You must have noticed 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 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 from the rot in the system. That is why soccer 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 utterly ridiculous report by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which claimed that Nigerians were the happiest people on earth.
The report was said to be a product of research from 65 countries. Of course, 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 the report 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.
So, 2023 politics has offered another ground for 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.
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 in 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 revitalisation 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 and replacement of the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) with the UTAS as the payment platform in the university sector, among others.
The teachers said IPPIS has never worked in any university system anywhere, adding that the system shuts the door against foreign scholars, contract officers and researchers needed to be poached from existing universities to stabilise new ones.
But the Federal Government insists that the payment model is for transparency and not intended to trample upon university autonomy.
The two parties are stuck to 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 doubt, has its share of blame in the ugly situation. But 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 demeanor, 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 a few questions by the students, 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 was supposed to be answerable to the people. Adamu should have been relieved of his office by that crass indiscretion, in a saner clime. But not here.
The ASUU strike is not the only area where Nigeria is being boxed into 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), from October 12, saw the institutions paralysed.
The unions had accused the Federal Government of failing to honour agreements reached 10 years ago. Allowing the research centres to embark on strike was a sad statement on Nigeria and its touted march to technological breakthroughs in a couple of years ahead.
Elsewhere, members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) had on occasions withdrawn their services over unresolved issues with government.
The authorities have always treated these critical issues with levity, while chasing shadows. The frenzy for 2023 is the hottest potato in town and any other thing is kept in abeyance. No nation survives on that path.
The current ASUU strike is a time bomb that may explode in our faces. 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 the future.