By Sunny Awhefeada
The lad clad in a neat sky blue school uniform could not have been more than eleven years of age. But his conviction, innocent as it was, rang true and it was enough to tug at the heart of a Hitler, Mussolini. Idi-Amin or Abacha.
Together with his school mates, this unknown school boy, yes the cognomen unknown is the buzz word in today’s Nigeria, joined other people of goodwill to protest against the Federal Government’s insensitivity to the plight of Nigerians in the provocatively shoddy manner it has handled the ongoing industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
With all the emphasis the school boy could muster, he told his interviewers that Nigeria would become a better place if the government did what it should do to get our universities working again. Young as he is, he must have imagined an ideal adulthood with the university serving as a gateway to a future of possibilities and greatness.
Now all round him and his mates are stories of indefinite closure of the universities which his mind has configured as the place to be and get nurtured for the future. Every child of that age has a dream, a dream made beautiful and ennobling by thoughts of one day being a university student.
Unfortunately, like everything else in Nigeria, our universities are packing up and that dream clothed in grandeur is being threatened. So the boy in school uniform together with his schoolmates chaperoned by their teachers held aloft placards that spoke to their plight and future.
The inscriptions on the telling placards vary, but they all concur in their advocacy and insistence on resolving the Federal Government induced crisis in the universities that have been closed for most of this year. The placards and the words on them were complemented by a song rendered by the pupils. The song manifesting in call and response chant goes thus: “Children children what do you see/ I see ASUU fighting for me”.
It was repeated again and again for emphasis. The theme of the chant is a demonstration of solidarity with ASUU for Nigeria. Conscious of the deleterious consequences of the actions of hooded characters like Chris Ngige, Adamu Adamu and Lai Muhammed who are asphyxiating Nigeria, the little boys and girls took up the gauntlet to salvage and secure their future. It was no coincidence that their action came on the hills of the nationwide protest coordinated by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in solidarity with ASUU.
What the insensate agents of the Federal Government should be doing right now is to ask themselves if the NLC was also wrong, like ASUU, in declaring the nationwide protests for two good days. The likes of Ngige and Mohammed have put so much stress on how wrong ASUU was in declaring the strike six months ago. Now, if ASUU was wrong can NLC be wrong too? Can aviation sector workers, electricity workers and other labour unions who have declared support for the ASUU strike all be wrong while our all-knowing government apparatchiks are the only ones right?
Just before the NLC solidarity protest, Ngige was on television to berate ASUU and ending his raving with a sordid “I can teach some of them”. Yes, he can teach some of them how to perform ritual at Okija, how to get beating up by the Uba brothers and how to get disgraced out of office as a governor. Or aren’t these the antecedent of Ngige? On his part, Lai Mohammed declared the planned protest as illegal forgetting that he is serving in a government festooned with illegalities, a government that will not honour an agreement it signed and then asked that it should be renegotiated and after that renege on it and again asked that it should be re-renegotiated and still go ahead to disown the report. Has such a government not acted beyond reason?
Certainly, the government has acted without reason from the very beginning. ASUU sent reminder after reminder, emissaries intervened and government doodled and dozed into a slumberous state. Then the strike happened. Government went on with its initial braggadocio.
Ngige made a show of muscle flexing, double speak and ignorant arrogance. He ordered that salaries of ASUU members should be stopped hoping that hunger will chase the dons back to work. But he must have realized too late that he chose the wrong target in ASUU. Hunger arising from stoppage of salaries has never worked against ASUU and it is a measure of how those who rule us think that Ngige and Adamu do not know this glaring fact.
Before the NLC announced the two-day nationwide protest, it had also intervened, but the Ngiges in the corridors of power were deaf to entreaties since they are bent running the nation aground. Adamu, the Education Minister, having had a surfeit of godling Ngige cried out that the latter should hands off the negotiations with ASUU.
President Buhari having done with his millennial tooth-picking hearkened to Adamu’s cry and ordered Ngige to stay off and came short of asking him to go and lead masquerade dancers in Alor.
The NLC protest took place and it was a huge success. The Nigerian working class stood with ASUU for the future of Nigeria. Nigeria is going down due to loss of value system which only a good education system can inculcate. The civic space is shrinking, the ideals of nationhood are evaporating and the infractions of yesterday are here hunting us. Had the agents of the Federal Government done the needful by resolving the FGN vs. ASUU crisis early enough, it would have had time to focus on other equaling teething matters. Right now terrorists are tightening the noose on the Federal Government, our economy is on a free fall, our roads are no longer roads, every home is haunted by insecurity and a heavy foreboding looms over us. Abuja, the nation’s capital, which should be the safest place to be, is under siege by terrorists and bandits who have threatened to abduct the President. All schools in Abuja and Nassarawa have been closed down. It is near night for Nigeria.
The NLC has demonstrated its commitment to the future of Nigeria by standing with ASUU. That future is embedded in the song by those pupils who chanted “I see ASUU fighting for me”. No nation can aspire beyond the quality of the education her system can offer. It has become trite to say that education is a light giver, a catalyst for development and curtain raiser for the future. All people of good will should persist in standing with ASUU for Nigeria.