A payslip too far for an impoverished professor

April 26, 1996

Ekpo Ekpeyong, one of Nigeria's leading professors of medicine, was torn between a crucial emergency meeting of the university teachers' union and lecturing his final-year students.

An apolitical teacher who believes that hard work should be well rewarded, he does not often attend union meetings because "only politically minded people go to such things instead of burying their heads in the laboratories and libraries". But minutes before his lecture, he glanced at his payslip - a total for the month of 9,000 naira, a little over Pounds 70. "After having taught for 20 years, I am only worth this paltry sum, and only two days ago, I paid 6,000 naira on essential drugs for my two children admitted to hospital with typhoid fever."

There and then he decided to attend the meeting. On his way he remembered the six-month-long lack of reagents or other chemicals for practicals. "At this rate, Nigeria will be producing professional murderers and charlatans who will parade in our hospitals as doctors. We must go on strike to save our system," he said.

Most university teachers began an indefinite strike three weeks ago after ballots at all 35 universities. After three one-day strikes failed to reopen negotiations, Assisi Asobie, national president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, called the indefinite strike. The union is seeking a 500 per cent pay rise.

Only teachers at the Federal University of Lagos refused to strike - many of its academics supplement their salaries with evening classes patronised by army generals and their friends in the oil and construction businesses and in the law.

Mohammed Liman, the minister of education, and a member of staff at Bayero University, ordered vice chancellors to compile a list of striking lecturers in order to stop their salaries. "In Great Britain, miners' salaries were stopped when they went on strike," he declared.

In an interview on the Hausa language service of the BBC, the minister warned that academic union leaders risked jailed like oil workers' union leader Frank Korori.

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