Are academics dying, unable to afford food, medicine? - WORLDWIDE HOT NEWS

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Are academics dying, unable to afford food, medicine?

Non-payment and irregular payment of public university lecturers’ salaries are crippling the country’s institutions of higher learning, causing personal hardship for staff with fatal consequences in some cases, as they can’t pay for adequate food or proper medical care, one union, several medics and some academics are alleging.

One medical doctor and nutritionist has told University World News that the likelihood of deaths among university staff unable to afford to feed their families is a “growing and dangerous trend”.

An online story in the Daily Trust on 10 December last year pricked the conscience of the nation when it highlighted the extreme consequences of non-payment of salaries of university teachers. In an interview accorded to journalist Doyin Adebusuyi, Professor Olufayo Olu of Ekiti State University and chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), claimed that some lecturers died recently due to their “inability to raise money for their health challenges because the institution is owing them six months’ salary arrears”.

In a recent interview with University World News, Olu, who is also a nutritionist, named the deceased colleagues: Dr Rasaq Abidemi, department of biochemistry, Dr Jonathan Isaac, department of accountancy; Dr Akindele Iwaje, department of sociology; and Dr Adelakun Idowu, department of religions.

“They all died in the last quarter of 2017, that is from September to December, with Dr Idowu dying on 27 December,” said Olu.

Inadequate government funding

The academic blamed inadequate government funding for the ongoing deterioration of the university’s human capital and material resources.

“Efforts undertaken by the university administration to articulate the problems confronting the university before the visitor and governor, Ayodele Fayose, have not yielded positive results,” Olu said, adding that the consequences of poor funding have led to irregular payment of salaries, substandard research, a mediocre learning environment, increased health casualties, erratic power supply, inability to pass the accreditation test for courses, and staff and student dissatisfaction.

“Only God knows the fate of the university by the time we have a fully-fledged college of medicine, pharmacy and dentistry,” he added.

The ASUU local boss praised colleagues for working “assiduously” and “by all known means” to create a university with enviable world-class standards – an almost impossible mission.

But he threatened to call for a full-blown strike if salaries were not fully paid.

Structural problem

The non-payment of academics’ salaries is a structural problem in Nigeria and has its history in the advent of multi-party democracy in the 1990s when many states created their own universities to cater for the needs of the younger generation. The oil boom provided the impetus for the first generation of universities to open up and expand their postgraduate colleges with a view to training academic staff to obtain masters and doctoral degrees.

On completion of these postgraduate courses, graduates were recruited as lecturers into the second and third generation universities founded by the political class in each of the 36 states of the federation.

Unfortunately, excess foreign exchange from the sale of crude oil, Nigeria’s main export earnings, was not reinvested nor kept in an escrow account by the political class. The annual budget for education and vocational training stagnated at around 5% despite an increase in student intake, amid warnings from the leadership of the union (ASUU) of the dangers of relying heavily on revenue from crude oil.

When the price of crude oil dropped, negatively affecting world markets, revenue to the states was drastically reduced without an alternative plan from the government. Universities suffered accordingly: they were underfunded and lecturers went unpaid for months.

According to Professor Emmanuel Elkahana of the University of Jos, the political and economic conditions facing lecturers “encouraged death”. It was “sad”, he said, that it had taken the death of academics to highlight the problems in universities.

General conditions

“I cannot understand why we are isolating the issue of hunger as a cause instead of looking at the general conditions of work and learning that predispose members to untimely death,” he said.

According to Elkahana, three more staff at the University of Makurdi – Albert Johan, Batholomew Anthony and Joel Richard – died on 4, 6 and 12 January 2018 respectively because of “similar reasons” including malnutrition and exhaustion.

Dr Richmond Jalong, also of the University of Jos, claimed that academic colleagues were dying because of the lack of access to medical facilities to care for their medical needs. “Salaries are poor and the cost of living is high,” he said.

Professor Adeseye Akanbi of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, in Ogbomoso, in Oyo State, south-western Nigeria, said one of his colleagues, Dr Aramide Micheal, collapsed and died on 2 January 2018 because he could not afford medical care. “The Nigerian state is irresponsible. The system has collapsed and this present political order is not interested in the university system,” he said.

A similar tragedy played itself out at Osun State University, according to Dr Richard Adedeji.

“Last year, we recorded the deaths of some colleagues. On 8 January of this year, a seasoned scholar, Dr Moses Ogunbiyi, who was head of the mechanical engineering department, collapsed and died. The salary is poor and not regular,” said Adedeji.

Academics who spoke to University World News believe many more academics could die.

Dr Edwin Bolaji of Ekiti State University said: “More of our colleagues are going to die soon if nothing is done about this social malaise haunting our academics. Most of the scholars are debtors and cannot feed [their families] and meet their academic and social responsibilities. We have lost dedicated and great scholars due to the irresponsibility of the managers of the Nigerian state.”

A ‘dangerous trend’

Medical personnel, speaking on condition of anonymity, have warned of the development of a “dangerous trend” among university employees.

A medical doctor and nutritionist working in a teaching hospital in northern Nigeria said since the country’s economy fell into recession two years ago, junior and senior administrative staff from a federal government university in the area had started to seek treatment from him for malnutrition.

“These workers and their families can no longer afford decent and balanced meals, she told University World News. She said some cases are complicated in the sense that workers have more than one wife, several children and do not use birth control owing to their faith. “If the purchasing power of these workers is not improved and if the non-payment of salaries continues, I am afraid we may soon witness cases of death as a result of malnutrition. This is a growing and dangerous trend."

Another medical doctor and nutritionist at a federal teaching hospital in eastern Nigeria confirmed that the middle class was facing malnutrition due to two factors: economic recession and loss of purchasing power.

“I have been working in this hospital for over 20 years. Recently, I have noticed that some staff, especially junior staff, of this university cannot eat properly because their purchasing power has gradually dwindled. In a few cases I have to bring out money and give it to some patients to buy food, which is the best medicine for the body. Where are we going in this country blessed with a good climate and arable land yet people may soon be dying of hunger?”

A senior official in the higher education sector who also asked to remain anonymous, confirmed that the recent deaths of the academics seem to be linked to pauperisation owing to non-payment of salaries. He said according to records, most of the deceased were between 35 and 50 years of age.

University World News sent an emailed request for comment to the Nigerian Ministry of Education, but no response had been received by the time of publication.


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