The Babangida Regime and the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities

The Babangida Regime and the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU)

Ojo Olorunleke


Contrary to popular opinions expressed by numerous journalists, public commentators and even some scholars that the Babangida Regime (August 27th, 1985 – 26th August 1993) merely squandered Nigeria’s economic opportunities without a clear cut ideological focus, it may be said with justification that the regime had an economic blue print right from its inception. And this blue print was the dismemberment of the orthodox economic fixities of the Nigerian State, which had been in operation for twenty-five years. This was achieved through a conscious economic policy of deregulation and privatization.

The Shagari government may be said to have led the Nigerian State into an economic coma by 1983 with its profligacy, waste and conspicuous consumption compounded with a collapse of the fuel price in the international market. The puritanical stance of the Buhari – Idiagbon regime on the other hand coupled with its economic policies of counter trading with non-western states and its failure to secure a $US l billion loan from Saudi Arabia after its refusal to implement IMF World Bank “Reforms” all sign-posted a stalemate between the Nigerian State and the western world (Fadahunsi et al 1996). The Babangida regime thus came on board with no illusions about the omnipotence of the Western World and the need to make a truce. Fadahunsi et al (1996) mince no words about this: “the Babangida administration had from its inception, made up its mind to break the deadlock that characterized relations between its predecessors and the IMF/World Bank by adopting an’ adjustment program” Thus, barely one week in office, on 2nd September, 1985 to be precise, General Babangida flagged off a national debate on the desirability or otherwise of taking an IMF loan. And as noted by Fadahunsi et al, (1996:30) this debate revealed a unanimity of views among “Nigerian workers, market women, roadside mechanics, religious leaders, professional associations, cooperative groups, students. youth organizations, university and other tertiary sector teachers and workers, traditional rulers, community associations, and the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria” who all rejected any role for the IMF in Nigeria’s quest for economic crisis management.

But while the IMF debate was still on, the General Babangida regime indicated its determination to structurally adjust the Nigerian economy declaring a state of national economic emergency effective from October 1, 1985 that would last sixteen months. The Babangida regime’s relationship with the Academic Staff Union of Universities should be situated within this context in which the regime becomes the protagonist of structural adjustment while ASUU becomes the antagonist of structural adjustment. This ideological and political battle between two unequal forces ranged from 1985 till Sept. 2, 1992 when “a truce” was made through the signing of the Federal Government agreement.

It should be stressed that the Babangida regime assembled a formidable team of technocrats – Prof. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, Prof. Jubril Aminu, Chief Olu Falae, Dr. Tunji Olagunju, Prof. Jerry Gana, Alhaji Alhaji, Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman, Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade, Dr Haroun Adamu, Prof. Ikenna Nzimiro, Prince Bola Ajibola, Dr. Chu Okongwu, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, Dr. Tai Solarin, Prof. Wole Soyinka- to execute its program of deregulating the economy and re-engineering the polity. And as observed by Prof. Ade Adeyufe, Babangida as “a systems man,” chose technocrats” who on paper seemed most qualified for the job” (1993). In the educational sector which is our focus in this paper, General Babangida had formidable lieutenants in the three technocrats – Profs. Jubril Aminu, Babs Aliyu Fafunwa and Ben Nwabueze – who manned the Education Ministry at various periods of the regime. What follows is a scrutiny of the theatres of the contests between the protagonists and antagonists of the de-regulation of the economy, the issues involved and their implications for the nation.

Jubril Aminu and the Containment of ASUU.

The Babangida regime longest serving Minister of Education was Jubril Aminu (1 Sept. 1985 -Dec. 1989). And it can be said that he laid and consolidated the structures for the containment of ASUU during his tenure. Jubril Aminu, a Professor of Medicine came to office with a clear ideological focus on what to do to Nigerian Universities in the era of economic deregulation. It may be said without exaggeration that Prof. Aminu’s strategy was that of containing the agitative activities of the Academic Staff Union of Universities.

And to be fair to Prof. Aminu, he knew his onions about Nigerian Universities having served earlier as Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission and later as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri. These offices gave him ample opportunities to analyse the problems of the Nigerian University system. However. Prof. Jubril’s analyses and pronouncements reveal a conservative thinker anxious to tame Ife students who had dared to criticize the famous “53 suitcases episode” of the Buhari – Idiagbon era, and who was eager to whittle down the intellectual combativeness of the University of Ife which he dubbed “the Ife fortress”. Thus, he knew that the organ of Nigerian academics had to be caged in an era of fundamental economic re-engineering.

A significant prelude to the inauguration of Prof. Amina’s “containment policy” was the ideological contest between ASUU and Babangida regime as instanced in the IMF debate flagged off by General Babangida on 2nd Sept., 1985. ASUU vigorously mobilized its members to conscientize the Nigerian public on the need to reject the IMF loan. Nigerian academics therefore took the anti-IMF loan campaign not only to their undergraduate students but even to secondary schools. The efficacy of this campaign as earlier noted by Fadahunsi et al (1996:30) was the rejection of the IMF loan by the populace including “members of the elite 82nd Airborne brigade of the Nigerian Army based in Enugu”. This obviously alerted the strategists of the Babangida regime of the necessity of “containing” ASUU and other organizations that may arouse the populace against the economic deregulation policy of the regime.

The unfortunate incident at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in March 1986 in which some students lost their lives may be said to have provided the regime the framework within which to launch its “containment strategy.” From available accounts, (CLO Report 1993 and African Watch Report 1991) a minor conflict between ‘ABU Students Union Executive and the University Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ango Abdullalu, degenerated to the level where mobile police men invaded the female hostels shooting indiscriminately.

The Major General Emmanuel Abisoye (rtd) Commission, set up to investigate the incident, provided the ideological platform for the “fumigation” of ASUU since it noted that some academics “…… who are members of ASUU in ABU and other Universities are not teaching what they are paid to teach” (African Watch page 43). It therefore recommended that government should critically look into this, and if their role is inimical to the stability of the Government these teachers should be flushed out of the Universities.

In the execution of the “containment strategy” against ASUU two tactics were used by the Babangida regime. The first was that of institutional harassment through the inauguration of Commissions of Inquiry (Abisoye 1986, Justice Mustapha Akanbi 1986, Visitation Panels to Federal Universities (Ife, Benin etc); “enactment’ of anti-democratic Decrees in the Universities (Trade Unions miscellaneous provisions Decree No17, of 1986, and Decree 17 of 1987; the spirited commitment by the Obasanjo/Atiku government to privatization, is it and wonder that the Ahmed Jodah Panel recently recommended the cancellation of the Education Tax Fund (ETF) established through Decree No7, of 1993 which had been won by ASUU from the Babangida regime. And as expected of ASUU, it took an advert in The Punch of May 15, 2000 in highlighting why it should not be scrapped but could be amended to conform with the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. Thus, the contest continues between the forces of “free market economy” encapsulated in the Nigerian State, and those of the petty bourgeois stratum of the Nigerian Society. Paradoxically in this contest, ASUU relies on the legal instruments it wrested from the Babangida regime in its quest for the democratization of the Nigerian Educational sector.

If as noted by a former Minister of Communication, Audu Ogbeh who credited Babangida with enormous courage for taking “decisions obviously fraught with grave danger” and in guaranteeing future political stability through his privatization and commercialization policies, his administration’s policies toward ASUU were patently paradoxical. His regime consciously persecuted the Union through proscription and deproscription, harassed its leaders via detention without trial, termination of appointment without due process, chronic underfunding on Universities with its attendant intellectual hemorrhage euphemistically styled “brain drain,” yet it equally signed the FG/ASUU Agreement of 1992 which today serves as the Union’s Magna Carta in its negotiations with the Nigerian State. Also the Education Tax Decree signed by General Babangida which has yielded over 470billion for financial mismanagement may still be the safety valve of the Nigerian educational system if it is not abrogated by the current wielders of state power, and if it is judiciously managed.

On a conclusive note, one is tempted to agree with Audu Ogbeh’s observation made a decade ago that “history may find Babangida an enigma too difficult to unravel, a political manual apparently simple to read, but difficult to comprehend, a political event which profoundly touched every Nigerian’s life for joy or pain…. “Sunday Times 26th August, 1990, p 17.



  1. See Ebenezer Obadare, “Babangida’s Years of Waste”, in Tempo, 30 Aug. 1993, pp 26-29; CLO “Groping in the Dark” in Liberty. Vol 5, No 3 Sept – Dec 1994, pp (1-15 for this trend. However, the Sunday Times series “The Babangida Years “Aug. 26, 1990, pp 5-17 contributed by Femi Osofisan, Chidi Amuta, Audu Ogbeh, Wole Soyinka, Biodun Jeyifo, Onyema Ugochukwu, Eric Opia, Stanley Macebuh provide a more critical view of Babangida’s first five years in governance. Recently, Dr Dele Sobowale’s “Babangidanomics: three legged Maradona 1985 – 1993” in Sunday Vanguard, 17, 2000, pp 18-19 gives a brief dispassionate analysis of the regime’s economic policy.
  2. Incidentally, most of General Babangida’s technocrats are now Ambassadors, Ministers or Special Advisers in President Obasanjo’s government: Prof Jubril Aminu (US), Prince Bola Ajibola (UK), Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu (EU), Dr. Tunji Olagunju (SA), Prof JerryGana (Min.), Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman (Sp.A), Prof. Tunde Adeniran (Min.).



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