Ikhide

Father, Fighter, Lover

Month: October, 2013

Senator Sola Adeyeye responds to ASUU

Responding to ASUU’s Spokesman

By Prof Sola Adeyeye

Vice Chairman

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.

African Roar 2013: The hunt for the elusive African story

African Roar 2013, the fourth anthology of short stories by Africans, this time, edited by Emmanuel Sigauke, is out. Well, I would say, buy it and read it. It is on Amazon. This challenging and african roar2013ultimately frustrating collection is instructive in many ways, as in the previous editions, it asks more questions about literature and “African” stories than it seems equipped to answer. Sadly, it struggles with an identity crisis from the very first page, beginning with Sigauke’s “Introduction.” The decision to standardize the English of the stories, for instance, using the Queen’s English, is in my view, unfortunate, because it attempts to sanitize a key story of the journey of the story. American English is different from the Queen’s English in more substantive ways than the spelling of “color.”

Reading African Roar 2013 was a chore, for many reasons. These days, the book as a medium for telling the story struggles gamely against the Internet for the attention of the reader. Many readers are finding that the book is a mere distraction, folks want to bury their faces in the best book out there aka the Internet. It doesn’t help that many of the stories in this collection are just plain awful, and give the moniker, “short story” a bad name. There is no reason why they are even stories, they read like carefully typed dry memos issued by humorless civil servants. With a few exceptions, they were patterned along the true, tried and tired formula that has made the term “African writer” a near-pejorative. In these (non)tales there is a morbid fascination, an obsession with the seamy side. The alleged aridity of Africa is on full display here and this reader wonders, what is new? Not much. Many of the stories present like dirty chores, miserable dishes encrusted with stale food. African writers are an unhappy miserable lot, this collection simpers and whines ceaselessly about a wide range of tired issues. Sigauke says it best in his introduction,

Here we have stories dealing with a wide range of issues: street life in South Africa (Bauling), intercultural dating and the problems of exile (Erlwenger ), the past’s grip on family life and legacy (Muqutu), relationship and marital problems in contemporary urban Kenya (Matata), the works of a mysterious puppeteer whose powers bring both excitement and death to a community (Dila), a father’s moving account of how he met his daughter’s mother in the England of the 60s (Nubi), the joys and challenges of post-independent life in Zimbabwe (Mhangami)… African Roar 2013 (Kindle Locations 60-67). StoryTime. Kindle Edition.

In the 21st century, there is something about hard copy print that mummifies the creativity of the writer. It is all so frustrating really,because the writers showcased in this edition are all good writers. Many of them (Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende, bwa Bwesigye, Mike Ekunno, Ola Nubi, etc.) are higly respected digital story tellers who make social media (Facebook and Twitter) rock and hum all day, with raw unfiltered luscious stories. I make bold to say that the best book of African literature today is the Internet, with Facebook and Twitter as star chapters. In this digital space, the writers and their stories are unfiltered and unhinged, and they tell the world about the sum total of the experience of the human being who happens to be an African. It is not always about certain social issues, sometimes, we get laid also. And enjoy the experience. Go to Twitter, it is all there, we love to share. Thank God. In the 21st century, the book is a chore, an annoying distraction. You just want to read something else. Thank heavens for the Internet.

So, what are these stories all about? Home by Alison S. Erlwanger seems to be a conversation about identity, a reminder that many who treat Africa as one monolithic country are themselves Africans. For Home, Africa is an ideology. Why are we drawn to see only a monolithic Africa? Is this our concept of unity or do we yearn for unity and as a result diminish the complexity that is Africa? Home features superfluous unnatural dialogue, a piece suffering from an acute identity crisis – one minute it is a cheesy romance story, the next, it is a shallow discourse wrapped around an unctuous morality tale. Good writing though.

Business as usual by Jayne Bauling is probably the most visionary short story I have read in a long time, using the anxieties and promise of the digital age to explore change and class. The laconic lazy pace of the story is endearing, I love that the writer does not italicize African words. Yup, google it, I like that. The story is a sumptuous feast of pretty writing:

You know these are difficult days because the timber trains have stopped coming along the railway through the old part of town. Grass and weeds cover the tracks. Before, you would hear the blare of a train, sometimes two, most weekdays. The traffic police still trap drivers for not stopping at the crossing. Fana was laid off from one of the sawmills. (Kindle Locations 414-417)

And:

The water in the pothole has dried up, but the bulbuls haven’t forgotten and keep coming back to see. Maybe they itch under their feathers the way my skin is itching in the winter dry. For us it’s cold, and Boo-man is full of snot, but the winter people say this place doesn’t bite your bones the way Jozi does. (Kindle Locations 467-469).

And this:

There’s nearly always someone ready to buy him something. He never asks. I think it’s because he has an interesting look, like a tree that has seen a lot of life, tall and thin and ancient. People talk to him, and he’ll tell his story different ways, with twists and turns to make it longer. I think he makes up some bits. (Kindle Locations 480-483).

Salvation in Odd Places by Aba Amissah Asibon unfortunately defines the stereotype of the African story. It is a dark story, full of promise, but one that lacks suspense. It drifts all over the place like the drifters in the story. But mostly not in a good way. You read pitiful whiny lines like, “He often dreams about his homecoming to a whole guinea fowl…” desolation and despair recorded in various stages of expertise, lice-ridden, dust-covered men and women of Africa carrying sacks of poverty all over the land, afflicted with the curse of aimlessness and a meaningful life. Where is the spirituality? Haven’t our writers said enough? What are we doing about these things other than hoping to be published in reputable/prestigious journals and spaces? What did this story tell me? Well, I know now that “Aba Amissah Asibon is a Ghanaian writer who has had fiction and poetry published in Guernica, The University of Chester’s Flash Magazine, The Sentinel Literary Quarterly and The Kalahari Review. She lives in New York, and is currently working on her debut novel.” It is pretty bad when the blurb about the writer is more interesting than the short story.

The Faces of Fate by Abdulghani Sheikh Hassan drones on and on until blessed sleep saves you from the prattle. This reader honestly has no idea what this story is all about. There is a lot of squalor in it. Makes sense. Hassan “is a humanitarian Aid worker in the biggest refugee camp in the world -Dadaab. Some of his poems are published online by The Kenyan Poets Lounge. He also runs a personal blog: My Voice, My Freedom where he posts poems on Contemporary political, socio-cultural and economic events…” An NGO monarch writes a manifesto on African poverty. The only interesting part of the stories is at the end – where the blurbs about the writers show that they mostly live interesting lives – overseas. These are interesting people who have very little to write about that is interesting.

In Bramble Bushes by Dipita Kwa continues the tales of woe. Inarticulately. Hear Kwa:

For the last one month, one of life’s well-hidden secrets that filled Yandes with anger every morning when he woke up from sleep, was the reminder that nobody knew how it felt like to be dead. How the afterlife felt or looked like, nobody could tell. He once heard that souls of dead men who had made several enemies in this life were chained by their dead enemies and dragged along streets covered with sharp, hot gravel. If that was true then he didn’t have to worry. His greatest enemy was himself. He had been an enemy to his own body and life had failed to restrain him from ruining himself. That was why he had made up his mind to spit on the very face of life. He wanted nothing more to do with living. He wanted to die. (Kindle Locations 987-992).

There is a God. This pity party, this macabre festival of gloom and doom is broken in the middle by an aptly named short story, Transitions, by Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende. It is an affecting story about interracial friendship in the dying days of Rhodesia. You start reading and want to weep with joy, Finally! There is atmosphere; you can finally smell aromas and odors that do not belong to Mrs. Poverty. Roasted maize, goat meat, and green vegetables. Green vegetables! In Africa! What a concept. In this story, we learn how integration or assimilation into a white neighborhood heightens alienation, self-doubt and self-loathing. Mhangami can write. Still, this is writing as protest, a preachy editorial, not a short story. Eventually it ends in predictable despair; it is not so much a story, but an essay. If our writers continue like this, readers will never wean themselves of social media. I know I won’t.

A Yoke for Companionship by Andiswa Maqutu made me understand why my son hates reading books, many of them are awful, I would rebel too. Memo to African writers: God loves Africans too. And no, Africa is not a country. SMH.

The Puppets of Maramudhu an attempt at a detective thriller by Dilman Dila shows promise in attempting to showcase the coming of the digital age but it soon fizzles into nothingness. This story is a mess; every conceivable anxiety is thrown in, no suspense, just murder, blood and gore and witchcraft. It is dark and disturbing only because it is inarticulate.

Through the Same Gate by Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire is a faux quirky experiment gone awry; faux in the sense that is about the usual, if you like social commentary that prattles on about a child born out of wedlock and the ensuing marital tensions, AIDS, spouse abuse and whatnot. I am not sure why this piece made it into the collection. And I read it twice. This is a shame because on the Internet, Bwesigwe is one of the finest and most exciting writers I have never met. Evidently something happens to his creative muse when he needs to put his thoughts in a book.

A.B. Doh’s The Spaces In-between starts with a tantalizing promise – that this won’t be all about the usual. Nah. It is. The perils of arranged marriages. Childbirth, stillbirth, blah, blah, blah.  Here it is mildly comical how feminism links Buchi Emecheta and Nurudeen Farah and Ousmane Sembene – in the 21st century. Doh needs to read more contemporary writers. In this blighted story, the Elnathan effect (named after Elnathan John’s much copied literary style) lives. Hear Doh:

You inhale the medicinal smell that permeates the room. Sweat droplets glide down your nose, settling stubbornly in the crevice of the ‘M’ that defines your upper lip. Eyes flutter— unsure whether to hide in the darkness behind the lids or courageously face the altered world before them. Thin arms lie unmoving at each side . Heavy legs are splayed, reaching towards the metal ridge at the foot of the bed. It’s the way they’ve been the last four hours; the way they’ve been since you gave birth to breathless life. (Kindle Locations 2022-2025).

The pickings are slim but read Anti Natal by Mike Ekunno. It will still your ADHD. Finally, there is suspense, you can almost feel and taste the streets. This piece alone is worth the price of the collection. It demonstrates good writing techniques; Ekunno’s ability to get into the character of the female protagonist makes this reader jealous. Anti Natal is probably the most contemporary of the stories. And funny too.

I loved Green Eyes and an Old Photo by Ola Nubi, a mercifully short but nice tale about living in England in the sixties. There is racism and interracial marriage but then it goes nowhere like a promising work in progress.

Cut it off by Lydia Matata is mere reportage, with an advocate’s passion – and biases. There is the usual – marital rape, cheating, with a “Kill the bastards! Cut off their penises!” chant. End of Story.

The stories run into each other and you can hardly tell one story from the other. There is precious little attempt at experimentation, the writers seem genuinely allergic to taking risks with their work. All we are left with are carefully edited memos, making you cross-eyed like a jogger racing past miles of manicured lawns, boring yard after boring yard.  These writers would have been better off writing essays. I am being generous here, African Roar 2013 is a collection of writing by writers who happen to be African. The editors should perhaps stop calling the series African Roar. It is deceptive and presumptuous. These writers certainly do not speak for Africa.

So what do I really think of this book? Well, I must thank Ivor Hartmann and Emmanuel Sigauke for their work in relentlessly and proudly pushing the envelope in terms of African writing. When the history of this phase of our struggle is written, their names will be up there in blazing letters. They are visionaries especially in the digital medium, who are struggling to live with a legacy system – the book. I think the book as a medium of expression robustly sabotages the considerable talents of these writers. Our writers no longer know how to write for hard print. A writer friend of mine did not include an online poem of his in his forthcoming anthology – because it contains hot links and it would not make sense without the links. THAT is the problem with books. The book is dying a long slow death and we are in denial. Well, I liked the cover design by Ivor Hartman, using Charles Nkomo’s painting, Memories.”  Read AfroSF Science Fiction by African Writers edited by Ivor Hartmann. It is on Amazon.com Now, THAT is good writing, period.

science fiction