The Federal Government’s (FG) delegation in the current dispute with university teachers has suddenly discovered the forte of her muscles. Seeing the ineffectuality of hot air and other niceties, the FG mediators have prescribed an aggressive medication for striking university teachers; ‘pick up your chalks or face the music’. Admittedly their argument seems to make sense, the federal statues (which we claim to run) makes it clear that the central government cannot make decisions for the other tiers of government. However, it is baffling that the FG just woke up to this realisation. Were their brains on sabbatical when they started the talkses with ASUU, reached an understanding in 2001 only to renege in 2009? This is certainly not about rule of law but a tragedy of tyranny.
It is basic knowledge that ASUU is a union of federal and state university teachers. The FG cannot feign ignorance of this bitter fact, for it has continually dialogued with ASUU. Thus if the government knew from day one that the union is not homogeneous why did she go ahead to negotiate? Why has the establishment just realised that she cannot afford to sign an agreement because of federalist considerations? This is not being as smart as a whip but garnished hypocrisy, bearing in mind that this same government in the recent past ordered the Lagos State government to reverse the creation of Local Development Authorities or face reprisals. It took public indignation for the government to recoil into her shell, showing that this flaunting of federalism is just a show of might is right.
The solidarity expressed by the unions – ASUU, SSANU and NASU – in calling the bluff of the FG drew my jaws wide with a salubrious smile. It was indeed pleasant to read in the Guardian (Saturday, August 29, 2009) that “the argument by the government that it would not sign an agreement that would be binding on state governments was puerile.” The three unions maintained that “the structure of university system does not discriminate against what form of ownership, as a lot of things were being done jointly.” The tilt that nailed the coffin on the government’s stance was that, “the National Universities Commission (NUC) operates a uniform academic standards in all universities; it also accredits the degrees and other academic awards in the universities; lecturers in the public university system move from one university to another as lecturers or examiners, irrespective of ownership, state or federal, and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) conducts admissions into university system, with one set of requirement.”
However the unions should do more, to avoid the villain cloak to cling on her. It seems that aside these sporadic fumes of angst there seem to be no real effort to tell their story. This is imperative if the university staff intend to retain public sympathy which is unfortunately waning. The perception that ASUU and gang, espouses seems to be a bunch of juvenile activists who are unwilling to see reason but rather blindly reproach all advances for reconciliation by a paternalistic government.
A solution to this crisis cannot be reached in atmosphere of condescending snobbery, blackmail or arm twisting. Why must it be the teachers that have to take the first step before their demands are met? Why not the establishment, or is it the sole prerogative of government to decide when and how best to settle disputes? Unfortunately, what seems to be so straight forward has been reframed into a web of intrigues?
The guile of the FG seems to be plastered with patriotic dousing that is never lacking in the registry of public officials. Asides the order to work or not get paid, the Minister of Education, Sam Egwu continually flies the flag of a victim, who has tried all that is within his powers only to be shunned by his former colleagues. Time and time again, Mr Egwu’s facile tongue reminds ASUU that their un-patriotism impairs a generation of young men and women who are at the receiving ends of this battle. What a wise guy?
By the way, when was the FG hired as the media manager of Nigerian students? I would not be surprised if majority of the kids of those in government are in foreign universities. And even if I stand contradicted, am still unaware that the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has outsourced this responsibility to politicians. By the way, where the hell is NANS? It’s a rather sad that amidst all this kasala, the student leadership has maintained a suspicious silence. It’s not just wary but unpleasant that those who bear the brunt of this season of tyranny have remained mute. If NANS cannot act, they should at least pretend to speak. History will neither forgive nor forget their present inaction. Student activism is not just about rag-days, boot licking politicians for the crumps of ‘democracy’ and rioting against increase in tuition.
Just thinking aloud, would government have delayed this much if legislators had requested an increase in their allowances? I suppose that as a matter of national security, the executive would have long assented to their demands. Tyranny will certainly not recall teachers to their classrooms, dialogue will. It’s time to declare a state of emergency in the educational sector. We need as much manpower to generate the electricity we all crave for, provide security (even for kidnappers), stimulate agriculture, create wealth, provide jobs, propel land reforms, calm the strained nerves in the delta, and other 20 visions postulated for a better Nigeria in 2020. Nonetheless, “the 7-point agenda minus education, equals to zero”, so says ASUU!
Nigerian Village Square, (30th August, 2009).