By Bola Bolawole
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Mr. Biodun Oyebanji, the mint-fresh governor of Ekiti state, was quoted on Monday, after taking office from his immediate predecessor and god-father, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, as saying he has “handed Ekiti over to God” Pray, in whose hand was Ekiti before now – Satan’s? How time flies and nothing lasts forever – good or bad! It looked like yesterday when Fayemi, leveraging on Federal might, elbowed Prof. Olusola Eleka of the PDP out of the way to grab the Ekiti governor’s seat. But it’s all over now! Four years, which seemed like eternity, have come to an end and Fayemi is today ex-Governor John Olukayode Fayemi; ex-Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, etc, etc. Now, what becomes of his election, on Friday, 12 September, in Saidia, Morocco, as president of the Forum of Governors of Regions/States of Africa? Will he pass the mantle on to Oyebanji or did it end with his tenure as governor? How much did that ego-trip and misadventure cost poor Ekiti state in hard currency? Such shenanigans! But Fayemi is not my focus here today! When Adjie Ukpabi Asika, erstwhile administrator of the East Central State, ran his mouth against Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Owelle of Onitsha told the irritant “No condition is permanent! You can be an administrator today only to become an ex-administrator tomorrow”. Fayemi must have begun to learn that lesson now! I also expect him to have begun to see more clearly now, like Jimmy Cliff crooned, and to begin to get wiser because it is when they leave office that they begin to recover their thinking ability, regain their commonsense and begin to behave normal. But count the days, weeks and months as you put your ears to the ground to pick up signals of rumblings between godfather and godson as the falcon begins to fail to hear the falconer. A house built with spittle comes crashing down at the very first sight of dews!
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But I digress! Our business here today is the eight-month old strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities; the losers and the gainers. Truth be told, everyone is a loser and there is not a single gainer. In its cavalier handling of the crisis, the Buhari administration further fell in the ratings of Nigerians in a classical case of “he that is down need fear no fall” ASUU has lost a measure of its reputation and integrity, which is much more valuable than the eight-month salary its members did not work for – and which they do not merit – but which they are shamelessly begging to be paid. Don’t pay them! Or, at best, pay them not more than two or three months’ salary on compassionate or humanitarian ground. ASUU, CONUA, NAMDA or whatever should equally pay the price. There is no way the students can recover the time lost – almost two academic sessions. There is no way what was not taught in these months could now be effectively taught in rush-rush manner. Admission-seekers are the worst hit as we have two or three streams of those loafing about the whole place. Parents, of whom I am one, cannot sufficiently quantify their loss to this ASUU strike. It will take decades of hard and consistent work devoid of further disruption of the academic calendar for the university system itself to recover lost ground and the lecturers to regain their integrity, prestige and fidelity. To regain what university teachers have lost will not come easy.
Now, can we in all honesty say with Nicollo Machiavelli that the end justifies the means? Did the resolution of this crisis meet the minimum reducible demands of ASUU? Going by the admission of the ASUU leaders themselves, it did not. Why, then, did they call off the strike when they had earlier vowed to strike to the death, as it were? One reason is strike fatigue. The lecturers were getting tired. Horrid news of the pathetic situation of many of their members on the campuses could not have been lost on ASUU. Many lecturers and workers lacking the means to take care of their health were succumbing in droves. ASUU leadership ranks were also experiencing some strains. Had they not acted when they did, their disagreement would have burst into the open to their utter embarrassment. The registration of CONUA and NAMDA by the Federal Government which, surprisingly, ASUU either did not anticipate or was unable to arrest; jolted some ASUU leaders. The fear of CONUA, then, became the beginning of wisdom. The intervention of the Femi Gbajabiamila-led House of Representatives came at the right time for both ASUU and the FG; while it gave the tough-talking ASUU soft landing, it also allowed a truculent FG the opportunity to safe face and climb down, even if deceitfully, from its high horse. When university students under the auspices of their union, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) began its street demonstrations to pile pressure on both ASUU and the FG to come to an agreement, everyone knew that another #ENDSARS crisis was brewing if prompt action was not taken –and we sounded that warning here. With elections fast approaching, another #ENDSARS-like crisis will be an ill-wind that will blow no one any good.
Even CONUA and NAMDA are not gainers in the ASUU strike! They might have bagged registration and the Buhari government’s recognition, which they have struggled to have for years, but of what benefit is that? How strong is CONUA, for instance, in the campuses? Can it overtake or break the stranglehold of ASUU even at the Obafemi Awolowo University, the parent-body of CONUA where the rebellion against ASUU started? I have a way to gauge the strength of both unions at Ife, for instance. Anytime OAU ASUU downed tools but CONUA did not, one of my wards at the institution got taught two/three out of six subjects while the other two got taught one of six courses or none at all. I have it on good authority, however, that both appear at par now. This may not forever be the case if OAU ASUU continues to fritter its goodwill. The good thing with the registration and recognition of CONUA is that ASUU’s loss will almost automatically become CONUA’s gain and CONUA, if effectively organised and properly managed, will hold ASUU’s feet to the fire. Sometimes, monopoly breeds complacency while competition brings the best out of the human spirit.
In the final analysis, however, the split in the ranks of the university lecturers is an ill wind that blows no one any good. Is it not said that united we stand but divided we fall? The divide-and rule tactics that the government has introduced will work to the chagrin of university lecturers, especially where there is no new idea CONUA is bringing to the table. Aside from saying they do not believe in incessant strike action as tools of negotiation, what else will CONUA bring to play? If not strikes, what else? They need to put their plan of action forward. It shouldn’t all be about check off dues and influence-peddling on campus for self and selfish aggrandisement. A major problem of the universities is the loss or lack of autonomy: How will CONUA address this differently from ASUU? How will CONUA stop the government from offloading political jobbers on the universities as Council members and where this is the case, how will CONUA prevent them from seeing and treating the universities as cash cows? What blueprint does CONUA have to make the universities financially independent of the FG unlike the present practice where they are begging bowls going to and being controlled by Abuja with vice-chancellors not better than glorified errand boys? How does CONUA seek to address the problem of monumental corruption that has crept into the universities? CONUA cannot battle the cankerworm if it becomes a beneficiary of the same, like many of the unions, academic and non-academic, have become.
If ASUU and CONUA will listen to wise counsel, the most reasonable thing for them to do is to iron out the differences, which have now distorted their strength, and come back together as one united and strong force. The problems that confront the university system are formidable enough for them to fight as one strong body, not to talk of now as splinter groups pulling in different directions and making themselves easy prey for the government’s divide-and-rule tactics. When the current ASUU president, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, bows out and a more diplomatic and level-headed helmsman takes over, the task of uniting ASUU and CONUA must begin in earnest. It is do-able; it is a task that must be done. The “talisman” that Osodeke’s predecessor, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, waved to bring an end to the 19-year-old ASUU estrangement at the University of Ilorin must be employed again. The gerontocracy of erstwhile ASUU leaders still holding the union by the jugular must give way. The intellectual arrogance of expired closet anarchists masquerading as Marxists has become counter-productive and they must give us a break. Today’s sorry state of a once vibrant and progressive OAU ASUU is a legacy they have bequeathed; thereby imperilling the labours of our heroes past in that inimitable citadel of learning and culture.
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