By Francis Ewherido
his column has been on recess for over a year now; for reasons which are stories for another day, but the summary is “na God win.” We are in the season of politics and I was contemplating whether this is the right time to resume the column. Then I asked myself: Has family life stopped? Have couples stopped their conjugal lives and making babies? I beg? Let the eagles perch and let weaver birds also continue to perch.
While I was on recess, something continued to torment me and I naturally want to start from there: the ASUU ongoing strike. Nigerian-owned government universities have been closed since February 14 (Valentine’s Day of all days), 2021, when the Academic Staff Union of Universities started an indefinite strike. There was a prior warning strike. Cumulatively, almost two years of studies have been lost. Within this period, we saw some top government officials posting graduation photos of their children in foreign universities. Even a Nigerian University vice chancellor did too. That is daylight witchcraft. The politicians will meet the students and other youths at the polls very soon. Enough of this nonsense.
I was in the university between 1984 and 1988. I graduated two months before the first major ASUU strike in August 1988, but I empathise with the students and their parents. I was in the university at the same time with two of my brothers. My father had passed on in May 1988, while I was writing my degree examination. Three of my youngest brothers were in secondary school then, preparing to get into the university. My father’s wish was a minimum of first degree for all his children. My father’s death had devastated my mother. Even without my father’s death, how was she going to cope with six children in the university? We needed to be out of school fast and join hands in training my youngest brothers, in order to carry out my father’s wish. And the three of us graduated on schedule and combined forces with my eldest brother to carry out my father’s wish. In this current scenario. What would have been the fate of my family?
Right now, many families are in a mess. The older children that they hoped will graduate and help train the younger ones are the people whose graduation is being delayed by the ASUU strike. Meanwhile the younger ones are getting out secondary school. How will the parents cope?
The only retirement plan some parents have are the children, who are stuck due to ASUU strike. By the time universities resume, the parents might not even have money to send them back to complete their studies because their entire financial plan has been disrupted. Mark you, I am not advocating that people plan their retirement on hand-outs from their children, but that is how it is with some people. Ordinarily, the day you start earning an income is the time you start planning for your retirement. But some people also plan for their retirement and debilitating and prolonged ailments occur, wipe out all their savings or investments, and, additionally, make them incapable of earning. The future can be unpredictable and mess you up, no matter how you plan. But plan, you must.
The ASUU strike stinks to high heavens. We are toiling with the future of a whole generation and by extension our whole future. The purposeful few, among the students, are making themselves useful by engaging in economic activities. Others are taking certification courses and acquiring new competencies. But those are the lucky and smart few. Some others have taken to kidnapping, yahoo-yahoo, banditry and other vices. Look at the crime rate? If schools were in session, it might not have been this bad. We have now exported our criminal behaviour to other countries. Go on line and read the nonsense they are writing about Nigeria and Nigerians. All our exploits in entertainment, scholarship, information technology, entrepreneurship, innovation and others have been interred by the criminality of a few bad eggs in our midst. Look at how the news of a Nigerian youth who stole a handset in Ghana trended. Why will you leave Nigeria and travel all the way to Ghana to engage in petty stealing? Meanwhile aging artisans in Nigeria are looking for youngsters to train and mentor. But they are not interested. They want the get rich (blow) without the grind
Still on ASUU, government should look for money, just as it looked for money to execute elections, build bridges, rails, roads and other infrastructure, to sort out ASUU. Human development comes before infrastructural development. The youths are too critical to toil with. Look at Europe. Foreigners are taking over their countries due to the low birth rate. They do not have enough young people to take over from the aging population. In our case, we have an army of young people; why can’t our young population be turned into an asset?
While government is trying to sort out ASUU, ASUU should sit up and clean its house. If you want equity, you must come with clean hands. We do not want to hear stories of sexual harassment of students and forcing students to buy hand-outs again. The annoying thing is that some of these lecturers took the materials from online sources word for word. Lecturers should sit up work hard and earn their salaries. Also, government university lecturers can go to private universities to teach, if their terms of engagement allow them, but they should not neglect their students and duties in the government-owned universities in the process.
Looking at the history of ASUU strikes: I realised that many of them were as a result of government reneging on agreements. Who are these government officials who agree to terms government cannot keep? As both parties continue with the current negotiations, I plead with the federal government team to make only promises that government can fulfil. I also plead with ASUU for the sake of our children to be flexible. Incidentally, the children of ASUU members are also affected by the strike. I am sure they are not happy seeing their children idling away at home.