“For education to function properly towards economic and cultural liberation, the material and social foundation of the society need unrelenting interrogation”. This was the charge given to academics by a veteran member of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Omotayo Olorode. Speaking on the topic “Academic Freedom, University Autonomy and the Crisis of Nigerian University System”, at the one-day workshop, organised by ASUU for academic staff, Prof. Olorode noted that the crisis in the Nigerian university system had been clearly apprehended by the association of university teachers and the Nigerian students’ movement since the late 1970s, stressing that they had struggled to stem various crises through political and other means.
Prof. Olorode called on lecturers and members of ASUU to show more interest in national development, the academic environment, and be good examples to their students, stating that the lecturers were responsible to the students. Prof. Olorede commended ASUU’s founding fathers for their ability to differentiate between knowledge and truth, as reflected in the union’s motto; “Knowledge, Truth and Service”, adding that those who seek truth must have freedom to seek knowledge, while understanding that knowledge is the truth.
He said that as academics, through ASUU, had been able to struggle with various encumbrances that came their way by using strategies such as strikes as a weapon of last resort, stressing that the no-work-no-pay strategy was now being invoked to bring academics down to their knees. He added that the policy thrust of government for Nigerian university education was privatisation. According to him, “Originally, the policy was to privatise federal universities. The pursuit of the privatisation ideology assumed a rather different hue in many of the state universities, where commercialisation and abandonment of public purpose took such forms as private off-campus, students’ residences, and outrageous school fees”, among others.
Prof. Olorode stressed that blackmailing had been in existence due to attempts by the ruling class to discredit academics, noting that most state universities had become centres of decay, leading to major crisis between students and the host communities. On university autonomy, he said that its conception, distortions, and manipulations flow directly from the commitments of intellectuals and their community, stressing that the traditional conception states that universities are to be run and administered by the laws that establish them, while ensuring the freedom and responsibilities of the academics and traditions that bring about reciprocal responsibilities between the academics and the society. He added that academics belong to the people, not to the government or a particular group, urging members of ASUU to work with other sister unions on the overall interest of the system.