Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper

Although, there is yet no official communication to the effect that the salary of university lecturers may be cut, the news gained traction in the wake of the recent meeting by the Owerri zone of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Awka. The lecturers, expectedly, have vowed to resist any attempt to cut their pay on the ground that Nigerian lecturers are the least paid in Africa.

This notwithstanding, the lecturers, it must be stated, cannot say no if, as part of a national belt-tightening scheme, the salaries of everyone in government employment is cut. Therefore, this is the catch: any cut should begin from the emoluments of those in the presidency, lawmakers, judges, political appointees and others. Except this is done, the lecturers’ cause would be just.

The Owerri zone of ASUU comprising Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka; Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike; Federal University of Technology, Owerri; Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu University, Uli; and Imo State University, Owerri met at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka the other day.

Chairperson of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, ASUU, Uzochukwu Onyebilama, who spoke on behalf of the ASUU coordinator in the zone, Professor Ike Odumegwu, regretted that apart from the fact that they are the least paid in Africa, they also suffer from irregular payment of salaries and shortfall in salary provision. He lamented that the ugly development of salary shortfall started in 2015 and has continued through 2016 till date.
The shortfall at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, for instance, increased from five per cent to over 13 per cent in 2016 and has continued this year. Nnamdi Azikiwe University had a salary shortfall of over N88 million which has increased to over N170 million by February 2017.

Similarly, the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), had a shortfall of 10 per cent in 2015, which rose to 19 per cent in 2016, amounting to over N1 billion.

At the Michael Opkara University of Agriculture, Umudike, the employees were reportedly paid 75 per cent of their net salary in January 2017. The shortfall amounted to N111 million and increased to over N136 million in February.

The situation is not different in the state-owned universities in the zone where salaries are not paid as and when due. Both the Imo State University, Owerri and Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu University, Uli, sometimes, have their salaries delayed for one or two months, which disrupts normal living for the members of staff and their families.

It is absolutely ridiculous that university lecturers, who are supposed to be intellectuals, ideas men of a nation, have to complain over salary, especially, when their pay is compared to what members of the political class receive, not including other perks of their offices. That underscores why, in principle, the academics don’t want their salaries cut.

To start with, by centralising salaries in federal universities, in particular, the concept of university autonomy is needlessly, eroded. Under the autonomy, each university should be independent and operate as such without external interference.

The onus is then on the council and Senate of each university to think out ways of generating funds to pay lecturers’ commensurate salary. Universities should, therefore, engage in business or creative ventures driven by the lecturers with a view to using their skills, talents and researches to raise money. Such ventures should operate independently of the university funding.

Universities award lots of contracts on different projects. Nothing stops the academics from forming consultancy groups as there are all kinds of experts in the university system who can effectively handle whatever projects for the universities.

There should also be special purpose account (SPA) for such ventures which should be excluded from the Treasury Single Account (TSA) of the Federal Government. TSA should not stop the use of the SPA.

If the lecturers could get positively engaged in money-yielding ventures, their universities would be less dependent on the puny allocations from the governments and a better pay scheme would be established. Staying idle and only engaging in writing papers is not ideal. Using their skills to make money for the institutions is in line with global best practices

Meanwhile, Nigeria is currently in recession with its negative fallouts. But there is no sign of any recession in government circles going by the way and manner the privileged office holders are carrying themselves. This is an insult to all hard-working Nigerians, including the university teachers

Rather than go on strike over the salary cut, indeed, the varsities should vehemently protest the big money being taken home by lawmakers and other political appointees.The lecturers should think out of the box. There is no need complaining about the TSA, which is there to curb abuse of funds. The universities are the intellectual powerhouse of the nation. They are supposed to be creative, inventive and innovative.

The lecturers should be leaders from the Ivory Tower and not complainants. They should be more proactive and practical in orientation.If the varsities can’t live up to expectation, but join the complaining crowd of Nigerians who wait on government to solve all their problems, the nation is doomed.

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