ASUU Part Trois: A Test Of Sincerity

Like Peter Jackson, I always knew this was going to be a trilogy. The initial fact-free tirade is here. The second post with one or two facts is here

So finally, let’s examine the way ASUU generally behaves when it comes to this perennial issue of government not keeping to agreements. What exactly are ASUU asking for? They say they are fighting for funding for the university system – indeed the 2009 agreement in question has to do with the FG intervening in the university system to the tune of N1.3trn spread out over 3 years. This money is meant to cover all the various problems facing our universities from infrastructure to salaries.

But are ASUU really fighting for the university system or just better pay for themselves? As you might expect, I firmly believe these strikes have nothing to do with improving the university system and everything to do with getting better pay for themselves (not tied to any actual performance).

Since we are making a judgement call on people’s intentions, we will have to use some deduction. This is my opinion (I’m no fan of ASUU) so you are not obliged to agree with me.

As far back as August 2012, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and others had started work on the 2013 budget that is being implemented. The Finance Minister addressed journalists at the State House and said the budget would be ready by September 2012.

The budget will be ready in September, while the actual laying will be in the first week of October, according to the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who addressed state House correspondents after the FEC meeting.

That report said the government was planning to spend N4.9trn in 2013. Another report by Sahara Reporters also said roughly the same thing and went further to provide some breakdown. In short, the budget planning process and even the amounts to be spent were no secret at all as far back as August 2012.

As promised by NOI in August, the budget was indeed ready by September and President Jonathan presented it to the National Assembly on the 10th of October, 2012. Again, this was not a secret (I believe it was even live on TV) and all the details in the budget were made public that day i.e. everything the government planned to spend in 2013 including on education:

Allocations to some critical sectors of the economy are: Defence, N348.91 billion; Power, N74.26; Works, N183.5 billion; Education, N426.53 billion, Health, N279.23 billion, Agriculture and Rural Development, N81.41 billion, and Police, N319.65 billion.

Now, as I said earlier, the purported 2009 Agreement the government signed with ASUU translated into a N400bn per year intervention in the education sector. This is the crux of ASUU’s current quarrel with the government. You can probably tell where I am going with this now.

If the government agreed to intervene in the university system to the tune of N400bn per year and then announced a budget that committed to spending N426bn (N291bn of that is for universities) on the entire education sector – primary, secondary and tertiary – shouldn’t that have raised some red flags immediately if you are ASUU?

Friends, the nature of the Nigerian budget is that there is nowhere you can hide N400bn – it is either there or it’s not there and in this case, there is no evidence of any N400bn or similar amount being dedicated to our universities. It’s worth repeating – it is this intervention money in the university system that ASUU is complaining about and hence the reason for their strike…or so they tell us.

So when the budget was announced and presented a year ago, what did ASUU say? The immediate past president of ASUU, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie, was approached for comments when the budget was announced and said the following in October 2012:

Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie, immediate past President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), expressed the hope that the education vote, if approved, would turn around the fortunes of the sector.

“However, we would need time to look at how the budget to the sector got to be one of the highest beneficiary, where it should be channeled, the implementation, how it should be managed and what it portends to the sector.

“It is only when we study all these details that we would be able to get a better view of how this would transform the system for the advancement of the country’s economy,” he said.

So the ASUU chieftain gave a cautious endorsement of the budget pending when they had looked at the finer details. The vote in question was the N426bn – that number has not changed since last year. But his comments also reveal something I hinted at in my previous post – ASUU don’t participate in negotiations or budget planning. If indeed they were fighting for our universities, how come the ASUU president didn’t know what was in the budget when it was released? Does this mean that ASUU don’t bother having any input in the budget process or follow-up if they do?

The Nigerian government hardly ever covers itself in glory – it’s their way. But in this case, it clearly stated its intentions as far back as August 2012 in terms of what it planned to spend in 2013. While there was clearly an increase in funding for education, there was nothing like what ASUU is currently demanding as per the terms of the 2009 agreement. A Senior Lecturer in Unilag, Dr. Olubunmi Ajibade was quoted as saying that if the budget was approved, it would be ‘one of the best things that has happened to education in recent times’. The budget was indeed approved but presumably, Dr. Ajibade is on strike today.

Mr. Ademola Onifade, another senior academic staff member in Unilag called the proposed budget a ‘jumbo allocation’ for education while the Dean of the Arts Faculty in Olabisi Onabanjo University (inserts expletive), Prof. Ayo Fadahunsi said the allocation to education would enable the government build more hostels and infrastructure in general.

Perhaps I need Premium Google, but I cannot find any record of ASUU flaying or debunking or condemning the government’s proposed education budget last year when it was released. One can reasonably conclude that they were happy with it.

Again, please read the transcript of the press conference given by the current ASUU president in August and note what they are fighting for. Here

So what has happened since then? Because the budget has not changed – what the government announced last year is what is being implemented today. Is the problem that ASUU do not know how to read a budget or do not understand how budgeting works? If they are complaining today about non-implementation of an agreement from 2009, why didn’t they reject the budget last year when it was obvious that this N400bn was not part of the government’s spending plans? It’s important to note that implementation and the presence of an agreement in the budget are two different things. ASUU are also now saying the government is owing them arrears to the tune of N92bn. I don’t doubt this. But again, when this amount wasn’t in the 2013 budget, why didn’t they complain? Or better still, while the budget was being drawn up, why didn’t ASUU have a committee or something of the sort to liaise with the government to ensure that these funds went into the budget? This is lobbying 101.

But over the years, ASUU have become professional hostage takers so they never really feel the need to do anything like this. Instead, what we get is that every so often they decide its time for a pay rise (perhaps in line with inflation) and then take hostages till these demands are met. It is an effective strategy because the government will always pay up. In fact the strategy worked with military governments not to talk of the current bloody civilians in charge.

But we must call it what it is – a union with a strong bargaining power using that power to obtain more money for its members, this is what unions do after all. It has nothing at all to do with improving university education in Nigeria. This is why these strikes have become tiring. If ASUU are sincere about wanting to improve education in Nigeria, it wont be hard to tell with a couple of things happening;

1. The Finance Ministry is currently working on the 2014 budget. Is ASUU participating in this process in any way? I am almost sure they are not given that they are currently quarreling with the government. Again, this process is not secret, there have been reports in the last couple of weeks about the government’s 2014 spending plans in the international and local media. From the reports, the government is even planning to reduce its spending by N300bn next year. ASUU where are you o?

2. ASUU should be able to tell the public what exactly it expects to see from the education budget in 2014 that will ensure we don’t have to go through another strike next year. Surely within the ranks of ASUU, there are people who can come up with an alternative education budget that sets out what government should commit to our universities going forward? If nothing, this should at least put some pressure on the government before anything is committed to. ASUU where are you o?

Instead what we are seeing is some kind of farce where everyone now smells blood and so want to shakedown the government for more money. From SSANU to NUT to ASUP to COEASU, everyone is now going on strike over some agreement that the government has failed to implement. To be honest, I don’t really mind this because if I was in a union with the power to extract more money for myself and my members, I cant honestly say I wont use that power.

But let’s separate these issues – our education is in a mess. A terrible one. And our teachers and lecturers also want more money. It’s up to the government to decide how much more money it can afford to pay teachers or if it even wants to. But the conversation about reforming education is a much bigger one than just salaries.

Let us know when that conversation starts.

 

FF

 

 

ASUU Part Deux: This Time The Facts (And Only A Bit of Speculation)

So my blog post on ASUU which contained no facts has been accused of being fact free. I actually thought I explained this in the very first sentence and even called it a tirade. But no matter.

Now that I have your undivided attention, let me try again. This time around we shall stick to the facts. But before we get to that, I received another response from a Professor to my blog post and its reproduced below

This piece is utter rubbish for many reasons e.g : 1) Nigeria is not a poor country as claimed by the writer, the politicians just want everything to themselves at the expense of others. ASUU is relatively underpaid, my salary as a lecturer of 35 years and professor of 8 years is only half of that of a local govt councillor with no university education!
2) In any profession or group there will always be some not effective people, in the university I will put it at 10% definitely not 90%
3) Nigerian universities are currently understaffed because of student overpopulation, I take some classes with more than 500 students. So how can anyone in their right mind advocate a cut down in staff? Besides Nigeria now has over 70 universities and many lecturers are already teaching in 2 or 3 concurrently
4) If any cut down is needed it is in the political office holders, if at all in the universities perhaps in administrative staff.

1. This issue of student overpopulation is a recurring one so perhaps its best to start there. Undoubtedly, many universities are bursting at the seams at least to the naked eye. But this is mainly a problem of facilities not really overpopulation. Looked at in a different way – I was in Shanghai (24m people) and Beijing (20m people) this year and neither place felt anywhere near as crowded as Lagos. So this problem manifesting itself in packed lecture halls in our universities is no different from what causes gridlock traffic in Lagos everyday – we simply aren’t very good at organising ourselves.

But let’s look at some numbers starting with a rough calculation. There are currently around 37,504 academics/teaching staff in Nigeria’s 74 universities. Those same universities also have 1,252,913 students in total. This gives a rough ratio of 33 students to one lecturer. However this kind of headline data masks the very wide distribution across the schools. So for example the ratio in University of Abuja is 1:122 (512 lecturers) while LASU is 1:114 (797 lecturers)

However, Ondo State University of Science & Technology has 29 lecturers and 212 students giving a ratio of 1:7. Quickly we can see that the student to teacher ratio can be meaningless when taken as a whole but let’s persist. What is the ratio like in other similar countries?

Vietnam84,109 lecturers. I can’t find latest figures but a reasonable guess based on this report will be 1,900,000. So a 1:23 ratio. By the way, the average university lecturer’s salary was N24,000 ($150) per month in Vietnam in 2010 (more on this in next point). In that same year, Nigeria had a GDP per capita of $1,432 and Vietnam had $1,224. By 2012, they had overtaken us and had a slightly higher GDP per capita than us. Nevertheless, between 2007 and 2010, the government there rolled out 100 new universities.

China31 million students in 2011. I can’t find a total number of lecturers for all Chinese universities but I did find the student-teacher ratio for the top 20 Chinese universities in 2013. The list is here.  The ratios vary wildly. In Zhejiang University, it is 1:29 while at National Yan Ming Uni it is 1:98. All the others fall somewhere in between.

India – Student population was 12 million in 2011. The diagram below relates to 2006/07 but we can make a rough calculation. In total – adding colleges and universities, there were 488,002 teaching staff so a ratio of 1:25.

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 23.14.36

South Africa – This report says that in 2008, the country had some 799,568 students in its universities. It also had 15,589 academics for a 1:51 ratio.

As I said earlier, this ratio can be very meaningless but it’s an argument that ASUU like to make but our numbers are not particularly crazy especially considering the hidden distribution.

2. Last year, there was a book released that compared lecturer salaries across 28 countries in the world. Nigeria happened to be one of those countries. The book is titled ‘Paying The Professoriate‘ and its findings were widely reported when it came out. So what did they find?

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 23.39.43

In the 28 countries studied, entry-level Chinese academics were the worst paid with a monthly salary of $259 while Canadian entry-level staff were the best paid at $5,733. Nigeria? $2,758 – higher than in France, Colombia, Brazil and Turkey and roughly the same as in Malaysia. At the top-level, Nigerian lecturers earn more than their counterparts in Japan and Norway. No, I am not making this up.

For years now, ASUU have gotten away with the idea (often not backed by facts) that they are underpaid. But relative to who? And how much exactly should we pay them? To be clear, ASUU members are 100% entitled to their pay because the government, in its wisdom or foolishness, signed the agreement. It must honour it. How much is enough to pay our lecturers and when can we start asking for returns for this pay?

3. Fun Fact: Since 2007, Nigeria has been led back to back by former lecturers.

Under President Yar’Adua in 2009, ASUU went on strike for 3 months which ended in October after government agreed to a 53% pay rise for senior lecturers. They had initially gone on a  1 week ‘warning’ strike in May of that year over an agreement reached in 2007. In 2007 they also went on strike for 3 months which ended in July of that year. How exactly are these pay rise numbers arrived at? I honestly have no idea but I imagine that ASUU have a strong hand to play with students sitting at home and parents asking government to just give ASUU what they want. 53% is a lot to get as pay rise in one go which is probably why governments always end up not honouring them and why ASUU will never say anything other than ‘government broke the agreement’ without telling us what the agreement was.

I digress. Goodluck Jonathan became President in 2010 and given that this is his first(?) strike, you have to say he is doing quite well. Yar’Adua was on his 3rd strike in the same time period. In any case, this current strike began on July 1st so he might break Yar’Adua’s record for length very soon.

But there is a subtler point to be made here – who can negotiate with ASUU to ASUU’s satisfaction? What you are seeing is typical bunker mentality you find in hardcore unions. The moment someone is not part of the group anymore, all past relationships are meaningless and he/she is to be treated like the enemy. If ASUU cannot sit down round a table with 2 of its former members and trash out an agreement that doesn’t waste the lives of thousands of students across the country, what hope is there for anyone else?

4. Does anyone have a copy of the 2009 agreement between government and ASUU that is supposedly the cause of the current strike? I cannot find it anywhere online and the links to it on the ASUU website are all dead. But I did find this press conference by the ASUU president, Nassir Isa at Unilag on August 22nd. Please read it. From it we can deduce that there was an agreement for the government to spend around N1.3trn (they will manage N100bn for now while N400bn is released to them each year for 3 years) on our universities over 3 years to ‘restore their lost glory once and for all’. Apparently this amount was arrived at ‘scientifically’. Please note that this is only for universities and not education in general.

In the 2013 budget, education got the highest allocation with N432bn. Of this amount, more than half (N291bn) already goes on universities. But ASUU want another N400bn. Perhaps no amount is too much to be spent on education but when you read the ASUU president’s statement, you quickly realise what this is all about – it’s a shakedown operation by experienced shakedown artistes. He is invoking the amount given to Nollywood and airlines and banks i.e. we want our own too. There is an ongoing debate about how the government spends our money very badly and this was part of the conversation during the fuel subsidy protests. Salaries and such like will consume N1.72trn in 2013. This is madness and we all know that if we break away from this model, so many things will improve even if only marginally.

But ASUU are very clever. When these conversations are going on, they never participate too loudly so as to not weaken their ‘brand’ or become part of something that will be eventually bigger than them. When they join the conversation, it is always to highlight how money is being spent elsewhere and not on them, given how they are the ‘key to the nation’s development’.

They want the money because they are ASUU…and they will take your children hostage if you don’t pay up.

All of this begs the question – what kind of government signs such an agreement anyway? Even the current budget is difficult to implement and every other day we worry about the government going broke. Are the government stupid or perhaps clever? I go with the latter because they surely know they can never pay this money.

By the way, out of curiosity, I put the ASUU president’s name into Google Scholar and it returned one result – a paper he co-wrote with 2 other academics. One. The man is a Professor, I will have you know and the journal in which it was published is a Nigerian one but at least it is online so 1 point for him.

Someone will say ‘oh but my professor has published several articles in international journals’. I am happy for you. But can you please help me ask your Professor why he is happy to be led by a man who is, to all intents and purposes, a non-academic?

5. Staying with journals and research publications. This is the bread and butter of academia and there is a well established ecosystem where academics publish their research in International Journals (note that international is different from foreign here). It is part of the system by which lecturers become doctors and professors and generally advance in their careers.

International journals thus make more sense because the opportunity to share knowledge and information is far greater than publishing in some local journal that no one reads. In short, this is the equivalent of exports in manufacturing which are the best signal that a country has arrived – you can always protect your local market and force the people to buy locally made goods but you will never know how good your products are or how well you are improving until you can sell it to foreigners who are under no compulsion to buy from you.

So what’s going on in Nigerian universities when it comes to publishing research? In 2012, something like 7,935 articles were published in Nigerian universities. Of that number, 3,304 (41%) were published ‘in-house’ i.e. an academic carries out research in say LASU and then publishes his findings in a LASU journal (usually his own department) and that is the end of the matter. Another 3,288 (41%) are published in other local journals i.e. an academic in UniBen publishing in a UniPort journal. The remaining 1,343 are published in foreign journals. More than 80% of Nigerian academics are unknown in the international academic circle i.e. when you put their name in Google Scholar, you will get nothing in return.

It is possible to describe Iyanya as a Maestro who specialises in the high art of waist music. But you can also describe him truthfully – a singer of very danceable trash. What you are seeing with those journal numbers is corruption. There is no other name to call it. The publishing of research papers involves rigour, this is what academia is about. And opening up your work to the world via international journals means that you have to put in the sweat and hours if only to avoid embarrassment.

Our academics have found a way to bypass this rigour, the most fundamental part of their calling, by creating a corrupt system away from scrutiny. A lecturer carries out some ‘research’ and publishes his ‘findings’ in the ‘journal’ run by the department in which he is employed. Journal noni. He will put it on his CV and go towards his publication count for the day when he will be promoted. This is not much different from a policeman staging arrests to make himself look good and hardworking. Of course these journals are not published online – they are in a cupboard somewhere in the school department, so even if the work was copied wholesale from somewhere else, who is going to find out?

Every single lecturer, who is part of this system, is damned by it, including the ones who actually work hard to get published internationally. It is a corrupt system and all who come in contact with it, will be stained, no matter what they do.

I ask again, what are we getting for the money we are paying our lecturers? Of course there are good, conscientious, decent and hard-working lecturers in the system. It is not all policemen that are corrupt – Monday Agbonika is doing his best but he is daily undermined by the ‘pay me my money‘ brigade, who remain in the overwhelming majority.

Ordinarily, this wont be a problem per se – Nigerian lecturers are behaving exactly like Nigerians. But it must be challenged when they put themselves out as custodians of the nation’s development, set apart for signs and wonders and anointed not to be touched.

And we have not yet gone into the PhDs who obtained their BSc, Masters and PhD from the same university often without a break in between. Perhaps the most egregious example of this trend is Mr President himself

1977 – 1981 – B.Sc – University of Port Harcourt – Zoology

1983 – 1984 – Masters – University of Port Harcourt – Hydro/Fisheries Biology

1987 – 1995 – D Phil – University of Port Harcourt – Zoology

How very depressing to spend all your academic life in one university. How can this ever be seriously described as seeking out knowledge? And this corrupt practice is rampant in our universities. Make no mistake about it, there is a financial incentive for doing this because pay increases with journals published and degrees obtained.

6. Despite everything above, I have no problem with academic staff earning more money. I am dubious as to whether this will improve quality, but it is maybe worth a shot.

The idea that more money to people in Nigeria will solve any given problem is rather popular but surprisingly lacking in evidence. A few days ago, some young men and women went to the National Assembly to demand accountability for N1trn that has disappeared into a sinkhole there. We have thrown this astronomical sum at these men and women and they have not stopped throwing blows and chairs. Indeed, the more money they are paid, the worse they behave. For your N150bn this year, you get a law banning gay marriage that was never legal in the first place.

Ordinarily, high pay should attract quality people and top talent. But this is not happening at all in Nigeria. The high pay in the NASS is creating a perverse incentive that makes the place very attractive to brigands, part-reformed thugs, wide boys, chancers and cultists. In short, in this scenario, high pay has made it impossible for good guys to get anywhere near the place. To get a decent chap in there now, a governor will practically have to rig on his behalf and teleguide the process to ensure the preferred outcome.

As a result of this, many Nigerians now believe that a part-time legislature will do us a world of good especially because they will earn much less. We have come full circle – to get good people into our NASS, we have to pay them practically peanuts so as to make it unattractive for the aforementioned people i.e. there is reason to believe that if we pay our legislators very little, we might (hopefully) get people who go there because they genuinely want to do the work we want them to. You see this life?

When corruption and general bad behaviour has eaten deep into a system, paying more money to the insiders is more likely than not to make the problem worse. The insiders now have more reason and motivation to double down while the only people who will be able to dislodge them from the outside are those who are probably worse than them. It’s the nature of the beast. If you keep increasing the pay of lecturers when they ask for it, it cannot be long before we have an ex-militant Professor. Is there any reason why you think this cannot happen? Look around you and see the kind of positions being occupied by ex-militants and think again.

The only way around this is to tie pay rises to genuine performance and not the current ‘inflation adjustment’ that ASUU currently negotiates in the name of fighting for education. Publish your papers in international journals so we know its real. Ban in-house journals completely. Stop any promotion based on more than one degree from the same university. Bring back rigour into the system so that if anyone is getting paid, we can be confident that they are not gaming the system.

This business of asking for money all the time by ASUU absolutely has to stop. Those affected – students and parents – must see this behaviour exactly for what it is and apply pressure where it should be applied. ASUU will strike and the government will sign an agreement it has absolutely no intention of keeping. In all this, it is students who end up as the football being kicked around.

A few of my friends tell me I am being too hard on ASUU and ignoring the real source of the problems – the government. What is there to learn from that? This is the argument I heard all the while I was allegedly in a Nigerian university and the lecturers were on strike. The Nigerian government cannot fix the Lagos – Ibadan expressway. It celebrates, with much fanfare, a train service that takes the better part of 2 days to go from Lagos to Kano. No, I will instead question the motives of a group of people who continue to employ the same strategy in dealing with such a government.

The reality is that government funding is addictive and after a while the only kind of thinking that its recipients can engage in is the perverse type. Federal Universities in Nigeria today charge N90 for a bed space. What kind of madness is that? If we were to investigate, I’m almost certain we will find that they do this because increasing the cost of the bed space to market values will probably reduce some funding they get from the government i.e they will have to work. It was only a few weeks ago that ABU ‘launched’ (just like other Nigerians, our lecturers too are addicted to launching things) a N50bn internet fundraising drive. They have now discovered the use of the internet as a way of tapping up their alumni scattered around the globe. Better in 2013 than never. But think of all the quietly wealthy ex-ABU students who have died and who might have given the University some money but didn’t because no one reached out to them. In any case, the only money that comes with zero accountability is government money especially because the government itself wouldn’t know accountability if it landed on its lap dressed as a Laker girl. So government money can be used to buy furniture for VC’s office and build a new grandiose university gate. Who’s asking?

One of the roles of ASUU in our society is to think us out of our problems. So it’s up to them to put a plan on the table that does not involve more money in their pockets. Something that takes us away from this broken model of funding. E don do. And its time for everyone involved to face some home truths.

Finally, 8 universities (out of 74) in Nigeria account for 33% of all the students – LASU, UniAbuja, UniPort, UniBen, ABU, NOUN (Open Uni), UniMaid, Ekiti. We can explain LASU on that list by its location – Lagos is the most populous state in the country so a state university there will always attract numbers. The rest of course are all Federal universities. There is undoubtedly still an attraction to federal unis above state schools…universities are afterall brands themselves. This also puts a lie to the popular assertion that state schools are responsible for the drop in standards. There’s hardly anyone there and students seem to discount them already. Plateau and Bauchi state universities have less than 500 students each and Akwa Ibom has just over 800.

The real outlier on that list is Ekiti State University. I have not been there and I will confess that this is pure speculation on my part. But Ekiti is a tiny state so if the state University is one of the most populous in the country, it’s worth checking out. I have a strong feeling that it is a well run (relatively) university. Earlier this year, Governor Fayemi pushed through school fees increases that went as high as N150,000 per year for some courses. Having learnt a thing or two from their lecturers, the students promptly went on strike and protests. In the end I believe Governor Fayemi agreed to allow the students pay the fees in installment over the year.

If this is what I think it is – the state government trying to get the school to stand on its own feet – then it is an important development and represents the future of where we need to get to. The rest of the equation to be sorted out will then be how to have a working loans system that students can access to pay their fees.

When that day comes, watch out for the position that ASUU will take.

FF

Addendum

1. I have taken a lot of my data from a report that was submitted to the FG last year on the state of Nigerian universities. You can find it here

2. A good friend of mine also took me to task on my first post. His blog post is here

3. Apologies in advance for all typos (mine) and grammatical errors (the devil)

We Have An ASUU Problem: A Rejoinder From Prof. Oyebode

My blog post from yesterday was (deliberately) offensive. And I expect that those in the 10% will be rightly offended by it. I wont apologise for that seeing as that was my whole point.

Somehow Prof. Akin Oyebode (no introductions needed) read it and wrote this response to it. Suffice to say, I am not stupid enough to get into an argument with a Law Professor of many decades standing and an Ekiti man for that matter. So I will post his response here verbatim. But with only one comment at the end.

There is no doubt that you can feel the man’s pain in the post but I will leave the comments section open to you. Enjoy

Dear FF,

I couldn’t resist responding to your jibes and vituperation. It is full of generalizations, errors, inexactitude and inanities that could make one want to throw up
.

Please be informed that the time UNILAG had three Harvard alumni on its Law Faculty was over two decades ago. I should know since I went to the big H and have been on the UNILAG staff list for nearly 40 years and the only member of the troika still on ground.

I agree that some of us love teaching and, or are deeply patriotic but there’s a lot more to taking the jump to a greener pasture abroad. Please be informed that most of us still around remain not out of lack of rosy offers and promises of a better life but because of our firm belief in the necessity to ensure that the roof did not cave in on Nigeria’s education system.

I’m surprised you failed to recite the line of cynics that those who can, can and those who can’t, teach. Having been in the business of teaching lawyers for quite a while, helping, in the process, to produce 50 SANs and 25 law professors, I should be in a position to make averments regarding legal education in Nigeria and matters incidental thereto
.

When one of my children came back to the country after concluding his LLM in a US Ivy League Law School and succeeded in addition to crack the New York Bar (at first attempt, by the way), he was full of praises for the quality of legal education he had obtained here in UNI:LAG. I’m sure you must have come across numerous Nigerians in your country of sojourn making good with Nigeria’s university education which you have derided so much.You argue that the quality oft our pedagogy was suspect but the evidence on the ground does not justify your wholesale condemnation. Of course, we can use greater input and modernization of the education process but we are still striving to perform or task in the face of paucity of facilities and inability to attract and retain the best and brightest. I can tell you that Harvard had nearly 100 libraries when we were there some 40 years ago. The main library had nearly five million volumes…

I do not, in the least wish to turn this conversation into a point-counter-point discussion but let me tell you this: the ball lies squarely in the court of the Nigerian State for disparaging the old legal maxim, pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be implemented in good faith). The disdain for Nigerian academics shared by people of your ilk within a general anti-intellectual environment is so suffocating that one has to wonder why our universities and other higher institutions of learning had actually survived thus far.

Way back in the 1990’s, I happened to have acted in the role of legal adviser to the ASUU negotiation team that brought into being the first FG-ASUU Agreement which the government of the day later felt it worthy to thump its nose at. A decade later, I had become a V-C and was a member of the government team that midwifed a revised version of the 1992 FG-ASUU Agreement. Characteristically, the government of the day again went back on its words. Now, we are once again faced with the scenario of discounting an agreement signed, sealed and delivered by the selfsame parties in 2009. It would have been funny if it was not tragic.

I pause to ask, when would the Nigerian State learn to put its money where its mouth is? The real issue is re-furbishing the infrastructure of our universities in the face of a student population bursting at its seams while the rich, famous and powerful dispatch their children and wards to the US, Europe and better organized environments such as South Africa, Ghana and even, Benin Republic next door. It would seem Alphonse Kerr knew what he was saying when he observed, “ Plus ca change, plus la meme chose… ( The more things change, the more they remain the same…)

Since ASUU is demanding a mere fraction of what the country expends on running its bureaucracy, importation of fuel by an oil-rich enclave, humongous emoluments for its legislators, sundry acts of corruption and squandermania, the path of reason is to make the necessary adjustment in the country’s scale of values and priorities in order to rescue Nigerian universities from ultimate perdition. Anyone who says that ASUU is asking too much or acting unreasonably needs to put on his thinking cap in order to understand clearly what the current struggle is all about.

 

The only comment I will make is on the last sentence. I never said ASUU was asking too much. In fact, my point was that ASUU was preventing the really good guys from getting what they deserve. Not everyone in ASUU deserves even the small amount they are currently getting. Some need to have everything they currently have taken away from them. But without a doubt, the good and skillful teachers are suffering from low pay and lack of motivation under this system.

I don’t know of a system where lecturers are paid what they are really worth from having to rely on their government for funding.

As those who are effectively charged with thinking for the rest of us, it is time for ASUU to think about moving away from this model

 

FF

We Have An ASUU Problem

For I while now, I have been making the wild/provocative/unfounded/incendiary/baseless claim that 90% of lecturers in Nigerian Universities are pretty much useless or not fit for purpose. Sadly no one has taken me up on this to ask me to prove how I came about this number.

So I’m going to have to raise the stakes. I am by no means a rich man but if I beg, borrow and steal, I am sure I can raise N1m. This is the deal – if any Nigerian University faculty will agree to a simple performance test of all the teaching staff there, I will donate the N1m to a charity or cause of their choice, provided more than 10% of them pass the test. The tests wont be designed to save me N1m so 40% of the questions will be questions the lecturers themselves have recently set for their students. The pass mark will also be 40%. So if they can answer their own questions satisfactorily, they will just about make the grade. The rest of the questions will focus on checking how much personal development they have undertaken since they themselves qualified as lecturers and general knowledge on education and academics.

I am confident that I will win simply because it is almost impossible for me to lose.

But that’s not the point of this blog post. We are currently in the middle of another strike which has an ending more predictable than a Nollywood movie. Government will cave in and agree to meet most of ASUU’s demands (usually sometime in the future) and ASUU will go back to work. Once we have a change in government (could be the same government but with a new election mandate) or even change in minister, the new guys in charge will then proceed to completely ignore this agreement and express surprise that it even exists at all. Then ASUU will strike again. Ad infinitum. World without end.

Having been a victim of a Nigerian University with at least 3 ASUU strikes as part of my ‘educational experience package’, I can confirm that the quality of teaching from these lecturers does not improve one bit whenever they return to campus after such strikes. If anything, some of them can’t even remember where they were before they responded to the cries of aux barricades and dropped their handouts.

In normal circumstances, it is useful to ask why teaching doesn’t seem to improve after government meets ASUU’s demands even if temporarily. I am also certain that the problem is not really funding per se. Nigeria is really a poor country, so any solution we come up with, no matter how well-intentioned, will have to operate within the constraints of lack of funding. President Goodluck Jonathan has at least increased funding of education to a priority. You can quibble with the amounts dedicated to education but he has at least shown his priorities by allocating the highest budgetary amount to education – N433bn or 8.7% of the total budget. The reliable guys at Budgit also tell me that of this amount, N219bn is for Universities

You can of course quickly see the problem – whatever budgetary increase that goes to University education is likely to be ‘captured’ by ASUU because…well because they can. There is an emotional aspect to any ASUU strike – it is ‘our children’ who end up suffering and of course no one wants to see this happen. So in these ASUU vs FG fights, ASUU’s victory is always guaranteed…it is always only a matter of time.

As I said earlier, I have been a victim of a Nigerian University so let me randomly address some points below. Apologies if my thoughts are all over the place, such is the nature of tirades.

1. Unilag is not the Nigerian University system. Due to its location, it is difficult for lecturers to get away with some of the abominable stuff their colleagues get away with once you cross the Berger bridge and exit Lagos.

2. “Nigerian universities have produced some brilliant minds in the past” – this is one of the greatest myths out there. No such thing has happened. The evidence is in the lack of consistency in this production. Let me roughly describe what happens i.e. what is mistaken for ‘production’.

Students arrive from their various secondary schools into Nigerian universities. Note that private universities that can be selective i.e. cream off the smartest kids are a fairly recent phenomenon. Previously, even if you went to a secondary school that cost N100m per term with the best teachers, your choice was a Federal or State university or going abroad. In short, the very best Nigerian students from everywhere end up in the same universities (remember also that only a minority of students pass JAMB making the process even more selective). You will get some very brilliant students (who already know how to apply themselves) and some really bad ones (totally not ready for prime time) in this mix. There is no production going on, there is co-opting. You will see this reflected in the next 10 to 20 years when the gap between those educated at private and government universities starts to widen to the point of being alarming. If we start getting scholarships institutionalized in Nigeria, this process will happen much quicker.

The idea that Nigerian universities ‘produce’ brilliant minds is also laid to waste by the lack of a minimum standard to their products. There is no limit as to how bad a graduate of a Nigerian university can be. Many waltz through for years, receive lectures and come out ‘unscathed’. It is therefore bizarre to use a (pre-packaged) minority as evidence of ‘production’ or anything for that matter.

What I found in my experience is that usually in 1st semester of 100 Level, some students quickly distinguish themselves sometimes with a perfect 5.0 GPA. The lecturers then use this to identify such students and the co-opting process begins. By the time the student reaches 300 Level, it becomes impossible to maintain the performance they started with without the lecturers ‘approving’ it. By the time this student is approaching graduation he/she has been so embedded in the culture of the faculty and been used like a graduate assistant that upon graduation they end up being ‘retained’ and themselves become lecturers…the system offers them ‘security’ so they don’t have to go and start looking for work when they graduate. As I said, Unilag is different because the smartest kids cant be blackmailed into this kind of system.

You might wonder what the problem is with this kind of system – but think about it, what if Harvard ‘retained’ its brightest students as lecturers every year? Would this be better than the current system where there is a Harvard alumni at the top of every major organization across the world? Any university should be eager to send its students out in the real world because it is the greatest recruiting tool it will ever have.

3. A friend tells me that Unilag’s law faculty currently has 3 Harvard trained lawyers as lecturers there. They are earning 5% of what their contemporaries around the world are earning but they remain there either out of patriotism or love of teaching or both. I don’t doubt that they choose to remain there (when they can go elsewhere) for altruistic reasons. Indeed I have seen this before and I blogged about how I was once treated by Dr Martin Aghaji at UNN teaching Hospital. Dr. Aghaji chose to remain behind at the height of the brain drain when lesser doctors were in Saudi Arabia earning a fortune (he was also making decent money from a monopoly on x-ray services but nothing compared to what he could earn abroad). I am convinced that he remained behind partly if not mostly because he wanted to train Nigerian doctors.

Back to our Harvard trained lawyers – even if we all agree that their motives are entirely altruistic, do you think anyone of them will reject the chance to be paid more in their current jobs? Certainly not. They are evidently currently underpaid. So let’s conduct a small simple experiment.

Say there are 100 lecturers in total and the total budget for their pay is N1m so each lecturer gets paid N10,000. If you sack the bottom 10% of lecturers for non-performance and redistribute their pay, each lecturer gets an 11% pay rise. This is a simplistic zero sum argument with the assumption that resources are finite but it describes to an extent what is going on with ASUU.

The really good lecturers will never be paid anything near what they are worth because the system carries so much dross and deadweight. It works well for a cabal that protects its members but it is a wasted system on university lecturers which heavily penalizes the really good guys. The ASUU collective bargaining system treats lecturers like they are all the same. This is a complete joke. Lecturers are skilled people (or at least they should be) in the way that the top footballers are skilled people – it is in very rare circumstances that a footballer who cant trap a bag of cement will become the highest paid player in the league because the feedback is almost always instant.

Currently there is no system of weeding out the truly useless lecturers as they can simply hide under the ASUU umbrella and get a pay rise when everyone else gets it. But like any other job that requires skill, talented people are always rare so it is perfectly normal for them to earn as much as is possible. To get this to happen, you will need to break up the ASUU system.

I recently completed an MBA and I had the good fortune to be taught by some really good lecturers. These guys are almost always on freelance contracts that allows them to maximize their earnings in the most efficient way possible. So for example the guy who taught me International Business Strategy spends around 9 months of the year traveling the world teaching and consulting. Is he the only one who can teach Business Strategy in the world? Certainly not. But the more he teaches, the better he gets and the more skill and experience he accumulates so it is to the university’s benefit to ‘sign’ him on given that the only way it can get students to pay fees is to promise them they will be taught by the best lecturers. Besides teaching, he also does all kinds of consulting work in places as far away as Papua New Guinea (where they eat human beings).  Have you ever seen a Nigerian university advertise a course on the strength of its lecturing team?

Those 3 Harvard guys at Unilag’s law faculty should be teaching across Nigeria and being paid for it. Other schools should be adjusting their timetables to fit into their schedules – the ultimate aim always ought to be that students get the best possible teaching while they are in the University. Again, the private universities are starting to understand this. Recall that some years ago, Professor Ben Carson was a visiting lecturer at Babcock’s medical school. If you’ve read any of his books, you’d understand how much of a coup this was by Babcock.

When I was writing my MBA dissertation, I was allocated a supervisor from an American University who lived in Canada and North Carolina. We had to schedule our Skype calls to fit his schedule due to time difference. Was he the only person who could supervise my project? Certainly not. But having interacted with him and the speed with which he got into the meat of the matter, I knew he had been doing it for a very long time.

These are random examples but they are almost impossible in the current system where a lecturer who is enjoying his teaching has to drop his chalk in solidarity with his union just so everyone can get a pay rise. Many of the really atrocious lecturers wont be able to command the kind of salary they currently do if they were to step into the real world and find their own lunch. This system greatly favours them.

This point is worth repeating – the current system seriously penalizes the lecturers who are actually very good and reduces their ‘discoverability’ to nothing more than word of mouth.

4. The Nigerian university system can function with half the number of lecturers it currently has. I am being generous here given that I continue to insist that 90% of them are not fit for purpose. But in all the debate about education in Nigeria and ASUU strikes, I have never heard ASUU mention anything about a performance based system. The reason for this is simple – as Thomas Sowell once said, ‘people who enjoy meetings should not be put in charge of anything’. More often than not, those in charge of ASUU are the least productive lecturers when it comes to the actual business of lecturing. Such people will hardly ever be in favour of a system that is meritocratic – for them procedures and ‘agreements’ are everything, outcomes are nothing.

It is almost comical how some really good lecturers line up behind these characters as their union leaders. But then this is human behaviour. Even if for only 5 minutes, you can sometimes be best friends with your worst enemy if interests are aligned. The purpose of ASUU is thus to make us continue to believe that without them, the sky would fall and no student will get taught anything ever again.

5. Perhaps the greatest indictment against ASUU is how there is absolutely no incentive for lecturers to improve themselves continuously. Why should they? Pay is not linked to performance in any way so as long as you are a union member, you will get a pay rise the next time a fight breaks out between ASUU and government. This is a very serious problem and I speak as someone who was given extracts from Soviet Russian ‘economics’ textbooks in the name of studying economics. And no, I didn’t go to university in the 70s when these ideas perhaps still carried some weight.

It is depressing how the ‘debate’ about education always comes back to how much we pay our university lecturers. But Nigeria is not a rich country so almost by definition, it will always be possible for our best brains to get better opportunities outside our shores. Alas, education is one of the things (at least in part) that will help us break free of poverty so this ‘debate’ is an endless merry ground really.

I am certain that ASUU’s end is nigh. The day when they will go on strike and no one will pay them any mind is coming sooner rather than later. Usually, unions who specialize in holding everyone else to ransom are the last to figure out when they have become totally irrelevant. Last year, an American baker called Hostess filed for bankruptcy. Hostess used to make a popular and storied brand of cake called Twinkies. Its workers were also heavily unionised of the sort that just didn’t know when to stop. Hostess also used to make a bread known as Wonder Bread. To guarantee themselves work, the unions, on pain of strikes, got the management to give them contracts that said Twinkies and Wonder Bread could not be delivered to stores in the same trucks. Truck drivers were also not allowed to do the loading of the Twinkies or Wonder Bread. Also, if you were a Twinkie loader, you could not also be a Wonder Bread loader. This sounds funny but it’s not a joke. In the end, the company filed for bankruptcy which enabled it to fire as many workers as it could and start life afresh a few months ago.

There is no evidence that there was a scarcity of cake or bread in America while the company was in bankruptcy.

The day ASUU becomes irrelevant, many people will be amazed that teaching will not stop taking place in Nigerian universities. Indeed, you’d be shocked at how teaching quality will go up when there’s no longer anyone to fight for the dross.

FF

* I deliberately left out the Nigerian government from this post because I wanted to talk ASUU. The government is not of course blameless in all this – certainly the stupidity with which they sign agreements and then try to back out of them is worthy of flogging on its own. The FG also lacks the moral standing to do what is right as it never initiates the conversation about higher education in Nigeria. It is always backed into a corner by ASUU.

Perhaps this even proves my point – ASUU is unable to teach the government a lesson it shouldn’t forget because…its members don’t know how to teach 🙂