In the early to middle 1990s the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) came up with some witty and ingenious car stickers in protest against the poor wages in the Nigerian University System. These included: ‘My boss is a comedian, the wage he pays is a joke’. And ‘My take home pay cannot take me home’.
As we speak at least one million Nigerian university students are stranded, no thanks to the closure of all the 49 Federal and most of the 57 State-owned Universities. ASUU commenced a four-week rollover strike on 14th February 2022. At the end of the initial four weeks, the strike was extended for a further eight weeks. That is a total of 12 weeks, which implies that almost the length of an entire academic semester is likely to be lost to the current strike. The other three non-academic staff unions have also declared their own strikes. In response the government has gone ahead to implement the threat of its no work, no pay to the striking university staff. It is to be expected that in agreement with Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states that action and reaction are equal and opposite the staff unions would also insist on no pay, no work, as a condition precedent before calling off their strike.
The central theme and major line of thought in this short piece is not so much about the highly disruptive, hurtful and painful on-going national strike but the fact that if the appropriate steps are not taken this may, unfortunately, not be the last protracted strike to be witnessed in the Nigerian University System. This is buttressed by the fact that this is the 20th national strike that ASUU would be embarking on in the last 30 years; about five calendar years have been lost by the system in the process.
We have had 16 years of PDP and seven years of APC Federal Government during the period under reference, with four civilian Presidents (Olusegun Obasanjo, the late Umaru Yar’Adua of blessed memory, Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent Muhammadu Buhari). Ironically the period from 1992 till 1999 when the country was still under the military regimes of Ibrahim Babangida, the late Ernst Sonekan (a short-lived interim civilian administration), the late Sanni Abacha and AbdulSalami Abubakar, respectively, was not any better either.
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It’s the economy, stupid
“It’s the economy, stupid” is a phrase that was coined by James Carville in 1992. Carville was a strategist in Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against incumbent George H. W. Bush. His phrase was directed at the campaign’s workers and intended as one of the main messages for them to focus on. Truth of the matter is that most workers in Nigeria are greatly impoverished. A rational human being would normally ask himself or herself whether his/her quality of life is better today than was the case five years ago.
A very senior colleague of mine from a Federal University in the Southeast geopolitical zone of the country was in Ibadan in early year 2001. That was during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s first tenure as a civilian President. In the course of our discussion he told me that whatever anybody might say he would support and vote for President Obasanjo for a second term in 2003. I tried to probe further by asking him why he was so much in love with the President. His response was very quick in coming. He told me that up until April of year 2000 his salary was so meagre that it was inevitable for him to dodge most family responsibilities that had financial implications and, as would be expected, his wife was almost always very angry with him. No money no friend! Then all of a sudden, President Obasanjo increased the salary of all university workers by a whopping 150%! I could relate with this as I was earning about thirty-two thousand naira per month which President Obasanjo miraculously increased to about eighty thousand naira effective May 2000. Many of our colleagues termed the Obasanjo windfall ‘Gbemu’, which loosely translates to a big bang.
About four years ago former President Olusegun Obasanjo was on a brief visit to the university and I had to see him briefly to pay homage. I asked him why he increased the pay of university workers in May 2000, about a year to his first term in office as a civilian president. He told me that it was on account of his experience while serving a jail term in Yola Prison. That he found out that the prison warders, some of whom had up to six children were earning peanuts which could not possibly support their families. Thank God he was able to improve the minimum wage when he had an opportunity to do so as our elected president.
I read online a post by my colleague, Ayuba Umar Muhammad PhD, of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, about comparison of the earnings of university lecturers over the last 13 years. The monthly salary of a graduate assistant (the lowest ranking academic in university) in 2009 was around ₦65,000 and this could buy about 14 bags of rice at ₦4,500 per bag.
Fast forward to 2022, the monthly salary of a professor (the highest ranking academic in university) is around ₦400, 000 which can only buy 13 bags of rice at ₦29,000 per bag.
In other words, the purchasing power of a graduate assistant in 2009 was far better then than the purchasing power of a professor in 2022.
To bring the matter into context, someone employed as a graduate assistant in 2009 would at best be a senior lecturer in 2022 provided he/she has since acquired a master and a terminal degree with substantial publications in peer-reviewed learned journals and attended relevant local and international conferences.
As economists are wont to advise us, Price is a moving target. It would be extremely difficult if not totally impossible to expect that the price of any good or service would remain stagnant over a period of 13 years in a situation where the annual rate of inflation is permanently in double digits.
We talk glibly about the Triple Helix Model which requires synergy between Government- Industry -Academia as a way of promoting sustainable economic development. On the basis of cost-benefit analysis the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) should be rested by government and the egg heads in academia challenged to develop a home-grown solution, similar to the much vilified University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS). If the number 1 civil servant in the country, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation could assert the discovery of thousands of non-staff illegally enrolled on IPPIS then there’s fire on the mountain.
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The late Professor Emeritus Oladipo Akinkugbe (1933-2020) once narrated a story to me of his experience while writing a reference letter on behalf of a former student of the College of Medicine University of Ibadan desirous of pursuing higher degree in the USA. He wrote factually and glowingly about this Ibadan graduate but the Admissions Officer of the US university was alarmed and unimpressed as to why and how such a presumably brilliant student should have spent eight years for a six-year programme. He wrote to inquire from Professor Akinkugbe what was the correct situation of things. Professor Akinkugbe had to explain that the delay was due to ASUU Strike. The Admissions Officer in turn quipped ‘What is ASUU Strike?’. People in other saner climes find it so difficult to comprehend why you have to close down your universities for months on end during peace time.
One thing occurred to me a few days ago as I was engaged in some discussion on the issue of strikes with a colleague who is a lecturer in the Faculty of Science at the University of Ibadan. She is proud to be a product of our common alma mata where she obtained her first, second and terminal degrees. I am in a position to confirm her competence. She came in as an undergraduate in 1992 and she lost about five years cumulatively in her academic pursuits to strikes during her BSc, MSc and PhD studentship. She herself participated in the 2020 strike as a lecturer and she is equally participating in the current one. Those who were undergraduate and postgraduate students since the Nigerian University System became heavily invested with strikes are now members of the faculty. The chicken has come home to roost. What goes round comes round.
Professor Matthew Umukoro of the University of Ibadan put this succinctly in his 2013 article where he stated as follows:
Incessant ASUU strikes result, in the long run, in poor educational quality, and consequent critical shortage of skilled manpower; disillusioned youths who lose interest in tertiary education and embrace wrong, materialistic values; poor political leadership, and the entrenchment of mediocrity at all levels of our national life; half-baked teachers who are re-cycled into the educational system with devastating consequences; general socio-political stagnation and international relegation in the comity of nations.
Quoting Oladipo Akinkugbe again in his seminal 50th Convocation Lecture, of the University of Ibadan in 1998 titled University of Ibadan at 50: Time for a paradigm shift:
Central to decay and desecration is funding and it does not need a gift of prophetic wisdom to surmise that unless this is addressed positively and aggressively there can be no turnaround in the status of Nigerian universities.
That was some 24 years ago but unfortunately nothing seems to have changed ever since. We can only ignore the advice of Professor Akinkugbe to our peril as a nation. Yet ending the cycle of strikes is a political decision by the Federal Government. We cannot be doing things the same way and expect a different result.
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This is a season of political campaigns leading to general elections next year. It would be highly gratifying if political parties can include in their manifestos realistic strategies to put an end to strike by staff unions which have made our public universities permanently unstable for far too long.
Which political party and candidates can realistically change the hitherto unimpressive narrative? This should be of concern to all patriots. The past is imperfect, the future uncertain.
Prof. Olayinka, former Vice-Chancellor, University of Ibadan (UI), writes from the Department of Geology, UI.
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The Treacherous Notion Of Insulting Religious Sensibilities
By Leo Igwe
I have been campaigning vigorously for the release of Mubarak Bala, who has been jailed for insulting the religious sensibilities of Muslims, some Muslims in Kano. In the past two years, I have engaged the notion of contempt for religion as a crime or an offence that warrants any sanction or penalty. I am of the view that criticizing religions and highlighting their misconceptions, shortcomings and absurdities is a moral and intellectual duty. I have encountered many religious apologists and fence-seaters who have tried to defend the notion that insulting religion is a transgression that should be punished. In this piece, I want to reiterate the implausibility and unintelligibility of the treacherous notion of insulting religion.
As expected the brutal murder of Deborah Samuel for making supposedly blasphemous statements has reawakened the debate on insulting people’s faiths. I have seen some educated Nigerians tacitly justify this obscenity implying that the alleged remark by Deborah Samuel constituted a punishable transgression. Sometimes they put it expressly stating that they do not support making disparaging remarks about others’ religious beliefs. Look, those who try to justify the notion of insulting religion either do not understand the nature of religion or are not good students of history especially the history religions in Nigeria and Africa. Do not get me wrong, I understand that people feel hurt when their well-cherished religious or philosophical views or icons are challenged, criticized, questioned, or ridiculed. But that is what is, and what it means to live in a free and open society.
And this open-society feature is not peculiar to any people or culture. In a pluralistic society like Nigeria, people hold diverse views and opinions. These views may be offensive, hurting, or insulting to others’ beliefs and sensibilities, positions, and propositions. Some people’s religious sense is others’ religious nonsense. A person’s religious food is another’s religious poison. Clear and simple. People are bound to find other people’s religious or philosophical views and opinions objectionable and disagreeable. That is normal and should be expected. Nobody should expect to live in a society where there are no opposing or contradictory views and ideas. So instead of urging against insulting other people’s religious beliefs and sensibilities, which is a pretext for oppression, repression, and suppression of other religious and irreligious ideas, a case should be made for tolerance -tolerance of other religious and non-religious ideas and notions. A case should be made for respect for the rights of others to freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of expression, not respect for others’ religious notions. Ideas should not be respected. Human beings should be respected.
It is disingenuous to accuse people of disrespecting a belief or a religion, or to expect everyone to respect a particular religious icon. That is tyranny. That is a totalitarian tendency. Religious doctrines are to be believed or disbelieved, debated, confessed, and professed. Religions are made to be entertained, embraced or abandoned, renounced, examined and analyzed, accepted or rejected. In matters of faith, respect or disrespect is a factor of belief or disbelief. Christians who treat the Bible with respect do so because they believe that it is the word of God. Muslims respect Muhammad because they believe or are made to believe that he is the messenger from Allah or the greatest prophet of all times. Now, non-Christians and non-Muslims do not share these beliefs.
How does one expect an individual to respect a belief or doctrine that he or she rejects? What does it mean to insult a belief, that one thinks is mistaken, false, or untrue? Unfortunately, religion is replete with myths and misconceptions about the universe, nature, and how nature works. Many religious teachings are outdated and incompatible with many scientific and philosophical views. To be specific, how does one expect non-Muslims to treat the prophet of Islam with respect when they do not believe in his prophethood? How does one think that a non-Christian who is of the notion that Jesus never existed would treat Jesus with respect? The mistake many believers make is to expect non-believers to treat and respect their beliefs, objects, and personalities as they do. And as Germans would say: Das gehts lieder nicht(Unfortunately, that is not possible). That is not applicable. That is not healthy for society. Yes, that is not how religions operate.
Now think about it, the religions which demand respect are Christianity and Islam. Meanwhile, these are not the only religions and philosophies that exist in society. Why is it that believers, Muslims in this case, feel entitled to not be offended? Meanwhile, they espouse views and notions that going by their standards insult religious and irreligious beliefs and icons of others. For instance, Muslims claim that making disparaging remarks about the prophet of Islam is a red line. Understood. They claim that nobody should cross the redline without serious consequences. Fine. But in their everyday preaching and profession of faith, they cross the redlines of others; they make disparaging remarks about prophets and propositions of other religions and philosophies. In their profession of faith, Muslims dismiss other gods as non-existent; they downgrade other prophets. Don’t Muslims know that the recitation of Shahada is offensive, insulting, and provocative to many out there?
Muslims tell us that they love their prophets more than their parents, in fact, more than any human being. They tend to forget that people of other faiths and beliefs have a strong emotional attachment to their religious and philosophical icons too. And if people were to respond violently as Muslims often do to those who scorn their faiths and beliefs then there would be no peace in the world. There would be no Muslims or Christians, no believer or non-believer to respect or disrespect religions and philosophies.
It should also be noted that Christianity and Islam are faiths that missionaries, jihadists, and scholars from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia introduced to the region. These two religions owe their spread and dominance to the activities of those who ‘insulted’ and still ‘insult’ African traditional religious gods, prophets, and beliefs. So how does one make sense of the fact that the religions whose members ask that their icons be respected are out there relentlessly lampooning other religions and beliefs as a matter of divine mission and mandate? For centuries missionaries and proselytizers have in some cases, through physical and structural violence, and impertinent insolence toward African traditional world views and identities been furthering the cause of Christian and Islamic faiths.
The idea of insulting other gods, religions, and beliefs is embedded in the religious enterprise. Insulting religious beliefs is not alien to religions. Every religion blasphemes against other religions. Each religion claims to embody absolute truth and divinity as opposed to other religions that are fake or inferior, or custodians of minor/marginal gods. Interesting no religion is monolithic. Every faith is characterized by a plurality of views and doctrines; by competing and opposing sects, denominations, and traditions. These traditions have doctrines, and they make propositions that other faith traditions consider insulting or disrespectful. So insulting religious beliefs is part and parcel of the religious business. It is what religions do as a matter of fact. Instead of urging against insulting religious sensibilities, which is often a demand from members of a particular religion wherever they are in the majority, tolerant pluralism should be encouraged and fostered. Believers and non-believers should be urged to condone other religious and irreligious views. If anyone finds a view offensive or insulting, the person should challenge it, criticize it, scrutinize it, denounce it, examine it, and yes debate or debunk it. People of all faiths and beliefs should learn to accommodate and civilly engage positions and propositions that insult or disparage their faiths or beliefs whether they are in the majority or in the minority.
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The Killing Of Citizen Deborah, Our Own Malala
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Last week the video of a body set ablaze by a mob went viral on social media. It was preceded by the still picture of a lady dressed in red lying on the ground in a grotesque manner. Life was no longer in her. She had succumbed to savagery and jungle justice by overzealous morons who accused her, found her guilty and executed her in a most barbarous manner reminiscent of the Stone Age. She died a most horrendous death at the hands of her class or school mates. She was stoned to death by students at a College of Education. The barbarous act was carried out by some teachers of tomorrow. What kind of educators would these teachers be in future? Do they recognize Nigeria? Do they realise that Nigeria is not an Islamic Republic, that is, supposing an Islamic Republic will tolerate such a murder? How are the killers better than bandits or terrorists currently plaguing the northern part of Nigeria? We have allowed a monster out of religion, fighting wars for God who obviously did not ask us to fight for Him!
It turned out that it was the body of Citizen Deborah Yakubu, a student at Shehu Shagari College of Education Wamako Sokoto, who had been murdered because, according to her traducers, she blasphemed the name of Prophet Mohammed. In a class WhatsApp platform, she had complained that the platform had been inundated with religious posts and that the platform should be used for what it was created for. Her traducers claimed she made some uncomplimentary remarks about Prophet Mohammed. Later a sweaty nincompoop, with the dark looks of a savage, released a video in which he claimed gleefully that he was the one that killed the lady in question. This in 21st century Nigeria? This is unacceptable. It is indicative of the deep division between world view of extremists in the north and the rest of the country.
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The ugly news has not been carried by cable network stations. If it happened in Afghanistan or the Middle East, her death would be on the airwaves. Fortunately, and appropriately, the Sultan of Sokoto, leader of Muslims in the country, has spoken against the murder. But he should not stop there. We expect him to personally get involved and ensure that the killer is paraded before the press as a common criminal. Except he does this, we would see the condemnation as mere lip service. The irrepressible Father Matthew Kukah has also condemned the murder and called on the government to fish out the perpetrators for the right punishment, stating that ‘’the only obligation that is owed her immediate family, her fellow students and the school authorities is the assurance that those who are guilty of this inhuman act, no matter the provocation, are punished according to the laws of the land’. Writer Gimba Kakanda wrote on a Facebook post: ‘the barbarism that transpired in Sokoto today has no basis in Islam, and it indicts us all. This culture prevails because past self-appointed punishers of blasphemers got away with their crimes. Whether in Islamic jurisprudence or our secular law, there’s no place for jungle justice, no matter how any offended mob feels’.
But the misguided zealots don’t feel any remorse. Some posts which followed the gleeful announcement on social media are instructive. The killer whose photograph is prominently displayed on social media boasted: ‘I killed her. I burnt her. You can see the matchbox I used in setting her ablaze’. One Muhammed Mode Gagi wrote, just as Bilyaminu Ladan, Sirajo Isiya and Balkisu Umar Ibrahim that: ‘You have done well, may God increase the status of Prophet Muhammed (s.a.w). Sufiyenu Yabo then concluded it: ‘Praise be to God. May Allah reward you with paradise! Which God? My question is if the head of Muslims has called it murder, from which book did the young Muslim boys and girls learn that to inflict jungle justice on a woman who supposedly blasphemed is carrying out a divine injunction?
I must state from the outset that no one has the right to insult another religion, either directly or indirectly. Christianity and Islam are the two major religions in Nigeria. Adherents must know their boundaries. To insult Prophet Mohammed is unacceptable. But it is also unacceptable for an individual to take the life of another citizen in the name of religion. This is how religious wars start. Pause for a minute and imagine what it would be if Christians in Sokoto decide to take the life of a Muslim youth in vengeance. Or if in the Christian-dominated south a Christian family carries out a reprisal attack. An endless cycle will start, the end of which no one can predict. Therefore, the Sokoto State government must rise to the occasion and bring the culprit to book.
There had been other killings in the name of religion in the past. In 1995, one Gideon Akaluka was decapacitated by Muslim fanatics for blasphemy. Nothing came of it in the form of punishment on her killers. In June 2016 Mrs. Bridget Agbaheme was brutally murdered by suspected Islamic extremists in Kofar Wambai market Kano state, over allegations that she blasphemed the name of the Holy Prophet. Except the government takes a decisive action against such criminals, more of such acts will occur in future.
The killing is most incendiary. It is provocative. It could trigger off sectarian war. As we know, religious wars are difficult to contain. The Christian Association of Nigeria should get actively involved to ensure that Deborah does not die in vain. Justice must be pursued to serve as a deterrent. The NBA and allied associations must rise to the occasion. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) has urged NBA-SPIDEL not to hold any conference in the state where a Nigerian citizen has ‘been brutally murdered and burnt to death…we should make a statement to the government by cancelling the conference and hold it in a neighbouring State in the North’.
What has given Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai an international stature? It is the attack on her person by religious extremists because of her stance on education. Deborah is our own Malala, and she should be accorded that status. Her death at the hands of ignorant and defiant zealots diminishes all of us. I expect the president, the state governor and high-ranking state officials from the North to condemn the killing and order the arrest of the killer. The college management should suspend the suspect pending full a investigation. There will be no love lost between the killer squad leader and other Christian members of the class and indeed all other Christian students in the college. Some acts, small as they are, help to define a nation. Except the government punishes the killer, the government would inadvertently be promoting the emerging narrative that there is no ‘One Nigeria!
POSTSCRIPT: After submitting the essay, further developments made me return to my submissions. The culprits were appropriately arrested, leading to mass protests. There have been riots in Sokoto, with houses and property belonging to non-Muslims being targeted. Alhaji Atiku has withdrawn his condemnation of the killing of Citizen Deborah. He has lost votes, thereby. The state government has imposed a 24-hour curfew. But soldiers ought to be drafted to quell the riots that have led to the destruction of lives and property. This is no way to grow a federal republic! Government must stand firm! Mr. President must condemn the arsonists.
Professor Eghagha writes from the Department of English, University of Lagos.
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The Killing Of Nigerian Christian Student Has Everything To Do With Religion
By Leo Igwe
Humanists are outraged by the gruesome murder of a female college student in Sokoto in Northern Nigeria. Such a horrific act is a sordid reminder of the threat of Islamic extremism in Nigeria. Muslim students at Shehu Shagari College of Education accused a Hausa Christian, Deborah Yakubu, of blasphemy; they beat their colleague to death and burnt the corpse. Ms. Yakubu reportedly protested against posting religious messages on the student Whatsapp platform. Her protest angered some Muslim students who mobilized and subsequently killed her.
The brutal killing of Ms. Yakubu is not an isolated incident. Many Muslims and non-Muslims adjudged to have insulted Islam or its prophet have suffered a similar fate in the region. In 2007, some Muslim students in Gombe lynched their female Christian teacher for desecrating the Quran. There have been other violent attacks and murders of alleged blasphemers in Muslim-dominated areas in Kano, Niger, and other parts of Islamic Northern Nigeria. Persons accused of blasphemy have been sentenced to death by sharia courts in Kano. Others like Nigerian Humanist, Mubarak Bala, have been given long prison sentences. Muslim clerics and state officials have openly and publicly endorsed the execution of blasphemers.
For instance, in 2015, Islamic theocrat, Bashir Ahmad tweeted this comment after a sharia court sentenced nine persons for blasphemy: “I cannot pretend or keep silent. I support the death penalty for blasphemy. That is my belief and I will never support #SaveKanoNine”. So it is patently untrue and misleading for anyone to say that the brutal murder of Ms. Yakubu and other blasphemy-related attacks, sanctions, and bloodletting in Northern Nigeria have nothing to do with religion. No, they do. As the case of this Christian woman has shown, these bloodletters are usually motivated by their religious belief in the prophet of Islam; Islamic teachings and orientations, and by their quest to placate Allah and inherit the paradise in the hereafter.
So if Nigeria wants to end these horrific attacks and killings, it should take a critical look at how Islam is professed and practised in Northern Nigeria. Nigeria needs to determine if Islam is a religion or a death cult; if muslims operate within the law or above the law and if Islamic privilege is a state policy. Look, Islam has a history of violence and bloodletting that persists. The government must admit that jihadist Islam is entrenched and pervasive. Boko Haram militants are not only in the Sambisa forest. Islamic extremists exist and operate in several mosques, courts, police, and army stations. Boko Haram jihadists and their sympathizers are not a small minority as some people claim. They populate government houses, schools, colleges, and universities.
So it is high time Nigeria confronted this big elephant in the room, that is Islamic extremism. Muslim leaders should stop living in denial; they should stop pretending that jihadist Islam is not a huge problem. Muslim leaders should stop deceiving the world and saying that blasphemy killings and attacks have nothing to do with religion, in this case, Islam. No, these killings have everything to do with Islam as practised in Northern Nigeria. And the way Islam is preached and practised in Northern Nigeria must change. The government must address this toxic tendency and habit that makes muslims value their religious and prophetic icons more than human lives. Nigeria must tackle this savage and dreadful inclination of muslims to kill, attack or maim others at the slightest provocation. Nigerian authorities should monitor the activities of Muslim clerics because these religious actors use their preaching and Quranic indoctrination programmes to radicalize young Muslims and turn them into merchants of hate, violence, death, and destruction. The government should protect the rights of those who criticize the teachings and traditions of Islam and its prophet because it is through a critical examination of Islamic doctrines and practices that these extremist ideas and tendencies could be exposed and expunged.
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Nigeria should take measures to end impunity and ensure that those who indulge in blasphemy-related attacks or killings are brought to book. Those who carry out these barbaric acts should not go scot-free. They are murderers and criminals and should be arrested, prosecuted, and jailed to serve as a deterrent to others. Usually, when muslims attack or kill for blasphemy, no arrest is made, in cases where arrests are made, nobody is prosecuted; and in situations where some are charged to court, they are later acquitted. This culture of impunity must end if Nigeria must make progress in this 21st century. There should be serious consequences for blasphemy-related attacks. The Nigerian government should repeal blasphemy laws because as long as there are provisions that criminalize insults on religion, freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression will not be guaranteed and these savage attacks in the name of Allah or Prophet Muhammad will continue.
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