Monday, September 23, 2013

Re: ASUU is on Strike Again. Who Cares? SMH

Re: ASUU is on Strike Again. Who Cares?  SMH

By Okechukwu Nwafor

I was shocked to read an article of the above title on 22nd September 2013 by Ikhide Ikheloa posted on his blog ‘IKHIDE’.  What was really perplexing, to me, was not only the fact that this spurious diatribe came from  a blogger and journalist of Ikhide’s standing, it is the fact that his vitriol was couched in opprobrious, offensive and despicable language that forces us to draw a compelling  parallelism of Ikhide versus lecturers, who is more ‘thug’ than the other?  When I read the article the second time, it was obvious to me that the fires of disgust that oozed from Ikhide’s pen threatened to cast his long journalistic career in ignominy. Quite contemptible, I thought, that Ikhide’s seeming journalistic promise would nose-dive shockingly into a reckless act of horrible invectives. The question I struggled is what would have disorientated Ikhide so suddenly that he would deploy such decayed languages as “thugs”, “narcissistic thugs”, “rogues in academic robes”, “mean looking men...” to address the cream of Nigerian academics and intellectuals?
The danger of this kind of article is that it has the capacity to mislead, to hoodwink, to hide the nitty-gritty of genuine struggle, to obviate authenticity, to circumvent authoritative principles and rubbish impeccable personalities subsumed under a collective.  You lose no sleep when ‘thugs’ are guilty of generalisation but when journalists of Ikhide’s pedigree are guilty of unjustifiable and indefensible generalisation then you have cause to grieve over an impending insomnia.
It is important to puncture this balloon of empty deceit Ikhide has blown by reminding him that those he called ASUU are a group made up of so many characters you would ultimately summarise as the good, the bad and the ugly. Even in Ikihide’s clan and household I am sure that he harbours the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is akin to an Igbo proverb that says that every fence must harbour lizards in its wall. It means that you can never fence out the lizard. I stand to be corrected if ASUU is made up of saints only.  I am a realist and wouldn’t live in a fool’s paradise if I argue otherwise. But what we must establish is the fact that ASUU as a body is not made up of all thugs. And that ASUU as a body does have genuine agitations.  
First, what worries Ikhide is the sexual abuse in our universities prompting him to conclude  that “ASUU members want to have sex with every child that walks into their pretend classrooms”. This kind of pronouncement is highly suspicious. If ‘some’ academic staff are guilty of sexual abuse, does that condemn a union to the same crime? What is clear is that Ikhide has allowed his charged emotions to becloud the kernel of argument in the ASUU struggle and many of the responses in his blog dealt with this. I would be unusually extravagant with words if I repeat these points here. Succinctly put, the fact of ASUU struggle is clear: the standard of living of an average lecturer during the military era was so poor that lecturers could not afford to buy a pair of shoe. It was a result of genuine agitation in the form of strikes that dragged the military and now the epileptic democracies to increase their salaries to what it is today. Yet it is still ranked among the lowest in Africa. Ikhide please go home and get your facts right. While ubiquitous postings abound on the need for infrastructural development in the Nigerian universities, I will clarify Ikhide  on other institutional and autonomy matters concerning ASUU subsequently.
Second, Ikhide worries about ASUU website and angrily charges the reader: “Follow me, let’s go to the silly website of ASUU right here”. Now Ikhide goes on and condemns the faces of ASUU officials in the website by saying that the “men are mean-looking” while the only woman “has the cringe-worthy patronizing title of welfare secretary.” He did not spare the womenfolk here and went ahead to say that this only woman official of ASUU   “does important things for the #OgasAtTheTop of ASUU. Maybe she is responsible for making pounded yam and bringing water so the men could wash their filthy hands”. Not only did Ikhide showed utter contempt for Nigerian women by this singular statement, he lends direct credence to the controvertible debate of women objectification. It was indeed a pity.
Let me address this internet stench that disorients Ikhide. Internet is a means of communication. Yet it is not the only means of communications. It is just a minute part. If ASUU has not put maximum concentration on the internet, it does not mean that all ASUU members are fools and analogue members. The manner of concern Ikhide expresses over this website shows that he would soon become a ventriloquist, like the colonialists, in a cause he does not need to develop a Stroke over its invention. ASUU did not invent the internet and it is their choice to either deploy it in disseminating information or choose other ubiquitous channels that would readily reach the Nigerian masses. They have been doing that effectively since the inception of the strike: going to churches to educate people, to opinion leaders, to individual stakeholders in every state, to their students (who have started demonstrating against the political class), among others. Indeed these medium of information dissemination proves more efficient than the internet because most of the above mentioned are far from the internet world.  If Ikhide could denounce bloggers like me because we belong to the body of Nigerian academics then it is clear that his intention in this blog post was ultimately mischief-making rather than informative blogging. He forgot that ASUU branches have their respective websites through which they communicate their members, including facebook pages and blogs. He can check ours at Asuu Nau facebook.
Coming to what Ikhide describes as “the dysfunctions in the Nigerian educational system” I will argue that ASUU must be exonerated from this feckless submission for certain reasons. Most remarkably, the autonomy which ASUU has struggled to attain is still far-fetched. As long as ASUU lacks full autonomy this dysfunction may continue. And what do I mean by this autonomy. First is the mode of election of Vice Chancellors. Ikhide may be angry to know that the mode of election of most Vice Chancellors in Nigerian universities is flawed. ASUU has little or no input in a situation whereby the political class has the final pronouncement in the selection of Vice chancellors. Second, ASUU has virtually no input in the recruitment of most of the lecturers on campus (the same cream that constitute ASUU members).
In a nation where mediocrity has virtually eclipsed excellence and integrity, merit has systematically disappeared, or made to disappear. For example, in many universities, the Vice Chancellors abuse the process of recruitment of lecturers and most employment are done on the platform of kinship ties, political compensation, Abuja connection, Politician X candidate and Politician Y candidate, Senator A’s letter head or Senator B’s Letter head, or either Minister D’s direct phone call or Minister Q’s phone call, among others. In one university a security man who could not write his name has been employed as a lecturer while in another university a girlfriend of one Vice Chancellor was employed and she has never entered the classroom for fear of embarrassment. Now why should Ikhide blame ASUU who have gone on strike so many times for the government to grant them the autonomy to insist on due process involving interviews and level playing ground for these recruitment processes? The answer is clear: the Igbo proverb again which says that “a disorganized clan is the gain of corrupt titled men”.   
So if ASUU goes on strike for this anomalous process to be corrected Ikhide would, just like the moping sheep, refuse to connect to his senses to escape engulfing danger.  Then the danger will ultimately consume him. No doubt, at least, to elevate my senses above Ikhide’s sheepish senses, I can admit that, according to Ikhide, “We have writers that cannot tell an adjective from a noun... engineers that threaten to build things that would collapse on the innocent...” But rather that subscribing to Ikhide that he “would not be shocked if the “academic supervisor” of the above is a member of ASUU” I would rather argue that I would not be shocked if the academic supervisor is a member of the political class’ dubious recruitment process. The Igbos again say that if one genuinely intends to search for the root of murder then one must trace it to the blacksmith who moulded the iron weapon. So Ikhide must spare ASUU and channel his vituperations to the political class who moulded the iron weapon. It is important to emphasise that Ikhide’s sorry conclusions does not obviate the fact that among ASUU members are strong intellectuals who have studied in the best universities in the world and whose impact in the Nigerian academic world have made Nigeria proud. Needless to mention names but that will be an assignment I will give Ikhide and if he still refuses to drain his blood of this poisonous venom of ASUU-hatred-syndrome, then we must forcibly conscript him and restrict him permanently to a sanatorium where justice will be done to his wildness. That will at least convince him that ASUU can tame the untameable.  

Dr Okechukwu Nwafor is a former fellow of the Center for Humanities Research, (CHR) University of the Western Cape, South Africa and a former Research Associate  at the Interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of Global Change (ICGC), University of Minnesota, USA. He now lectures at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria.