News Feature: ASUU, Osinbajo And The Ostrich Syndrome

By Sunny Awhefeada


There is a consensus which frames the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) as a popular struggle to liberate the soul of Nigeria and stop its fast declension into the abyss. Nigeria is at the crossroads and doing battle for her soul are forces that range on two sides; villainy and heroism. Those who profiteer from the present rot, anarchy, poverty and gloom hold trenchantly to their position which seeks to perpetually balkanize Nigeria. Those in this group are all over Nigeria and well entrenched in every establishment. Every thought, scheme or action of theirs is steeped in villainy and how to undermine Nigeria. Many are daily recruited into this insidious loop. The other side of the divide is thronged by those who have taken on the hue of heroism and are daily struggling and contributing their quota and deeds to the essence of Nigeria. Those in this bracket think and try to reconfigure Nigeria. Many as they are, they are overwhelmed by the immense power, material resources and influence wielded by the former. This tangle is between the forces of good and those of evil. Nigeria remains the victim and this has been so since 1st October 1960.

When the echoes of an impending ASUU strike were heard late last year many Nigerians thought and wished that it would not happen. They reasoned that ASUU returned from a long ten month old strike in the dying days of 2020 after the Federal Government entered into an agreement with the Union.


The negotiation birthing that agreement had been on since 2012 and government’s insincerity and insensitivity pushed the matter into a corner lacking priority. Since strike remains the only language the Federal Government understands, ASUU called out its members in March 2020 and the universities were shut for ten months. When Government woke up from its millennial slumber and waddled to the negotiation table, both parties agreed on timelines for the implementation of the agreement. ASUU called off the strike and waited for all of one year and three months with government doing nothing about the agreement. ASUU reminded government about what was at stake. The Union lobbied leaders from all strata of life to help talk to government, but to no avail.

Government simply had no ears.
Despite the din generated by the strike which Nigerians even in the remotest of places heard, Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, University of Lagos graduate and lecturer, a former ASUU member, was probably the only Nigerian who doesn’t know that ASUU was on strike. Osinbajo has been mute since the strike commenced two months ago. Osinbajo’s attitude towards the strike is not only pathetic, but repugnant. He was a lecturer who rose from the base of the profession to its peak. He understands what the issues are haven been a member of ASUU. Whatever the issues that lead to the strike are, Osinbajo cannot claim to be ignorant of them or fault ASUU that the cause wasn’t a just one. The eloquent and sparkling brilliant Osinbajo chose to play the ostrich at the expense of Nigeria and allowed his primary constituency, the academia, to totter to the brinks of collapse. He chose to embrace the ostrich syndrome when he ought to range on the side of truth since the ongoing strike, like the previous ones, is a just cause.

Osinbajo’s aloofness speaks to a deficiency in character which has become a bane to our national development. Many a Nigerian who held lofty and progressive views about how to move the nation forward often jettison such views when they cross to the other side. I remember that one of the most protracted ASUU strikes in my undergraduate days happened under the watch of another “progressive minded” professor of Law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ben Nwabueze, who was the Secretary (ministerial equivalent) of Education under Babangida’s interim national government contraption. Nwabueze called out ASUU, his erstwhile constituency, to a duel and in the process rubbished the name and reputation that took him decades to build.

There are insinuations that Osinbajo is eyeing the presidency and some are conjecturing that he will endow Nigeria with enlightened and progressive leadership. My opinion is that this perspective is at best a surmise that cannot be guaranteed. After all, most Nigerians thought Osinbajo’s boss, Muhammadu Buhari had in his pocket the silver bullet that would solve all of Nigeria’s problems. Sadly, seven years down the line the problems have tripled to a dizzying proportion with the ASUU strike as one of them. Osinbajo should be nursing deep grief over what is happening to the universities. Besides ASUU, all other unions in our universities namely SANNU and NASU have also gone on strike. At a time when the nation is afflicted with an inept minister of education in Adamu Adamu, Osinbajo as a university don ought to have taken it upon himself to convince his principal on the compelling need to resolve the issues at stake. The tragedy of it all is that nobody among Osinbajo’s ilk in the present government seems to understand the essence and value of the university system.

The ongoing strike is a moral test for Osinbajo who chose to play the ostrich when a phenomenon threatening the very essence of our civilization, development and modernity is looming over us. It simply shows that despite his brilliance, oratory and convictions, if he still has any, he is not better than Chris Ngige, Adamu Adamu in terms of patriotic credentials. It was the famed poet Niyi Osundare who drew my attention to the thinking by John Milton in Areopagetica that virtue was no virtue until it was tested. Osinbajo has failed the test of virtue. Although a popular strike, it is throwing up tendencies as manipulated by those who will end up on the wrong side of history. The argument by an insignificant few that federal and state universities should negotiate differently is wide off the mark. ASUU should see that line of thought as a strategy to weaken it. ASUU for as long as we can remember has always been constituted by both state and federal universities and some of its presidents were actually from state universities. The National Universities Commission (NUC) also regulates both state and federal universities same with the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) which conducts examination for all of them.

The right thing will be to establish a benchmark for emoluments. If the benchmark is N2 million for a professor, universities that chose to pay more are free to do so if their internally generated revenue can fund such. Once upon a time, the Delta State University, Abraka, paid the highest wages in Nigeria. Presently, the Rivers State University, Port-Harcourt pays nearly twice what other universities in Nigeria pay. Nigeria has a uniform minimum wage, but some states pay higher. Our governors, state lawmakers and commissioners enjoy a uniform pay, although some enjoy juicier packages. So if UNILAG chose to pay her professors N5 Million and Ugbimidaka University chose to pay N2 Million that would be fine so long as none pays below the emolument benchmark.
ASUU should also begin to initiate measures to sanitize the university system from within. The truth is that some of the cancerous problems in the university system were caused by academics themselves. The recruitment process should be anchored on sublime merit. The system must eschew tribalism, nepotism, corruption and other ills that now make the university system a laughing stock outside. The recent show of shame at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, is truly worrisome. Yet, this is common to more than many universities in Nigeria. Academics desirous and desperate for office too often run to politicians for help and in the process mortgage the soul of the university system. Academics that ought to be advancing the cause of ASUU once given political appointment become the whip with which their colleagues are lacerated. It is high time ASUU open a hall of shame phenomenon for these turncoats. It is possible that Professor Yemi Osinbajo is unaware that ASUU in on strike. Let us go and tell him.

Related posts

Leave a Comment