New Telegraph

ASUU Strike: Gainers and losers (I)

Bola Bolawole

President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Emmanuel Victor Osodeke has given hope that the eightmonth- old strike action by his members may soon come to an end – whether glorious or inglorious, I must add.

The intervention of the House of Representatives, led by its speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, must have broken the ice so much so that Osodeke could confidently announce that he (interpreted ASUU?) had sighted light at the end of the tunnel: After eight wasted months, which is like three academic semesters! My son, who is in the first semester of Part Three at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, told me his friends and classmates in strikefree universities will be graduating in two months’ time! Who are the losers and who are the gainers? Eight months of a stupid abdication of duty by an irresponsible Federal Government and bragging rights by a bunch of socalled academics bereft of new and radical ideas have spun losers all over the place.

The students have lost three semesters which can never be regained. Whatever the lecturers think, say or do, there is no way they will teach rush-rush what they would have done in a normal academic calendar. Their products will be more half-baked than the desired quality meeting international standards.

The saving grace, especially for studious students, is that they have leveraged on the internet to learn new things and improve themselves during the lockdown, far better than their lecturers could even have helped them was school to be in session. Parents and guardians are another set of losers, having wasted resources as, for example, a four-year course dragged on to six or more years for no fault of theirs – and for no fault of their wards.

Employers of labour are also losers. Many good hands that would have since joined the labour market are still pining away in the universities and by the time they are released, the age limit that many employers of labour have inexplicably erected would have caught up with them. The host communities of the universities have had their economy take a beating that many may not recover from for a long time to come.

Perhaps the greatest losers, even more than the students and their parents, are the universities and lecturers themselves. They have de-marketed themselves and called to question the quality of the services they offer. Except those who have no choice – and those who believe in the ability of their wards to self-educate and rise above the shenanigans of our university system, who will suffer his or her children to suffer the mindless wastage of time and resources that have become endemic in our universities? After this strike, ASUU will never be the same again – at least for a very long time to come! In an effort to break the ranks and spirit of ASUU, which is a most condemnable act, the FG applied divide-and rule by registering two other unions to challenge ASUU. It is an act of desperation on the part of the government.

On the part of the splinter unions, especially the Congress of University Academics (CONUA), it is cutting the nose to spite the face. Today, we print CONUA’s explanations for its course of action as set out by its coordinator, Dr. Niyi Sunmonu of the Obafemi Awolowo University. We shall pass comments subsequently: “The history of the Congress of University Academics (CONUA), a newly-registered lecturers’ union in the Nigerian university system, is the story of ripples generated in 2018 by events set in motion in 2016 by inanities engaged in, in 2013. In 2013, elections were duly conducted into various offices of the Executive Committee of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), to which virtually all the academic members of staff belonged at the time.

Regrettably, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of ASUU annulled the already declared results of the duly elected contestants because the leadership of the union did not like those who emerged victorious. Out of the electoral destruction of trust and widespread demoralisation wreaked by the despicable unconstitutional annulment, an ASUU-NEC-favoured Dr. Caleb Aborisadeled Executive Committee emerged to run the affairs of a by-then-divided ASUU-OAU. “Six years ago, in 2016, it would have been unimaginable that, arising from the unconscionable acts of the Dr. Aborisade-led Executive, the ripples from the crisis rocking the process of appointing a new Vice- Chancellor (VC) for OAU could have been so far-reaching and so long-lasting.

There was widespread dissatisfaction with the process which was perceived as manipulated, sometimes subtly and at other times blatantly, by the university’s administration and the Governing Council, to produce a predetermined identifiable candidate as the VC. The Dr. Aborisade-led Executive Committee of ASUU-OAU was believed to be in cahoots with the university’s administration and the Governing Council in the travesty. “On Thursday, 20th October, 2016, at a Congress called by the Dr. Caleb Aborisadeled Executive, after discussing the substantive matter, Congress demanded to know how the report of the Professor Osodeke Visitation Committee got to the press, and whether that report reflected the views of ASUU-NEC. Rather than address the matter, the presiding officers impetuously walked out on Congress.

The aggregate contempt of this new debasement of Congress by the de facto Executive of ASUU-OAU and the earlier indignity we suffered in the ASUU-NEC’s annulment of the victory of duly- and -popularly elected candidates in our Branch got members thinking about how to shake off the leech. “Through questionable circumstances, about eleven million naira (N11,000,000:00) was cumulatively transferred illegally from the ASUU-OAU bank account to the ASUUNational bank account.

This unilateral, authoritarian and unconstitutional action infuriated the mass of ASUU-OAU Branch members. Hundreds of members of the ASUU-OAU were then suspended from the union for durations ranging from six (6) months to one (1) year, and members of the Caretaker Committee and some other members of the union were expelled outright from ASUU. In other words, rather than heed the several well-intentioned pieces of advice for the swift and pragmatic resolution of the Branch’s crisis, and rather than appreciate the cautionary note to avoid cataclysmic developments in the OAU Branch of the union, ASUUNEC, in its omniscient and omnipotent posturing, was overwhelmed by its sense of self-righteousness and invincibility and was more enamoured with wielding the big stick, without restraint.

“Rather perversely, some of the members ASUU-NEC suspended or expelled from the union were very senior academics, some of whom were former and serving Heads of Departments, former and serving Deans of Faculties, former and serving Provosts of Colleges and even former and serving members of the OAU Governing Council.

To rub salt in the wound of especially these distinguished members of the OAU intelligentsia, ASUU-NEC set draconian and humiliating conditions for readmission into the union which no self-respecting academic would even contemplate attempting to meet. Affected colleagues then started to ask questions like: Is it inescapable to be a member of ASUU?

Why is ASUU-NEC conducting itself as if it believes that losing ASUU membership is tantamount to losing one’s job as a lecturer? Should ASUU membership be allowed to subject anybody to so much indignity? Must ASUU-NEC’s arrogance and connivance with arbitrariness and illegality be allowed to continue unchallenged? Should efforts not be made to break out of ASUU’s cocoon of shenanigans? Is it not possible to form a new academic union? “At the ASUU-OAU Congress held in Auditorium I, Humanities Block I, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, on 12th February 2018 and presided over by the Caretaker Committee, the ill-advised expulsion or suspension of about seven hundred and fifty members of the Branch from the union was deliberated upon exhaustively, and the need to provide a refuge for the academics who had been arrogantly driven out of ASUU was a key issue.

At the end of the discussions, Congress took the following key decisions: *To constitute itself into a new Union that is totally independent of ASUU, adopt an appropriate name and open a new bank account for the check off dues of its members. With respect to finding a name for the new Union, a request was made, right there on the floor of the Congress of 12th February, 2018, for the suggestion of prospective names for the new Union.

After a critical review of the different names proposed, “Congress of University Academics (CONUA)”, was unanimously adopted there and then, with the membership of the Union cutting across all ranks of the academic profession, ranging from the entry rank of Graduate Assistant to the highest rank of Professor. “In the meantime, academics under the yoke of ASUU in other universities heard about the principled and definitive resistance to the excesses of ASUU in OAU and the resultant formation of CONUA.

These victims of ASUU’s highhandedness and disdainfulness found hope for relief in joining CONUA… The formation of CONUA is, as such, the culmination of the desire to resist highhandedness, impetuousness and disdainfulness, in order to be able to ply our trade as academics, with our dignity intact.” Now that CONUA has achieved its aim of recognition and registration by the Federal Government, what next?


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