By Busuyi Mekusi
Higher Education, particularly university, has been acknowledged as the fulcrum upon which the wheels of development of a nation revolve, though at times craggily but beneficially. However, Nigeria has repeatedly taunted education as an instrument of national development as it continuously pays mere lips service to funding the sector. By so doing, acute fund shortage has precipitated an era of infrastructural deficiency, with laboratories turned to cooking arena, classrooms becoming uncultured market places, and dormitories equating pig pens in underfunded farms in acutely undeveloped nations. One is not sure if Trump saw some of these awful details when he posited the phenomenal imagery of the shithole. The closing of the gates of public universities for about six months now encases the unseriousness of a nation, and the precariousness of an endangered generation, whose future is pawned atrociously.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is undoubtedly a stubbornly-standing trade union that is committed to both the welfare and enhanced condition of the work-place of its members as well as an improved learning environment for the students they teach. This symbiotic configuration imposes an intractable burden on the Union, who has gone on incessant strikes, over the years, to get governments to rethink the policies that always short-change the education sector in annual budgeting and releases for capital development. Whereas fees payable in federally-owned public universities are still very low, states universities have since been charging comparatively high fees to stay afloat. Some state governments like Ondo, Oyo and Edo have also established Public-Privately sponsored universities to create an alternative to the old ones that were liable to poor funding and perennial staff union strikes. The model is working as parents that detest reckless shutting-down of universities got respite alongside their purposeful acceleration-desired children and wards.
Private universities licensing cum operation in Nigeria is another experiment by the federal government towards expanding enrolment and breaking the resolve of ASUU, who is believed to have held university education by the jugular because of its undying commitment to ensure justice and equitable access to both the children of the poor and the rich. However, the latter category since took delight in overseas training for their children, particularly funded from the proceeds that accrue to them from the ‘national cake’. Even though the ‘national cake’ has shrunk to the dismay and disadvantage of the lowly, the political elites continue to expand their hold on the commonwealth, by way of sustained humongous remunerations, inflated contracts, illegal disposal of national assets, oil thefts, inappropriate oil subsidy receipts, dollarisation of the Nigeria economy and commoditisation of insecurity.
The ongoing ASUU strike is driven by the revulsion felt by the union about past government renegation of the 2009 Agreement, the generative Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Memorandum of Action (MoA). The specifics of these engagements are: renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement, payment of revitalisation funds to public universities, payment of outstanding excess work load allowance, deployment of an alternative payment platform (UTAS) as against IPPIS that the Union considers inappropriate for the university system, as they argue it hampers the smooth running of the universities and violate the autonomy that would dictate that institutions would have to make recourse to education and fund managers in the public service in Abuja in for administration. While government has stuck to its gun that it would not go back on the deployment of IPPIS as a salary payment platform, ASUU has identified the regime as the zest of corruption and perpetuation of neoliberal order. It is good to note that ASUU has accused the federal government of deflecting to the imperial advice of the IMF and World Bank to hand-off the funding of tertiary education.
As ASUU behaves like a recalcitrant debt collector and the government postures as a bad debtor, whose propositions are laced with distrust and infidelity, the latter has responded to the embarrassing protracted strike multifariously: the no-money repetitiveness; consider the future of the students aphorism; two weeks ultimatum to get the dispute sorted, and lately the need for parents and Nigerians to appeal to ASUU. Apart from President Buhari, two other personalities that have echoed the plea are Garba Shehu and Festus Keyamo. While the former was simply performing his official duty, the latter was trying to justify his new appointment as one of the Laundromats needed to launder the image of the APC and its presidential candidates, as the nation wobbles towards 2023. Keyamo has been castigated for his outbursts that parents should ‘beg’ ASUU to return to the classroom, and that it is only is heaven that security breaches do not occur. Keyamo must be unaware or must have deliberately omitted the fact in Abrahamic religions portending ‘fallen angels’ or expelled Lucifer.
One troubling reality about Keyamo’s hogwash is the credential of an activist he touted before his active politics and appointments. At the core of civil-society initiatives is the need to institutionalise the culture of good governance along the trajectory of democratic regime and governance, especially in a fledgling democracy as found in Nigeria. The activities of civil societies are meant to drive democratic tropes and mechanisms for effectiveness, in favour of the majority of the people. The first record of the word activism was said to have come from around early 1900s, from the German word Aktivismus. Simply put, activism is meant to ‘promote, impede, direct or intervene in social, political, economic or environmental reform with the desire to make changes in society towards a perceived greater good’. The taxonomy of activism are: demonstrations and protests, boycotts, strikes, letter-writing and petitions and social media campaigns.
Globally, from Martin Luther King Junior, to Mahatma Gandhi; from Rosa Parks to Malala Yousafzai; from Nelson Mandela to John Lewis, etc., we are aware of how activists or liberators metamorphose into oppressors, as Robert Mugabe got configured after the prestigious reigns he had as a freedom fighter. Juxtaposing Keyamo with activists like Tai Solarin, Gani Fawehinmi, Femi Falana, and others, shows clearly that egalitarianism and aristocracy are contentiously engaging. Little wonder, it is believed that one’s opinion, often times for an unprincipled person, is informed and shaped by the side of the divide one stands, like the anecdote of the elephant and the tactile reports of some blinds. Don’t blame Keyamo, because the content of the feeding-bottle he draws from at the moment is not just dangerously salacious but disadvantageously refreshing!
The hiatus caused by ASUU and other staff union strikes, who would always wait for ASUU to bark before they grumble, is better imagined with the accumulation of admitted students and potential candidates who get lined up in the congested path to limited spaces in public universities. Painfully to under-privileged undergraduates who are locked down by the ASUU-Government tangle, their counterparts in privately and public-privately run universities are advancing their learning, and maximising their time. These disadvantaged students are at best vulnerable to mental health issues, psychological torture and emotional revenge. Curiously, the injustice and inequity the ASUU strike was meant partly to cure is inadvertently festering!
As Keyamo’s and others’ calls for Nigerians to ‘beg’ ASUU back to the classrooms reverberate, I got nudged to reckon with the kneeling posturing by both male and female in most African societies, to assuage an agency, and signify submission. This got the buried memory of the song of the American vocal harmony group from Philadelphia, Boyz II Men, titled ‘Bended Knee’, exhumed, necessitating an adaptation by me:
Nigerians, we can’t explain
Where ASUU and government lost their way
People, they are driving us insane
They may need just one more chance
To prove their seriousness to each other
If ASUU will come back to the Federal Government
The latter may guarantee
That it would never let the former go.
Can ASUU and the Federal Government go back to the past better days?
Can they tell each other why critical stakeholders’ perfect love goes wrong?
Can we help them return to how things should be?
We all need a reason
As we are all down on bended knees.
So many nights, forlorn students dream of hope
Holding their pillows tight, soaked with tears
They are inevitably alone
Faced with the painful realities of every moment out of school
It seems like eternity
They are begging ASUU and the Federal Government, come back
Children, we are sorry
Please forgive us all the wrong we’ve done
Please come off your rage
We know you put your trust in us
We are sorry we let you down
Please forgive us.
We are going to swallow our pride
We say we are sorry
They should stop pointing fingers, the blame is on us all
We want a new life
And we want it with new model
If we all feel the same
We must believe in the spirit of love and togetherness
It will heal all things
It would not hurt anymore
We are down on bended knees
Begging us all to become reasonable
Refrain X 2
We will never stand up nor walk again
Till ASUU come back to the classroom
We are down on bended knees
As unreasonably commanded by Buhari, Keyamo and Shehu.
While mourning Biyi Bandele who dangerously bended his knee to death, I salute the elephant in Sir Ademola Adeluta, as he gloriously turns 70!
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