17 August 2017

Nigeria: Conversation With My ASUU Comrades (II)

column

In my column last week, I called for a broader strategy by ASUU including taking the National Assembly more seriously as an Institution that can help meet some of their demands. In his response, Mohammed Husain wrote on my Facebook wall that: "Had the ANC, followed such an advice to follow through its case in South African parliament; apartheid would still be firmly in place. So let us eagerly await the writer's strategy to achieve ASUUs noble objectives through the oil baron cabal executive and Farouk Lawal archetypal corrupt-ridden parliament! Incredibly amazing how this brilliant writer's analysis is made in a vacuum of the decaying character of the state at this point in time. A 'conversation' for piece meal concessions, he says. I say *lols* to that." This type of attitude is unhelpful because all governmental institutions are corrupt so why try to negotiate with the Presidency, are they cleaner. To come back to his example, the South African transition occurred precisely because there was a leadership that was ready to negotiate and compromise rather than fight it to the end, Nelson Mandela and Frederik de Klerk.

The attitude of the Presidency is also unhelpful because they are now engaged in a concerted effort to stampede ASUU to surrender. The rent a crowd show in which women were paid to parade as market women demonstrating against ASUU is despicable and can only worsen the faceoff. In addition, the leadership of ASUU is being harassed by security agencies. The fact of the matter is that ASUU is suffering from reputational erosion and government is trying to ride on that to give the organisation a fatal blow. Precisely because of this delicate situation, ASUU needs to think outside its "normal" box that the answer is always an interminable strike. ASUU must start addressing the root causes of its reputational decline.

Over the past two decades, the compulsory sale of handouts to students by some lecturers and the sexual harassment of female students have become constant topics for musical lyrics and beer parlour jokes. More importantly, there is a significant part of university professors whose promotion has been on the basis of self-publication rather than peer review and many professors in Nigerian universities today have not got a single peer reviewed journal publication in their CV. This means that we have a growing percentage of fake professors in our universities who cannot stand up and get respect among their peers in the international context. ASUU demands to receive remuneration of international standards without a struggle to ensure that the quality of their members is also international can only lead to increased reputational erosion.

I followed with keen interest the debate spearheaded by Okey Ideduru on Toyin Falola's "USA-Africa Dialogue list serve. During his sabbatical in Nigeria, he had participated in six NUC accreditation panels and was shocked to find out that universities routinely recruit mercenary professors uniquely for the accreditation exercise. Okey had started the debated by challenging the common and pervasive but fraudulent practices that the NUC's Quality Assurance Department has to contend with is the use of "academic mercenaries" by universities during accreditation exercises. Programmes that have been staffed for 3-4 years by an army of full and part-time assistant lecturers would suddenly list full-time and/or part-time associate professors/readers and full professors in order to meet the NUC staffing mix requirements. The worst culprits he says are the private religious universities.

Okey also challenged the propriety of the common practice of demanding upfront monetary payment from prospective authors by supposedly peer-reviewed academic journals. He expressed his surprise at the virtual absence of policies or discussions about quality assurance regarding scholarship outputs in the university system. According to him most of the scholars he met had never heard of Google Scholar, and its citation counts for every published journal article, including those published IN NIGERIA, let alone other (sometimes controversial) measures of quality, such as Web of Science/Word of Learning and Pearson's annual reports of "Impact Factor" of journals and academic publishers.

Most Nigerian scholars therefore do not live in the world of the international academy where peer review matters and are the basis of assessment. Of course Nigerian universities still have some scholars that are respected internationally but they are now a tiny minority. As Okey put it "it should worry us that an academic that boasts 50-100 "professional papers" cannot equally boast of ONE citation count on Google Scholar! ... More than than 90 percent of the CVs I reviewed listed as publication outlets "Volume 1, Number 1" or Departmental journals or self-published books or books whose publishers' names and addresses are more innocuous and lesser known than the remotest streets in Ajegunle, Lagos or Ekeonunwa Street, Owerri. I concede that "writing for themselves" is not unique to Nigeria, but most scholars elsewhere don't engage in this kind of massive inflation of output that is clearly indefensible."

Should the Nigerian Government decide today to grant all the financial demands of ASUU, our universities will continue to be outside to top 1000 universities in the world because of the internal rot that has destroyed them from within. ASUU has to get real and start addressing these internal problems so that we will know that the struggle is not just about money but also about having real universities in the country. There has been an incredible expansion of universities without a commensurate expansion of quality staff. We have therefore been expanding mediocrity in the university system. Most universities have a majority of junior faculty as staff and most of the few senior faculties are of doubtful quality. This means that there is no academic leadership. One of the revelations in Okey Iheduru's write up is about a household name in Political Science who has become notorious for serving as SUPERVISOR to several PhD candidates in more than SIX universities at the same time! His mass-produced protégés have the appellation of "Pure Water PhDs."

ASUU must become more comprehensive in its struggle and attack not only the neglect by government but also the rot within the university system. It must place on its agenda the importance of rigorous external review of portfolios for promotion to professorships. It must challenge its members who moonlight simultaneously in numerous universities where everybody knows they are paid to satisfy NUC and not to perform. ASUU must challenge many of its members who award marks to their students without reading the scripts because they have too many to mark or do not give a damn.

My ASUU comrades can only demand for justice if they come to equity with clean hands. We all know that our development objectives cannot be met without building a solid educational infrastructure for the country. To do this however requires serious internal reform. One aspect of the ASUU struggle that was won was that of academic freedom. The universities now appoint the Vice Chancellors without external interference from the Presidency. All my conversations with my comrades in the universities however tell me that the expectation that the quality of academic leadership will improve with the application of this principle has proved completely false. Professors with dubious academic qualifications have been winning the struggle to be vice chancellors. There is massive evidence of systematic plagiarism and as more academic leadership falls to the category of those with doubtful credentials, the real battle to save the universities is lost from within.

I completely agree with ASUU that the Nigerian State must significantly increase its support to higher education. However, this support can only bear fruit if ASUU itself, as the major player within the system, broadens its struggle to address issues of quality and standards within the system. Interminable strikes cannot in and of themselves constitute the solution. Indeed, ASUU stands the risk of deepening its reputational erosion and singing the dirge song of the university system in tandem with the Presidency.

This article was the second part of Jibrin Ibrahim's piece on the ASUU strike which was first published in the Daily Trust on October 13, 2013 and reproduced on the back page of yesterday's edition. We are publishing it again because of its relevance to the current ASUU strike. We are doing so to generate debate on the matter and more opinions on the subject are welcome. As usual send to opinion@dailytrust.com <mailto:opinion@dailytrust.com>

- Editor

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