Last year around October, the Senate passed a bill seeking to stop sexual abuse of female students in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions. The bill, titled: “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution Prohibition Bill, 2016” sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, prescribed a 5-year jail term for lecturers and educators convicted of sexual harassment of their male or female students. The bill also recommended expulsion or suspension for students whose claims of being serially abused by lecturers or educators are found to be false by any competent court. In the alternative, the bill also proposed a fine of N5 million in the event that the accused person is convicted by a competent court of law even as it made provisions for lecturers and educators who may be falsely accused by their students to seek redress.
Now, that a condition overwhelmingly exists which warrants the passage of a bill like this one is very disgraceful not only to the Nigerian academia, but to the Nigerian morality in general. But, the worst part of it is that the bill may never be able to address the smallest fraction of indecency and sex abuse going on in our tertiary institutions. In fact, students-teachers sex relationship driven by both silent and open threat is gradually and subconsciously becoming normal and legal in our universities.
The general reactions from the Nigerian academia when this bill was passed were at best silence, and at worst condemnation towards the bill and its sponsors. At the moment, there is hardly any place dirtier than Nigerian universities and other tertiary institutions when it comes to sex scandals. Our institutions have been turned into hallmarks of prostitution and sexual harassment. The integrity of the system has been eroded to the extent that even its topmost hierarchy is guilty of this. These are some of the issues you seldom or never hear ASUU vigorously fighting to correct. The very system the union is seeking external intervention to correct infrastructural-wise is already internally rotten moral-wise. Again, ASUU is on strike for the same old but many reasons, but the moral degradation imposed by some of its members on the system isn’t one of them.
“Our members across the country were getting increasingly frustrated, distracted and disenchanted” were the reported words of the National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi when declaring the just commenced nationwide strike. While briefing journalists, Ogunyemi listed ASUU’s outstanding issues with the Federal Government to include; payment of fractions/non-payment of salaries; non-payment of earned academic allowances, non-releases of operational license of NUPEMCO; non implementation of the provisions of the 2014 pension reform act with respect to retired professors and their salaries, removal of universities staff schools from funding by government and funds for the revitalization of public universities among others.
Problems like moral degradation of the system, internal socio-administrative corruption bedeviling universities, many lecturers’ nonchalant attitude towards their jobs, inadequate or non-existent monitoring and evaluation of lecturers’ performance mechanism, unethical academic practices, nepotism and favouritism in employment are not among the major problems ASUU is concerned with. These are problems caused and promoted by lecturers, many of whom are also ASUU members as well as by university administrators who once were or still are. The union must make efforts within its control to see that we first have a cleansed system, before we can talk of improving it.
As is common with many government agencies, universities are now some of the most visible symbols of financial corruption and mismanagement. The little scarce resources sent to the universities from the government are not well managed by the university administrators from top to bottom. It is very common these days to hear of vice chancellors, bursars and other university principal officers standing trial for corruption cases. Stories of lecturers collecting bribes from students and their parents to award marks are also heard everywhere. The union must emphasize on internal honesty, transparency and accountability which is largely lacking. Senior academic staff are imposing their incompetent sons, daughters and cronies as lecturers into the system and the trend is continuing at an alarming rate.
ASUU should also be concerned with how many universities are hiding under the excuse of inadequate funding from the government to introduce aggressive and in many cases, easy, dubious and exploitative revenue generation methods with little or nothing to show for it. Some of these methods tend to portray the universities as revenue generation agencies rather than institutions of learning. In a bid to bridge the wide funding gap, many Nigerian universities have resorted to charging exorbitant and in some cases ridiculous application, processing and registration fees for their undergraduate and more significantly post-graduate programmes. Such exorbitant fees are been hiked regularly with any slight opportunity. In some universities, students are forced to pay high sums for the use of facilities which are built and maintained by public money. With these sorts of easy, unearned and exploitative revenue generation policies, many Nigerian universities are tilting towards commercialization.
ASUU should be concerned with the quantity of our universities. The number of federal, state and private universities operating in Nigeria and registered by the Nigerian Universities Commission stands at about 135 which rose from 51 in 2005. While ASUU members are busy taking advantage of the large number of universities to serve as visiting lecturers, the union itself appears to be indifferent to this. The union still wants efficiency and at the same time it doesn’t discourage its members from picking up visiting appointments in 2 to 3 other places apart from their primary places of work thereby largely neglecting their primary universities and underperforming in their visiting ones. The union should discourage state governments from flouting political universities and the Federal Government against issuing licenses to many of the private universities largely considered incompetent.
Isn’t ASUU worried that in a university system boasting of more than 2500 living professors, academicians are still hiding under the guise of inadequate government sponsorship for their failure to produce any ground breaking research of the Nobel-prize nomination grade over the last 30 years? With the decent amount of external and non-governmental research funding coming into the Nigerian university system plus the little government intervention, how much have we even came close to achieving that?
Granted that all ASUU demands deserved to be looked into and we must put substantial part of the blame on the Federal Government for the stagnation of our education system, but in all honesty and sincerity, how much have Nigerian universities themselves able to achieve, initiate and innovate to compellingly motivate government enough to invest more? How much of a potential have they shown to attract private and corporate national and international organizations to invest in them? How much value has our academia independently added to our society? Do we really think that the strongest universities in the world were actually made what they are by their governments?
Nigerian academic researches conducted by some ASUU members are dominated by plagiarism and other violations of ethical and professional considerations. The union will do a great job if tries to address many of issues like this.
ASUU have been seeking a rise in education quality from without more than it is seeking it from within. Isn’t the union aware of how recruitment of lecturers has now been dominated by nepotism and favouritism? While this has resulted to the system becoming replete with incompetent hands, how much has the union tried to stop university administrators from doing this? How is the union working towards mounting a mechanism that will expose the incompetent members among its ranks who are the main drivers of poor quality education in the country due to their poor teaching?
Our primary and secondary education systems are more than rotten; they are ten times worse than our tertiary education system. If ASUU’s objective is quality of education, it must also be concerned with this as there will be no proper tertiary education without a solid foundation from the bottom.
ASUU should also be concerned with how many of its former members opportune to serve in government in various positions and at various times have largely failed to make a significant impact either on the education sector in particular or the general progress of the country in general. Lest we forget, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and Professor Yemi Osinbajo are former ASUU members.
– Twitter: @AmirAbdulazeez