ASUU Strike: Buhari’s government and the “ministerialization” of public universities.


By Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik, PhD

I observed that after weeks of efforts to educate people on the implications of the attempted forceful implementation of IPPIS in universities, especially for Academics staff, a lot of people are still ignorant or refused to be schooled.

What I still find fascinating is the reason why Buhari’s government wanted to forcefully “ministerialize” Nigerian public universities. The drivers of the university “ministerialization” agenda are university graduates that cannot claim ignorance of the working principles of the universities. Even if they genuinely don’t know, the documents are there to study and our Professors are there to school them. But it appears their ego won’t let them.

Every institution is established by law. Every single university in the country is established by an Act. Hence there is the university autonomy Act and then the embattled IPPIS policy. I tried to juxtapose the difference between Legislative Acts and government policies and found out that policy document is not a law but it often identify blueprint (intended law) needed to achieve certain goals.
Policy only sets out the goals and planned activities of a ministry and department. It may be necessary to pass it into law to enable the government to enforce it by placing the necessary institutional and legal frameworks to achieve their aims. I searched but was unable to come across any Act that set aside the University Autonomy Act and granted AGF the powers to manage the personnel and payroll system of federal universities and with IPPIS.

In the University Autonomy Act, Section 2AA states that: “The powers of the Council shall be exercised as the Law and Statutes of each University and to this extent ESTABLISHMENT CIRCULARS THAT ARE INCONSISTENT WITH THE LAWS AND STATUTES OF THE SHALL NOT APPLY TO THE UNIVERSITIES”. This section of the Act clearly stated that circulars such as IPPIS that are inconsistent with the Act shall not apply to the universities.

It is expected that in every department in the University, 40% of Academic staff should be from Graduate Assistant to Lecturer I, 25% Senior Lecturers and 35% Associate Professors and Professors. While it is relatively easy to recruit the 40% that comprises the Graduate Assistants to Lecturer I from Fresh BSc, MSc and PhD holders for new departments or degree program, it is always difficult to get the 60% Senior Lecturers, Associate Professors and Professors. The whole idea of visiting Professors and Adjunct Professors is usually a temporary measure to fill the gap of the non availability of Academics at senior cadre while they train and nurture the younger academics to progress to that level. Even for old academic departments, Sabbaticals and Visiting Professors are often invited to stimulate the programs of the department and to develop new ideas.

The strong resistance to IPPIS was not really because of the salaries of ASUU members. That was the least of the worries. Some of the union members were paid their withheld salaries from February to June 2020 and nobody died. Some didn’t even have any complain. The resistance is because of the implications of the policy on that institution called university.

The university system is a very flexible and dynamic system. The growth and development of every university lies on that flexibility. That is why the university was given total independence (autonomy) from state control. Decision-making as well as financial, organisational, managerial, staffing, and academic are controlled within the institution.

The autonomy of the university allowed the University council and the management to use their discretion to effectively utilize the available resources to keep the system working with mixture of tenure and temporary academic staff to effectively manage the system.

What are the implications of accepting IPPIS in the universities? There are quite a number of implications but most importantly, it violated a legislative Act (University Autonomy Act). The immediate implication is that the existing program in our universities that lack the required tenure senior academics are at risk of failing the next NUC accreditation exercise. Some of the relatively new academic programs across the universities that relied on Visiting and Adjunct Professors may be discontinued except the university can source for funds to sustain the Visiting and Adjuncts for those programs to continue. If the university can’t fund it with the so-called IGR from students’ fees, the affected students may be left hanging. What will be the fate of those students when every other student is happy going back to the campus?

You may be wondering why universities cannot get people from the pool of unemployed graduates to employ for the 60% required for senior Academics. To be employed as a Senior Lecturer, you are required to have a PhD, about 6 years post PhD experience, minimum of 6 journal publications in non predatory journals, minimum of 4 conference papers, etc.
The net salary is about N230,000 per month. To be employed as a Professor, you are required to have a PhD, about 12 years post PhD experience, minimum of 15 journal publications in non predatory journals, minimum of 7 conference papers, etc. The net salary is about N330,000 per month. I doubt if you can get these class of people from the unemployment market. And you don’t expect Nigerians with such qualifications and earning about N1.2 million per month net salary to return home for the job.

So, with the government policy of no Visiting and Adjuncts in Nigerian universities, new academic programs cannot be introduced in our public universities unless you can poach enough senior academics from other universities to start up. That can equally be very difficult. And unfortunately, academics from other universities cannot be engaged while you train the younger academics in your university to take charge because that may be perceived as fraud according to IPPIS policy. With IPPIS, we’ll carry on doing what we are doing now without the capacity to expand and introduce new programs as the world changes and progress. That is the Nigeria they intend to create.

The university system will standstill because the managers of Nigeria believe that temporary academic appointments in the university is a fraud and such academic staff are seen as ghost workers. The irony is that these managers of Nigeria have attended programs in universities in the US and UK, where they we’re lectured by Visiting and Adjunct Professors. Why they want to destroy public universities in Nigeria is what some of us still can’t understand.

If our universities technically lose that financial autonomy, that flexibility will equally be lost. It is either you hire enough and sufficient tenure academic staff or nothing. Also of the negative implications of the IPPIS is that for every employment in the university, a request must be made and as approval needed from the Head of Service and the Accountant General of the Federation. If they didn’t approve it, you may not be able to hire and the academic program can go to hell. University councils and the progress of the university may then be at the mercy of the Head of service and AGF, who may have got no idea of the basic principles of the university system. Universities are not meant to be operated that way.

Retaining retired intellectuals, especially Professors that are still resourceful to the university as Adjuncts and seeking for help from Professors in other universities to build your system are part of the peculiarities of the universities worldwide. A popular example is Prof Pius Adesanmi, who was until his death, a professor of English and African Studies and the Director of African Studies at Carleton University, Canada, was a Visiting professor at more than three universities in Africa. That is the dynamic nature of the university system worldwide that is not present in typical civil service. Traveling for visiting is not really convenient, but it is part of the sacrifice we make in academia. Prof. Pius Adesanmi actually died while on air to visit a university.

So, how do you intend to make Nigerian university work if you remove this global special feature of the universities in the name of phantom corruption fight in the university? It’ll only further impoverished and localize our universities. Meanwhile, ASUU has being begging the corruption fighting FG to send visitation panels to the universities to fight the real corruption and the government is still dragging its feet.

University as an institution is a system that cannot be run and managed like a ministry. Any attempt to “ministerialize” the universities will reduce them to glorified federal government colleges. I am not sure that is our wish for public universities in Nigeria.

We are all stakeholders in the Nigeria project. To make Nigeria and our institutions succeed is a collective responsibility and we all have a role to play. Posterity will judge us harshly if we watch our system crash due to inappropriate dictatorial policies and poor management without any resistance to save it from collapsing.

Meanwhile, an Association of Law Students was reported to have taken ASUU to Court. Lecturers of public universities are on strike to protect public universities from total collapse and an Association of Law Students, led by a private university student, are in court demanding N10b from the striking Lecturers for going on strike. They didn’t take FG to court for refusing to fund the institutions they established. The students possibly felt that you can’t fight the government and want the Lecturers to MILT (manage it like that) for them to graduate anyhow irrespective of the pathetic state of public universities.

Despite the efforts to educate the public, our law students refused to be schooled? What a shame! Pray for our millennial/iGen’ers!

I can understand the frustration of the students having spent 7 months at home due to lockdown, after which ASUU strike disallowed our public universities from resuming in October like others. As it was rightly stated in a post I read recently, “the University is the vehicle, FG is the owner, students are the passenger and ASUU is the driver. Vehicle owner only wish to hear that the vehicle is moving, passenger only wish to get to his destination, but a GOOD DRIVER pays attention to the vehicle and stop it (even when it is still driveable) for necessary repairs and maintenance, regardless of the grumblings and murmurings from the owner and the passenger not to just continue driving till the vehicle knocks to a stop or crash due to multiple faults”.

Dear students, you have the right to grumble over the break (strike), but it is these breaks while on the journey that have sustained the public universities till this day. Without the breaks, you may not have got a public university to attend. ASUU as the good driver of the university is just fighting for the public universities not to collapse like the four refineries, Nitel, Ajaokuta steel and many other govt owned companies. If all the drivers of public Institutions fought like ASUU, maybe most of the crashed public institutions would have survived. If Lecturers decided to MILT (manage it like that) and continue with the journey, the vehicle may crash with all of us inside.

The success of ASUU struggle is a win for the public universities, and a win for Nigeria and Nigerians!

My name is Abdelghaffar and I am just an ordinary and concerned Nigerian that believe in ASUU, the last hope of poor man’s access to university education.

Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik, PhD, writes from Department of Physics, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria , can be reached via:

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