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Labour, Education Ministers Shouldn’t Negotiate Pay With University Lecturers, ASUU Without Getting Inputs From Non-Partisan Budget Office – US-based Professor, Ibironke

October 2, 2022

The US professor advocated that the ministers ought to consult “an independent budget office like the Congressional Budget Office that can produce independent, nonpartisan scoring of ASUU’s economic demands and budgetary plans.” 

A Professor of English at Rutgers University, New Jersey, United States, Olabode Ibironke, has joined his voice in seeking an amicable solution to the eight-month-old strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and ending its feud with the Nigerian government. 

Ibironke in an expansive interview with PUNCH explained that it was improper for the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, to lead the conversation without getting inputs from non-partisan and unbiased agencies.  

The US professor advocated that the ministers ought to consult “an independent budget office like the Congressional Budget Office that can produce independent, nonpartisan scoring of ASUU’s economic demands and budgetary plans.” 

He said, “There are strikes (in the US), but not on a national scale. In the past month, there have been strikes at Eastern Michigan and American University, Washington DC. The structure in the United States is significantly decentralised. Over-centralisation is the residual result of our history of dictatorships, military and civilian and it fosters a top-down dictatorial culture in governance. Its rigidity creates the potential for constant tension and disruptions. In the case of the US, which is not the best model for public universities, federal and state appropriations fund higher education in addition to tuition and fees, grants, endowments, etc. Private universities also receive government subvention in varying forms and degrees. While in decline, government support constitutes a significant percentage of public universities’ overall revenue source. 

“Once the government sets its budget, negotiations about its implications for the universities occur at the level of the university administration. The government is not in charge of direct talks, nor does it oversee university governance. Where there are unions, university administration and the unions all invested in the education system by virtue of drawing pay cheques from it, and with professional expertise as lifelong educators, are the ones who engage in these discussions. They enter these conversations with the requisite knowledge and full awareness of the stakes. 

“Urban Institute review reported about 700 teacher strikes in the United States between 2007 and 2019. I participated in pickets as a graduate student. Canada is also experiencing more strikes at some of its universities. The danger of direct negotiations with the government is that political considerations and tactics always come into play and make matters more difficult to resolve. The autonomy of the universities is thus critical to the stability of higher education. We fought hard for our lives not to be directed from London and Paris. The new frontier of decolonisation is for our lives not to be dictated by Abuja or any other capital city, for that matter.

On ASUU, Ibironke added, “I have seen statistics showing that within the last two decades, since the inauguration of the Fourth Republic in 1999, 1,297 days have been lost to strikes. That is about four solid years of lost productivity. The cost-benefit analysis should tell you that years of lost productivity dwarf whatever increment or funding package the government is unwilling to approve. And this is not just ASUU. Sectors of the professional class, the judiciary, and doctors have all been on strike. It is proof that the baseline of our economy is not, strictly speaking, about productivity. The problem with extractive economies is the destruction of productive capacities. 

“That there have been as many strikes as during military dictatorship proves that we are still in a dictatorship. The President’s distinctive facial expression is that of contempt and impassivity. Being non-responsive to the public is a dictatorial trait. The ‘Oga mentality’ that government ministers display during these negotiations suggests these deadlocks are a test of wills. Voting, protests, and unionisation of workers are equally expressions of democratic culture. Unions are not opposition parties. 

“What have the ministers of education and labour got to do with negotiating pay raises on behalf of the government without the input of an independent budget office like the Congressional Budget Office that can produce independent, nonpartisan scoring of ASUU’s economic demands and budgetary plans? There is no central command or clearing house overseeing all government expenditures that can provide input and analysis. 

“I have seen many analyses suggesting raises in tuition as an alternative to government subvention. That would create a society in which only the rich would be able to afford a university education. We are at that stage where government investment in education is pivotal. If the government succeeds in punitively implementing its no-work no-pay policy, it will de-professionalise the professoriate. Professors have no choice but to take up side hustles to pay debts accumulated during the strike. That will further distract and devalue university education. How is that a victory for the government?” 

Speaking further, the US professor spelt out the solutions to the current financial challenges facing the Nigerian tertiary education system. 

He said, “Big problems always necessitate a return to the basics. We open the path to solutions by re-engaging the fundamental or first principles. Confronted with the challenges posed by the demands of the industrial revolution for skilled labour and an anti-intellectual American culture, former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln signed the land-grant legislation that gave public universities federal land for sustainable revenue. It was the equivalent of granting universities oil blocs. 

“Our universities were created to decolonise public service, produce workers that would take over from the colonisers, and advance the march toward modernisation. We must reconnect our universities with the goal of modernising our society as a starting point for renewing their mission. Investing 5 per cent of our GDP, much below the UN recommendation of 20 per cent, is by no means close to the Lincoln model for a society at the cusp of industrialisation. Increased investment in education is not only a way out of the educational challenges but could also be the way out of banditry, terrorism and food insecurity.”