Om’eranmukaandu ( ‘Diran ADEMIJU-BEPO )
Lasisi Olagunju’s column of Monday 18 May, 2020, titled ‘Agboola Gambari’s Burning Grass’, in Tribune Online, made a delightful read. Among others, one of my take aways from the piece was the inspiration for what you are reading from me today. I resisted the urge and the pull not to write on the FG versus ASUU debacle again but 98 percent of me kept whispering like the soft, redeeming, gentle voice of the Holy Spirit never to resign to the conspiracies of old.
What should Nigeria and Nigerians expect from the ASUU strike? A lot of goodies. For the avoidance of doubt, the lecturers in the universities have been on strike for God knows how many times. Today, it is now the butt of jokes amongst many that ASUU strike has now become an annual ritual. However, the rationale behind the strikes is never a child’s play. In a chat with a colleague lecturer in a private university, he concurred that: “Well, you are on strike for an age-long reason. The problem which has initiated the strike did not begin the today. We, I mean I as a person, respect the protest of ASUU and it is a decent one.”
Inasmuch as many see and agree with the varsity lecturers’ Union, they would rather hide their heads and not be seen in a confrontation with the deaf monster, nay, Minister ASUU has been dealing with. This monster has kept the benefits of ASUU strikes away from the full understanding of the majority. Yet, the evidence is right there before the eyes of the world. Without the strikes, our children would still be deludjng themselves in the Science laboratories with kerosene stoves for Bunsen burners. If not for ASUU, the hostels accommodation would have remained pigsties. If not for ASUU strikes, the lecture halls would have since turned into a night market. This battle is far from being over, because we still have a semblance of markets in the name of classrooms, no thanks to the deaf monster and his ilk.
What should ASUU members expect from the federal government? It is inconceivable that members of the Union will expect anything short of intimidation, harassment and executive high handedness from their employers. After all, he who pays the piper, has always dictated the tune, from the old conspiracy. And that has been swift in coming. What with the Accountant General of the Federation, AGOF, and his hellish, selfish and puerile conduct and statements in recent times. The man someone has described as Mai Kanti, owner of a shop, came out in defence of his principal to hang himself on his own petard by saying that the University administrators forwarded names of dead lecturers to his office for payments and he ignominiously went ahead and effected payments to them. That was early in July 2020, when withheld four months salaries were ‘compassionately’ released, in the words of the deaf monster. What brilliance! What reassurance from the keeper of our Treasury! Yet the man is still in office, despite having attained the mandatory age for retirement! The man who knew that University academic staff have been paying less taxes since the days of Mungo Park, only discovered during the ongoing strike that the Confluence flows from Lokoja to Kano, and in its belly, carries the smelly debris of his incompetence and inanity to dump in his father’s backyard in Kano.
The University system is bigger than any public officer. As the character of Tribunal Chairman, in one of my plays, Farewell to a Virus of Anomie, says: The University is the Ivory Tower, the bastion of democracy, the citadel of learning…, no elected or appointed monster, deafened by the deafening struggle for transformation in the Ivory Tower can stand in the path of the train of ASUU anytime it takes off on a journey to revamp its forte. Be it an ugly, frightening, monster, right? A weird, twisted, patched-up, piebald, deaf and bent public officer who cannot clean his own anus properly, right? With a large load of grease hanging on his neck, the Minister of Labour and Employment, the monster from VI as against ‘omo Mushin’, should penitently apologise to Nigerian parents and guardians who have their children and wards in the shut universities for keeping them away from their calling. He should swallow his pride and swallow his muck. Members of ASUU are immune to hunger, he should listen, if his blocked ears will allow him.
I know the monster is not alone in this play at deafness. The Boss, who role-plays the chief monster on a daily hegemonic ritual of buffonery and executive brigandage in a televised theatre of sharing and looting as guardians of our commonwealth is equally stone deaf. The scribe who scribbles evil for the builders of the nation has forgotten that the slim whip used on the senior wife is waiting on the rafters for the younger one. His own predecessor left banana peel in that office. Like Olagunju wrote, quoting the Ghanaian writer, Ayi Kwei Armah, who warned long ago that spring water that flows desert-wards flows into extinction, let me assure these agents that every effort of the deaf monster to stifle the University system will end in futility.
I quote him again as he seemed to have literally taken the words out of my mouth. ‘Nigeria is a deaf monster; it hears no howling about justice and fair play. Survivors are strategic cat ‘bellers’ – vulnerable creations who dared cats by taking charge of their destiny. Whining and wringing hands and, even, shouting won’t save any underling from Nigeria’s abusive marriage and its unjust structure.’ The Yoruba have a saying: It is because of the deaf that we say things in the hearing of his child. Trust is one of the most important ingredients of a happy and healthy relationship. The lecturers’ Union has always banked on trust in its dealings with the government, owners of the universities. But everytime a negotiation produced an Agreement or a Memorandum of Understanding, hardly would the negotiations be over before the trust is broken. How then can a happy and healthy relationship grow between the universities and the proprietor?
The present level of trust between the proprietors of the public universities is appalling. That must have accounted for the length this current impasse. ASUU is on strike simply because the Union is committed to ensuring that like other Universities in this part of the globe, and elsewhere, our tertiary institutions, are dedicated to the teaching of all the academic disciplines which have so far been and will in future be, instituted by the formidable and venerable world of learning and development. But what do we have instead? Unhappy vicissitudes, that have stunted a steady and healthy growth, with student population exploding without commensurate provision in infrastructure.
The lame duck National Assembly and the elite class keep watchful distance as the University system is at present being kept on its knees. It is my earnest hope, however, that this will not leave a phenomenal permanent blow on the future of the future leaders of the country. ASUU has continued to insist that education should remain free at the University level, as a social responsibility of government to its citizens desirous of earning degrees. It is my considered opinion that if properly educated, the monster will come to see reason with the union. Many well-meaning and knowledgeable patriots are of the opinion that Nigeria is in need of a union such as ASUU in order for the nation to survive her present paroxysm. Nigeria has to make a leap over almost a quarter-of-a-century of consistent reduction in budgetary allocation to education, if she is to satisfy the legitimate yearnings of her teeming young generation.
Though the fact is generally known, yet it can bear repetition, that the University system is being annihilated by the political class. And from all appearances, it has vowed to bury same. But the unwavering steadfast struggles of ASUU over the last four decades- which have brought tactile and visible dividends to the system will remain the equipoisal elixir to give our dying University back its life. Looking at the past, much work remain to be done and incurred before we can claim to be fairly well established in this new resolve of ours. In this connection, we have implicit trust in the oft-repeated and firm assurances of the Union leadership.
The federal government is being awaited to demonstrate the earnest good faith, by making relatively substantial provisions for the University system in the 2021 Budget. We also look forward to President Muhammadu Buhari rising above parochial sentiments to give approval to the immediate payment of the arrears of EAA, and the withheld salaries for nine or five months as the case may be, as it is ever within his power to bestow on this patriotic set of Nigerians their hard-earned wages and legitimate entitlements.
As for my fellow-Nigerians, including the monster, I only wish to seize this opportunity to give them advance notice of the great future of this generation, who are being deprived of timely, functional University education. It is my inexorable desire that the Universities in Nigeria should be reasonably independent financially. It is incompatible with and subversive of the academic independence of a University for its Council and Vice-Chancellor, now and again, to go cap-in-hand to beg for funds from the Government, especially when such Government is controlled by a political party, averse to national progress and development.
Let me end with the words of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who once said: “Whether we are conscious of or acknowledge it or not, the fact remains stubborn and indestructible that poverty, disease, social unrest and instability, and all kinds of international conflict, have their origins in the minds of men. Unless we tackle and remove, or at the very least minimize, these evils at their source, all our efforts in Nigeria to bring about happier circumstances for our peoples, and all the endeavours of mankind to evolve a better world, would be completely in vain. It is only when the minds of men have been properly and rigorously cultivated and garnished, that they can be safely entrusted with public affairs with a certainty and assuredness that they will make the best of their unique opportunity and assignment.
“For… It is from them—from the university teachers to the university students, and from the latter to all the lower institutions of learning—that the eternal light of knowledge, and hence of intellectual and spiritual freedom, will beam, with powerful and inextinguishable radiance, to the lowest place of learning—even the nursery school.
The responsibility which thus devolves upon them is a grave one. It obliges them to intellectual honesty and detachment; so that the light which they shed may be brilliant, all- pervasive in its illumination, and unerringly guide men’s feet on the path of truth.”
It is time for the government to rise above the cacophony of shenanigans and monsters, and re-open the universities.
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