By: Bukar Raheem
Perhaps, some Nigerians may not understand why Nigeria’s university system is ridden with crisis. But of all the upheavals in ivory towers in Nigeria, industrial disputes chiefly masterminded by varsity academic staff under the auspices of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been largely distractive. Often, ASUU nicely coat the strikes with fake patriotic garments of a desire for the transformation or overhauling of the university system in Nigeria to midwife the revival of the falling standards of education.
Over the years, ASUU as a union has unconscionably assailed university campuses and sometimes, strive to take over the management of universities from the Senate. Frequent strikes by the union to press for better welfare for its members have been the burden of higher education in Nigeria. So, at every point, ASUU finds an issue with government to vent their spleen, even when it is apparently and absolutely unnecessary.
The penchant of ASUU in assuming limitless liberties is so entrenched that in some varsities, some lecturers introduce courses neither approved by JAMB nor accredited by the National Universities Commission (NUC). Admission racketeering is allegedly a common phenomenon on university campuses. Parents and guardians pay through the nose to secure admissions for their sons and daughters, even after such candidates acquire certification for admission by JAMB.
These problems and a lot more have been the headache of the new JAMB Registrar and former Vice Chancellor of University of Ilorin (UniIorin) Professor Is-haq Oloyede. An astute administrator and sound academic, Oloyede is already seriously working on initiatives to curb these corrupt tendencies in order to reposition the university system in Nigeria on sound admission procedures.
Sensing these intentions and initiatives as injurious to the interests of some corrupt elements in universities, ASUU cleverly contrived a grand plot to dethrone Oloyede through blackmail by the instigation of ASUU members who nurse a permanent grudge against him over the 2001 sack of the 49 lecturers of the UniIorin.
The UniIorin 49 were sacked for defiling the university’s management directive not to participate in the ASUU national strike. The incident occurred when Professor Shuaibu AbdulRaheem Oba was the Vice Chancellor. The JAMB registrar, Oloyede was only a Director and had a very thin connection with the ill-wind that blew the lecturers.
He only chaired the Panel constituted by the university management to probe the incidence of lecturers’ recalcitrance to constituted authority. And one of the recommendations included sacking of the lecturers who flouted the university directive wrongly or rightly.
Frankly, some issues need to be clarified. The entire recommendations of the Oloyede led Panel were subject to the scrutiny and approval of a higher authority – the University management, which reserved the sacred right to either accept all; in part or even reject all, without further consultations with Oloyede or the Panel members.
It was also not a personal assignment or a mission of vendetta because sequel to the ASUU-UniIorin 49 imbroglio and the eventual sack, Professor Oloyede had no personal grudge against any of the sacked lecturers. In strict terms, he was not responsible for the unfortunate fate that befell them.
It explains why when ASUU pursued the case to the Supreme Court and emerged victorious, the apex court ordered reinstatement to their positions and payment of outstanding salaries. The Court verdict coincided with the emergence of Oloyede as UniIorn VC and he ensured the reinstatement of the sacked lecturers and also payments of their years of suspended salaries and allowances.
As VC, he was in a prime position to frustrate or delay it; but he complied rather than acting in defiance. This was explicit demonstration of his impersonal attachment to the crisis. Yet, the ever belligerent ASUU rolled out more weapons of war against his tenure as VC and in the academic world.
The petition to the EFCC alleging all manner of hazy accusations against Professor Oloyede, including a N2 billion fraud was signed by these aggrieved lecturers from UniIorin, which also included these previously sacked 49 lecturers. To accord weight to it and blur the intention of vindictiveness, it conscripted ASUU’s national secretariat to sustain the bully of the JAMB registrar, by describing his appointment as undeserving and should be removed.
Going further, ASUU threatened to have nothing to do with JAMB under Oloyede. Then, one begins to imagine whether ASUU is an organ of the federal government or JAMB is a Board under the supervision of ASUU or answerable to it.
Center for Social Justice, Equity and Transparency (CESJET) dismissed the petition as extremely frivolous and malicious. It overtly intoned it as a desperate resort to institutional blackmail of Professor Oloyede by the aggrieved ASUU members, who have the sympathy and solidarity of the national body of the union.
A statement in Abuja by CESJET’s Executive secretary, Mr. Isaac Ikpa insisted that while it subscribes fully to the anti-corruption posture of the President Buhari’s administration, the petition to the EFCC against Oloyede is self-serving; trivialized itself and used as a platform to settle personal scores, hence ASUU officials including the 49 sacked lecturers signed it.
“We further have it on good authority that the union members are not comfortable with the reforms already being initiated by Prof. Oyolede at JAMB since these changes would deprive some corrupt lecturers of the money they would have made form admission racketeering. The petition to the EFCC is therefore part of a wider plan to get rid of Oloyede and reverse the gains that the Board has made,” CESJET said.
Therefore ASUU’s blind protest against Oloyede has rather drawn attention to his hitherto buried excellence and exposed to Nigerians, his grandeur plans to launch awesome reforms in JAMB to cleanse the system. It explains the spread of tentacles of resistance within the ASUU community.
Unknowingly, ASUU’s constant brawl for the removal of Professor has only served to again remind Nigerians of his credible performance as UniIorin VC, under whose tenure in 2009, the university was rated the second best, from the crowed of universities in Nigeria and the 77th best in Africa. It repeated the feat more forcefully in 2010 by becoming the best university in Nigeria. In spite of deliberate internal crises instigated by ASUU, he maintained a stable academic calendar, which shored-up public interest in the university.
ASUU has no option than to submit itself to reason. Adopting smokescreen postures to settle personal scores and prodding Nigerians to believe it as nationalistic is untenable. Admissions in Nigerian universities are fraught with irregularities and JAMB with the statutory mandate over admission has a duty to correct the anomalies through an academic who knows it all.
The moves by Professor Oloyede to tackle the problem should not be sacrificed on the altar of ASUU’s desire for vindictiveness. ASUU is already warming up to exhibit their accustomed culture of strike and Nigerians should not be surprised if this body of intellectuals list as one of the issues, the “failure of President Muhammedu Buhari to sack Professor Oloyede, the new JAMB boss.” If it happens, the union will be playing too obvious games because the issue of appointments by government is beyond the purview of unionism.
Raheem writes from Kaduna, Kaduna State.