The headline above is not originally mine. Rather, it is the title of an online publication by ng.news247.com on 30 May 2021, the eve of Osodeke’s election as the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Osodeke took over the mantle of leadership from Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi. A Professor of Soil Science at the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Victor Emmanuel Osodeke was, until then, ASUU Vice President. The ng.news247.com publication was, obviously, meant as an expose on Osodeke and a warning to ASUU members and students alike by a group within the university where Osodeke teaches on what to expect from the new ASUU president. All the same, Osodeke landed the plum job of ASUU president on the 31 May 2021 and the rest, as they say, is history!
The ng.news247.com publication on Osodeke ran as follows: “Ngnews247 reports that Osodeke has a running battle with the management of Michael Okpara University where he works, prompting a movement known as Coalition to Save Michael Okpara University to have once alleged (that) “his ambition of becoming the National President of ASUU should be checkmated …”.
“Osodeke, however, emerged as ASUU president at the National Conference at the end of Ogunyemi’s tenure, promising that the union’s struggles for better funding of the sector and treatment of its members would continue during his tenure. He took over from Ogunyemi, who led the union during a period it engaged the government in a long battle for better funding of the sector, welfare demands and the call for the abrogation of the contentious Integrated Payroll Personnel and Information System.
“Whereas Prof. Ogunyemi’s tenure had the longest strike due to COVID-19, a member of the Save Michael Okpara University, however, told Ngnews247 that the longest strike during Ogunyemi’s tenure would be a child’s play during the tenure of Osodeke… all students of universities in Nigeria should get set for a long strike.
“Osodeke couldn’t be reached for comments on this. He was, however, reported at the conference to have promised that the struggle of the union for better funding of the sector and treatment of his members will continue during his tenure”.
I edited out a lot of allegations made against Osodeke in that report for obvious reasons.
Let us begin by agreeing with Osodeke and, indeed, with ASUU generally that the struggle for better funding of education and for better treatment of ASUU members is a just struggle that must be supported by any right-thinking fellow. No nation progresses better than whatever progress it is able to make in its education sector. Whoever you are and whatever you become in life, education, whether formal or informal, plays a pivotal role. As it is with individuals, so also it is with nations. So, it is foolhardy to think you can move a nation and its people forward when you retard their educational advancement.
Have we asked ourselves why Nigerians excel abroad, performing exploits that are hard to come by at home, holding their own against the best of other nations? It is because of the favourable enabling environment abroad, chief of which is the quality education and training facilities available abroad but lacking here. And it is not as if this is rocket science. Our leaders go abroad and see these facilities. They go abroad to enjoy them as well and send their children to schools there to benefit from the best educational and training facilities on offer but neglect, out of sheer wickedness and selfishness, to replicate the same here. Instead, they steal the monies that should have gone into providing free and quality education here.
Our lecturers are said to be the poorest paid in Africa; whereas we pride ourselves as the “Giant of Africa”; African minnows and Lilliputians do better than us. Is that not the reason why our students flood not just Europe and America for studies but also less fancied countries like Ghana, Benin Republic, Lesotho and what-have-you? We lose billions in what has become known as education tourism. So, on this score, Osodeke and ASUU are perfectly justified and they have my unflinching support and unalloyed and undiluted sympathy.
The Nigerian government has never at any point in time given the pride of place to education. Funding has been paltry. Policies have been in fits and jerks. The curriculum is obsolete. And with the children of our leaders schooling in the best schools abroad, the commitment of policy makers to the education sector is eroded. At best, they pay only lip service in lofty statements made but which are hardly implemented, as they turn around to embezzle, mismanage, misapply, misallocate and misappropriate even the meagre funds voted for education. And they laugh us to scorn right in our face.
So, make no mistake about it, the problems in the education sector – the decay and decadence – lie squarely with the government, and not the Muhammadu Buhari government alone; but with successive governments since the time when the Olusegun Obasanjo military regime began the commercialisation of education, the rolling back of the facilities that made the higher institutions tick, starving it of the required funding which, incrementally but assuredly, have added to land us in the present sorry pass.
That said, however, we have cried ourselves hoarse asking the Ivory Tower to put on its thinking cap and do things differently. With evidence that strikes are failing; that their efficacy is dwindling, and that it is causing more harm than good, we have counselled ad infinitum that ASUU and the other unions become more creative in finding a more responsible and appropriate way to draw government’s attention, and, in addition, the sympathy of other relevant stakeholders, for the purpose of putting more pressure on the government to do the needful. ASUU has neglected to heed this call. If they can get what they want through strikes, very well; but where they are unable to, as it increasingly seems the case, especially so with a deaf and dumb, irresponsible and unresponsive, carefree, careless and I-don’t-care government like Buhari’s, what next?
Just as they say that there must be an end to litigation, there must also be an end to strikes. ASUU must have that in mind and factor it into its plans of action. It just cannot be strike actions forever. We all know that Buhari and his advisers act like Nero but we cannot let them hold us to ransom forever or destroy the future of our children. We must find a way to negotiate their corner, especially so in the South West where education is our industry. As my people will say, call a cow “Bros”, if need be, so it can yield you the right of way because you are headed somewhere, whereas they are not. Apply diplomacy and tact.
What my people call mo’ja, mo’sa; the English call “he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day”. It is obvious Buhari and his fellow travellers have nowhere in sight they are going. Their government has failed in the way it has neglected the education sector and in its lackadaisical attitude to the ASUU strike. If I understand the psychology of the Buhari administration very well, it is that of “he that is down need fear no fall”! This government is down and out already; having failed woefully and fantastically on all fronts. So, they cannot be bothered what anyone feels, thinks or says again.
Regrettably, ASUU itself has now failed us in its hare-brained approach to its strike action. The story is told of the Mr Tortoise who repeatedly stole into his in-law’s farm to steal tubers of yam. One day he fell into a trap set for him, was arrested, brought to town and tied to a tree in front of his in-law’s house, which was on the road leading to the market. It was on market day. Everyone going to the market saw Tortoise tied to the tree and asked questions. Told what he did, they chorused, “serves him right”! But on their way back from the market and they still saw Tortoise tied to the tree, the blame became his in-law’s! “Do you want to kill him”? Alo ti ahun; abo ti ana re!
There must be an end to a strike action! ASUU should accept the best it can get from this crippled government and wait for a more reasonable, more sensible, and more enlightened in-coming government. May 2023 is just around the corner. I understand the government is reluctant to pay ASUU members for work not done: I support! It is because the government has always paid striking workers for work not done that strikes have become 10 for a kobo. Why earn money where and when you have not worked? It is irresponsible of ASUU and, indeed, of any striking worker, to make that demand. Sheer blackmail! Is that not why they can afford to go on strike for months without considering the cost – and pain – to parents and students alike? “No work, no pay”! ASUU, I heard, has countered with “No pay, no work”! My people derisively refer to that as the mentality of lazy drones: Oga ta, oga o ta, owo alaarun a pe!
To conclude, let us return to where we began. It is a matter for regret that Osodeke has not disappointed those who predicted the shape and turn his presidency of ASUU would take. Does he have a feedback mechanism? If he does, he will realise that ASUU is fast losing ground in the universities even as it is losing the sympathy of parents and students alike. ASUU’s goodwill is being depleted all round. The University of Ilorin (UNILORIN), which ended its 19-year-old ostracising of ASUU with a peace package brokered by Ogunyemi, is regretting returning to the ASUU fold. UNILORIN, with the most stable academic calendar when ASUU was locked out of the institution, was the toast of admission seekers. ASUU’s return has shattered that. It is sad to also realise that at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife – my alma mater – the bastion of vibrant student unionism and radical academia, ASUU has been reduced to a shadow of its old self. The rival Congress of University Academics has stolen its thunder! For Osodeke, these, and lots more, should be food for thought!
One day two merchants vending their wares met on a narrow path and none was ready to yield the right of way to the other. A crowd soon gathered. To determine who wins the bragging right, both men were asked to set down their wares and slug it out. One (Oniyangi) carried a bucket full of sand, while the other (Elepo) carried a bucket full of palm oil. As they wrestled, Oniyangi kicked Elepo’s bucket and spilled its contents. In retaliation, Elepo hit Oniyangi’s bucket and spilled its contents as well. Oniyangi bent down, packed his sand back into his bucket and yielded the right of way to Elepo but by which time Elepo had no more wares to take to the market. ASUU is Elepo. Buhari’s government is Oniyangi
Need I say more!
Former Deputy Editor-in-Chief of PUNCH newspapers, also Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Westerner newsmagazine, Bolawole maintains columns in the Sunday Tribune and New Telegraph newspapers. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television. He can be reached by email on email@example.com and +2347052631058