Opinion: For 2023, Nigeria Barters Its Future – By Emeka Alex Duru
You would notice the frenzy for 2023 among Nigerians these days. Virtually everyone has turned a politician or political analyst. Permutations on candidates to win in the 2023 general elections, are the dominant topics. Worship centres and drinking joints, are intoxicated by the momentum. Newspaper stands are now more crowded than lecture rooms. Everybody wants to catch the fun and be part of the stupor.
These are ordinarily, good developments. They enliven the minds and boost political education, needed in democracy. But here, it is not the case. For the leaders, such occasions provide opportunities to distract the people and divert their minds from the rot in the system. That is why pageantries and tournaments or television reality shows enjoy government patronage than college quiz competitions.
For the leaders, it is good to serve the people such breezy moments and make them forget their sorrow, even if for a while. You will then understand why the federal government in 2018 hijacked an utterlyridiculous report by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) which claimed that Nigerians were the happiest people on earth.
The reports was said to be a product of research from 65 countries. In a saner clime, considering the challenges confronting the country which ranged from poverty, corruption, youth unemployment, insecurity, communal violence, leadership failure at all levels and infrastructure collapse around the country, the logical thing should have been to dismiss the report as sheer intellectual fraud.
But the government of the day, latched on to it and advertised it as an indication of its strides in re-engineering the country. As if that was not enough, the citizens, who were the very object of humour that the publication represented, joined in the unrestrained celebration. That was the irony of a system that did not know what its problems were.
2023 politics has offered another ground for the government to keep the people busy while it snores over its responsibilities. As of today, the industrial action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), on February 14, has run for 123 days, without serious efforts to address it. Statistics by ASUU indicates that the face-off has entered the 16th week.
Cumulatively, the teachers’ union has used a total of 1,404 days to go on strike since the inception of this democratic dispensation in 1999. In other words, the lecturers have spent three years and 10 months on strike to press home their demands from the federal and state governments.
A breakdown of the face-off by Vanguard Newspapers on Tuesday, June 14, quoting data consulting firm, Statisense, is one that should give any Nigerian cause for concern. According to the report, 275 days were wasted in 2020 on strike by university teachers.
In 1999 and 2001, ASUU strike occurred 90 days each culminating into 180 days. It was another straight 180 days of dispute in 2003
In 2007, lecturers boycotted classrooms for another 90 days. The next action lasted 120 days in 2009 and 180 days in both 2010 and 2011.There were no lectures for 165 days in 2013. The 2018 edition lasted 94 days.
The lecturers’ demands have often centred on funding for the revitalization of public universities, earned academic allowances, University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) and promotion arrears.
The current strike is due to the failure of the federal government to renegotiate the agreement it signed with ASUU in 2009 including adequate funding of the system, replacement of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS), with the UTAS, as the payment platform in the university sector, among others.
The teachers say that IPPIS has never worked in any university system anywhere, adding that the system shuts the doors 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 model is for transparency and neither intended to trample upon university autonomy.
The two parties are stuck on their positions. ASUU President, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, was recently quoted to have said that the federal government was not showing much concern on the matter. So, there are no immediate signs of resolution of the crisis.
ASUU, no doubts, has its share of blame in the impasse. But the government is not helping matters. In fact, the conduct of the Minister for Education, Adamu Adamu, in his meeting with the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), in the early days of the strike, did not portray the government as being ready to address the issues raised by the teachers.
A video clip of the meeting and the Minister’s haughty carriage which went viral, remain a bad publicity for Nigeria and the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
The students who were protesting the continued face-off between the government and ASUU, had taken their anger to the minister’s office, clutching placards demanding a quick resolution of the crisis.
After some remarks and few questions by the students who were led by the NANS President, Comrade Sunday Asefon, the Minister walked out on them, dismissing virtually all the points raised by the youths with a wave of the hand.
That was arrogance and impunity taken too far by a public servant who is supposed to be answerable to the people. Adamu should have been relieved of his office by that crass indiscretion, in a more organised society. But not here.
The ASUU strike is not the only area the country is being boxed to a corner by the sheer unresponsiveness of its leadership class. The strike by Nigeria’s 67 research centres and allied institutes under the umbrella of the Joint Research and Allied Institution Sector Unions of Nigeria (JORAISU) which lasted from October 12, till the end of last year and paralysed the institutions, showed how we trivialise serious issues here.
The union had accused the federal government of failing to honour agreements reached 10 years ago with it. Research is the key to the development of any nation. Allowing the research centres to embark on strike was a sad statement on Nigeria and her touted march to technological breakthrough.
Elsewhere, members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), had on occasions withdrawn their services over unresolved issues with the government.
These are uncanny developments that should bother critical minds. But the Nigerian authorities have always treated them with levity, while chasing shadows. The frenzy for 2023 is currently the hottest potato in town and every other thing is kept in abeyance. By the time the elections are over, another object of distraction would be thrown at the people.
You can therefore understand why the ASUU strike may not matter to the government and its senior officials, especially when they have their children schooling in Ivy League institutions abroad. But the current strike is a time bomb that may explode on our faces, if not properly handled. What the government is doing by appearing not bothered over the lingering strike, is unwittingly mortgaging the future of the youths and the country. The maxim is that the youths are the strengths of a nation. Other systems harness their youths. But Nigeria toys with its youths and gambles with her future.
DURU is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos.