This essay was to be an October 1, 2020 Independence Day Salute to ASUU leadership and its rank and-file for their continuing undaunted and courageous defense of Nigeria’s Independence and the promise of a democratised public-funded education sector—a major promise of Nigeria’s Independence in 1960. The said promise was reiterated boldly and ebulliently in the 1976 National Policy on Education.
It is now five full months after ASUU embarked on the current leg of the four-decade long struggle to rescue the Nigerian University System (NUS) from the unrelenting strangle-hold of IMF/World Bank forces of recolonisation and their indigenous Nigerian collaborators! Needless to say, Nigeria’s independence, which was won on the blood of Nigeria’s labouring people and their allies, was conceded close to two decades after the Bretton Woods institutions, among other goals, set today’s agenda of underdevelopment for colonised territories like.
The death knell of all the promise of a public-purposed education sector was sounded in 1977/1988, as we observe below, under military dictatorship led by General Olusegun Obasanjo. That was also when the World Bank and IMF took definitive post-Independence control of Nigeria.
Before proceeding further, let me acknowledge overlapping generatons of the leaders and members of the organisations of the academics and of the students’ movement that paid the supreme price in the patriotic struggle of defending the education sector of Nigeria’s sovereignty. To mention some of these, we remember Mahmud Modibo Tukur and Festus Ikhouria Iyayi, David Jangkam, Jide Ojo, Eskor Toyo, Regina Odeh, Funmi Adewumi, Abubakar Momoh, Usman Abubakar, and Frank Dimowo, among others, in ASUU. Among members of the student movement, again to mention a few, we remember Abdulrahman Black, Chima Ubani, Chris Abashi, Emma Ezeazu and Bamidele Aturu.
The 1999 ASUU-FGN Negotiations, for the first and perhaps the last time personally chaired by General Abubakar Abdulsalami’s Minister of Education (Dr. Olaiya Oni), was business-like and productive; although neither comprehensive nor conclusive because of the constraints of time.
From the very beginning of his Presidency in 1999, General Olusegun Obasanjo’s public statements and body language did not leave many Nigerians in any doubt that, regarding the education sector, the ruling class was returning fully to the scene of their 1978/1979 crimes. This return was orchestrated in the ubiquitous and obnoxious company of the World Bank, and with the conspiracy and agency of the National University Commission (NUC). A critical element of the agenda of that conspiracy, which still subsist today, is the privatisation of higher education!
Concretely, in 1978/1979 when the World Bank seized Nigeria under Obasanjo’s military dictatorship, the first definitive attack on Nigeria’s public-funded education led to what became known as the “Alli Must Go” during the students’ nationwide protests against increases in fees and charges. In 1979, The National Association of University Teachers also raised the first alarm about the decline in the public funding of education.
The direct connection of the activities of imperialism and the genealogy of the World Bank/IMF program of asphyxiation of the Nigerian University system was provided by our illustrious compatriot, late Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman in his book, For the Liberation of Nigeria (New Beacon Books Ltd, London; 1979: pp. 73-77) where he referred to a document, “Future Nigeria-US Linkages in Higher Education” which according to Dr. Usman, “was prepared for U.S. State Department, Washington, D.C. by Overseas Liason Committee, American Council of Education, May 1977. Reference: AID/Sod C-15/HE008-792”.
Dr. Bala Usman counselled us in that book: “The whole document merits closer study and action”. He also observed, inter alia, “This plan [enunciated in the document referred to] seems to be in collusion with the National Universities Commission. . . . I find it very disturbing especially the apparent collusion of N.U.C.; the use of its growing power and the clearly dangerous intentions in these documents”.
Bala Usman’s prophetic warnings have been more than justified and vindicated in the last forty years. Western (especially U.S.) imperialism and its agencies have been particularly disruptive of the NUS using the interventions of World Bank loans and its influence on overlapping regimes of puppet governments to reduce funding of Universities, intimidate and coopt University administrations and even push curricula and curricula changes that entrench neoliberalism and the re-colonisation of Nigeria. The agencies also selectively decided where to locate the so-called African Centers of Excellence, and how many such centers there will be in order to openly relegate some of the universities not just in Nigeria, but across Africa. The relegation of universities has also been entrenched by politicians reducing them to what ASUU President Professor Biodun Ogunyemi called constituency projects—a multiplicity of new, unplanned, and unfunded universities across the country.
Meanwhile, various categories of traders maneuvered themselves to the very top of university Governing Councils and administrations. The NUC, since about 2001 especially, seems to have completely forgotten that it was established to ensure the integrity of the university system especially via a robust advocacy of their funding, accessibility, academic freedom and autonomy. There are indeed many times it appeared as if the NUC was set up to promote privatisation of higher education and to help the political class intimidate and discredit the academics and the Nigerian University System.
In 2009, an FGN-ASUU Agreement was signed regarding the crucial need to revitalise the public-funded segment of the NUS and certain outstanding emoluments and allowances of academic staff. While the agreements on conditions of service were only partly and perfunctorily implemented, government ignored the question of revitalisation of universities completely. It took the 2013 reports of Government’s own Needs Assessment Committee on public-owned universities (federal and states) to get government persuaded about the depth of the decay in the Nigerian University System. The Needs Assessment Committee Report suggested that a total of N1.3 trillion would he required for the revitalisation.
No such commitment of the FGN to revitalisation, not to talk of implementation of unimplemented elements of the 2009(!) FGN-ASUU Agreements, had taken place till today—eleven years after!
Early in 2017, and after protracted demands by ASUU, the FGN decided to engage ASUU in a Re-negotiation of the 2009 Agreement referred to above and constituted a government team led by a businessman, committed entirely to market-forces strategy of funding the universities, who insisted that Nigerians who cannot pay for higher education should go and borrow to pay proposing a resuscitation of the discredited “education bank” strategy which government touted and abandoned thirty years ago! What the leader of FGN’s Negotiating Team did from 2017 to 2019 was not only to provoke ASUU team with gratuitous insults but to denigrate and deride our NUS which overlapping regimes and their agents have assailed and crippled in the last four decades!
Consequently, the FGN team in the 2017-2019 Re-negotiation of the 2009 FGN-ASUU Agreement simply occupied ASUU with a three year long charade.
It was towards the end of the three years of charade which they call Re-negotiation that the FGN, after the system-wide disruption of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) diversion, sprang the World Bank’s IPPIS FRAUD on the Nigerian University System in a cascade of “Shock and Awe” tactic they learned from the World Bank Criminals!
Monumental fraud, incompetence among government bureaucracies and equally fraudulent and incompetent consultants and contractors are what the IPPIS FRAUD has imposed on the Nigerian University System in the last one year or so. Even various categories of staff who were deluded into believing that IPPIS had any merit and therefore collaborated with the fraud, were so traumatised that they started yelling!
Along with all the vicissitudes of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the general economic and security crisis, the siege on the Naira inflation etc., all categories of university staff became victims of amputated, and non-payment of, salaries since February 2020. There are members of ASUU and other categories of workers who have not been paid any salary since March 2020! Salaries were credited into wrong accounts in designated banks or paid into totally wrong banks! And the so-called consultants who designed the IPPIS for them have since been smiling to their banks!
ASUU’s insistence that it is ready with a more credible payroll software (UTAS), and which addresses the peculiarities of the university system in Nigeria, had met with filibuster and obfuscation by the office of the Accountant General, the Minister of Labour, the Ministry of Education, and even the “Presidency”!
Of course since July, salaries of all ASUU members in the Federal University segment have been seized by the FGN, confirming the clear message that the ruling class is sustaining the agenda of simply killing higher education in Nigeria!
Various observers of, and direct actors in, How Nigeria’s Ruling Class and the World Bank Underdeveloped the Nigerian University System, that IPPIS is a tactical diversion in the overall demolition project of public-funded education!
We salute the courage of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), its leaders and its rank-and-file across the country, for the defense of Nigeria’s education sector and the sovereignty of our peoples in the last forty years and, especially in the last six months!
When a ruling class becomes illegitimate and discredited, its tactics of governance produces a polity in which people are cowed, divided, confused and intimidated. Such tactics of governance can be maintained only through deceit, intimidation and orchestration of confusion. This situation is maturing fully in our country. And it is during disasters like the current COVID-19 pandemic that the degeneracy of governance dawns clearly on people in the impacted polity as Anne Applebaum (Staff Writer for The Atlantic) observed in a feature posted on October 3, 2020: “…epidemics, like disasters, have a way of revealing underlying truths about the societies they impact”!
The above observation compels the identification of two underlying truths about the Nigerian crisis and the impact of the truths on the Nigerian polity. The first truth is that the same ruling circles (military, civilian, and those they recruit) that imposed itself on our people since the close of the 1970s is still on our back supervising the very same conspiracies with Nigeria’s former colonial, now neo-colonial, tormentors. Under all the regimes if the class, the main pre-occupation is private accumulation of wealth! The second truth is that the predictions concerning the re-enslavement policies of our World Bank/IMF ruling-class governments of Nigeria since 1978, and which have completely debilitated our country, are being fully confirmed. These are the crucial revelations concerning Nigeria under the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When these truths started emerging in Nigeria at the close of the 1970s, the future impacts of these truths were fully and clearly apprehended by segments of patriots and organisations of the working people of Nigeria. The labour movement, preeminently the Nigeria Labour Congress and specifically ASUU, the Nigerian Medical Association—NMA, National Association of Resident Doctors—NARD, and the students’ movement under NANS, made strident calls to the Nigerian masses to rescue Nigeria from recolonisation spearheaded by the armed wing of the Nigerian ruling class. Various corroborative public documents are available in these regards in the archives of ASUU, the NLC, NANS and various other mass organisations of the Youth (like PYMN) and Women (like WIN).
The historical irresponsibility if not criminality of the Nigerian ruling class in regard to public purpose has been more than revealed by the complete helplessness and confusion in government circles at all levels (federal. state and local) under the emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic. The decades-long collapse of our hospitals and health-care system generally confirmed all the fears of the NMA and NADR—fears which they have been articulating since 1984! The complete uncertainty and the total confusion surrounding safe re-opening of educational institutions under the COVID-19 emergency is another revelation of the impact of the disastrous decades of neglect of the education sector which ASUU and the students’ movement had been complaining about!
In the renewed and on-going siege of neoliberalism against Nigeria, we celebrate ASUU for continued defense of the Nigerian people by defending the public-purpose vision of education, perhaps the very last bastion of Nigeria’s Sovereignty. The defense has been, and will continue to be a duty!
If anyone is in any doubt that the Nigerian ruling class has “dug in” in respect of the program of assailing this last bastion, he/she should listen to the statements of Dr. Chris Ngige (Minister of Labour) and the insolent statements credited to Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba on the on-going ASUU strike. Nwajiuba, Buhari’s Minister of state for Education, thinks ASUU members will be more useful farming! This statement by Nwajiuba captures the mindset of a ruling class that is dismissive of higher, or any, education and contemptuous of segments of labour (in this case, farmers) who actually sweat to sustain Nigeria!
What this situation of siege calls for is, therefore, not anger. What it calls for is full awareness that Nigeria’s ruling class is no more interested in pretending to court any semblance of legitimacy of their governance. The Nigerian ruling class is back to bare-knuckle fascism. We have been there before. Working masses must revise the lessons they learnt! In doing that, the patriots and intellectuals in ASUU and other professional groups have the burden of their duty defined for them. And they must continue to bear that burden with consummate courage and dignity. We celebrate them for continuing to do just that!
The default mode of the ruling class in a neo-colony (military, “civilian” or a hybrid of both) is fascism: that is what Nigeria’s ruling class has been tinkering with since 1978! Fortunately for us, they cannot abolish the Nigerian people!
Viva Nigeria’s Working People!!