[OPINION] Speaking Truth to Power: Professor Ogunyemi and politics of higher education in Nigeria
Abiodun Ogunyemi stands out as one of the union leaders whose contributions, no matter how heavily criticized, deserve a high level of attention. Having received his education when Nigeria was test-running its political competence in terms of how it can bring about maximum transformation to the lives of the people over whom it governed, Ogunyemi unquestionably developed a critical sense of responsibility to his professional career and his society. These socio-political conditions helped shape his ideological convictions about life and the pursuit of equity and equitable distribution of justice among the oppressed groups in the society.
His realization that a fight for the majority cannot be anchored on a shaky foundation because individuals with weak and sterile knowledge would fail in their search for justice. This is because fighting a group of oppressors entails more than mere determination on the people involved. It requires a level of knowledge capacity to challenge the oppressors’ notoriety in human society. For this reason, Ogunyemi chose his fights early enough. He decided to speak truth to power using the academic profession. He is well-known for his continuously strengthened position against all known groups of bureaucrats tormenting the people and preventing them from realizing their human potentials.
However, for anyone to speak truth to power in Nigeria and have a significant impact, any of the following ways is considered the most effective in engaging bureaucratic organizations, their control, and their compromised apologists. Firstly, the connection with the masses must be such that their mobilization and education can immediately shake the spines of the ruling class who have refused to facilitate deserved development. Secondly, in a country like Nigeria, the individual challenging the power structure must be a proven threat to the country’s security architecture so much that when they speak or hold any ground about Nigerian issues, they would be respected because their capabilities cause chaos of unimaginable proportion. The third and the less-traveled path is to be an academic, a social opinion shaper, or a social philosopher with the reputation of a nationalist. Without contesting it, the third is the position chosen by Ogunyemi. As a result, he has empowered himself accordingly to become a reckoning voice in the country’s political process and business. He currently serves as the president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria, where he lends his voice to the Nigerian intellectuals’ yearnings and working conditions, using their brainpower to mold the country.
But before considering his effectiveness in that position, his contributions to the country’s socio-academic front should be examined. Ogunyemi has demonstrated a good sense of academic professionalism by integrating technology and its appropriation in Nigerian schools. Typically, people within his age bracket usually encounter great difficulty in understanding the transition of life from the usual analog experience to the digital world, and they also wonder how possible it is to perform academic transactions through the Internet. Therefore, apart from demonstrating his ability to learn due to his adaptability to change, it is also evident that he keeps himself up-to-date with the trend of things and usually finds ways to bring about radical development through his knowledge.
In Educational Technology (2007), a work he co-authored, there is sufficient explanation about education itself, but much more work is done to showcase how technology could be an effective facilitator for acquiring knowledge in the modern time. Aside from storing a vast volume of information, technology is also an instrument for transmitting knowledge to people due to its numerous and expanding potentials. There are digital boards, electronic gadgets, among others, that are available and can enhance true education.
As if this is just the starting point, this scholar’s eventual contributions demonstrate his versatility and productivity. In addition to using technology as an instrument of communication to the learners, Ogunyemi also shows his genuine understanding of modern social trajectory. Thus, he examines the women demographic about their social and political inclusion in Nigerian society. The politics of excluding women from public participation, which extends to denying them their rights to education, is looked into and given expert appraisal.
In 2001, Ogunyemi was engaged in a project that sought to understand women’s social position within the context of their political and economic involvement. The book, Resource Manual on Functional Literacy for Women (A Manual for the Intergenerational Education for Women and Girls’ Project) advocates for women’s participation in the country’s academic engagement. This team of scholars, to which he belongs, x-rayed the Nigerian society and discovered that the country has systematically disempowered women by the deliberate act of not investing in their educational career. One of the resultant consequences of this is that society would struggle in the succeeding generations’ moral upbringing because their primary agents of socialization do not have the mental resources to bring them up in the right way.
Ogunyemi does not only advocate for the education of the girl-child, although he believes the need for prioritizing their academic involvement is long overdue, he also extends his academic thrust into the ways by which education can be imparted effectively in the Nigerian environment. This form of advocacy has a general appeal for what it is worth. In Teaching Effectiveness in Nigerian Schools (2000), a book he co-authored with S. Y. Erinosho and A. Adesanya, adequate attention is allocated to the practical methods used to transmit the needed knowledge into students in the academic environment.
It should be emphasized that the Nigerian academic environment has its unique conditions and needs corresponding methods for the enhancement of true education. Along with this level of academic creativity, Ogunyemi invested so much in exploring society concerning the challenges confronting them at the educational front and surmounting them decisively. Therefore, his academic contributions have helped expand the frontier of knowledge because his findings, engagements, and advocacy create a synergy that has helped advance the people’s academic and political agenda.
Despite all these contributions on the academic front, Ogunyemi’s vibrancy in the political circle almost overshadows his accomplishment in the academic field. If he is known for anything in modern Nigeria, it is the fact that he can keep his head up despite consuming challenges that can frustrate any individual with a weak resolve. When he speaks, the weight of his expression, when not identified by the defenseless masses, gathers a form of a storm in the hearts of the bourgeois who oppress the underclass.
Being ASUU’s president has earned him the reputation of a dirty critic by some people who believe he has a political motive behind his unyielding activism in matters about unionism. He is considered an ambivalent person by the student populace whose access to proper information is weaned by the misinformation circulated about the industrial actions the union resort to without, as they think, considering the eventual consequences it has on the students. Furthermore, he is seen as a needlessly obstinate individual by members of the union who cannot give the level of endurance needed to enhance their agenda. And he is criticized by those who see ASUU as a problem. My response: if you don’t like heat, move away from the kitchen! If you want to be criticized, don’t live—even the dead are not free!
Ogunyemi is a man of different images to different people. He obviously must have understood the controversies around the leadership position, as only this can explain his thick skin for the barrage of criticisms that he commonly encounters. He remains steadfast in his position, as long as his crew members give him the necessary moral support.
To hear him speak and answer your questions, do please join Professor Abiodun Ogunyemi on:
Sunday, Apr 25, 2021
05:00 PM Nigeria (GMT+1)
11:00AM Austin (CST)
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