Just in case Mr. President and his cortege of advisers or “miss- advisers” have quickly forgotten as they are wont to, let us give them the benefit of doubt by reminding them or bringing them back from the margins of reason that we have long gone past the era of military junta where decrees are promulgated according to the whims and caprices of the de-facto leader but are met with little or no confrontations by the masses but rather, their bootlickers and sycophants massage their egos by telling them how ingenious they are, at the pass of each decree just to keep their jobs, be in their good books and to make sure their coffers don’t go arid this is even when it is clear that such promulgations are not only bereft of logic but only serve the narrow-minded interest of the ruler and have no direct or positive bearing on the general masses.
It was in the foregoing scenario that a certain General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and the ‘wicked’ General Sani Abacha had the effrontery to suppress the activities of the leadership of ASUU in the dark days of military rule even to the extent of promulgating strike actions by the Union as a Felony just to ruffle their plumage and keep them at bay. But while all such took place in those days, while such highhandedness and inhuman use of power to the injury was allowed to progress, it was not as though the leadership of the union feared the person of the rulers of the day, but I want to believe, it was because as law abiding citizens they were, while the rulers of the day, chose to define their laws and the punishment that precedes from them thereto how it suits them, they had no option but to dance to the dictates of the tune played by the piper even when the tunes from them weren’t anything close to today’s ‘Kukere’, ‘Azonto’ or ‘Etighis’, but somehow, they managed to dance to them grinningly as though enthralled in the maze of music but in reality, were only “suffering and smiling” (apologies to the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti).
But those days are now gone and are deposited in the archives of history where they belong and the only lesson derivable from them, is to make sure that such unbridled abuse of power do not find its way in our new discourse and whenever anybody irrespective of the office they occupy, attempt to re-invent or resonate such clannish use of power however mildly, we’d always rise in defense, shouting to the top of our voices reminding them that whereas the military came to power through the barrel of the gun, they came to power through the instrument of the ballot bought with our commonwealth and filled on election day for the candidate of our choice with our own hands and that the office lest they forget, is meant to be held in trust for us. That at law, they are only the Trustees and we are the beneficiaries or what may be called ‘cest que trust’ (him for whom the trust is held) and since we hold the forte, we must not allow those we gave mandate take us for a ride, for if we do so, then our roles as privies in this social contract or arrangement, becomes defeated.
Abraham Lincoln the 16th president of the United States of America and the founder of modern day democracy picked his words carefully when he propounded that a true democratic government is one “of the people, by the people and for the people.” God bless the man. Except I am mistaken, as I write this, it is approximately 5,300 days since after Nigeria became a democratic state and whether we like it or not, I must say though we haven’t had it any easy but we have been able to elect our leaders successfully and successively through the instrument of the ballot and we have also been able to setup and sustain a governmental structures that are in consonance with what is obtainable in the near utopian democratic societies to wit: a National Assembly, a Judiciary and an Executive arm that lacks a textbook interference with the business of the legislative and judicial arm. A National Human Rights commission and so many other paraphernalia of a democratic state so much that I am tempted to consider the guillotine for anyone who betrays common logic by calling this democracy of ours a nascent one. We have evolved and our democracy is in full course therefore, it is our social and civic obligation as citizens and as privies to this social contract, to make sure that those whom we have relinquished the position to steer the ship of state, albeit with their reiterated pleas, do not sway what we have only given them to hold in trust for us, according to the trappings of their whims. The best they could do, both legally and logically, is to return the “trust property” by vacating the seat of power on which we have placed them. No more, no less than by acting in deference and securing an apartment for themselves in the estate of infamy.
We are concerned in today’s column with the recent developments rocking our ivory towers so-called. We must not rehash here, that students of Africa’s Largest Nation but not giant nation (except in poor population and governmental ineptitude) have been at home for almost 6 months as even the Almajiris that adorn the streets of Northern Nigeria have uncannily caught wind of this ugly scenario, (don’t ask me how )and so it is with the beggars that line up at the famous “iwo” junction in Ibadan and not precluding the auto old-parts dealer at the ‘Obosi’ market in Onitsha, have all come to know one way or another that the universities have been under lock and key( the administrative blocks anyway, as the leadership of ASUU have come out to say that, at no time did they lock the universities). Haven said that, we shall give no heed to the genesis of the strike as it is our presumption that too many of us can say a thing or two about what led to the avoidable imbroglio.
Of particular emphasis is what a certain Barr. Nyesom Nwike, the Supervising minister of Education and incumbent minister of State for Education even though we know the man’s appointment amount to putting a square in a round hole as the man is by far, more acquainted with the goings-on in the Rivers state government house and Rivers state entirely more than he knows what has been the case with the seething problem involving the leadership of ASUU and the Federal Government (FG)- the two parties which he is meant to bring on the same page. A man who whether he likes it or not, has to go down as the most erratic minister of Education to oversee that gracious ministry. A man who visibly is best suited to be a Labour leader by virtue of his “agbero-like” mien and wont to aggressiveness. And so when with his latest outburst to the striking lecturers asking them to return to classes or risk losing their jobs in an uncivilly manner he was branded a thug, I couldn’t help but be in agreement with his new earned sobriquet as nothing else could have captured what he exhibited last Thursday as I watched the press conference from my 14” black and white television. Dear Nyesom wike, we have passed that era where labour disputes are resolved in that manner with threats of disengagement in order to browbeat the warring lecturers back to class. Even Mr. President whom I’ve always held in high esteem, much to my consternation gave his blessing to this undemocratic and ‘gestapoic’ conduct so much that I am tempted to join ranks with those who’ve labeled him a clueless president. No, and for emphasis purposes I must repeat, No, we have gone past that era and we cannot recede back into such inglorious efforts at resolving dispute that will only score us lower in the result sheet of Democratic nations whose leaders have led in consonance or in faith with the tenets of democracy thereby, further reducing GEJ’s chances of clinching the Mo-Ibrahim price for African Leadership which has become a taboo for African leaders to clinch in recent times, no thanks to their own unique but unconventional style of leadership that is in constant conflict with democracy canons and last to none.
Though I may be directly affected by this strike but I cannot in desperation endorse the FG latest ultimatum to the university lecturers. Not because I do not want to get back to school and bag my LL.B degree that is taking forever to be clinched, but because I happen to be a student in the school of thought that preaches “Due Process” in the discharge of governmental duties and in the day to day business of governance. As one hoping to partake in the ritual at the temple of justice, I do not think I will be appeased in body and soul if I endorse this act. Not only is it undemocratic, it betrays all doctrines of civility, equity, good conscience and natural justice. It is the climax of governmental abuse of political power and anyone who endorses such, in a democratic setting should not be considered a democrat who understands that respect for everyman and giving every man his due, is the blood that gives life to democracy. It is a crude, caustic and discordant act that holds no place in virtue and Natural law and thus shouldn’t be allowed to see the light of day lest we hand over to the next generation a precedent that will destroy their societal ethos, if they should stand by it.
I understand the FG’s sorrow; I can see the corner that they are boxed in, I can feel their pain and desperation but were we not told that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown? Does leadership ever fail to come with its joys and sorrows or does it ever fail to come with a price? This is the moment of truth. This is the moment when our leaders (here, Mr. President) is expected to display his ingenuity and adroitness at dispute resolution that will bring all the warring factions together and leave footprints on the sands of time which subsequent generation will learn from the philosophy. This is the time to prove to us, that yes, Leaders are born. It is the time to show that Nigerians were no fools when they collectively gave him their support and asking him to look after their affairs. If GEJ’s way of resolving this impasse is the “agbero” or “motor-park” way he has chosen to act by that ultimatum, then I am afraid, the Giant of Africa, as she likes to call herself, is yet to get it right at leadership. Where is the philosophy in that ultimatum that could be taught in schools someday? Is it this ‘pharoahic’ or Gestapo way that will serve as leadership ingenuity? I hope not.
Did not Dale Carnegie in his book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” speak of Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding fathers of the United states and the 6th president of Pennsylvania to have said, “If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponents goodwill”? Or did not Siddhartha Gothama who will later become the Buddha say, “hatred is never ended by hatred or a dispute by a dispute but by tact, diplomacy, conciliation and a sympathetic desire to see the other person’s view-point” these are philosophical words on marble, but how has the FG ultimatum or totalitarian threat come close to this wise and noble reasoning’s?
Is leadership all about driving in motorcades and paying siren-visits to one particular high-profile occasion or the other? Is being the first citizen all about flying in private jets from one part of the world to the other and surrounded by a sea of aides who are always willing to do their bosses’ bidding? Where is that skill and display of leadership creativity and inventiveness that endears a leader to the peoples heart which has set leaders like Mahatma Gandhi of India, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Ayatolla Khameni of Iran, Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore apart from their counterparts? Is it by such vulgar and aggressive rhetoric like, “Go back to the class or lose your job” or “you are a Widow, Go and die” that leaders become great? Nigeria must be one hell of a place to live in.
I may not share ASUU’s sentiment in their strike as we have made that clear in a recent article. And I have always been of the opinion that it is not just humongous funding that sets a country’s educational system apart but rather painstaking efforts from lecturers and in fact all stake but bot steak holders in the educational industry and their avowed willingness to make lemonade out of lemon and mountains out of molehills. But this is Nigeria where lecturers have chosen to push career and profit kobo (any kobo) and since the only language understood here, is money language, the lecturers have also learnt from it and in their befuddled and warped wits, they think Oxford , Cambridge, Harvard etc. which they like to make allusion to, were built on allowances for marking script, allowances for research, allowances for hazard, transfer of FG assets to universities and all the other allowances and clauses they have suddenly manufactured in their bid to ride in the same posh cars as the fools that sit in our red and green chambers discussing on how to float foreign accounts and syphon our commonwealth to God-knows-where more easily instead of how to eradicate ‘almajiris’ off the streets and attempt a bridge of the ever widening chasm between the rich and the poor, hence why we have called their bluff in previous articles.
But be that as it may, it does not give the leeway for GEJ, the thug, Wike and their degenerate ilk, to do murder to logic or crucify common sense on the cross of whimsical inanities, for to do so, is another invitation to national acrimony and another soft-walk to Kigali. Instead of solving the problem, it will only add salt to an already decaying injury and keep the same students they want to get back to school, stay more at home. It is dictatorial and autocratic, hence why so many Civil Society groups, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and other respected voices have all come out to register their disapproval of the move.
Abraham Lincoln once reprimanded a young Army officer for indulging in violent controversy with an associate. He said, “No man who is resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention still less can he afford to take the consequences including the vitiation of his temper and the loss of self-control. Yield larger things to which you show no more than equal rights and yield lesser ones though clearly your own. Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not heal the bite”. This goes out personally to Mr. President as nothing has ever been achieved in an atmosphere of rancor and even if achieved, do not come to stay.
I know that ASUU under its incumbent leader, Nasir Fagge may be proving obstinate in this particular fight as a result of the FG’s antecedents in recent history of going outside an agreement, so their holding tight to the trigger is quite understandable despite the much touted FG commitment to bring the whole imbroglio to an end, this is even when the leadership of ASUU have not come out in the public to acknowledge the receipt or payment of any kobo into any account. Also the controversial death of professor Festus iyayi, who is laid to rest as I write, may have bolstered ASUU to stand their ground as he who is already fallen suffers not another fall hence, why they have preferred to sit tight and fight it to the finish Irrespective of the fire and brimstone hurled at them from all angles.
Whichever way it turns out, this proves to be another big one for baba GEJ and his FG- how he handles it, will be used for or against him to his credit or to his discredit come 2015. He may choose to continue with his “motor-park” tactics and dig his own political grave by giving his ever increasing traducers what to go to town with. But this is not just about politics. This is about the common man, this is about our educational system, and this is about our future which we were promised a breadth of “Fresh Air”. If this is the Fresh Air, then I am sorry, I rather live at a dumpsite. Violence Street has never led to Success Avenue. Let GEJ and his FG be guided for this is another political dementia. God Bless Nigeria.
The writer is a Law Student at the University of Miaduguri and a public affairs analyst. He is on twitter as @RayNkah