By Mike Kebonkwu
Thank goodness, the protracted strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has ended(???) after eight agonizing months for parents and students alike and relief to the nation. There is no forgetting the loss of earnings by small and medium enterprises and business owners that feed directly on the university system. It was a progressive patriotic struggle. ASUU may have been badly bruised but it is only a pyrrhic victory for the government in its registration of a parallel association by some blacklegs and traitors to break their ranks.
However, it was with dismay when a lecturer friend of mine showed me his payslip for the month of October 2022 which I thought was a huge joke that government could pay university teachers half salary after arm twisting them through threat and blackmail to extract an agreement from them to go back to work. Again, a press release purportedly emanating from the Ministry of Labour and Employment has clarified the payment to be pro-rata basis for the number of days the lecturers worked, and concluded that they could not have been paid for days that they did not work. This is only a bad faith and does not encourage industrial harmony in the education industry. Government will be taking its luck too far by this winner takes all of bitter fight to the end. It is high handed and oppressive. It will be absurd that university administrators will now open register for teachers to clock in and out like clerks in the federal ministries as evidence of coming to work. This is university systems that are research institutions where teachers are continuously working, teaching and grading students. One hopes that some people have not lost their mind in the state of inebriation with power.
Teaching used to be a noble profession and an exclusive preserve of the best in the society. Teachers like philosopher kings take precedence before any other calling; call them primus inter pares. This is because every field of human endeavours feed from the deep fountain head of teachers. Great leaders of the world are mostly products of some of the best schools globally. Anywhere you have a mediocre leadership, go and confirm the credentials of the leaders, either they have misplaced their certificates, or the certificates are tampered with, or they do not have any at all.
ASUU may not have gotten all its demands met but assuredly, they are not the losers in the struggle but the Nigeria educational system. The union has been sufficiently blackmailed that it has become disoriented. We have virtually killed the public school system from primary to tertiary levels. Growing up in a small hamlet in former Bendel State, now Delta State, I attended a public primary school. The motto of my school was “Knowledge is Power” boldly written on the sign board at the school gate and the badge on our green-white-green uniform. In our small villages and hamlets, teachers were highly revered as the moral compass of the society. Teachers were special and understandably so; as parents pride themselves to say, my son or daughter is a teacher but not anymore because their dignity has been taken away.
Our public schools once compared with any in the world in quality and standard. To be sure of someone’s character, you needed a testimonial from his alma mater which you can take to the bank. But today, a call and notes from politicians is all that one needs. Little wonder then that we have crooks and buccaneers all over the place in charge of our lives. We want our children to be good doctors, engineers, lawyers, artists and scientists etc. Our children can never achieve these feats unless through teachers and goodly bred teachers at that in well funded school system. The sad thing is that those who are today killing the public school system were themselves beneficiaries of the public school, probably with scholarships and ready job on completion.
The public schools today are bogged down by decay and collapsing infrastructure, making teachers to work under very harsh and unfriendly conditions. The teachers only resort to strikes and protests and rightly so, demanding that government should fund education in public schools. We complain that our graduates are poorly skilled and unemployable. How can our graduates be employable when they acquire education that is devoid of contents; where laboratories are without reagents and libraries without current books?
Going through Obafemi Awolowo University was a great privilege and an opportunity to see vibrant university teachers and their commitment and sacrifice. That was before the locusts came to destroy the university system. Standing at the centre of the school away from the Amphi-theatre was the imposing Hezekiah Oluwasanmi Library. It was the most popular building and centre in the university and a beehive of activities. Students stream in-and-out at their free time from lectures for snap research. But today, Sharwama joints, suya and chicken barbecue (BBQ) spots have taken over as most frequently patronized places by students because we pay more attention to Big Brother Naija than education.
By the way, our dear President, I understand misplaced or lost his certificates and the duplicates were never seen nor recovered from his alma maters. He has never made any pretensions to intellectual engagements. He was able to get to the apex of his career first, as a soldier as well as being a military head of state and now the president of the Federal Republic. If he achieved these feats without any certificate to show, there would be little wonder if he does not place any premium on education. Therefore, he can afford to be picking his teeth whenever the plight of teachers is being discussed; and so ASUU can as well shut the universities till thy kingdom comes.
We want our children to get good education. We want competent doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers and scientists but we are not prepared to fund our school system and pay teachers attractive salaries. Why should teachers be underpaid and sentenced to life time of penury if we want them to deliver on the pillars of development of our country? Oh, you would say, their reward is in heaven! No! The prayer line that I am familiar with in my Bible is, “…Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven…” So, let the heaven of the teachers like the politicians and other people start here on earth.
I am amazed and disappointed at the Nigeria students and youths especially the National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS) which does not see the plight and demand of ASUU to coincide with their interest. It is also shameful that we will find university teachers who rather than join forces with their leadership would align with their oppressors and government to sabotage the struggle to save the university system. The government did not help matters during the negotiation when she prefers the minister of Labour and Employment, a midget to whom the whole business was an ego trip to represent her in the parley with the teachers. There is nexus between education, national growth and development. We are busy borrowing money from China and other international organizations and giving to people with low mentality to manage for us. As it is there is no evidence of transformation from the huge debt because the people we have put our destiny in their hands cannot prioritize on national interest as against narrow selfish group and personal interests. That is why we site projects and institutions because the head of state, or an institution come from the locality, not because of its strategic advantage in building the country and its economy. That is the reason why the government will prioritize construction of rail line to a desert neighbour for filial consideration than to have rail networks connecting other parts of the country for mass transit and rapid economic development.
Since the month of February, 2022 we have had scarcity of gasoline interminably especially in Abuja the Federal Capital Territory. Lately, we had excuses that inability to deliver petrol to Abuja and northern fringes was caused by flood as the fuel trucks and bowsers could not cross Lokoja. If we had a rail line from Lagos, dedicated to haulage of fuel and goods we probably will not be in such dilemma. That is assuming that the flood did not come as convenient excuse for our inability to make the product available. To save the tertiary education and our country, this is the time for all of us to demand that the government should not exhibit bad faith to unleash industrial disharmony again on the university system; enough is enough. Let the government be magnanimous in victory and pay university teachers their entitlements; it is only right to do so.
Mike Kebonkwu Esq wrote in from Koyen –Hi Kebonkwu Chambers, Wuse, Abuja