Heart of Arts

The Nigerian University Professors, their Eroded salaries, their Eroded Prestige: Matters Arising



Not a very long time ago, every family wished to have a professor. It was a thing of pride to say “We have professor in our family”. Looking at the events of today, would you prefer your Brother/Sister/Uncle/Aunt/Son/Daughter to be a Nigerian University Professor or a Nigerian Senator?

I was selected to participate in a one-week fully funded Training Workshop and Conference in the US scheduled for sometime this year. I got the news of the selection in December 2023 with mixed feelings. I was excited as it is an opportunity to interact with colleagues around the world on the ongoing research on irradiated polymeric materials for medical and industrial applications. But then, I thought of the stress of getting a Visa to the US. The US is the last place on my list of countries to visit due to the Visa stress. I do not think the stress is worth it.

Upon receiving the invitation letter,
I proceeded to the Visa Application Portal and realised that I had to pay 185 USD as a Visa application fee. I quickly multiplied 185 with N1,350 and I was like this is huge when compared with my salary as a Professor. I later got to know that the set exchange rate for the Visa fee was 1 USD to N1,000. There was a bit of relief that Friday.

I had made a provision for N185,000 for the Visa fee over the weekend. I got to the designated bank on Monday morning and only to realise, while in the bank, that the set exchange rate had been updated that morning to 1 USD to N1,500. Even the bank branch was not aware. One instant sweat appeared on my face under the AC. Chai! Poverty is not good. N277,500 as a US Visa application fee? That is the salary of a Reader (Associate Professor) in a Nigerian public university. I had to step out of the bank to source additional funds.

The next step was to book an appointment for the Visa interview but only to see that the next available date for a Visa interview was in December 2025. I cleaned my eyes to be sure that I was truly seeing 2025. In the visa application, I stated the date for the workshop/conference, and the arrival and departure dates. I got angry and asked myself why they should collect a nonrefundable fee of N277,500 from me when they knew that there was no available date for an interview before the start date of the meeting.

Further reflection on the issue calmed me down. I was feeling like a “professor”, so I sent feedback through the Visa Appointment Portal that I am a Professor of Physics on an invitation for a Workshop by DEO and requesting an early Visa interview appointment. The response I got the next day was that “Availability of slots is at the sole discretion of the US Embassy”. End of discussion. There was a window for an Emergency Visa interview appointment. I used to request an emergency appointment and it was denied. I had to seek the intervention of the Workshop organisers.

I was trying to make sense out of the whole thing. I recalled my experience in Norway when I was to go to the US for a conference in 2014. I was surely treated better when I applied for a US Visa as a postdoctoral research fellow in Norway. Should I feel bad? Nah! Why should anyone respect us when we don’t respect ourselves? A former minister allegedly said she would ensure university lecturers beg to feed. A former AGF once said he would show the professors the power of the man with the button. If our leaders could take food away from the mouths of their professors, why should we expect other countries to treat those professors well?

Meanwhile, a Nigerian Professor’s monthly salary is between N330,000 to N416,000 at the moment (that is 205 to 258 USD with the exchange rate of 1 USD to N1,607). The US Embassy is very much aware of the pathetic state of a Nigerian professor. They know we can’t afford to even travel to Ghana or Ivory Coast by flight. So, why should the Embassy waste their time on a Nigerian Professor whose one month salary is barely enough for their Visa application fee? What will a professor struggling to feed himself with a salary of about 200 USD in a month go and do in the US? Of course, the political class won’t get the same treatment. They will get 10 years entry Visa.

I reflect on the salaries of professors in 2010 in comparison to 2024 and I realise that while the salary of a professor in 2024 (202 to 258 USD) can barely pay for a US Visa application fee, the one-month net salary of the same professor in 2010 which was between N350,000 to N450,000 (2,333 to 3,000 USD with the exchange rate of 1 USD to N150 then) could process his US Visa, take him to the US, bring him back and still have change.

In 2010, a professor can fund himself to the US for a conference with his one-month salary but in 2024, he will struggle to pay for a US visa application. While the salary of the Nigerian professor has not changed since 2009, he was in a better financial state from 2009 to 2015 as the value of his salary has decreased by 1000%. The US Embassy will be more willing to give a Visa to a Nigerian professor in 2010 than now.

However, a Nigerian professor is supposed to be a global intellectual icon competing with his contemporaries in the US and the rest of the world but the political class feeding fat on the resources of the nation wants them to beg to feed. He is meant to be participating in conferences in the US and the rest of the world. But in 2024 a Nigerian professor can’t get a visa appointment to attend conferences to interact with his colleagues from the rest of the world. Somebody once asked why Nigerian professors are not breaking ground like their colleagues at Oxford. You will tell me if the Oxford professors are paid a slave wage of 200 USD to break that ground.

When a country is in crisis, those in charge reach out to the stakeholders, especially the intellectuals, for ideas. Nigeria is currently in an economic crisis with galloping inflation due to subsidies removal. Food is not scarce but not affordable. The price of food in the market increases on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the political class that caused the mess can’t see the need to engage the intellectuals on the way forward. They rely on the IMF and their agents in our government. The professors in the classrooms that they have deliberately impoverished are seen as too poor to be consulted. But the solution is right here with us.

Universities around the world are all evaluated with the same standard. That is why World Rankings are celebrated by the highly ranked universities. Universities are meant to have an international outlook. That is why universities poach brilliant scholars from different parts of the world. But can we attract scholars from other countries with 200 USD per month slave wage? Nigerian universities can’t even attract scholars from Niger Republic. Scholars in countries like the neighbouring Niger Republic universities are better paid. So, why will they come for a slave wage in Nigerian universities?

The other time I find the celebration of our cosmetically packaged underfunded universities unnecessary. But on second thought, I began to reason with those celebrating. It was a celebration that our universities are not as isolated from the rest of the world as the political class wanted. As distant as the rankings were, at least, there is still something in our universities to be in the world ranking. Let’s celebrate those whose efforts kept our universities alive and gave them the semblance of a university. The battle for the survival of the Nigerian university system must continue.

Nigerian political class is perhaps the only class of people in the world that destroyed their system (education and healthcare) to patronise the system built by the patriotic political class of other countries. Nigerian political class underfunded their system and stole the resources to indirectly fund the system of other countries. As the expected global nature of our universities gets eroded by the day through the policies of the political class, we’ll keep fighting even if it involves going for another strike for the survival of the Nigerian university system.

Since strike is still the only language that can get us to a roundtable for discussion, ASUU members should be preparing their minds for another strike for the FG’s adoption and implementation of the Nimi-Briggs Renegotiated 2009 Agreement. We can’t continue like this.

However, Dear US Ambassador, the US Embassy is way beyond collecting Visa fees from applicants who won’t get Visa interview dates. Availability of interview dates only after the intended date to travel is an indirect way of telling an applicant that he can’t get an interview appointment. So, why collect his money? Some will describe that act as a scam. Please, you can set up your system such that the nonrefundable application fee is only paid after picking a date for an interview.

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