It can be said with a reasonable level of certainty that Nigerians have lost their sense of proportion. The people can hardly draw a line between what matters and what does not. Sense and nonsense have become almost intertwined. This lack of appreciation and understanding of the thin line that separates sense and nonsense may also explain why they have lost their sense of outrage. The unusual has become very usual in the land. The result is that the people hardly know where they stand on any issue.
One of the handiest illustrations of this strange disposition of Nigerians is the state of affairs in our universities. The body called Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has grounded the university system in Nigeria, and no one is complaining. Nigerians have chosen to go about their normal businesses without sparing a thought for the fate of students whose youthful life is being wasted. For most Nigerians, there is nothing unusual about the indefinite closure of our universities. The students can stay out of school for months on end. It does not really matter.
ASUU has a load of issues and grouses against the Federal Government. It talks about a certain 2009 agreement it entered with government, which the latter has not honoured till date. The two bodies are diametrically opposed to each other on a number of issues, including the payroll system to adopt. Each time these issues come up, government comes up with tokenisms in order to trick the academics back to the classroom. In all of this, government and ASUU have had what they call memorandum of understanding. They also have another one called memorandum of action. ASUU has always fallen for this bait. But none has ever worked. And so, it has become a game of revolving doors. We always return to the starting point. No real progress is ever made.
To drive home its frustration, ASUU has, lately, chosen the path of disruption. It has formed the habit of shutting down the universities for as long as it pleases. It did this in 2020. A combination of ASUU strike and COVID-19 pandemic cost Nigerian universities one full academic calendar. Our children in the universities wasted away for one whole year. When ASUU eventually returned to the classroom, we thought that sanity would prevail for a reasonable length of time. We thought that deliberate effort would be made by the university teachers to recover lost ground. But we were utterly mistaken. ASUU returned to the trenches within one year. What that means is that it has learnt nothing and has forgotten nothing about the disruption that took place. That is what has brought us to yet another disruption so soon after the last one. The universities are no longer in session. The children are out of school again. The second month of the strike is about ending and there is no end in sight as yet.
From the look of things, ASUU is very comfortable with this disruptive state of affairs. It is wallowing in self-righteousness, believing, as it does, that government is holding the wrong end of the stick. Its attitude to the disruption borders on blackmail. For it, government is the reason the universities are shut. ASUU believes that it is clean through and through. But this can hardly be the case since it takes two to tango. The problem is that ASUU is riding the high horse. This has not helped it to see clearly on this matter. That is why it does not appear to be bothered if the universities remain shut for a decade.
Government, on its path, has even forgotten about university education in Nigeria. It sees the academic body as an irritation. It has chosen not to be distracted by this all-time agitator. That is why it is not interested in engaging ASUU. Government’s disposition suggests that it has called ASUU’s bluff. The universities can as well cease to function for as long as ASUU remains recalcitrant .
This is where we are. The university system in Nigeria is orphaned. It has nobody to take care of it. And the ultimate victims, the Nigerian youth who are the leaders of tomorrow, are pining away. Their frustration is almost immeasurable. Who will bell the cat? Government, obviously, is not looking in the direction of our universities. It is not interested in the cost of the long closures that our universities go through from time to time. Government has come to see the disorder as normal. It does not detract from whatever it is doing. ASUU and its irritations do not appear to have any place in the consideration of government. This is the unfortunate state of affairs.
ASUU and the Federal Government are monsters in their own right. One is as impervious as the other. While ASUU has chosen to play the spoilsport, government has chosen to ignore it with its antics. Both are gazing at each other eyeball to eyeball. Who blinks first?
Even more regrettable is the fact that Nigerians, especially the major stakeholders, appear indifferent in the face of this total disruption to learning in our universities. They do not see any urgency about the issue. Everyone appears to be looking the other way while our university system is left to the dogs. Why, for instance, has the National Assembly not considered this a matter of urgent national importance? Why has it not occurred to anyone that Nigeria cannot properly secure its future without an educated and enlightened citizenry? The authorities need not be reminded that an idle youth population is a time bomb. Insecurity in the country has been growing in leaps and bounds because an overwhelming majority of our youth population is not meaningfully engaged. This state of affairs should worry government at all levels. But it is doubtful if this is of any concern to the authorities.
ASUU, on its part, is claiming that its strikes are geared towards drawing the government out to act responsibly on issues that concern university education. That could be the objective. But the university teachers need to ponder a bit. They need to reflect a little on their approach, with a view to finding out whether it is working or not. The modus operandi, which the university body has adopted so far, seems to give the impression that strike is the ultimate answer to government’s lack of commitment to university education. But it is not. ASUU should realise that strike is not an end in itself. It can only be a means to an end. Therefore, if the means adopted by ASUU to achieve its objective are not working, it only makes sense to change strategy. Insisting on grounding the universities through unhelpful strikes is not only redundant, it does not make sense.