With obviously the government allowing a very straightforward, technical issue as inclusion/non-inclusion of academics in IPPIS to degenerate into a matter of threats and counter-threats between it and ASUU when it could have been easily clarified at a session between the two, the floor remains open to different voices such as this professorial intervention from a writer and Professor of Comparative Literature with the University of Jos.
By Prof Jeff Godwin Doki
Let me begin with the obvious observation that modern societies face a growing dilemma usually posed by the fact that key institutions and their elite are increasingly dependent upon intellectuals, particularly those in universities, research institutions and the cultural apparatus generally. But why? The reason is simple: intellectual work is quintessentially the labour of the mind and the soul. And it is only in this regard that intellectuals differ from other categories of workers like civil servants or road transport workers. In other words, intellectual workers are those who are proficient in and are actively engaged in the creation, distribution and application of knowledge and culture.
Their principal focus is on innovation, the elaboration of knowledge and scholarship as well as art and other symbolic formulations generally. Included in this category are scholars, scientists, academics, philosophers, artists, teachers, writers, journalists, lawyers etc.
In a few words, development is largely dependent on research which is the domain of the intellectual. It is in recognition of the value and worth of the intellectual that Ngugi WaThiong’ O, Africa’s literary General, once intoned: “Artistic and intellectual ideological struggles are part of the overall struggle for development.” In Africa (and Nigeria precisely), are the conditions favourable and conducive for the intellectual to conduct meaningful research? Are Nigerian universities burnished up to international standards? Or in what environment and under what conditions is the Nigerian intellectual operating? A series of questions could be asked. But let me quickly pluck the fruit of my story namely: ASUU and IPPIS.
For the past few months, the Federal Government has, once again, demonstrated its blatant disregard for and total vilification and debasement of intellectual labour by insisting that all Nigerian universities should be part of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System. The whole idea of IPPIS smacks of ignorance and mischief but it is essentially an admission, by the ruling class, that Nigeria is a nation that has no respect for education and intellectual work. Again, it is an unfortunate reflection of the levity and contempt with which our leaders treat serious national issues.
The first, and by far, the most worrisome aspect of the IPPIS is the fact that it is a blatant violation of the concept of university autonomy. University autonomy is a global practice associated with universities all over the world and it has four main dimensions namely: academic, organisational, financial and staff autonomy. Perhaps, some little words about university autonomy would suffice. Academic autonomy simply means the university’s capacity to manage its internal academic affairs independently. Such academic issues include students’ admissions, academic content, quality assurance and the introduction of new degree programmes. Organisational autonomy has to do with the university’s ability to decide freely on issues like decision-making bodies, executive leadership, legal entities and internal academic structures. Financial autonomy (which is the theme of my story) is all about the university’s ability to decide freely on internal financial matters like managing its funds independently and setting its strategic aims.
To all these must be added the fact that university autonomy gives absolute powers to a body called the university governing council. This body is officially recognised by the laws establishing universities in Nigeria. It is this body that is saddled with the responsibility for the control and management of university funds, employment and promotion of staff. All edicts and statues establishing universities and the nation’s constitution give full powers to the governing councils as the supreme body concerned with the day-to-day operation of the university. In the profoundest sense, university autonomy means that all powers academic, managerial and financial are vested in the governing council. All the agreements signed between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities since 1992 have shown abundantly that Nigerian universities should be allowed to operate in compliance with their enabling laws, statutes, rules, and regulations.
The Federal Government is expected to honour these agreements. If the Federal Government insists on imposing IPPIS on ASUU, the obvious implication would be that the government is insincere, irresponsible and unreasonable. It would have also succeeded in robbing the University Governing Council of all its powers. This situation has the potential to breed discontent and dissatisfaction among scholars.
Closely related to the issue of university autonomy is the peculiar nature and structure of Nigerian universities. As a place where knowledge is created and distributed, it is common practice that universities, quite often, collaborate or depend on professors, resource persons and facilitators from other institutions and universities. Again, we must concede that such partnership or collaboration is meant to buttress the fact that academia is a place for flexibility, robust intellectual debates, exchange of ideas and arguments. But the one good thing about such an arrangement is that it aids the spread of knowledge and ideas. The whole idea of relying on academics, colleagues, and professors from other universities becomes the more significant in our tragic situation in Nigeria where universities are established not for pragmatic purposes but just to score some cheap political points.
In other words, Nigerian universities lack the desired academic manpower needed to cater for thousands of students admitted on university campuses every year. But again, it is common practice all over the world that the reliance on academics from other universities is aimed at entrenching the culture of merit and impartiality in the award of degrees. All these factors explain why academics are offered sabbatical terms to other universities; they are also invited to serve as external examiners/assessors, moderators and visiting lecturers to other universities. Should the IPPIS be imposed on Nigerian universities, all this collaboration and dependence will be eroded. Come to think of it, with the IPPIS housed in Abuja, it would be practically impossible for a visiting professor or external examiner from, say, the University of Lagos to be adequately captured and remunerated by the University of Port Harcourt, for academic or other professional services rendered in the latter university.
More irksome is the fact that the Federal Government has recently portrayed ASUU as an intransigent and unpatriotic union that is derailing the fight against corruption. This is the grossest falsehood and the general public is invited to note this mischief. The agreement signed between ASUU and the Federal Government apart from conferring immense powers on the governing councils also contains another mechanism for checking the excesses or otherwise of the governing councils. According to this arrangement, the Visitor of the university is expected to conduct a visitation of the university at least once in every five years. The purpose of such a visit is to check all the activities of the university and punish any culprit. On almost all Nigerian university campuses, there are written documents to show that ASUU has been in the forefront of drawing attention to acts of financial mismanagement and other corrupt practices. Lamentably, the Federal Government has never taken the presentations from ASUU seriously.
It is amazing though not surprising because in Nigeria, committee reports usually find their home in the dust bin. The government can do more by funding the universities adequately and by putting university governing councils in perpetual check. ASUU has nothing to hide and is not afraid of IPPIS. What ASUU has found very unpleasant and disturbing is the fact that the introduction of IPPIS will make it impossible for universities, as a place of research, to perform maximally. And in order to show that ASUU is not averse to IPPIS, the union has offered to coordinate the project of starting a distinct platform for the universities in place of the IPPIS if granted approval by the Federal Government.
What is clear for now is that the problem of university education in Nigeria is closely related to the problem of funding and the superintendence of the university governing councils. This is as much as to say that the problem of university education is aggravated by the blatant refusal of the government to live up to its primary responsibility of providing education for all citizens. The way things are now, the clouds are gathering and another torrential rain is in the offing, should the government impose IPPIS on ASUU. The government should act wisely and quickly in order to avert the unpleasant consequences of such a downpour.