No time is ever proper to resolve overarching questions of development in a polity like ours where the leaders demur at every crucial moment to grapple with the challenges of nationhood. Thus, in the hands of our leaders, what should be a laudable process of envisioning becomes travestised as a trajectory of disguising their inability to confront head-on national challenges. Or why do our leaders have the penchant for setting national goals in a time frame that is perpetually elastic? Remember? Under varied rubrics such as “Housing for all by 2000 AD” and “Vision 20:2020” our leaders have found a way of not coming to terms with national crises that would eventually haunt us or the subsequent generation.
Now, the official refrain is that this is not the best time to talk about restructuring. As they flounder for a pretext under which to avoid confronting the issues that the need for restructuring has thrown up, our leaders have not been so fortunate to think of offering the agitating citizens the anodyne of “Restructuring in 2050 AD.” For our leaders, what should presage talks about restructuring is the restoration of economic buoyancy, a goal that would remain elusive as long as our leaders continue to see their political positions as means to self-valourisation. The unimpeachable argument that the economic misery of the people was sired in the first place by the absence of a restructured polity holds no appeal to them.
The leaders have stretched further their expectation of acquiescence on the part of the citizens. Now, they want them to avoid like a plague the need to raise questions about the health status of President Muhammadu Buhari. We have been told repeatedly that it is none of our business that the president has been hobbled by ill health and he cannot discharge the responsibilities for which he was voted into office. We are told that it is his private affair as his treatment and other corollary expenses incurred by the unending stream of visitors to London drain our vanishing resources. Our leaders want us to just have the faith that our president means well for us and there is no need for us to know what ails him. This is the same way we have avoided finding enduring solutions to the problems of injustice and marginalisation in the south-east and the Niger Delta and religious bigotry and lack of education in the northern part of the country until they have now morphed into national crises.
Over the years, successive political leaders at the national and state levels have evaded a decisive response to the crisis bedeviling the nation’s educational crisis. From the primary to the tertiary levels of the educational system, there have been problems that require an urgent attention but which unfortunately have been ignored to the mortal peril of our development. Teachers are poorly rewarded for their services. They do not have the right facilities to work with. Research is frustrated by a disruptive electricity supply. The libraries are stocked with outdated books and journals. And yet we want our educational institutions to compete with their counterparts in other parts of the world.
Clearly, the teachers’ strike may disrupt students’ studies, prolong their stay in the universities and exact a heavy toll on the already beleaguered finances of their parents. But instead of pillorying the university teachers we should be grateful to them for jolting us from the obliviousness of our educational crisis.
They could have chosen the easy option that since the government and the citizens would not understand their plight, they should respond in the same measure. In that case, what may compensate for their ill-treatment by the nation is their giving desultory services that are commensurate to the disdain which the society has for them.
Instead of acknowledging that our educational system is in a crisis and considering the best intervention, some people who are befuddled by their privileges of closeness to power would dismiss the strike as political. They would say that it is the enemies of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, most likely members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and their sympathisers that are hell-bent on unspooling the government and its anti-corruption fight. But we should not just dismiss the teachers as embarking on a strike in order to get better salaries. Even if they were fighting for better salaries, they are justified.
Here is a nation that pays its political leaders so much despite an economic recession but can only afford to give its teachers crumbs from the political leaders’ tables as wages. Political leaders pay themselves severance benefits while they are still in service and put in place huge pensions for their post-service splurge. Yet, we expect the teachers to put in their best.
Notwithstanding that there is a recession and government revenues are now depleted, this is the best time to bring this matter of the educational crisis to the table for discussion. If the matter was not resolved when there was so much money to steal by our political leaders, it should be confronted now in the face of the imperative of the prudent deployment of the few available resources. When the nation’s revenues are deployed in the appropriate places, there would be little or none left for our political leaders to steal. It is the same leaders who say there is no money to pay workers and pensioners who squander the Paris Club refunds on themselves and the senseless building of new government lodges and secretariats.
Our political leaders do not appreciate the urgency of a response to our educational crisis because they steal enough money to send their children to schools abroad. It is a tragic betrayal of national trust that our political leaders who got the best of the country’s economy and educational system are not eager to revamp their shattered fortunes. Now, they would be happy if ASUU does not alert the nation to the crisis in the educational system. Our political leaders, who in connivance with our businesspeople have ruined our public primary and secondary schools, would be happy if our universities also crumble so that the population of their private universities can swell. Yet, it is not all the citizens who can afford private university education for their children. How can a parent whose minimum wage is N18, 000 send his or her child to a private university where the tuitions range from N500,000 to N1 million per session?
The government should not resort to the quibble that it was not responsible for the agreement with ASUU. Nor should it inflict on us the platitude that it has raised a committee on the matter. This matter has been on since 2009 and the APC government did not come from another planet two years ago; it was aware of the crisis. Why did it not take the resolution of the issues that ASUU raised since then as a priority? If the APC government had shown promise of effectively responding to the issues that ASUU raised, it is not likely that the university teachers would have embarked on this current strike.
The government should not give us the excuse that there is no money. If the government can take loans for projects that do not positively impact the citizens, it should go ahead to take loans to fund our education as long as the problems are clearly identified. In this regard, as a professor who understands the value of education to personal development and national growth, so much is expected of the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to be sympathetic to the university teachers’ case. But this government also has the option of responding to the ASUU crisis with disdain. It can do this by leaving the crisis for the succeeding government as its predecessors did.