President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, talks to EMMANUEL OJO about the recent 40 per cent salary increment implemented by the Federal Government, among other issues
What is your reaction to the implementation of the 40 per cent increment in salary for public servants under the Consolidated Public Service Salary Structure, which excluded lecturers and doctors who are not under that salary structure?
Although we have not got the details and we have not heard from the ministry about our own directly, what you are seeing is that the outgoing Minister of Labour (Dr Chris Ngige), is trying to create confusion in the system and for the next administration because I don’t see why you deliberately increased the salary of one sector by 40 per cent and left the others. I think that is just to create confusion or ensure that we, the workers, and the unions within the system fight one another but that will not happen. It’s just deliberate.
What do you mean?
Look! When there is a salary raise in the government service that is not a negotiated structure, it goes round for everybody, whether you are in the police, the military, or the civil service and what have you. The fund comes from the same source just as when you have a minimum wage review, everybody gets it but the quantity may not be the same because it’s a minimum wage and not a salary increase. Everybody got something. So, why will you create (an increase) for one sector and leave the others just to create confusion? That is the impression I have because this is the first time we are hearing of such. The non-negotiated salary is just to create confusion and maybe he (the minister) can explain.
We have been negotiating with the government for the past six years but they have not acceded to anything. Two times, we have reached an agreement with the government team. First, with the (Barau) Jibrin team. We reached an agreement, but they didn’t reply until we went on strike in 2022, then they came and set up the late Nimi Briggs committee and this same Minister of Labour truncated that agreement, went and told a lie to the President which the committee refuted. Later, one minister wakes up one morning and says they have raised the salary for one sector. It’s so funny.
They reached an agreement with us twice. They didn’t say no. They also didn’t give other suggestions of what they could do since they didn’t have funds. For six years, they have set up three committees: the Babalakin committee, the Barau Jibrin committee, and the late Nimi Briggs committee, where we had some agreements, and all of a sudden, he just threw them away, just woke up one morning and decided the raise the salary of one sector by 40 per cent and the administration has a few weeks to go. I don’t understand.
The government said the increase was to help cushion the economic hardship faced by the beneficiaries. Do you think there are other underlying motives?
The Minister of Labour and Employment and the Director of the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission need to explain to Nigerians what they have done and the motive behind it. Is it to create confusion for the next government? Is it to pretend that they have done the right thing? It’s not clear and everybody is agitated because it has not happened before, that the government will just say that they are increasing the salary of one sector alone by 40 per cent while those sectors you have been negotiating with, you have not done anything about it.
What percentage did you arrive at with the government during your negotiation?
Well, we arrived at a percentage. It’s when they have agreed to sign that it becomes a public document and I will keep on saying this.
A lot has been said about the brain drain in the health sector. Has it affected the tertiary level of the education sector of the nation in any way?
Well, thank you very much for that. You can go round the universities and see. The best brains we have in this country are, permit me to use this word, those who do not really have their commitment in this country and have all left, for two reasons. The first is what they are paying the lecturers today.
When we signed an agreement with the Federal Government in 2009, the salary of a professor was between $1,500 to $2,000 per month, when converted from naira, but today, if you convert what a professor earns, it’s about $500 to $600 which means that if a professor gets an offer to earn $2,000 and more outside the country, they will leave, especially for those who are not really committed to this country. Many are leaving. You can check, even the younger ones are leaving. They get funded training and they move because they have a better offer there. So, what are they staying here to do?
Secondly, to compound the problem, this so-called IPPIS (Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System) that they have introduced has actually created the biggest crisis in the Nigerian university system. How is that? All the foreign civil servants and lecturers we had from Cameroon, Ghana, and the likes have left because they were not paid for a year or two because they were told they were not on regular employment. Meanwhile, by our law, you cannot employ a foreigner and give them employment from which they can retire. So, they have left.
What happens when a foreigner is employed by a public university in Nigeria?
Today, if someone is recruited from outside the country, the vice chancellor tells them to go to Abuja and register with IPPIS. Secondly, the person won’t know what he will earn the next month. They could just wake up and be paid anything. Also, with the consequential adjustment of the minimum wage that was introduced in 2019, more than 30 per cent of my members in core universities have not been paid. When they talk to the vice chancellor, they are eventually referred to go to Abuja and when they get there, they spend airfares, pay hotel bills, and eventually return with nothing. So, the system is gradually being damaged.
No university can employ a lecturer without getting permission from the Head of Service. The Head of Service has to grant permission to the governing council, employed by the government, before they can carry out any employment, even for the best brain that we have seen. That’s how they are gradually destroying the Nigerian university system.
Are Nigerian universities currently short of competent lecturers?
As I said, this is about investigative journalism. There’s a university in this country, when we did the live assessment in 2021, 35 per cent of the lecturers were first-degree holders and graduate assistants, people who just graduated, and are supposed to be students, made up 35 per cent of the lecturers. You can go round, it’s all over. One professor classified professors in Nigeria into four categories: the first are those that had it (professorship) as their childhood dream and are very brilliant, those who went to work in the bank and other industries and later on discovered that they didn’t belong and decided to come back to teach, those who didn’t have a job and the fourth are those who wanted to make money and came into the profession. So, they don’t mind making money from students or anything.
The last two categories are those being employed all over the place in the Nigerian universities because they came in through godfathers and because there’s a proliferation of universities all over the place and someone has to be in that position, so, they just employ anybody. That’s what we have. So, when some of these people say that they have enough lecturers, go and look at their category. Did they meet specific requirements? What are their publications? What grade did they graduate with? Is it first class, second class upper, or third class? So, those are the things they have. Even today, someone comes in with a PGD (postgraduate diploma) and say he or she wants to do a master’s. We have a problem as a country and I hope the next administration will have the courage to make the condition of service for the lecturers more attractive so that we can attract lecturers from (other parts of) the world the same way universities abroad are attracting Nigerian lecturers, and that’s the way it should be. Today, you can’t see any foreigners in our universities again because they have all left.
What impression does the migration of sound academics to foreign universities give about the Nigerian system? Do you in any way feel that those investments in knowledge were a waste?
As a person, it’s not a waste for me. It means that we are producing quality materials. If not, they will not be accepted all over the world. Secondly, as a country, it is a big loss. One of the very high-ranking traditional rulers called me once when we were on strike and asked me whether I knew that we give more aid to America and Europe than they give to us. I asked him how and he said that today ,we train doctors and they run abroad to go and treat Americans, Britons without the Britons paying a kobo for it. They (doctors) even pay their airfare to go there but if you check the cost of training those that are now going to the Uk, and the US and all, the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and lecturers going abroad to practise, if you calculate the cost, what Nigerians give to those countries is far higher than what those countries give to us but they make a noise with what they give to us. If they give you $1,000, they make a noise about it but the one we are giving, we don’t make a noise about it and he (the traditional ruler) was correct. So, you train a doctor here and when they are done with their training, because of the environmental factors, they leave to go and take care of the patients in other countries that didn’t pay a kobo for the training. So, we are the losers.
I heard one of the ministers saying that we have too many doctors in the country. If we had enough, not just the junior doctors, they (the minister) wouldn’t run abroad for treatments and that’s it. So, Nigeria is losing greatly from fields like medicine, ICT, and all the professions you can think about because they are not well treated.
How do professors in public universities in Nigeria compare to their counterparts elsewhere?
For example, a typical member of the House of Representatives goes home with not less than N10m in a month but a lecturer, a professor, goes home with nothing compared to that. This is my 14th year as a professor and what I take home is not up to N400,000 in a month, so, this is the problem. A governor goes home with N500m or N600m a month as a so-called security vote. Even the salaries they pay our best brains, it’s like they are doing them a favour. So, until we correct these, we have a big problem. We need to do something so that our so-called (status as the) giant of Africa will not be in vain.
You see actors and comedians do shows and get millions in naira as their pay but when you finish with a PhD, you are paid just N200,000 a month. In those days, the people who were earning more than professors in the system were those who served as the Chief Justice of the Federation. Today, things have degenerated, no staff quarters, yet people that come from other countries are more appreciated even when they have little or no knowledge about the skill.
ASUU has also supported the Nigerian Medical Association, the National Association of Resident Doctors and other associations that demand better system for practice in Nigeria. What is your opinion about the proposed five-year bond for doctors before they are given a full licence to practise?
To me, it’s very laughable. I think we suggested something. They should pass a law that will make it mandatory for the children of public office holders like ministers, the President, and legislators, to attend Nigerian schools from the primary to tertiary levels. They should also pass a law that will mandate them to use Nigerian hospitals, and not run abroad. That’s the first law that they should pass before they start looking at the doctors. They create an environment where they don’t trust the facilities that they are working with and they travel abroad and they want those doctors to stay with them. That’s the first law they should sign before seeking to detain doctors who have spent years in training, who don’t even have access to a good working environment and facilities and remuneration.
In Nigeria, everybody is thinking about himself, not the system. Any day we have a leader who thinks about the system, things can get better. Recently, I heard about the outgoing governor in Benue who proposed a bill that was backdated that when he retires, he will still earn what he is earning while in office, the state will build a house for him in any location of his choice, give him four vehicles every four years and that’s after just eight years of service. Meanwhile, there is a civil servant, who after 35 to 40 years of service goes home with just N10,000 as a retirement benefit. It’s so sad and I think the way to go is to start from the top. A governor should not earn more than a professor and that’s how it should be.