Educationally ‘Sowetoed’ Nigerians either do not know this or do not appreciate the Promethean role of ASUU or just simply do not care.
Joseph A. Ushie
Since the beginning of the current strike by my union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), in early November, 2018, very many disturbing thoughts and worries have invaded and held me hostage over the general state of affairs in my country, Nigeria. This and several other strikes by this Union have led me to very frightening conclusions and fears and sorrow about this country. The summary of all these is that each strike further dims the hope of a reversal of the drifting of this country to its final doom, its final apocalypse, its perdition, its damnation.
What most educated persons know is that no nation ever rises above the level of its quality of education. This is what all modern world economies know. The government and people of Britain know this, which was why their former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, when asked what his three priorities were, he answered, “1. Education! 2. Education! 3. Education!” And another, David Cameron, even as he decreased allocation to some sectors of his economy, increased the budget for education.
That is why most of the fast-developing economies of the world, both advanced and developing, both former colonial masters and colonies devote not less than UNESCO’s prescribed minimum of 26% of their annual budgets to education. It is this recognition that had taken India, Ghana, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and others to where they are, far ahead of Nigeria.
Today, rich Nigerians, mostly those who have the opportunity to steal from the commonweal, shamelessly yank off their children from here into schools in Ghana, Malaysia, Benin Republic, the United States of America, Britain, Canada, South Africa and just anywhere else in the world into which economies they empty our nation’s treasure in exchange for the exclusive education of their children. Yet, at every public outing, especially during their notorious political campaigns all the candidates lie competitively about their noble, laudable plans for education, which shows that they are indeed, like citizens of other countries, aware of the importance of good quality education as a necessary tool for the development of the country. Yet, while in office, none of them, right from the military era till date, has veered off this heinous treachery, this betrayal of the people to a patriotic and altruistic commitment to the cause of education in this country.
This is no accident at all. It is a well planned, well executed scheme by the few rich in the country to fossilize even the progeny of the country into children of the rich and those of the poor. This began somehow innocuously through the mangling of education at the pre-tertiary level.
Majority of those in government today attended public – that is government-funded – primary and secondary schools, which were adequately funded to produce for the country an educated class that can hold its own anywhere in the world.
But in time, the evil spirit of capitalism set in with its destructive impulse. Teachers in the public schools were consciously reduced to paupers in terms of their welfare; facilities in these schools dried up as budgetary allocations to education thinned down. Generally, the zeal and zest for hard work on this poor class of Nigerian workers waned and, ultimately, the public schools died a slow, painful, agonizing death only for them to reincarnate in the private primary and secondary schools to where the erstwhile seriousness of the public schools has been transferred. But the question is, given the forbiddingly high fees of these schools, how many honest Nigerian civil servants, let alone the unemployed, can afford to send their children to these aristocratic schools? As such, through this system Nigeria’s successive governments have re-created through the education system in Nigeria the equivalents of the social class markers in apartheid South Africa where we had the Reserves and Soweto for the Blacks, and Pretoria, Johannesburg and other aristocratic cities for the Whites.
At the tertiary level, particularly the university, there have been two openings for the children of the affluent. These are education abroad for those who can afford it, or education in the fast-growing voraciously expensive private universities, while the children of the poor have remained in those public universities which, in this case, I will describe as the Soweto or Reserves for the ordinary Nigerian child.
However, the death of public universities in the country is being slowed down by the stoical, self-sacrificing and altruistic patriotism of one group of Nigerians who come under the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). This is a union of scholars which, like any other trade union in the country, ought to be concerned only about its members’ welfare, and asking traditionally for increases in wages and allowances and ensuring job security for its members, as all other unions do.
But since the union has chosen to talk on behalf of the Sowetoed Nigerian class whose children can neither be sent abroad nor to the private universities in the country, the union has been marked for all kinds of humiliation and destruction by the country’s rich who make up every government. It has thus become a war for survival between each thieving, aristocratic government and members of ASUU. Sometimes, and regularly, the government functionaries grab at the lean throats of the members by stopping their miserable salaries or sacking them altogether. But the pain, the real pain is that while this has been the case for decades now, those educationally Sowetoed Nigerians either do not know this or do not appreciate the Promethean role of ASUU or just simply do not care.
As such, they are usually among the very people used during each strike to condemn members of ASUU during each and every strike action to rescue the nation’s public universities from the lethal grip of the ruling aristocrats. Sadly, until recently, even fellow pilloried co-wayfarers in the vineyard of learning such students and vice chancellors were often turned against the Union.
To be concluded tomorrow.
Prof. Ushie writes from University of Uyo