Opinion: ASUU Strike, Nigerian Youths And 2023 Politics – By Emeka Alex Duru
On Thursday, April 28, social media platforms were lighted with pictures of Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai and his son, Ahmad in obvious excitement. Ahmad bagged a degree from one of the universities in London. To celebrate the feat, El-Rufai was in London for the graduation ceremony.
The governor was overtly happy. Having his son graduate when there are stories out there of youths abandoning their programmes of studies for social life, earns him a bragging right. Importantly, in a system as ours where having children in foreign schools or seeking medical attention abroad, has become status symbol, the governor needed to assert his membership of the elite class.
From President Muhammadu Buhari to Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo, down to the governors and the lawmakers at the states and national assembly, there are just few public office holders that do not have their wards studying abroad.
Five of the President Buhari’s children attended prestigious universities in the United Kingdom – Buckingham University, University of Plymouth, University of Leicester and University of Surrey.
Osinbajo’s son, Fiyinfunoluwa graduated from Warwick University.
Their predecessors, also had their children educated abroad. Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, had in 2016, celebrated the graduation of one of his daughters from a foreign university. Erstwhile Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who also served as governor of Kwara State, celebrated the graduation of his son from the London School of Economics. So, El-Rufai was not being out of tune.
To be sure, it is within their rights to train their children wherever they choose, as long as they have the means. Buhari put it more direct, when in response to a question by a foreign news medium on why his children were schooling in foreign lands and not in Nigerian universities, he said: “Because I can afford it.” Yes, he can afford it; yes, other office holders can afford it.
But it goes beyond that. Education is a right and not a privilege. There are millions of Nigerians who do not have the opportunity or resources to send their children to schools abroad. There are over 11 million out-of-school Nigerian children out there in the streets, begging or doing odd jobs. These are the people bearing the brunt of the caricature that the public education sector in Nigeria has been reduced to. It is for such Nigerians that the face-off between the government and the Academic staff Union of Universities (ASUU), matter a lot.
The people at the receiving end, of course, may not matter to members of the political class. That is why, even with the lecturers in public universities in the country being on strike since February 14, no meaningful efforts have been made by the government to bring them back to the classrooms. The much the government did in addressing the situation was in the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, walking out on the students who had visited him to find a solution to the crisis. All that bothers the average politician is what to joggle or maneuver in the run up to the 2023 general elections. No society develops on that curve.
Former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, put it succinctly that the society, the youth that are being neglected and abused today, will take revenge tomorrow. There is danger in pretending that the universities remaining closed and the students roaming the streets, do not matter. They do, on the contrary.
We run on an estimate that puts Nigeria’s population at 200 million. The youths are approximated to constitute 60 percent of the number. In ordinary mathematical form, this is about 120 million. Out of the figure, 35 to 40 percent of the youths are said to be unemployed. The ones in school are currently on the streets due to the industrial action by their teachers. This is a clear and present danger to the country.
The #EndSARS protest of 2020 by the youths against the highhandedness of the police and sundry incidences of poor governance in the country, should have been enough to teach some lessons to the authorities. The impacts of the protest still resonate in many parts of the country. The mismanagement of the protest leading to the exercise being hijacked by hoodlums, accounts for the rising security challenges in many parts of the country, today. Anything nearer to that experience, may pose more problems to the nation.
The ongoing strike is the 17th in the series by ASUU since the commencement of the present civilian dispensation in 1999. It has to do with the failure of the Federal Government to renegotiate the agreement it signed with the teachers in 2009, the demand by the lecturers for the replacement of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS), with the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS), as the payment platform in the university sector, among others.
The teachers insist that IPPIS has never been implemented in any university system anywhere. Among its drawbacks, they say, is that it will shut the door against foreign scholars, contract officers and researchers needed to be poached from existing universities to stabilize new ones.
But the Federal Government insists that the payment system is for transparency and neither intended to trample upon university autonomy nor designed to subsume the university into the civil service.
These are issues that can be resolved with openness of mind and sincerity of purpose by the two parties. But this is not the case. It is rather a matter of ego and haughty carriage by government officials detailed to negotiate with the striking lecturers.
We had argued in this space that Nigeria has become a classic case of where the leaders do something same way repeatedly and expect a different result. Such has never worked anywhere. Allowing the ongoing strike to linger, portends danger for all. Apart from the students losing years and interest in their studies, standard is affected, also. Above all, the society suffers.
What the government is doing by appearing ignorant of the students staying at home or loitering the streets, is exposing them to traits that were not originally in them. We may take it or not but when we talk of the rising culture of insecurity in the land, occasioned by the ravaging insurgency and terrorism in the North East, banditry in the North West, intermittent clashes in the North Central, kidnapping and ethnic nationalism in the South West and South East or militancy in the South-South, all boil down to the youth unleashing their anger on the nation that has neglected them for a long time.
It beats common logic that politicians, especially public officers are rushing to pay N40m and N100m for presidential nomination forms from the two leading political parties – the PDP and All Progressives Congress (APC), respectively – while the demands of the striking members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), are not being attended to. That shows the extent the Nigerian system has shrunk on the value it places on its youths and their future.
Bad enough, the National Chairman of ASUU, Emmanuel Osodeke, has declared that the strike will be extended if the Federal Government refuses to attend to the Union’s demands. That means more danger ahead. That should give every Nigerian serious concern.
DURU is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos