field yet that little fellow in Government House keeps posturing about other less important matters. The state governors seem to be happily helpless, supine in erotic languidness in the aftermath of a surfeit of assorted cuisines, heaping all the blame on the distant federal government. Why can’t governors do something for the citizens who elected them? The federal government carries on with criminal apathy, detached from the emotional trauma in the country. Death has become so common that everyday persons are routinely dispatched to us with reckless abandon. If I were to rewrite my novel Violence, it would be a different story kettle!
As I hinted in the first paragraph of this letter, our eyes are currently on the universities. The conclusion here is that the strike next time should be on just three demands – STAFF WELFARE! STAFF WELFARE!! STAFF WELFARE!!! And when we say staff welfare, we do not refer to anything ambiguous or abstract as revitalization of universities, constitution of visitation panels, salary payment platform (UTAS or IPPIS), salary arrears or earned allowance, or increase in budgetary allocation to education. Our collective advice is that the take home pay of the university teacher should be the focus of the next strike. Demand One! Demand Two!! Demand Three!!! should be a new salary package for university teachers.
This is no time for idealistic nonsense. ASUU members are hungry and angry. They have suffered and endured enough. But for Cooperative Societies, the matter would have carried the face of a demented lion. ASUU members want a take-home pay that can take them home. Not the miserable change that they get and struggle to make extra money from sundry sources. So, when next you call out your members for a strike, a better salary package should be foremost on the demands’ list. If you leave that out, I will write another letter and direct them to ignore ASUU leadership. I’m serious. I am aware that the Professor Munzali Jibril Committee was set up last year to look at the FG-ASUU agreements which had led to incessant strikes in the last ten odd years. What has become of the new salary structure which was touted then? Why is that matter not in the public domain?
What is happening with ETF now TETFUND which we fought for? It has been hijacked by bureaucrats and the federal government uses it as a weapon of goodwill to good boys, dominated by a certain section of the country. Does ASUU have a say about its affairs? No. What about the hazard allowance that was painstakingly fought for? Everybody in the university system now wants and gets hazard allowance. It is ridiculous though I agree that anybody who lives in Nigeria deserves a hazard allowance. The same applies to excess workload allowance which we gallantly fought for. Don’t stress earned allowances anymore. Any allowances which academics are entitled to should be built into the monthly take home.
Dear Comrades, do come off the high horse and meet your members at their point of need. Let the government fund and maintain its universities. Keep your members’ welfare in focus. No professor at bar should take home less than one million five hundred naira monthly. Not the miserable four hundred or four hundred and fifty thousand naira that a typical professor is insulted with monthly. Or a fresh PhD holder who goes home with one hundred and twenty thousand naira monthly! Teaching in the university should not be the equivalent of eternal poverty. Shine your eyes. You can only save the lives of academics; not the university system. It is partially because of the poor salary scale that every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to open a university. What do we need all those glorified secondary schools for which can hardly afford a decent library? If we must call a spade by its name, enough of the travesty that is called university education in Nigeria and the miserable salaries that hardworking academics are paid! A labourer deserves his wages!
We are well. You keep fit. I shall write again very soon. Till then remember as Marx said, ‘wages are determined through the antagonistic struggle between capitalist and worker. Victory goes necessarily to the capitalist. The capitalist can live longer without the worker than can the worker without the capitalist!