Former deputy Vice chancellor (Academic) University of Portharcourt Professor Hakeem Fawehinmi Professor of Clinical Anatomy and Medical Anthropology, University of Portharcourt in this interview with spoke on the ASUU strike and other burning National issues
The Academic Staff Union of Universities has embarked on another strike don’t you think it is one strike too many?
I think the ASUU agitation is called for even though it is one strike too many but it is not the fault of ASUU. You will notice that ASUU has been consistently asking for the same thing, better funding for the university, some form of university autonomy from the Government and then this IPPIS platform that was recently introduced has been an issue because it does not serve the purpose of the University. All over the world University staff are entitled to what we call sabbatical leave and are entitled to be visiting other institutions and when you are on Sabbatical, it is expected that the new institution will enroll you on their payroll even as a visiting lecturer and therefore the IPPIS did not make any provision for remuneration of lecturers on leave and that is very clear to everybody. Nobody is going to go on sabbatical and go there to do it pro-bono, when you go there, you are expected to get paid so that you can sustain your life wherever you are doing it but the IPPIS platform did not make provisions for that, there is no express provision and that is a very big deficiency. So the ASUU struggle is genuine and germain
Can you enlighten us on the real issues that keep lingering, why has it been difficult for the Federal Government to meet up after many years?
There is this agreement ASUU signed with the Federal Government way back in 2009 and the Federal Government kept postponing the evil day in the sense that it has not been able to implement that agreement wholeheartedly and therefore ASUU would be forced to go into strike and would be called back, and there would be a memorandum of action and the Federal Government would not keep to its own side. Now there is a very huge deficit in budget for education in Nigeria especially tertiary education and for a country like Nigeria that has a very huge chunk of it’s population as youth, the UNESCO minimum of 18% should be adhered to but if you look at the Nigerian budget, the education sector don’t even get up to 7% and we think that it is a very huge deficit and it is affecting tertiary education totally because tertiary education, university education in particular is a universal thing and therefore the benchmark standard must be maintained, it is supposed to be all over the world. The number of lecturers also has not been enough and that has been worsened by the ongoing brain drain and that is where the issue of earned Academic allowances comes in. Some lecturers are made to work beyond what their schedule is supposed to be. They are made to be in several committee jobs and so on. Because of this, there is this deficit in payment and if you look at the lecturers take home, the take home of a professor, you will know that it is not a takehome pay, it is not a living wage and therefore the Government should look into that. The Earned Academic Allowances is not being paid as at when due and they were trying to mainstream it, so that we don’t come every year to keep talking about the same thing but the Government on its side , particularly the ministries concerned ; education, finance and Labour have not really done what they are supposed to do in mainstreaming this Earned Academic Allowances, and there is huge backlog to be paid. These are the issues coming on and on. Funding of the university, of course you know that the population of Students has overwhelmed the infrastructural capacity and if you go to the students hostels, classrooms, you will see those deficits. Therefore the Government is supposed to be proactive to make sure that they expand the infrastructure to match with the students population and that is part of the reason for the recurrent strike.
Now there is a logjam on the issue, with the attendant effect on the students, remember there was COVID-19 which made many lose an Academic session, what do you think should be done for Government and ASUU to reach a middle ground?
I must say that I pity the Nigerian student irrespective of the deficit in infrastructure and facilities to train them, their program has been serialy disrupted and it has reached a situation where it has become confusing not only for the students but also for the academic staff, the lecturers. When you start a session, after the COVID-19 technically they lost a session and came back and trying to find their feet and create a part for their academic existence, and all of a sudden it is truncated again, they go back home, maybe what they have studied they have already started forgetting and by the time they come back to get themselves attuned again there is another strike, so in the whole process the student might become confused and tomorrow we argue that the kind of products from Nigerian universities does not suit the labour market. You know, this sort of disruptions are not good for tertiary education all. Even the lecturers themselves, we as professors have paid a lot of our dues to the system. We can imagine how confusing it is, you start a course, halfway to it there is a 6months strike and then after the strike you come back, you start to think of where to start from because the students must have forgotten the trend and this reoccurring disruptions, the Government should be sensitive to the plight of the students and their parents. I am sure ASUU members are parents and the Nigerian Government some of them have their children in Nigerian tertiary institutions although we are aware that most of them have their children abroad and they know how disruptive it is to these students and for a program of four years a student would have to now spend six or seven years. Some of them who are close to the benchmark age of being able to attent the National Youth Service would have outgrown that age. If they would have graduated at 28 or 29 years they would now graduate at 30 years and above and that reduces their eligibility for NYSC . Also you will see most employment agencies say they want somebody who is not above the age of 30 and you kept these children in school for a program of four years they spend 7 to 8 years and so on, how would they get job? Remember youth unemployment is one of the biggest problem in the society, if you solve the problem of unemployment half of militancy, half of insurrections, half of insurgency, kidnapping and the rest would be brought to the barest minimum I can assure you that. If you solve the problem of unemployment most of these youths would be gainfully employed so instead of building more prisons and more hospitals to take care of mental patients why not we channel it into giving these children good education and providing employment for them. Even if it means grassroots industrialisation, local Government autonomy making them development centers to mop up most of these youths. Most of them do not have jobs and every year we keep churning out hundreds of thousands to add to the pool of those who do not have. So I think the Federal Government and ASUU should come to a meeting ground. They should sit and discuss, nobody should think on how to outsmart the other. You come and you discuss but the other person is being slippery allow you to go back and say you have won the fight when you know that you have not done anything definite to resolve the problems. Now they have started, they should sit down and come to an amicable permanent resolution to this problem. It is a serious problem. Now the students must have started considering going to the streets to block roads. If I am in government I would not take that lightly. One, the students are very restive, they have the population and do not know the extent they can go so anything that can be done to nip it in the bud would be highly encouraged.
The anomalies in the education system are offshoot of the leadership question, now the electoral act amendment has been done and the president has assented to it, do you think the new act would solve the problems with our electoral system?
Well I must commend the President and commander in chief of the armed forces Muhammadu Buhari for signing that amendment act into law. It is a landmark achievement for this country. I strongly believe that with the amendment that has been put in to it, if it does not solve the problem 100% it will go a long way in providing very efficient leadership for this country because the political parties and the political class would always throw up their best to be able to win election at this stage because the act has made provisions to guide against electoral fraud and so on. The electronic transmission of results, the voters register, the digital captures and so on, has put the INEC in a position to ensure that the votes of Nigerians will count and the only way to win election under that system is to out your best foot forward and you best foot forward means men with proven capacity so that they can be voted for, I think it would now throw in men who have the ability to resolve most of these national issues from their intellectual powers and from their ability to provide structured leadership. So I think the amended electoral act 2022 will go a long way in resolving the problems of this country
Remember when Buhari signed it, he was reluctant also as he raised a red flag that section 84(12) that excused political appointees from being part of delegates in election, what is your take on that?
Buhari signed with a proviso that section 84 would be looked in to by the National Assembly before it can be gazetted and he has a point because wherever a law is in conflict with the Nigerian Constitution the Constitution takes Precedence. Where a law is going to infringe on the fundamental human rights of a particular group of people their rights to vote and be voted for the constitution should take precedence it is not fair. Although the amended act has said that they should resign a particular period before the election but you cannot disenfranchise them before that period to say they cannot be voted as delegates in an election, convention and congresses and they cannot be voted for provided it is not the window period which INEC has given for resignation, they should be free to participate freely whatever activity of the party, they should be able to vote and be voted for. So I think the National assembly should look at that again so that we do not disenfranchise our political office holders unduly remember some of them are our think tank. There is a way to draw up the delegates list,if all his appointees can make up the delegates list, that is why he is a president, it gives him an advantage but I do not think that from the way delegate lists are drawn up from the various constituents or states and brought to the cent that all the presidents appointees of the President would make because it will come from the grassroots to the State and to the center, so it is only those that are eligible and if they are eligible and make the list so be it if they are the president’s appointees. Remember the political process is to also engage people you can work with so that you can deliver your mandate. If they make it and they vote in the right direction Nigerians would not have any problem.
What will you say about zoning of presidency, do you think it is right?
The Nigerian political space is saturated and everybody is looking for relevance but you cannot do without power rotation, you cannot do without zoning, it is an arrangement that has been put together by political parties to ensure the stability of the polity. Yes the 2023 election is forthcoming, everybody is struggling to earn one position or the other but when the chickens come home to roost everybody will fall in the right part. The PDP held its own convention and has zoned it’s national chairmanship position to the north central so one will expect the PDP to zone it’s presidential position to the south as it has always been but there seems to be some issues as some people say that rotational presidency or zoning should be jettison. Why athose people are coming now to change the rules in the middle of the game is what we don’t understand, it is liken to an elephant after drinking from the pot you break the pot and you say arrogantly because I see it as political arrogance, the best man for the job should get the job from anywhere in the country. That is political arrogance because there is no zone of the country that has the monopoly of talented people so if you feel because you have the voting strength you now turn the game round and say the president can come from anywhere, I think it is bereft of statesmanship and it is not fair. My thinking, from the body language of the APC, they have reversed the positions, South positions go to North while North Positions go to South. From their body language again and from their antecedent they are going to zone their national party chairmanship position to the North central again and we expect that with that arrangement the presidency should come to the South. When it comes to the south we have some major tribal groups there the Yorubas and the Ibis who. One would expect that in this current democracy, since the advent of the fourth republic the southwest have had a shot at the presidency if it has to be micro zoned. They have done 8 years as President and 8years as the vice President but the south east has never had a shot at it.let us call a spade a spade if we are going to ensure the South East fully integrate into Nigerian polity post civil war and then help them to stop this feeling of marginalisation and the separatist inclination that is going on there, one way is to give them a shot at it like it happened with the issue of the militancy in the Niger Delta when Dr. Good luck Jonathan was elected President. If it is their turn so be it. It is another way of truly uniting the country, a truly united Nigeria. Most of the civil war veterans would be happy to see that happen in their lifetime of a truely unified Nigeria which they fought for. So I think that zoning is fundamental and it has the moral force to threaten the corporate existence of this country because most of the problems we had post independence till date is the issue of which part of the country should get power, whether with the civil war or the Abiola case, the June 12, 1993 and so on. All had to do with rotational presidency. So it should be handled carefully and with utmost sincerity, so those saying that the north in this current dispensation has held the position for just 10 years at the end of Buhari’s tenure, while the South would have had it for 24 years. Another group said that under the PDP the north had just held it for two years under President Umaru Yaradua . I think that is also bereft of history and logical reasoning because Yaradua passed on as a matter of providence and Nigeria has been in existence long before 1999 anyway and if you look at it of the 62 years of Nigeria’s independence the north has held power up to 37 years or more as military heads of state and there is a school of thought think that, that would have confered some advantage to the north because it is only as a military head of state that you can move any university or airport or any military installation or asset of the Government to where you like without parliamentary scrutiny. So I don’t think there should be any argument. If they want to zone it with sincerity it is good so that every part of the country will have a sense of belonging. If they want to do it with equity, fair play and justice, all political parties should oick their presidential candidate from the south east. They should be given a chance to hold the office. Any how we want to look at it, it is their turn.