ASUU cannot be an advocate of transparency only when it concerns others

In restating its ‘vehement’ opposition to the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) for its members, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is misreading the public mood. And it’s important for the lecturers to get the message that they cannot hold the country to ransom. “ASUU is determined to oppose any policy that is aimed at thwarting the educational advancement of the country,” zonal coordinator of ASUU, Sokoto zone, Jamilu Shehu said last week. “It is in this regard that ASUU is vehemently opposed to IPPIS.”

Not only do we find the threat of a strike over the introduction of IPPIS clearly irresponsible, ASUU should quickly save itself a national embarrassment. The introduction of digital payrolls at most levels of the public service has helped to curb multiple payments to ghost workers. ASUU should be in the forefront of this initiative, except it has something to hide. The excuse that IPPIS is against the idea of university autonomy is to say the least most ridiculous. Indeed, ASUU may have become trapped in its own moral conundrum. It cannot be an advocate of transparency and accountability only when it concerns others in the public sector.

The allegation is that ASUU is opposed to IPPIS because it would expose many of its members who are earning full salaries in several universities. While nothing stops academics as experts in designated fields from offering their services to multiple universities, such services must not violate their contracts with their primary employers. They should instead be openly reported and encouraged in the spirit of academic freedom and free exchange of specialised knowledge by those who possess it. But with many lecturers allegedly on full employment in multiple universities, it is certain IPPIS will expose them. That is what this fight is all about.

As we have had time to lament on this page several times, even on issues affecting education, it is difficult to ascertain what ASUU’s positions are on most of the systemic problems which are the direct consequence of the indiscretion of lecturers. It is perhaps only in our country that leaders of academic unions remain senior lecturers for over 15 years, on the pretext that they are involved in some messianic struggle to save the campus. Commercialisation of academic grades and poorly written handouts, delayed dissertation, award of questionable degrees and all manner of unwholesome practices have combined to ruin university education in Nigeria. Yet these are issues which seem to be of little or no concern to ASUU.

The problem can be traced to the orientation of some of the principal actors and the history of its disagreements with government. Most of ASUU’s titanic struggles of the past were against military regimes, with left wing intellectuals in the fore; creating and driving a reflexively combative posture that shows in its routinely adversarial language. Unfortunately, it has been difficult for the union to adapt to changing times hence the once-vibrant organisation that set the agenda for national discourse in its hay days has degenerated into a strike-obsessed trade union that does not want to be accountable to the people.

While it is true that the federal government has had several lousy outings in its encounters with ASUU in the past, we must make the point that Nigerians do not see a mountain of new books emerging as evidence of fresh research and scholarship arising from the many months of lecturers’ inactivity occasioned by ASUU strikes. We believe it is now time to demand that lecturers on our campuses begin to display improved scholarly and academic output. They will not do that if they believe they are above transparency and accountability. Their members must submit to IPPIS.