I first heard the name ASUU in 2003, when I was in JSS3. I had no idea what it meant, but I knew it was a terrible thing that kept many of my seniors at home for 6 months. I was yet to understand the concept of strikes (I thought strikes were a violent response).
Anyway, I later got to know that just like the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), the University lecturers had their own union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities. And I was a victim of ASUU strikes. I lost about a whole year of my academic sojourn in the University, to incessant ASUU action.
The reasons were many- poor infrastructure, poor salary structures, and the ever-present Unilorin 49, a group of lecturers (from the University of Ilorin) fired for participating in the strike actions of the early 2000s. We knew the matter was pending in court, and found it a bit absurd that lecturers were refusing to teach because of their colleagues that were already dead (or re-employed in other universities). Solidarity forever! But we couldn’t understand why lecturers were striking despite the fact that University of Ilorin did not embark on strike actions anymore (allegedly choosing to pay a fine instead).
After a few years it became obvious to me that the ASUU was not in any way representing the interest of students. These lecturers take lectures once a week- usually a maximum of 2 lectures in a week. And they barely show up for these lectures- coming late and leaving early. The books from which they teach students are as old as Biafra itself. They pile assignments and papers on students with impossible deadlines; and grade students using very mysterious criteria that hardly has anything to do with academic excellence (perhaps they grade depending on the mood of the resident madman on the street). These lecturers bleed students dry by selling handouts, taking outright bribes and consulting female students in hotel rooms.
I went through university with sadistic lecturers who would cheerily tell you that everyone would fail. They would boast of their exploits frustrating brilliant students. We were boldly told “nobody will EVER graduate from this faculty with a first class. your seniors who were more serious tried and failed so don’t even bother”. We had one or two “exceptional” students that were making constant CGPAs of 4.6- suddenly there was a blackout (we did not receive any results for 4 straight semesters). All of a sudden, almost everyone had taken a blow- many students who rightly would have graduated with a second-class upper ended up with CGPAs of 3.33. That student with 4.6 became 4.27 and he was the best graduating student!
Whenever private universities graduate students with a high number of first class, and second-class upper division scores, our lecturers ridicule them as though they are of a weaker academic standard. They turn the lecture lecterns into pulpits and abuse the government, the private schools and students who they feel are underperforming. You see hardworking, intelligent students whose academic performances belie their abilities! And the common excuse is that “you can’t have students passing too much”. If a student has done what is required of him, why hold back the marks? If the student has not learnt then the teacher has NOT done his work. If majority of students fail a course then there is a serious problem with the teacher!
Then I wonder- in whose interests are the strikes? These lecturers are PAID during strikes, for work they are not doing. They do not even deserve the pay they already have (when you consider the amount of work they put into the job), not to talk of increased salary rates. Why does the university professor want to earn the same thing as a senator? What has he invented? How has he extended the bounds of knowledge? What is the quality of the students he has mentored?
I am of the opinion now that these lecturers are fighting for nothing other than their bellies. During strikes these lecturers delve into their private businesses and make extra morning without the hassle of speaking to students in admittedly overcrowded classrooms. Those who are lawyers go back to active practice; the engineers supervise construction jobs and so on. One has to wonder whether these strikes are not contrived to give them opportunities for making money! If you look at it, ASUU’s main demand is salary increment (they have curiously made an implied abandonment of other claims).
Today I heard on the radio when Nasir Fagge, ASUU president said the lecturers are still on strike because the STUDENTS contacted them and told them to continue with the strike until the Federal Government implements their demands. That is quite asinine to me- seeing that the student body NANS is quite different from the ACADEMIC STAFF Union! The Students can never dictate what the lecturers should do! these students are tired of their lecturers and will gladly keep them away as long as possible!
It is one of their demands that their arrears should be paid: with that I have no quarrell, money well earned should be paid indeed. But I have lost sympathy with the lecturers, and I advocate that if their demands for salary increment must be met, then quantum meruit must be employed. Lecturers should be paid based on the number of hours they put into work, the number and quality of original research they produce, the quality of final-year students in their faculties, and boldly enough- the academic success rate in the courses they teach.
My apologies to the shrinking minority of exceptional lecturers who unfortunately I’m tarring with the same brush I used on the rest of their colleagues.
But If I were President, it’d be no-work-no-pay.
My Apologies to my comrades who are still in the struggle. May our children never hear of ASUU strikes beyond history textbooks. And my apologies to those who feel I should have dwelled on other aspects of this struggle. This story must be told from all sides!