The academia is a community or world of teachers, schools and education. In the academic world, colleagues positively interact, respect each other and value the contributions of each individual.
Academia is also a culture. Yes, there is a culture named academic culture, which is the culture of universities. Academic culture refers to the attitudes, values and ways of behaving that are shared by people who work or study in universities, for example: lecturers, researchers and students.
There are various elements that will influence the dominating culture of an academic environment. The overall culture of a university and its constituent subgroups will depend on the values, ideologies and various messages that are conveyed to those in the academia.
The remuneration for lecturers in Nigeria or anywhere in the world needs not be adequate, but sufficient enough. I share the sentiment that people do not go into the academics to make money, since the academics is not a place to get rich. If money is the motivation, one should go to the private sector or run for political office, since academics are not statute-barred, and we have many academic doctors or professors who have done so, especially here in Nigeria. One cannot function in the academia, with all its epistemological benefits, and then envy or use corrupt or non-corrupt binoculars to view life.
In contrast with the academic culture, there is also the political culture, which is the set of attitudes, beliefs and sentiments that give order and meaning to a political process and which provide the underlying assumption and rules that govern behavior in the political system. However, if, in the words of the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, the aim of education is to produce a good man and a useful economy, then both the academic culture and political culture are on the same road, and they can always meet, but not in the area of remuneration.
Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, Executive Governor of Ekiti State has lived the two worlds, imbibed the two cultures and understands the two sentiments. He has undoubtedly found the political world very different from academia. To a large extent, he not only understands the academic culture, but also shares it. His thoughts, actions and words are very much linked to the academic culture. He encourages values, supports and sponsors research and scholarship. He lacks the quality of a cheap populist, which you may find among some career politicians. He neither talks much nor talks for the fun of it. He talks academic talks and easily relates with those from the ivory tower.
But today, he is a politician, an elected governor. It is in the light of this understanding of the two cultures that one would conclude that while Dr. Fayemi would empathise with ASUU in their struggle, he would also have to defend the stance of government as known to him. For the academia, a Fayemi in government is more of an asset, an ally or even an advocate. He has lived the two worlds and understands the challenges prevalent in them. Fayemi has never at any time through his words or actions, challenged the fabric of academia itself because he belongs to the world. Rather, he has called for the need for an honest debate on the basic and tertiary institutions in the country.
If, for any reason, Fayemi has drawn comparison between the investment made by past governments in education and that of the President Mohammed Buhari administration, it is because he has the facts, which can be subjected to honest debate and not because he intends to denigrate the values of the institution. And if he had drawn any comparison between what a professor earns and what he earns, it must have been a side kick, which should not becloud the main subject of finding a lasting solution to the problem of education in Nigeria.
Or which Fayemi are we talking about here? The same that mounted the governorship saddle in Ekiti on 16 October, just one month ago, and promised to run a knowledge-based economy. Already he has started walking the talk, by reviving the education sector, by immediately signing an executive order to stop the illegal education levies in schools, by declaring free education in Ekiti within his first few days and by approving loans for teachers starved of funds by his immediate predecessor? The same Fayemi immediately inaugurated visitation panels for all the state-owned tertiary institutions in the state.
ASUU must however realise that Fayemi, though one of their own, is also in the government of the day and understands the governments limitations in meeting the several competing needs of the people. For a starter, ASUU’s struggle did not start with the current administration, should they keep making the same demands and deploying the same tactics. It is as old as the Union, and may outlive the Union. Each time there is a debate about tertiary education in Nigeria, it always ends up with the ASUU welfare, and oftentimes hits a dead end.
In 2011, Africa’s first Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka said Nigeria’s educational system was a colossal failure and called for a declaration of a state of emergency in the sector. He even went as far as calling for a shutdown of all tertiary institutions for two years to tackle the rot.
This sounds like what Dr. Fayemi is advocating. To him, the current agitation should not just be about salary or allowance increments, for this is the same basis for the ASUU agitation for more than 20 years. Poor funding and more funding. Rather it should be for a total overhaul of the education system. For the past fifteen years or so, the union has been struggling to redefine itself even when the challenges of today’s university system call for a different toolkit.
What the Fayemi’s comment has thrown up is the need for ASUU not to travel the low road any longer. The Union of academics must avoid the toga of selfish, money-grabbing activists who do not have the interest of the students at heart. Rather than sounding like a bad vinyl, asking government to honour a 2009 agreement that the then government freely entered with it, the union might as well open up a new debate about tertiary education in Nigeria.
Rather than hinging their recent problem on the present administration, which is still struggling to resolve plethora of problems confronting the nation, or blaming it on Fayemi’s side-kick, ASUU should look inwards, probably to rejig their demands or reconstitute their negotiation team. The timing too, has made it to look like an arm-twisting tactics.
Segun Dipe is a Public Commentator