By Farooq A. Kperogi
If you want to measure the depth and breadth of any society’s depravity, moral decay, and hopelessness, look no further than how it treats its youth, especially its young people who are not scions of the gilded, roistering elite class of the society.
There’s no question that Nigeria detests, despises, and mistreats the majority of its youth who have the misfortune of being born by poor parents. There is no better, starker, more glaring evidence of this than the cold indifference that the Nigerian government has shown in the face of the current strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
While hundreds of thousands of Nigeria’s young people are vegetating helplessly at home because of the entirely avoidable and easily resolvable ASUU strike, people who should resolve the issues that propelled the strike are either partying or politicking.
It came to light midweek that the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, whose institutions are shut because of ASUU strike, are organizing a five-day conference for their wives— and “Women in Academics and Higher Education Leadership”— in Istanbul, Turkey, from July 18.
“We understand the vital role spouses play in supporting Vice Chancellors as they execute their day- to day [sic] administration of universities,” wrote the committee’s Secretary-General by the name of Yakubu Ochefu, who is ironically a professor of economic history. “It is therefore imperative, that [sic] capacity building exercises be put in place for the Women in Academics and spouses of Vice Chancellors in Nigerian Universities.”
The wives of the VCs will pay N1.5 million each as fees for the privilege to attend the Istanbul jamboree while universities they “support” their husbands to “administer” are shut down. The irony is lost on these thieving, frivolous, know-nothing intellectual thugs.
Not done with the planned Istanbul shindig for their wives, the Vice Chancellors also put together another pointlessly two-day celebratory bash for the same wives at the University of Lagos’ Tayo Aderinokun Memorial Hall. It was scheduled to start on May 9 but has now been “postponed” because of the backlash it has generated.
So, vice chancellors of Nigerian universities—who aren’t ASUU members— are feting their wives while students writhe in agony and lecturers squirm in distress because of a government-instigated strike that has caused universities to be shut for close to three months now.
Because Nigerian universities are no longer the ivory towers that used to exist in privileged isolation from the realities of quotidian life, they now self-consciously mimic the dysfunctions of the political class. That’s why vice chancellors are now indistinguishable from larcenous, airheaded politicians.
While vice chancellors and their wives are having, or plan to have, a ball in the face of what is shaping up to be one of the longest-drawn-out ASUU strikes, government appointees whose remit it is to adjudicate the issues that started— and sustain— the strike are lost in silly politicking.
Education minister Malam Adamu Adamu, whose fan I used to be, has given up even the littlest pretense to the most basic scintilla of competence and decency. He no longer has any care that ASUU is on strike even when he used to be one of ASUU’s loudest cheerleaders when he wasn’t in government.
Why should he care? Since he became a minister, his children no longer attend public universities. His daughters now attend private universities in Nigeria while his son attends a university in Iran. This is a man whose legendary asceticism, piety, and love for justice and fairness used to bowl over anyone who knew him. Michelle Obama is right that power reveals who we really are.
The Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, who no one hears of on a good day, is gambling his life away with a preposterously unrealistic, long-shot presidential bid. He doesn’t care if ASUU is on strike until the end of time because, in any case, like Malam Adamu, he has no child in a public university in Nigeria.
Dr. Chris Ngige, the cantankerous, militantly ignorant, loudmouthed Minister of Labor and Employment, who should also be concerned about bringing an end to the ASUU strike not only talks unbearably unrelieved nonsense on TV about the strike but is also, like Nwajiuba, on a wild goose chase for the presidency. He doesn’t care a hang if ASUU is on strike in perpetuity.
In sum, everyone in the Buhari regime who has a legal or moral responsibility to get ASUU to call off its strike is playing ducks and drakes with the destinies of hundreds of thousands of students whose parents aren’t rich enough to send them to foreign universities or private universities in Nigeria. Sadly, the rest of the country seems to be carrying on as if nothing is amiss.
The collective insouciance and shortsightedness of Nigeria’s elites about the future of our youth would cost us the next generation, which every demographer in the world says belongs to Africa.
According to an April 13, 2022, US Census Bureau report, “Africa’s population is exceptionally young compared to other world regions that have been aging at a fast rate: only 5.6% of Africa’s population was age 60 or older in 2020 compared to 23.4% in North America and double-digit percentages in every other world region.
“Even by 2050, Africa’s older population is projected to remain in single digits, less than 1 in 10 (9.3%). That will still be lower than the current rates for other regions.”
Since the future belongs to the youth, and Africa (which Nigeria is the most populous country of) has the world’s most youthful population, it’s easy to see that if we plan right, if we invest in our youth today, we’d have a chance to dominate the world.
The reverse is also true: If we fail to plan now, we’d be planning to fail in the future. There would be an incalculable disaster in the offing because an uneducated or under-educated youth bulge is always a catalyst for perpetual internal strife.
The political leaders don’t care because, being the self-interested narcissists that they are, they are only obsessed with the here and now. They don’t even care that their children (on whom they expend our patrimony to educate abroad or in private domestic universities) would be consumed by the choices they are making and not making today.
To illustrate that both the APC and PDP are identical when it comes to their attitude toward investment in the education of our youth, I’ll leave the reader with excerpts from an August 21, 2013, news story when ASUU went on strike over the same issues it’s on strike for.
In a Daily Post story titled “ASUU strike: ‘Stop punishing students, honour your agreement’ – APC tells FG,” Lai Mohammed, APC’s spokesman at the time said, “Agreements are meant to be honoured, and breaching them comes with some consequences.”
“The 87 billion naira that ASUU is demanding represents earned allowances hence cannot be renegotiated,” Lai Mohammed said. “In any case, this amount pales into insignificance when placed side by side with the 1 trillion naira that has been spent on federal legislators in the past 8 years; or the frivolity involved in a government minister travelling to China to negotiate a $1 billion loan in a chartered jet (with its attendant costs) and with a retinue of staffers who earned generous estacode in hard currency.”
There’s more: “It is an indication of the kind of priority that this Federal Government attaches to education that while it has refused to meet its own side of an agreement it reached with ASUU since 2009, it could pay out 3 trillion naira in non-existent fuel subsidies to fat cats, spend 10 billion naira annually to maintain the jets in the presidential fleet and do little or nothing to prevent the stealing of 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day, which translates to $120 million in a month, money that surely ends up in some people’s pockets!
“What we are saying is that if the Federal Government would reduce its profligacy and cut waste, there will be enough money to pay teachers in public universities, as well as fund research and upgrade infrastructure in such institutions.
“Hungry teachers can neither teach well nor carry out research. And poorly-taught students can neither excel nor propel their nation to great heights.
APC’s Lai Mohammed also took issue with the “non-chalance of those who should be working round the clock to resolve the crisis, especially the Minister of State for Education Nyeson Wike, who has enough time on his hands to be launching vigilance groups and dancing ‘palongo’ around town when the nation’s public universities are shut and students are languishing. This is shameful and totally unacceptable.”
And then this: “We are not surprised, because most government officials have sent their children and wards to foreign universities, hence do not give a damn if the children of others are in school or not.”
Ha! The more things change, the more they remain the same in Nigeria!