Prof Afis Oladosu and his wife, Dr Habibah Oladosu-Uthman, are both lecturers in the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies, University of Ibadan. The academic couple speak with OLUWAFEMI MORGAN about the protracted strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities and how they have coped with the attendant non-payment of their salaries in the last six months
How long have you been a lecturer?
I started working as a university lecturer in 2007. I am a professor. My capacity cuts across Islam and African studies, cultural studies and criticism.
The ASUU strikes have been recurrent. How many such strikes have you witnessed?
I would rather say how many reasons, or what causative factors have led to strikes in Nigeria; not the number of strikes but the number of instances that academics have had to embark on a strike and I would say the number is uncountable.
If you want to enumerate the reasons or factors for strike actions by labour unions, you won’t be able to do so. Since 1997, there have always been issues; there have always been strike actions by labour unions. The unions want to realise their goals and aspirations within the ambit of the law.
What are some of the issues in contention between the FG and the unions?
You know there are seven germane issues responsible for this strike action. I will just mention about two or three. The first one relates to funding for the university system. If you ask students in Ekiti State or do an enumeration of the buildings in that (federal) university, you will be surprised that almost all the buildings were built from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund.
The question now arises, what is TETFUND? What gave birth to TETFUND? TETFUND is a product of industrial action by ASUU, saying that the system needed intervention. ASSU advised that two per cent of the taxes collected from corporations should be kept aside to fund public universities. The funds are being used by almost all public universities; and even private universities are asking to benefit from TETFUND. But the funny thing is that the government lists whatever intervention from TETFUND as part of their obligation, using that as an excuse to not allocate enough funds in their annual budget (to the universities).
The second one is the remuneration, the salary structure (for lecturers). For me, that is key. Some people, whether ignorantly or prejudicially, are always saying the government gave money to ASUU, whereas ASUU does not receive any money except (its members’) salaries. For instance, when the FG says it has given federal universities N50bn, it is the vice-chancellors, the administration, and the governing boards that preside over how the funds are dispensed with. In the last 10 years, FG has not constituted visitation panels to evaluate how the funds have been applied. We had to go on a strike for that to happen. It is very funny. The strike action of 2020 led the government to put together and send visitation panels to universities and colleges of education last year, but it is over a year after, yet that White Paper has not been released. Maybe they need another strike for the White Paper to be released.
Is rise in lecturers’ pay part of the demands of ASUU?
I was talking about the salary structure. For one to become a professor after you have bagged a PhD, one needs a minimum of 10 years, under normal circumstances. I became a PhD holder in 2001. I became a senior lecturer in 2006 and I became a professor in 2011. From 2011 till now my salary is less than N500,000.
I went to Ghana for my sabbatical and before I went, I had to send details of my salary; they wanted to convert it to dollars. I had to hide my payslip because it was shameful for me to present my payslip to them in Ghana. Ghanaian scholars are looking up to us because we are the ones providing intellectual capital for them there. Many Nigerian lecturers had their sabbatical in Ghana because many of them were needed there.
Since February, we have been working, we have been carrying out researches, and we have been having publications that will lead to a positive outlook for Nigeria in the global intellectual space. Apart from doing research, we also do community service. You are not paying me for the interview I am having with you. This is part of my assignment because you are taking my time, using my brain and my intellection. So, one of the issues ASUU has raised is that the government should pay lecturers, pay professors wages that will make life conducive, and speak to the job that they are doing.
Many lecturers are leaving Nigeria now. I have thought about it but for some reason, I would have also gone out (of Nigeria). Most people are not aware; many of my family (members) think we earn N2bn per month; so many people go to them for assistance. I am privileged to hear that one of the senior government officials said he did a comparison of what Nigerian lecturers earn with that of South Africa. A professor (in South Africa) does not receive less than $1,500 per month. It is the same thing in Kenya.
Why do you think the Integrated Personnel Payroll Integrated System is not appropriate for university lecturers?
IPPIS is a contraption of corruption and the Minister of Education confirmed this about a week ago. According to the report, an analysis of IPPIS and the University Transparency and Accountability System was done and IPPIS came last. UTAS was a challenge thrown at ASUU. A minister asked ASUU to come up with a home-grown solution and ASUU came up with it. Why was IPPIS preferred? It was foisted on the FG by those contractors who are benefitting from it, and you heard about the corruption that it has generated. Talking about corruption, then you will also remember the Auditor General of the Federation and how many billions he (allegedly) stole.
Some have argued that IPPIS was put in place to curb the multiple salaries earned by lecturers, especially during their sabbatical. What is your take on that?
There are no mincing words about it. For every profession, there are privileges. All over the world, it is a global best practice. When a lecturer works for six years, in the seventh, he is free to go on sabbatical fully paid for by the university where he has been employed as a member of staff. He is also at liberty anywhere. It shouldn’t be anybody’s business that when he is doing his holiday on sabbatical, he is also receiving extra money for doing any extra job. It should not be anybody’s headache. That is what is being done all over the world and Nigeria cannot be an exception.
The other noise people make ignorantly is that lecturers are moonlighting, doing three jobs at a time. Some people could be doing that, but a lecturer who knows their onions, who knows that they have to do their job won’t find time to do that (moonlight). Sometimes, the (university) senate meeting starts in the morning and does not end till the evening. So as a lecturer, one is researching, teaching, and doing community service. As a journalist, you had a hard time reaching me because I was in another meeting discussing how Nigeria can be better for all. That is our job. So moonlighting in three different universities is not possible. A lecturer doing that is morally bankrupt and their productivity will be at the lowest level. That is just the truth because to produce a quality (research) paper, one needs a minimum of four months. I have been working on one for Oxford University since February. When I sleep and I wake up, I begin to think. So, that is our job, but most people don’t know it.
The strike has been on since February 14. Can you specifically describe how it has affected you?
It is normal. We are working with the government, so we know what happens when we don’t get our salaries paid. The impact is even less compared to the psychological trauma people are going through. You can’t make money on that. You can’t analyse that. We are coping very well with God’s intervention. We have not lived beyond our means before. But hands are not equal. Some colleagues are going through a difficult time, particularly those who are managing one ailment or the other and have been using part of their salary to keep their body and soul together. For those colleagues, it has been a very difficult time.
People ask me what the solution to these strike actions is and I tell them that it is a simple solution: good governance, proactive and responsive governance. Don’t wait for a strike to happen before you do what is necessary. I will cite an example. I belong to a platform where people raise the same question. I was in Ghana in 2019, and as of that time, the Ghanaian government will not wait for a strike before it implements annual incremental rates for its employees, once there is inflation. A responsible government should know that the take-home pay should be adjusted to cushion the effect of the high cost of goods and services. At the end of the session in 2019, I received an unexpected fund into my account, and when I made an inquiry I was told it was a book allowance. They expect you to stock your library because they know that your productivity is based on the knowledge that you have acquired and the community of ideas that you engage with on a daily basis. A very simple way for strikes to end permanently is for the government not to wait before citizens begin to knock them on the head before they do the needful. In Canada, I did some projects some years ago. The Canadian government does salary adjustments every three years and it does it across the board. They know that there has been a spike (in the prices of goods and services).
As a father, has the strike affected the upbringing of your children?
We are thankful to God that my kids are fine and they are mature. We are together and we are coping. One of my kids is on the verge of graduating and is also stuck because we are together in this suffering because the senate meetings cannot be held. His future is tied down the same way senate meetings are tied down.
What other limitations has the strike brought? Have you had to cut down on many things due to the paucity of funds?
Don’t bother about that, we had continued to live our lives before the strike started. If one is frugal, if one cuts one’s coat according to one’s cloth, one will have their head above the water.
Many are of the view that the no-work, no-pay policy is a justified way to ensure that striking lecturers do not get paid for work not done. Do you share that view too?
The argument of no work, no pay is an argument that is not new. It has always been thrown into the equation by every successive government, and that has never been justified. If it is saying no work, no pay, is it saying that the backlog of work that I needed to do before the strike started I should not go back to do them? Our life here is like an asylum: meetings upon meetings, deadlines, and lecturers do more than four or five jobs together in a day. In any academic life, in an academic session, in a day, we do a lot of jobs on campus. We also do critical parenting for the students on campus. That argument is because they (government officials) are not here and because they are not here, they don’t understand how it feels.
I don’t want to mention other sectors of the Nigerian economy that have been on strike and have been receiving their pay, nor do I want to mention the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, which has not produced refined crude for the country, yet one’s have to scratch one’s head to make sense out of their salaries. So, we know what we are saying, and for every strike action, there have always been justifications. It is a human being that can cry and laugh and can commit suicide. And the human being that decides to commit suicide will not do that for fun. There must be a reason behind it.
What are your thoughts on the recurrent ASUU strikes?
I have spent 10 years in the academia. My PhD was in 2011 and it was on Islamic Thought and Civilisation. Whenever you have a systemic failure there are bound to be industrial strikes. Strikes are the only language the government understands. ASUU has to fight so that the government will wake up to its responsibilities. ASUU has to tell the government to fund education, to set up visitation panels to visit the universities, and then ASUU has to tell the government to do many things. Having had several round-table talks with the government, it is clear that those are not working, so the only option is to leave the classroom. Although other things (like research) are going on.
Of course, we are not happy about it (the strike); our children are in the university too. It is worrisome that the government is not responsive to the call of the masses. It is worrisome that universities could be closed for six months. We have travelled and we have seen many things, how things are done, we cannot say we have witnessed such things (the behaviour of government) in other climes or nations, not even in Togo.
Since the strike started lecturers have not been receiving their salaries. Considering that your husband is also a lecturer, how has your family coped?
Well, by the grace of Allah, we thank Him for His blessings on us. We have two children in university. One had even rounded up before the strike began, but he has not been able to access his transcript due to the strike, so he can’t go forward. The other one is in 400 level and should be making progress if not for the strike. We are managing ourselves. We have been cutting our coat according to our cloth. Two of our children have graduated already and are well placed now, and then we have another one abroad. So, we are just managing.
Is the family taking any austerity measures, cutting down on costs and all?
We don’t have to be told to do that because both of us are lecturers. We don’t have to be told to go on austerity measures; we have to give priority to what we buy so that we don’t go borrowing money around. If people like us go out to borrow money, people will just be making fun of us. Should a professor borrow money at all in sane climes? Should a professor go out to borrow or to beg for funds, if we are really in a sane clime? But because we are not in sane climes, we have cut our coat according to our cloth.
What should the government do to resolve this impasse?
It should be sensitive to the plight of the people. It is unfortunate. What is difficult in what ASUU is asking for? That they should fund tertiary institutions so that ordinary children of ordinary people can have access to education? In some countries, education is free, at least to some level. From crèche to secondary school, it is free, and at the university level, one is bound to take a loan. If one graduates, one secures a job and starts repaying the loan. Isn’t that fair enough? The leaders need to set their priorities right. If they ignore the educational sector, the country is bound to collapse totally. This is because the academia is the thinking engine of any successful nation in the world. Considering how professors are treated elsewhere in the world, you will realise that Nigeria wants to turn professors into beggars. Nigeria wants us to become miserable. Do they want us to start begging? Haven’t we paid our dues, and spent our entire lives doing research, and teaching? In some classrooms, when some lecturers have afternoon lectures and the power supply is interrupted, the lecturers suffer. The students struggle to fan themselves. Sometimes, we spend our money to procure things for students because we just want to perform our duties as expected of us. But those outside do not know what is going on in the university.
If an ordinary special adviser or a political appointee earns N1m or even more than that, what about a professor, who has built many lives, who has impacted many lives, who has built societies? Promotion will not come on time, arrears will not be paid on time, and salaries will be delayed if paid at all. How do you explain all these? It is very sad. When we encourage our people to see Nigeria as home and invest in Nigeria as their home, we realise at the same time that this country is not homely at all. Is this home at all? Is this home, when you are not sure of your fate in the next moment? So that is our situation.
Do you think that ASUU and the FG should find a middle ground to resolve the issues so that students can return to school?
Which is the middle ground? What do you mean by middle ground? How many times has the Federal Government signed a memorandum of agreement, of action, or understanding, with the union? What kind of a government will not honour its agreement? It is demeaning for a government to agree on something and now come out to attempt to throw away that agreement, the same agreement that it set up by itself.
It is only an insane person that will not listen to the cries of ASUU, but because they are selfish, arrogant and insensitive, that is why they can’t see. They think all this (power) will last forever. Government comes, and government goes. The Quran says, days are not permanent and they are distributed among men, so if you are in a position today, tomorrow you will not be there. People were there yesterday, but they are no more there today. I wonder what the senators are doing. They are saying that Nigeria is broke. Has any one of them cut down their salaries? But they pay members of the academia peanuts, while they go home with Ghana-Must-Go bags every month. Does it not matter to the senators that the Nigerian universities have been closed for six months? What kind of a country is this? Is this a country or a jungle?