The Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have not been able to agree on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System and the welfare of tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
In this interview with GRACE EDEMA of PunchNg, renowned historian and professor of African Studies, Toyin Falola, who is also the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas in Austin, says the government has not demonstrated a respectable level of maturity in handling the issue with ASUU
For some months now, the Federal Government and ASUU have been at loggerheads with each other on the IPPIS. What would you say about both parties’ stance?
The two sides have their portions of blame for various reasons. For the Federal Government, having the orientation that everything can be centralised/politicised complicates the negotiation process between its officials and the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
The failure at consensus, to keep promises and to think positively about the role of education in Nigeria accounts for the retrogression of the country generally. I say this knowing the cardinal place of education in the development of any country. Without it, every dream of advancement is a mere wishful thinking.
The Federal Government, instead of demonstrating a respectable level of maturity in handling the issue with ASUU officials, always engages in reputation management in the media by immediately running to the press to provide degenerating narratives about ASUU as a way to blackmail it or mobilise public reactions against the union.
In no developed country of the world are teachers treated with the level of disdain with which Nigerian academic members are treated. Therefore, it is either that Nigeria is not ready for true development or it believes that development can be attained through some questionable means.
Human capacity building and knowledge economy are far more important in the long run than the oil that the government relies upon for revenues and kleptocracy.
On the part of ASUU, however, the union should perhaps provide convincing elaborate documents to the government and the curious public on ways through which the adoption of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System can facilitate mutual trust.
Note that making such efforts begins by accepting the method of payment as necessary for national progress as it will forestall corruption either from university staff members or government officials, if sincerely handled.
ASUU has promised to assist the government to improve upon the technical component of the IPPIS and to submit its own alternative system for implementation. The best of the two can then be adopted. Government/public business in Nigeria is almost literally run like a secret society, and this is not helping matters.
ASUU should also release to the public its alternative plans. Maybe the citizens will choose that of the union and may be the critical members of the public will call for the refinement of the IPPIS.
How can both parties come to an agreement?
We cannot ruin the future of our young men and women. We should not destroy the hope and aspirations of millions of parents. We should not betray the long-term goals of attaining developments. Most parents lack the resources to send their children to private universities in Nigeria or to universities outside of the country. Thus, a day should not become wasted in fighting a lasting solution.
Reaching agreement begins with a mutual understanding and a mindset disposed to finding appropriate solutions to the almost intractable challenges around the Nigerian educational sector. Knowing that education is cardinal to growth and apart from it having the capacity to keep the community in an informed position, it is also the foundation upon which developed countries stand.
Therefore, the act of politicking must be consciously jettisoned by both parties if a way forward will be agreed on. First, the government must understand that ASUU, whose membership and struggles are quite different from that of the political class, and whose engagements are undertaken by members with different mandate from the political actors with specific time in office, is embarking on the struggles that will outlast the union and hand over worthwhile legacy to the subsequent generations.
Unlike government officials, ASUU’s commitment to education and to the welfare of its members is for the common benefit of the country and its educational advancement. While this is not saying the Federal Government has a less commitment to the nation’s advancement, the political position allows for the ascension of political actors, who may share dissimilar ideology and interest from previous dispensations.
To, therefore, strike a balance and find a common ground, the government must have the courage to initiate policies that will entrench the demands of ASUU to avoid being revisited by succeeding dispensations. If ever since the creation of the first tertiary institution in the colonial time, Nigeria still does not have strong policies to manage its tertiary school affairs, something is not right. The issues over which ASUU fights and strikes are becoming too repetitive.
On the part of ASUU, it may wish to divide its concerns into the union-only issues, those of students and those around the overall decadence of the society, and focus on those that the union can manage. When I was a student in the university in the early 1970s, ASUU was not doing our fight for us.
How will you compare the system of education in Nigeria with what is obtainable in developed nations, using American universities as a reference point?
If you noticed when I said good education was the backbone of developed countries, you will understand why we call some countries developed and some others as developing. In fact, using the American educational system appears very distant if you ask me.
The educational system in Liberia or South Africa is better organised than what obtains in Nigeria. There, the system is provided with autonomy to decide on various issues that bother on the improvement of the country generally. Outstanding universities require resources, funding from those who establish them, the need to deliver public good, and commitment to ethical research.
American universities have resources, which make a lot of difference. Fifty American universities are richer than many African countries, and you can see the difference that this will make. The University of Texas, where I teach, is richer than 102 countries!
University education is a system on its own. Running it is beyond just the payment of salaries or the remuneration of staff or payment of other arrears and allowances. When the university system is reduced to these routine issues, politics will creep into the education system. Politics is to the education system what a virus is to a computer system. It can cause its malfunction and eventually crash it.
The university system is saddled with the responsibility of providing solutions to social, political, psychological and emotional emergencies, and associating corruption with the system of payment they have maintained for long is to evaluate the system depending only on a singular perspective. For example, let us consider the emergence of COVID-19.
It obviously requires the intellectual community to conduct research and organise inter-university projects for network and delivery. The question is, will ASUU wait to write to the Federal Government about the need for funds in order to conduct such research?
Even if that is inescapable as the system of IPPIS brings along, do you understand what process it will take before the government doles out money for this? How about equitable distribution of it? Do you even consider the tendency for the Nigerian political class to use such emergency as a conduit pipe to siphon the commonwealth? The questions are endless.
What should the government do to revamp the education system in Nigeria?
Negotiation that is driven by the understanding that no nation can rise above the quality of its teachers or its education system and that education is not only an important social service, but a socioeconomic heart engine that powers all sectors for national development.
Such negotiation is the type that will convince the government on the need for alternative ways to curb the alleged corruption that they report to have plagued the country’s educational system.
Without such negotiations, the country will plunge into an abyss of error and horror, and the learning community will find itself at the receiving end of a watered-down education. In plain term, the Nigerian educational system deserves autonomy if it is to match up with its contemporaries in other societies.
After all, there have been obvious shortcomings in the proposed IPPIS, which the government is clinging on to; reduction of expected payment under the auspices of savings for the National Housing Fund and other taxes, non-payment of some staff members totalling 1,180 over allegations of Bank Verification Number inadequacies, and deduction of 2.5 per cent from gross pay instead of basic salary, among others.
The problems arising are not because the system is relatively new or inherently faulty, but because it is open to manipulations where full-scale corrupt practices can survive without public awareness. Obviously, these challenges are indicators that the projected alternative is not devoid of the errors that the current one is castigated over.
ASUU has intimated the government that it is working on bringing in the University Transparency and Accountability Solution team, whose membership can be decided by both the Federal Government and the university community, and will be required to conduct independent and unbiased researches about possible corruption going on in the system.
What should ASUU do to promote Nigerian universities?
The majority of union members are already doing their teaching with passion and efficiency. Many do conduct their researches within the limits of available resources. Most members participate in one service or the other. Thus, the objectives of service are met.
However, ASUU must also fight internal battles, in some cases, far more aggressively than it fights the government. The management must be accountable. Members, who engage in one transgression or another must be punished. Internal reforms are necessary.
ASUU, too, should be clean enough to warrant the public support it has enjoyed in recent history. It is degrading for the community that produces the philosophy and the mental powerhouse of the country to be found wanting on allegations of corruption. One predominant point, genuine one at that, raised by the Federal Government against ASUU is the parading of ‘ghost’ workers, whose money is diverted into the personal purses of some greedy academics.
It betrays logic that the community upon whose shoulders rest the moral credentials to educate the masses about modesty, financial intelligence and prudence is failing these basic moral principles. University teachers should avoid being guilty of allegations such as these.
They need to understand the position of the government about the need for prudence and accountability and therefore not blow their importance out of proportion by arrogating to themselves the exalted status of being above board.
They should shift ground where necessary, knowing that the future of the country is unarguably in their palms, as they are the ones training the leaders of tomorrow. The future of the students should mean well to them if they are really fighting for their welfare as they claim in most cases. Nigerian lecturers equally should steer clear of allegations of sexual harassment, totalitarianism and attitude of arrogance linked with a number of them.
There is no dignity in linking students’ success in their academic activities to their ability to compromise their moral standards. Forcing students to amoral conduct is unsuitable for the lecturing job and it should be an embarrassing indictment to the learning community.
Lecturers should be custodians of sound moral behaviours and ought to be disseminators of sound moral values. They must, therefore, set the standard for such moral behaviours by their own personal conducts.
Credit to punchng.com