By Eze Onyekpere
Project Nigeria is not working but the leaders and managers are in denial. They do not care and are in a great party mood while Nigeria burns. From the trajectory of developments in virtually all spheres of life, there is also little hope that it is about to work in the not too distant future. There seems to be an overwhelming stupor of ignorance and resignation to fate by the majority of the populace who seem to be working with the old rigging philosophy of the Second Republic’s National Party of Nigeria – “If you can’t beat them, join them”. So, the free fall continues.
If I am a citizen of another country and read about the things that happen in Nigeria in newspapers, novels and magazines, I will likely dismiss them as fiction from the fertile mind of an imaginative writer meant to ensure that his works are sold for good royalty. But the fact that I am living through this endless nightmare that refuses to go away means that it is for real. In which country of the world will public universities be closed due to strike action by lecturers for over three months and nobody cares? The contending parties to the strike action are digging deeper into their trenches and the resolution is not in sight. President Goodluck Jonathan and the Minister of Education are still in the party mood and do not “give a damn”. This is the same country that contributes over 10 million out of school children and one fifth of the world’s out of school children population. Students roam the streets and parents fold their hands in despair. The parents do not seem to be in a mood to speak out and the students are apparently unconcerned about their future. No demonstrations and action on the streets, no letters or mails to the President or the minister in charge and no protests to the members of the National Assembly. Yes, a docility bordering on imbecility! They neither know their rights nor are in the mood to demand for them.
If you ask the leaders, they will tell you they are on “top of the situation” and trying very hard to resolve the challenge. For some Nigerians, the lecturers should go back to work and continue with the rot and mass production of half-baked illiterates in the name of training university graduates. These universities, in the proper context, do not qualify to be good secondary schools. Some public commentators write in such a way that the agenda seems to be the dissemination of deceit and ignorance. Recently, some have been complaining that lecturers do not teach well, research is totally out of the equation, qualifications are suspect while some demand all kinds of gratification from students to do their job; the leadership of the universities mismanage their internally generated revenue, inflate contracts, among other malfeasance. Wait a minute; every system in life has an inbuilt checks and balances; who supervises the universities? Who are they supposed to report to? Is there no system of measuring the performance of the lecturers and verifying their qualifications? Who employed the unqualified persons among them in the first place? If there is failure of supervision, oversight and discipline, then the appropriate agencies and authorities should take the blame.
Very soon, the federal budget will be out and presented to the National Assembly. As usual, a paltry sum will be allocated to education and within the allocation, the figures will be misaligned with the needs of the sector. The Academic Staff Union of Universities will make little or no effort to engage the budgeting system and the legislators will simply roll out a budget that has no link with high level policy documents and agreements in the sector and the circle of strikes and refusal to teach will continue. Very few civil society organisations will raise their voice, analyse the budget and call attention to the missing links and leakages in the system. But they will be ignored and the nation will continue the slide into oblivion.
Part of the challenges that Nigeria faces is a refusal to acknowledge the unsustainability of the current remuneration structure of the political and administrative elite. When members of the National Assembly decide to use the powers of appropriation to set aside an unreasonable sum of the budget for themselves year after year and a permanent secretary takes home about N1.7m before other illicit gains, the stage is set for every right thinking person to demand his place in the remuneration system. The professor is the highest position or rank in the teaching profession; why should a professor receive less pay than a senator or a permanent secretary or a minister? To tell members of the academia that there is no money to meet their demands does not make sense. If the government can find the money for frivolities that Nigerians have been complaining about, then it should meet the demands of the lecturers. For the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to offer N30bn at a time they were demanding N96bn makes no sense. Pray, Okonjo-Iweala should make a similar offer to a demand by the members of the National Assembly and offer them a third of what they demand. The bottom line is that the salaries, wages and remuneration structure in the public service including the political and administrative leadership should be reconsidered as a whole and realigned towards fairness and productivity. It makes no sense to be calling on a group to tighten its belt and sacrifice while they see another group that is overfed and have more resources than they reasonably need. It will not work and no reasonable person is expected to heed such an unreasonable call.
Education is the bedrock of civilisation, knowledge, inventions and development. Nigeria is already far behind in terms of providing functional education to its citizens. The failure of the government to resolve this strike is an evidence of leadership failure. To provide a basis for the resolution of this challenge, the students at home should realise that most senior government officials do not have wards in these public universities. They have sent their children outside our shores and the remaining few are in private universities. By any legal and legitimate means possible, the students should demand the enforcement of their right to education. If students are waiting for the government to remember their right to education, they are wasting their time. They should use the social media and begin to mobilise and organise themselves and take over the streets until someone listens. This is clearly within the context of their freedom to peaceful assembly and freedom of movement. Where is the National Association of Nigerian Students? Does it only function when politicians want to use it for mischief? The late Bob Marley sang that every man has got a right to decide his own destiny and in his judgment, there is no partiality. If the oppressed do not rise up to defend their rights in this day and age, then let this generation of students should keep silent forever and remain in perpetual servitude.
•Follow me on twitter @censoj
First published October 21, 2013