The Academic Staff of Universities (ASUU) is undoubtedly a union of intellectuals that has stood the test of time. From its principled stand as an organisation of struggles in accordance with its constitution, not merely for bread and butter but essentially for the protection and advancement of the socio-economic and cultural interests of the nation, ASUU has fought many battles against military dictatorship and has been proscribed many times when the powers-that-be felt that the Union was not easy to be bought like they do to others.
Their struggles are fought with research data which the political cabals could not fault. They stand for qualitative education for the ever-increasing population of the masses. Till date, ASUU has resisted any attempt by government to increase any fee that is capable of ruining the opportunities of the poor to know.
ASUU’s position is that a mind that knows is one that is free. Undaunted by Federal Government/ASUU signed but unfulfilled agreements including the 2013 MoU, ASUU continues to call the attention of Federal and State governments to do the needful for Nigeria to have a future. But even in our universities, not all understand what ASUU stands for other than a Union that fights for their welfare (salaries and allowances only!). That many do not know the history of ASUU and its many struggles is not an understatement but one that calls to question intergenerational transfer of knowledge in our society.
While this union has participated actively in liberation struggles and fighting for the vulnerable, the future of the union is threatened by insufficient knowledge about what the union ideals are and what it expects of her members. As at July 2017, the Union lost Funso Akingbade (Former Chairman University of Lagos), David Jangkam (Former National Legal Adviser), Professor Abubakar Momoh and Professor Funmi Adewumi. These were core humanists and loyal ASUU members who participated in many liberation struggles and sacrificed opportunism for altruism. It is to the credit of ASUU that most infrastructures are located on our public universities.
This was why the Professor Biodun Ogunyemi led executives commenced a leadership training themed: “Towards a Principled and Ideological Unionism.”
Realising that the principle that endeared it to the Nigerian peoples is threatened, getting new generation of academics to understand the history of the union, its achievements and challenges is the only suitable thing to do in this age of what former ASUU President Dr. Dipo Fashina calls ‘Bread and Butter Unionism.’ Fashina emphasised the need to go back to the ideals of the union, which endeared it to workers, peasants and the oppressed in Nigeria and antagonism by rulers of Nigeria; whether military or civilian. As the Convener of the training, Fashina maintained that the legacy bequeathed on it by the like of Pa Imodu, S.V Bassey, Mokwugo Okoye, Wahab Goodluck, Zaad Zungur, Hassan Sumonu, Atahiru Jega and Ali Ciroma but to mention a few must not be lost in the face of current dynamics of modern day rent-seeking activism.
Yours sincerely attended the training at the University of Ibadan where the likes of Dr Ademola Aremu, Owei Lakemfa, Professor Tajudeen Akanji, Comrade Abiodun Aremu, and UNILAG ASUU Chairman, Dr. Adelaja Odukoya and his UI counterpart Dr. Deji Omole were resource persons. While the participants became more enlightened about the Union at the end of the training, it is important to sustain public engagement by the Union to make Nigerians more informed in a nation ruled by deceit. When deceit gets to the people first, it is more costly to wipe off. New academics do not know what the Union stands for and are more interested in what comes to the pocket. While we cannot blame them for this, ASUU leadership at the local level must introduce new academics to these ideals at entry point. This is important before they become polluted by the environment.
Late Festus Iyayi has summarised the core principles of ASUU as (1) integrity, transparency and accountability (2) professionalism, objectivity and hardwork (3) courage, sacrifice and total commitment (4) internal democracy, team work and group solidarity and (5) patriotism, anti-imperialism and working class solidarity. Based on these principles, ASUU has maintained its stand on funding and management of education while opposing any plans to privatise education. On Government economic policies, the union continues to offer suggestions but the current happenings in Nigeria has shown that the gains of the struggle for independence which caused a lot of sacrifice and bloodshed to achieve in 1960 have today been completely eroded and set aside. To ASUU, this is a tragedy. It is a tragedy that we have a comatose economy and bread and butter politicians at the saddle. The rulers in Nigeria cannot fund education but send their children abroad. They provide fake health centres that they cannot patronise. They budget for diesel yet tell the country that they will improve power supply.
I am sure that ASUU leadership is aware that the union’s score on these principles dwindle with modern day practices among intellectuals. The new generation being raised therefore should be tutored along these lines. Never again should we allow ethnic and religious considerations creep into our decision making or inhibit a major action. ASUU is for the masses, Nigeria and Africa and cannot allow ethnic jingoists in her midst misdirect it. This is why it is also essential that the track records of those who ascend leadership of the union must be a key factor for consideration. Nigerians need ASUU more than ever before. They need people to speak for them. ASUU needs to revisit its communication strategies and break bureaucracies. Beyond raising future disciples for the union, ASUU needs to engage the masses and challenge bad governance as it used to do.
As the intellectual vanguard of the society, the union must renew her commitment to a class struggle to free all the oppressed people of Nigeria, Africa and beyond from the clutches of local and foreign agents of imperialism.