In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Azeezat Adedigba, the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Biodun Ogunyemi, speaks on the union’s stand on sex for grades, Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) and the proliferation of universities in Nigeria among other issues.
PT: Why is ASUU always quiet when its members are caught in misdeeds. Is it that the union does not discipline its members when they are wrong?
Ogunyemi: No, it is not true. There is no branch of ASUU that does not have ethics, grievances and crisis management committee, and why we do that is because the committee in every branch is supposed to serve as our intelligence arm, working with the leadership of the branch.
The procedure is until the branch treats a case, the national does not dabble into it. So you do not expect the national leadership to be everywhere since we have the local leadership.
You know, to say we discipline people without letting the public know, perhaps it accuses us of concealment. But that is not the thing. There is no serious-minded organisation that has its procedure on the pages of newspapers or mass media, but when occasions call for letting people know, we do not hide it.
We follow our procedure as laid down in our constitution to do some of these things and when some are done, we do not advertise them because we are not out to destroy people but to reform them.
PT: What is the union’s reason for rejecting integration into IIPIS while other unions support it?
Biodun Ogunyemi: The most important reason is that accepting IPPIS will rob the university of its autonomy. There is a law that governs the establishment of all universities and those laws have a provision on how the university should be governed in terms of personnel management, finances.
The law we are talking about here states that the governing councils should be the agency that governs the activities of the universities. Every university has a mechanism or a structure for its operations.
Universities are regarded as universal cities. This means that we attract the best and the brightest from any part of the world to come and work in the universities. So also, students can come from any part of the world because a university is a global marketplace for ideas and not just a workplace.
Universities are also ranked in terms of diversity of their scholars and students. What I mean is that a global criterion for global ranking of the university is in the diversity of the community. So scholars can come from any part of the world, provided we have what they can contribute.
PT: Don’t you think IPPIS will help reduce corruption in the country?
Biodun Ogunyemi: What Nigeria government is trying to do is to capture the data of lecturers in the universities and house them in the office of the Accountant-General. It is never done in any part of this world. For example, in Ghana, they have something like IPPIS but lecturers are not part of them. So that is the closest country to us, they excluded lecturers because of the peculiarities of the university community.
There are lecturers that can come on short service either as visiting scholars, adjunct scholars or fellows to render some services; whether to establish a department or to nurture an existing programme and they will go back. A university needs a flexible work environment and the payroll system cannot be the one that is centralised somewhere outside the universities.
With the help of some consultants based here in Abuja, the experts among us showed that the IPPIS site can be hacked anytime and if that happens, it creates a problem for the country. Apart from safety, scammers, hackers can break into it and use them for their own purposes.
At one of our discussions in 2013, we have a colleague that told us a story of his 200-level student of computer engineering. He gave them an assignment to break into a website and one of the students broke into IPPIS website and for 24 hours, that site was brought down. Immediately they gave the report to the man, he told them to restore it immediately. This is the kind of experimentation universities are cable of doing and this thing was not a secret.
So, it is not safe to put all our eggs in the same basket all in the name of preventing corruption. And beyond that, we have also told them that this idea of forcefully moving to a programme cannot prevent corruption which we know. Some workers from IPPIS were caught enrolling people who are not employers on the programme, a programme meant for preventing corruption. With this, we have moved the control of corruption from the lower level to the central
We will never support putting any process that should be exercised by the university councils into the hands of some individuals in Abuja. It means you are creating room for corruption because then we have so much pressure. Imagine two lecturers from each of the over 43 federal universities coming to Abuja to complain about hitches in IPPIS. When there is a crowd, you have to rub somebody’s palm if you don’t want to come back five or six times; even vice-chancellors.
Let councils do their work. The law says where a council is not performing on account of competence or corruption that the council should be dissolved immediately and get another one set up. But what is missing here is lack of political will.
PT: So what alternative did you provide to the government as a means of checking corrupt practices in the university system?
Biodun Ogunyemi: When you are talking about checking corruption, the mechanism to check it might not be able to achieve the goal. Well, they have been saying ASUU’s rejection of IPPIS means an endorsement of corruption. That cannot be true because we have told them if government activates the existing mechanism for monitoring the finances of the universities and for managing the personnel of the universities, cases of corruption would become a thing of the past ;
The strongest weapon for monitoring corruption is visitation and the law says there must be visitation in universities at least once in five years. We have been saying it loud and clear that there has not been visitation in federal universities in the last eight years.
There have been one or two visitations but special visitations are expected to be carried out at least once in five years. We have written to the government, we even have a Memorandum of Action signed with the government on February 7, 2019, on the need to commence visitations for these universities but the government have not done so.
If you do not monitor what is going on in the universities and you are saying there are corrupt cases, what evidence do you have? And when we have seen cases and sent a petition to the court, nothing came out from there.
ASUU has been insisting that government should allow councils to do their work, the government do its bit by activating the procedure and process, and by establishing a law for monitoring the accounting processes of this system in order to guarantee accountability, transparency and fraud-free university system in Nigeria. So we are not against the fight against corruption; we are fully in support of the crusade against corruption.
ASUU has proposed that we can have a platform that will be domesticated in the universities with different levels of access to monitor what is going on in a university. But, of course, the domesticated platform will have to be controlled by the councils so it means the council will be made to do its work because governing councils of those universities are the employers by the law of university and not their visitors (government).
During the military era, there were cases in which the head of state sacked some professors and they went to court and the court declared that the visitors are not the employers, that they have to go back to councils. On that ground, those professors that were sacked unjustly were returned to their job.
IPPIS will localise our universities and reduce their status in the global ranking. So we have always stated it clearly. Because of ASUU struggle, there is a little improvement; then we can say we have universities among the best 500 universities in the world. Some five to six years back, we were not talking about this because they’ve upgraded the facilities that gave them the opportunity to be among the best 500 and that is as a result of our struggle.
PT: Does ASUU agree with the government that the proliferation of universities has increased access to university education?
Biodun Ogunyemi: Look at those federal emergency universities created during Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, they became crisis centres. In fact, it was one of them I said about 60 per cent of the lectures are adjunct. And you want those universities to produce graduates that will compete with first-generation university graduates outside the country?
ASUU agreed with the government that Nigeria needs to increase access but that will also go with increased funding, provision of resources and that can increase access without proliferating universities. What we need to do is to improve the existing ones. The challenge we have in our environment is that we do not plan for our institutions. And also where the institutions are also in place, we do not respect laws or the standards that are specified for them. So it is the same government that will say we established a university of transportation, university of medical sciences, university of environmental science? What is a university of ICT? It is ridiculous. There is no university today that do not have computer science, including the university of education. They have a department of computer science. But now, the government wants to establish a university of ICT .Can you teach ICT without physics, chemistry? Look at those technology universities, agricultural universities, they have gone conventional.
PT: Can you explain the reason for the faction in ASUU?
Biodun Ogunyemi: There is no faction in ASUU. What we have are few people that disagree with us because of the crisis they have in their branches and that is basically Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU). I cannot say there are no disagreements, but I am telling you that the kind of disagreement we have with some people in OAU does not translate to disagreement in all those branches they are listing.
They are trying to bring into their fold individuals that are sanctioned by ASUU. What is happening about those people are not out of order, it is something you see from time to time whenever an organisation is getting bigger. We apply sanction on some people and they are saying they disagree with what we have done. But they have room to appeal, which they have not done, which we believe things will be sorted out with time.
PT: So why did the union reject the sexual harassment bill?
Biodun Ogunyemi: The bill was rejected for two main reasons. The major principle for lawmaking in this country is that laws must not be targeted at specific individuals, laws must be opened to cover a wide range.
The law should be for the good governance of the country, not laws that target particularly the male lecturers. It is about having good communication. Good communication must be established before learning can take place. I do not get to a class without relating with the students. You relate with them as a father, brother, uncle. The bill was too directional, it was against the principle of law formulation; you do not make a law that will target a few people.
It’s like you are saying you want to create a law that targets youth as cybercriminals. Are youth the only criminals that commit cybercrime? Two, you have in place a law already. Did they wait for the sexual harassment bill before convicting the OAU lecturer, Mr Akindele? Under which law did they jail him? If you have a law on a matter, why are you creating another one? If you need to amend the existing law, why not do so? You are stigmatising lecturers when you say a bill to formulate a law to prevent sexual harassment in universities. You are stigmatising us as if that is the only thing we do.
PT: So who do the students report to if any of your members harass them?
Biodun Ogunyemi: We suggested that every university must have a suggestion box. We also have a female role model within the ASUU so that they can serve as the link between the students. The student can report the case in the suggestion box in the secretariat. There are three canons of punishment. One, the punishment must be commensurate to the offence committed. Two, it must serve as a deterrent to others; and three, it must be to reform. So if you can observe those things.
PT: Nigerians are also asking why ASUU members collect lots of allowances?
Biodun Ogunyemi: The scope of the lecturers’ work or the assignment carried out determine their allowance. The first thing is, are we actually remunerating our academia appropriately?
I know a student that I produce who has not gone beyond first degree but goes home with N1.2 million., I am not competing with him, because if you want money you will not be in this job. But the point is that have we determined the scope of their work and we merge the scope of the work they do with the remuneration they deserve?
I will tell you, no professor in Nigeria collects #500,000 monthly. When you look at the dynamics, the work they do, the expectation of the society, this other allowance are brought out as a form of compensation for extra work. It is not everybody that earns it. If you do not go on field trips, you will not take allowance, if you do not supervise exams, you do not take it.
If you do not attend a conference, if you are not pursuing a higher degree, if you do not supervise postgraduate students, you don’t take it because it is assigned to specific tasks these people perform outside their routine schedule. It does not come automatically, these are the areas members of the public should look at.