ASUU: When egg-heads become empty shells, by Habu Dan’Asabe, Ph.D

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) purports to (and truly should) be a congregation of intellectuals: egg-heads who epitomize the fountain of knowledge that is the ivory tower and who embody, hence should reflect and express, the best in terms of behavior, action, attitude and decision. Their conduct, pronouncements and ways of doing things should be refreshingly different, exemplary and worthy of emulation. As those who educate the rest of society, lecturers are condemned to behave and act in the finest possible ways. 

A chequered history of pursuing  noble causes (particularly protecting and projecting the education system) at different junctures threw up courageous and principled leaders: Biodun Jeyifo, Mahmud Tukur, Festus Iyayi, Attahiru Jega, Dipo Fashina, Abdullahi Sule-Kano, Asosie Asobie and Nasiru Fagge Isa. Those true eggheads delivered when it mattered most. They were ably complemented by selfless, hardworking and conscientious comrades at other levels and organs of the union, and an enthusiastic membership that supported and sacrificed so much that ASUU emerged as easily the most organized pan-Nigerian social movement in the country. 

However, in recent times there has been an unchecked deterioration in the quality of leadership of ASUU both at national and branch levels. The union appears to be hijacked by all manner of elements, including opportunists, impostors, mercenaries, and those who thrive in exploiting the nation’s fault lines and primordial fissures for personal and selfish ends. 

A classic case is the on-going tragi-comedy playing itself out at the University of Abuja, where the local ASUU leadership (aided by some national officers) against all rhyme and reason declared an indefinite strike action. This in spite of clear opposition from an overwhelming majority of members. In a crude display of authoritarian streak, the branch chairman, Ugo Sylvanus, simply and hastily read out a message he claimed was from the national body, announced the decision to embark on the strike action like some diktat, refused to entertain any comment or  observations, abruptly declared the congress meeting adjourned and fled the scene. It was a most brazen and shocking spectacle, matched only by the facts of its being shameful, embarrassing and totally unbecoming of a congregation of supposed intellectuals.

Later reports filtered out that he justified the strike action on some flimsiest of excuses that are not only untenable, but really portrayed ASUU as most irresponsible, unserious and unconscionable. Top on the list was advertisements placed in some national dailies inviting qualified candidates to apply for the soon-to-be-vacant position of the institution’s vice chancellor. Assuming, without conceding, that the advert (placed on the orders of the Minister of Education) violated the law, was that enough for the lecturers to refuse to work?  Similar adverts had earlier been issued by federal universities in Bauchi, Maiduguri and Sokoto, but there has been not so much as a whimper. UniAbuja lecturers must be a special breed – those tiny few that Ugo Sylvanus represents, that is. 

Another reason given was that – wait for it  – the management of the university staggered elections to fill positions of deans of faculties (in four out of the 12 faculties the elections have already been conducted) rather than hold all the elections in one day! That, to the strike-craze “academics,” was enough reason for them to down tools. In a 21st century Nigerian university. And ASUU expects to be taken seriously! 

The unvarnished truth is that the real reasons adduced for the strike action were not revealed, but they are obvious to every discerning mind and keen watcher. Some individuals and groups are using ASUU to wage a proxy war against the very hardworking and immensely successful out-going Vice Chancellor, Professor Abdulrasheed  Na’Allah (who they have ceaselessly and relentlessly fought throughout his tenure, but who has defied all their machinations and exposed them for what they are: empty shells, pseudo-academics and intellectual misfits). The ultimate intendment is to rubbish President Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is the Visitor to the university.

It is really sad that some ASUU leaders are always only too eager to disrupt normal activities in our universities, so recklessly and whimsically, unmindful and in total disregard, of the consequences to students, parents, the university system, the nation and even the corporate image of lecturers themselves. It is time a permanent stop is put to the antics of this class of union leaders. Enough is enough, please!

The strike action at UniAbuja will fail – has actually failed – like a pack of cards, because it was built on quicksands of deceit, lies, hate and obscurantism. It remains to be seen whether ASUU will learn any lesson from it and begin to purge itself of the ravaging colony of ants (mercenaries, impostors, opportunists and divisive elements) gnawing at its underbelly. 

Dr. Dan’Asabe is of Faculty of Social Science, University of Abuja.