By Sunny Awhefeada
I do not know if President Muhammadu Buhari has a soft spot for avian species or if keeps or kept any the way he loves and keeps cows. My surmise is that if he loved or kept birds as pets, the species must be the ostrich. The President doesn’t need to bother about the cost or where to get ostriches. He would not need the services of a handler to groom them. Truly, Buhari will not need to look too far in search of ostriches because there are three notable officials in the Presidency playing the ostrich. The three officials are professors and ex-members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
One of them is a professor of Law, pastor and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the other one is a professor of International Relations and world class diplomat and the third in the avian conclave is a professor of Law, ex-radical and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). The first is Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, the second is the President’s Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, while the third is the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption (PACAC), Itse Sagay.
The three men, especially the first two hold the most significant offices in the Federal Government today. The Vice President is the nation’s number two citizen and he is supposed to wield enormous influence and authority. The Chief of Staff handles the day to day activities of the president. President Buhari conferred unimaginable powers on the former occupant of the office when he told his ministers to run whatever they wanted to do with him by the Chief of Staff. Simply put, the Chief of Staff was the President’s alter ego. That was why some people thought that the coming of Gambari as Chief of Staff would have a salutary effect on how the nation is governed. People had thought that his exposure, global standing and cultivated temperament as a professor in the Social Sciences would enable him change the narrative of governance to conform to global best practice and bring a new lease of life to Nigeria.
Our three professors have so far outdone the ostrich in its own game of shying away from “unpleasant reality” or “the painful truth”.
This has been the case for the trio since the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) commenced in March this year. The three dons occupying the top echelon of government have not deemed it fit to intervene or utter a word about the crisis rocking their immediate constituency, which is the university system that not only gave them a career, but also name and fame. Remarkably brilliant as they are, one had felt that they would bring a great measure of effulgence to government. Osinbajo and Gambari ought to be providing sound policy advice that should drive Nigeria in the right direction. Sagay ought to have championed the war against corruption as a national desideratum. What we have in the three men, unfortunately, is an avowed devotion to muteness.
The government officials whose duty it is to resolve the ASUU strike have demonstrated an embarrassing lack of capacity and competence in handling the crisis. The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Emeka Ngige and his two counterparts in Education, Adamu Adamu and Emeka Nwajuba by their performance so far shouldn’t have been saddled with the burden of running a Local Education Authority (LEA) how much more a federal ministry. Their lack of understanding of the very simple issues at stake in the ASUU strike calls for grave concern.
These ministers would have been sacked in saner climes. Whenever, Ngige and Nwajuba speak on the strike, they often do so in a flimsy, dour and unconvincing manner that leaves no one in doubt about their unpatriotic credentials.
The ongoing ASUU strike should not have happened if we have had responsive governments since 1999. The germane issues at the core of the crisis didn’t evolve today. They are the cumulative consequences of bad faith and deliberate attempts to destroy the very fabric of our nationhood by first emasculating its symbols which are what the universities are. The issues have dragged on for eleven years and they all revolve around the implementation of agreements that were reached with government. Which responsible government refuses to implement an agreement it entered into and signed? What role or what advice has the trio of Osinbajo, Gambari and Sagay played or offered to government?
Five issues that provoked the present ASUU strike are; revitalization of the universities, renegotiation of the 2009 ASUU/FG agreement, instituting visitation panels, proliferation of universities, and earned academic allowance.
As if the foregoing were not enough wahala, an ill-informed and ill-timed contraption called IPPIS, sounds like ISIS, was thrown at the universities as a salary payment platform. When the strike began, the government, in its usual cavalier character, looked the other way before it started making occasional references laced with threats and the gobbledygook of “no money”. A responsible government would have resolved the matter within a week or two, but not in Nigeria. Government officials derive pleasure in grounding public institutions while they fly out to other countries where such services are taken for granted and enjoy them. Can Buhari, Osinbajo, Adamu, Ngigie, Nwajuba, Gambari and Sagay imagine American and British universities closed for just one week?
This is where one had thought that Osinbajo, Gambari and Sagay would intervene and resolve the crisis, but they have chosen to play the ostrich. This trend is not new. In the late 1980s, when Babangida levied war against the universities, he chose a professor, Jubril Aminu, to lead the charge. Another professor, Ben Nwabueze, became the scourge of the universities when he was Secretary of Education (equivalent of minister) under Ernest Shonekan’s Interim Nation Government. Dr. Goke Adegoroye, probably smarting from an amputated career in academe, as permanent secretary delivered a blistering attack against the university system during a convocation at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Dr. Sam Egwu, a former university teacher as Education minister under President Yar’ Adua went for ASUU’s jugular until the President and the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Yayale Ahmed intervened. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan holds a PhD and was a lecturer in a College of Education, but he was supine over the ASUU crisis.
The 2009 agreement was actually meant for review in 2012 when Jonathan was president, but he waved it aside. There were Vice Chancellors who also ranged against ASUU in its struggle to reposition the university system. It is high time ASUU opened a hall of shame for all those who worked against its interest.
What many Nigerians don’t know is that the Nigerian professor is the least paid in the world. The Nigerian professor earns less than a half of what a doodling permanent secretary receives and less than a third of what military generals without war take home monthly. The universities need infrastructure and research grants. Many states have too many universities as every governor dreams of establishing one in his village even when owing salaries for twelve months. The Federal Government says there is no money, but what happened to all the recovered loots? What happened to the huge amount raked in through taxes? It is the same government that is budgeting hundreds of billion for overseas training for terrorists and throwing unjustifiable billions to a functionless national assembly. The crisis in the university system is economic loss for Nigeria and boom for other countries as Nigerians spend billions of dollars on foreign education which enrich other economies. Nigerians must rouse the ostriches from their smug posture. I can wager that President Buhari is not aware that ASUU is on strike and he would be “shocked” to know that the three ostrich-playing professors did nothing to intervene.