Responding to ASUU’s Spokesman
By Prof Sola Adeyeye
Senate Committee on Education
I was quite bemused by the reference by ASUU spokesman, Dr. Ajiboye, to my enjoyment of Duquesne University’s reputed Flex benefits for its members of academic and nonacademic staff while denying similar benefits to ASUU members. First, in most instances, as its very name suggests, the Flex Benefits Program at Duquesne was flexible. It was also contributory. The University simply matched, up to a predetermined ratio, whatever amount had been contributed by the staff. For example, each faculty or staff made individual decision about how much he or she would contribute towards retirement, pension, life insurance etc.
In my case, I contributed 12% of my salary towards retirement and pension but the university was obligated to contribute not more than 6% of my wages towards my retirement portfolios which had been divided by me into different mutual funds like Vanguard, Lincoln, Travelers and TIAA-CREF. At the same time, there were colleagues who contributed only 3, 4 or 5% of their wages towards retirement and thus enjoyed less than the maximum of 6% which the University was obligated to match. In accordance with the flexibility of the program, at no time did I contribute towards or enjoy the benefits of Duquesne University Health program. Likewise, whereas some colleagues at Duquesne paid over $1,000 per annum to park on campus, I neither paid for nor enjoyed the campus car park facility. After losing my protest to the university President that the parking charges were excessive, I simply bought a monthly bus pass; I rode public transportation to work. Doing this drastically reduced expenditure on car maintenance while still enabling me to get to and from work at a cost of less than half of what I would have been paying just to park.
The flexibility in Duquesne University benefits program paled into insignificance when compared to the flexibility in salary structure. At the risk of sounding immodest, the truth is that I joined Duquesne University employment with superlative credentials that aided my bargaining power in matters of salary. Indeed, I was the highest paid Assistant Professor in Duquesne University’s College of Liberal Arts which at the time included all Science as well as Arts Departments. God enabled me to enjoy such exceptional successes in grantsmanship that I was offered an assurance of at least a 10% annual salary increase for three years at a time when annual salary increase in the university averaged 3.5% and some faculty were given no increase at all! The university knew that I would take my service elsewhere if it failed to make attractive offers to retain me. The consequence of this was that by the time I became an Associate Professor, my salary had already outstripped those of my colleagues in the same Department. Even so, whatever I earned was far less than what an Assistant Professor was earning in the College of Pharmacy where a beginning Assistant Professor’s salary exceeded those of some full Professors in the College of Liberal Arts! It is noteworthy that when the stock market bubble got burst in the USA, with the concomitant reduction of university revenues, Duquesne University like many universities across the USA, froze salary increase for a few years! My wife is a Professor and Chairperson at Roosevelt University, Chicago, Illinois, where salary and wages have been frozen for the last three years. Since Dr. Ajiboye admired Duquesne University Flex benefits program so much, would he canvass that ASUU adopt such flexibility rather than the current system where a Professor of Engineering at the University of Lagos enjoys similar salary structure as a Professor Religious Study at Ibadan and a Professor of History at Ile-Ife?
There are five universities within a four mile radius of Duquesne University. One of these is Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) where I taught before moving to Duquesne. Each of these universities had salary, wages and benefits structure that were unique to its own institution. For example, CMU contributed a fixed percentage of a staff’s salary towards retirement regardless of whether or not the staff contributed. By contrast, Duquesne University contributed NOTHING towards the retirement funds of a staff or faculty who chose not to contribute. In any case, Only in Nigeria would an academician demand overtime allowances under the euphemism of Excessive Work load Allowances. Such a demand would seem incongruous across the world.
Dr. Ajiboye erroneously (and perhaps deliberately mischievously) sneered that as Senator, I sent my own children to be educated in the USA while not caring for the children of ordinary Nigerians. It would have been easy for me to also sneer at any ASUU member whose child, sibling or ward might be studying abroad where academic staff unions would never contemplate declaring a strike so that an academic staff could be paid allowances to supervise a thesis or dissertation! Do these staff not benefit from such researches which are crucial towards the scholarly publications necessary for academic promotion? If someone has been paid for doing or supervising research, should he again be rewarded with promotion and its concomitant salary increase on the basis of a service for which he had already been rewarded?
In any case, the truth is that I left Nigeria on September 14, 1980 and did not return until 2002. By then, all my children had either graduated or had been admitted into a university. God is extremely gracious in giving me academically gifted children all of who enjoyed full scholarship for their university education. I am tempted to tout the academic and subsequent professional achievements of my children but I would be vicariously taking a credit that belongs to God. Suffice to say that all of my children were already oscillating in the orbits of success long before my entry into Nigerian elective politics. In my hometown, long before I got into elective politicking, nobody dead or alive, has made more personal financial contributions towards education than myself. I have demonstrated that the success of my own biological offspring had not made me unconcerned about the larger community.
Interestingly, it was quite convenient for the ASUU spokesman to forget that my contribution on the senate floor castigated successive Nigerian Governments for the neglect and underfunding of education. I drew attention to visionary Obafemi Awolowo’s expenditure of 32% of the revenues of Western Nigeria on education alone. Awolowo had exceeded the benchmark of 26% long before UNESCO had the wisdom to set it. Indeed, during his campaign in 1978 and 1979, Awolowo repeatedly stated that if necessary, he would spend 50% of Nigeria’s revenues on education. I also castigated Government for entering agreements it seemed to have known it would not implement.
There is no question that the enormous rot in Nigeria’s education sector cries for urgent and immediate attention. But as unpopular as saying so might make me to the membership of ASUU, the truth is that ASUU has been a part of the problem. I would gladly love to engage Dr. Ajiboye in a prime time televised debate on my assertion.
Meanwhile, we must leave the ridiculous for the sublime. Now, even as I did during my contribution on the floor of the senate, let us direct our attention to some practical solutions to this most national pressing crisis.
First, the National Assembly of Nigeria should henceforth appropriate at least 26% of Nigeria’s current revenue to education alone. Second, Government in Nigeria, especially the Federal Ministry of Education, has been denigrated into a beast of burden. The metastasis of asphyxiating bureaucracy demands the streamlining of the endless parastatals that drain resources while making little or no contribution to national well-being and progress. Third, to raise revenue for funding a national redemption program in education, all imports should attract a mandatory education tax of one percent. Fourth, beginning from January 1, 2014 till December 31, 2018, all workers in Nigeria must contribute 5% of their income as education taxes. Embezzling any amount of these revenues targeted for education should be taken as an act of treason. This should attract the most severe penalty such as impeachment, imprisonment and perhaps death penalty. Fifth, the costs for running the offices of all elected and appointed political office holders should immediately be pruned by 50%. Something tells me that the implacable demands by ASUU are fueled by resentment at the cult of obscene privileges which Nigerian politicians have become. But our task is to curb needless privileges rather than add to them
Finally, as a member of the Education Committee during my tenure in the House of Reps and now as Vice Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, I have almost always been the strongest advocate for the well-being of Nigerian universities. At a senate hearing not long ago, a chieftain of the Nigerian University Commission disparagingly lampooned academic staff of Nigerian Universities for depending too much on Government rather than obtaining extramural funding as is the case abroad. I was the one who immediately and robustly came to the defense of the academicians. I explained that the comparison was in error for two reasons. First, well funded private grant agencies like Ford Foundation, Carnegie Foundation, Howard Hughes Foundation, etc do not exist in Nigeria. Second, it was egregiously incorrect to assert that most research grants in the USA came from outside government. I pointed out that the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the United States Department of Agriculture were Federal Government agencies from which principally fund research in science, health, and agriculture respectively. With the absence of such agencies in Nigeria, I submitted that it was unfair to blame the academicians.