My take on the ASUU wahala -By Ikhide R. Ikheloa

Filed under: National Issues |

ASUU strike: FG says no money to meet lecturers’ demands


The legacy of Nigerian leaders will be to prove through corruption and incompetence, that a free and appropriate public education is a myth. It is a shame that no one on either side seems to give a tinker’s cuss about this.

Our leaders have lost the plot. Elsewhere, real leaders are dreaming of and implementing the classroom of the future. It is called Skype. It is free; ask our children. They would know. They live there freely. On Skype.

I must concede as many people keep reminding me, that I am not there in Nigeria and much of what I have been saying is informed by my stay in the West where as an educational administrator, I have everything at my disposal to ensure that every child in my local community has access to a free and appropriate public education, in a wholesome and nurturing classroom.

I will also concede that in that respect, coming from a different culture, I would be at sea in Nigeria, and with my imported ideas, I would fail. For good reason. There are clearly serious challenges in Nigeria’s educational sector that are exacerbated by poor attitudes among labour, management and government.

Many of us who have spoken out loudly against the deleterious antics and tactics of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (largely Diasporans) have strained to offer common-sense suggestions, but have been met with comical retorts. This is a crying shame.

Regardless of where you are, there are certain things that must happen, to maintain an appropriate standard of education. With the current ASUU “wahala”, all sides appear unwilling or unable to learn anything new and refreshing.

No one is willing to accept responsibility, and in my view, ASUU is the worst culprit. Let me simply observe that these dysfunctions did not start yesterday, they were already manifesting themselves robustly in my time at the University of Benin, Benin City, in the late seventies. It is hugely hypocritical for anyone now to suddenly wake up, look around and smell decay. And by the way, ASUU, Ikhide has been telling you to clean up something as simple as your website since 2009, yet not a typo has been touched. What gives Ikhide or anyone the confidence that anything will change when you get some more money? The culture of abuse and mediocrity is pervasive. There needs to be a Needs Assessment done in that area. Seriously.

It is really all about data and with respect to financial data, there is not a whole lot to see from anywhere that would inform good decision making and objective analysis. What little has been only proves that funding for the university infrastructure is beyond woeful; it is appalling and disgraceful by any standard.

Focusing strictly on the decayed infrastructure, inspired by the (lack of) data and transparency that we have witnessed on the ASUU-government tug of war, here are my closing thoughts:

  1. There should be an annual Needs Assessment done on each university institution. There is a structural and systemic way to do this. It is called a yearly capital budget and a capital improvement plan which is an annually updated multi-year strategic plan that, using demographic and revenue projections, anticipates an institution’s capital needs. This document is typically a volume of data and visioning and implementation prose that is designed with multiple audiences in mind.
  2. There should also be a facilities maintenance budget in the annual operating budget that funds maintenance workers, supplies, contractual obligations and maintenance equipment (if it is not budgeted out of the capital budget).
  3. Again, a university is a university anywhere in the world and it must be kept up to acceptable standards. No one is going to cut you slack because you are in Africa, what does that even mean? There should be guidelines: How much should it cost to build a classroom? That is easily attained. In my community here in the US, one classroom costs $500,000. It is expensive I know, but there are code specifications that must be adhered to, technology upgrades that are mandated by law, etc. and of course, labour is prohibitive in the US. I say to ASUU and management: You must know your numbers; how many students are projected to come in next year, the next 10 years? Are the facilities capable of absorbing them? If you don’t know these things, you are driving blind. Data. Demographics. Start simple. How many students do we have today? Add a multiplier for each year. In the long run, hire experts in demography.
  4. Example, in our local school district here in the US, we are faced with capacity issues. In the next several years, thousands of kids are coming in, most of them elementary school kids. The school system has done a Needs Assessment and has figured it will cost about $600m to get the classrooms. They may either tax the citizens or borrow the money by floating bonds or a combination. Floating bonds may cost $50-60m annually for 20 years.

There is a communications plan that includes a document that breaks everything down and there was a press conference trumpeting this initiative. The local government will fund some, but the school district needs help from the state. Collaboration is crucial. The unions were of course standing with management and politicians at the conference. You need information and mass communication experts. All this beret-wearing, comrade-calling, hands-pumping-the-air nonsense belongs in the Cold War era. Get an attitude update, while you are at it.

  1. Facilities management is expensive. A new building that is not maintained will give you the kinds of horrid pictures of Nigeria’s institutions that have shocked the world. There is no going around this. You will need an army of maintenance workers for every institution, with teams parked in every facility. A roof leak should not last a day; you are asking for trouble.
  2. Competition will force a culture change. There is ample dysfunction on all sides. Clearly, ASUU has its challenges, government is clueless, corrupt and inattentive, and management is comically imperial and inattentive. If they all had to compete for attention and resources, if they had to face daily parents, politicians and others armed with reams of data asking hard questions, they would all sit up.
  3. I cannot overemphasise this: The top-down approach, the overly central bureaucracy is killing Nigeria, ASUU, education, health, and pretty much everything that sustains nations. ASUU and university governance and management must be decentralised. I would restructure the National Universities Commission to be truly independent and robust (read this good editorial on NUC and ASUU’s expose on the TETFUND) and make it truly an office that ensures adequate standards, accountability and oversight.
  4. Nigeria urgently needs a Marshall Plan to restore tertiary institutions (actually all institutions) to acceptable standards. There are huge capacity issues, and near-insurmountable infrastructure (renovation and modernisation) issues. We are talking about a huge infusion of cash and a lot of work being done in a fairly short period of time. That would require expertise and an existing structure and infrastructure that can absorb the build-up.

I will not release a penny to the tertiary institutions without a road map to the future that includes structural changes that will make our universities real universities, one that protects staff and students. Doing anything less would be irresponsible. And while we are at it, where is the vision? Have we looked at other innovative approaches to building institutions? Should we build smaller, more manageable institutions?

What is wrong with a small community university that is well-run, meets all established standards and is wholesome and welcoming to students, faculty and staff? Why don’t we build institutions that amplify our strengths (that rugged individualism) and minimise our weaknesses?

  1. This is about mass communication. Remember, Chinua Achebe keeps reminding us, until the lion tells his own story, the hunt will always be glorified by the hunter. In the 21st century, you can do it yourself. And it is cheap. I say to ASUU, get a blog, get a Facebook account, get a Twitter account and post what you need to post to as many people as you want.

ASUU is blessed with many people I know who are some of the world’s best recognised experts at Internet technology and social media. One of them is Dr. Obododinma Oha. I don’t know of any scholar that is as good as that man when it comes to using technology and social media for sharing his art and communicating with the world. He is at the University of Ibadan.

And before you start saying, no light, no water, armed robbers, e gba mi, etc., this blog was created for me by Kola Tubosun, over the phone and on chat; he dreamed of it, designed it and created it for me. For free. I don’t know how these things work. Ask him. He is in Nigeria in the Lagos-Ibadan axis. We have a lot of resources, we have incredibly gifted people, there is this thing that happens to us once it is not our personal initiative.

ASUU is losing the PR war because its strategy belongs in the 60s which is simply this – wear an ill-fitting French suit, call yourself a comrade, make some horrid noises, etc. They are not going to win with such ancient methods. They need to partner young folks; they need to get rid of patriarchy, gerontocracy and misogyny, and invest in a real PR machine.  That website is their enemy, trust me. It is not helping.

  1. We know why we should invest in schools and a quality education for the children of our communities. It is about community, it is also about the health and national security of a nation, as has been said here ad nauseam. I must admit I am pessimistic.

Can it be done? Yes. In Nigeria? Yes. Look to the prosperity churches in Nigeria. They have everything I have just talked about. Do you know why? They know the meaning of competition. They have functioning and impressive websites. Do you know why? They know the meaning of competition. If they don’t compete, they die. Like our universities. Again, imagine how perversely efficient Nigerian prosperity churches are.

Ikheloa, a political commentator, is Chief of Staff, Ombudsman, to the Montgomery County, Maryland Board of Education, United States of America