Nigerian Students, ASUU Strike, and The Dollarized Political Auction

ASUU Strike

By Odo Christian Obinna

It is that time of the season again when Nigeria dazzles local and international observers with its unique quadrennial political rituals. The political horse-trading for our national treasury in the political streets of Abuja, the nation’s seat of power. I’ll call it a Political Auction, where power is traded as a commodity and sold to highest bidders; sometimes it is hijacked by kleptocratic political strategists who can deploy their dubious knights and aggressive bishops in checkmating other players. For them, it is a game. It does not matter that it affects the entirety of our existence as the masses.

It’s that season again for our leaders and political gladiators. The centre of attention is Abuja, where political transactions take place. It doesn’t matter if the country is burning, or the citizens are wailing, the only topic that deserves undivided attention is politicking. Party delegates are flown from the hinterlands to Abuja, the confluence point, where the wooing and courting happen in a deathly frenzy. Interestingly, it usually ends on a happy note—the winners, aided by a lavish and generous spray of the US Dollar, win the day; the losers are consoled with promises of political favours; the delegates have their pockets adorned with foreign currencies – enough loot to last them till the next season of political auction; and the political parties have enough money to enter the contest for the nation’s treasury.

Meanwhile, in the midst of this abundance and happiness, students of Nigerian public
universities are trapped, in a mash of neglect. Caught between two jagged ends—an uncaring and insensitive government and an uncompromising union of lecturers. These students are abandoned at home, fingers helplessly crossed, waiting for where this “game of fate” will knock them to.

On February 14, 2022, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on their perennial strike. The strike followed the old, familiar pattern – warning strike, extended warning strike, and “indefinite strike.” Although ASUU is currently on another three-month warning strike following the failure of the Federal Government to meet their demands after the expirations of the first two warning strikes lasting one month and two months respectively. It may be safe to conclude that the strike has degenerated into an indefinite one irrespective of the terms used in qualifying it.

It’s been 100 days and more since students’ futures and academic aspirations were put on a compulsory lockdown. Every hope of a possible remediation seems to have sunk in unending meetings between these two warring parties that have been wrapped up in deadlock since the strike commenced. The Federal Government, typical of its lukewarm response to every educational distress call, wants the striking lecturers to understand with it that the state’s coffers are in a precarious state—as it had been in the past. But not long after, in a move that unequivocally points to a rude lack of comradeship, solidarity, in short, a move that points to a brass disregard for students’ plights and feelings.

Two of the principal officers whose offices were directly connected with the
ASUU/students’ struggle doled out 100 million naira each to buy the ruling party’s
nomination and expression of interest form. Within a few months, the ruling party was smiling with billions of naira.
In another development, another principal officer whose office is directly connected
with the reimbursement of salaries of Federal Government staff, which the striking lecturers are part of, Accountant-General of the Federation (suspended), Ahmed Idris, was exposed to have masterminded a network of frauds amounting to 174 billion naira, just a few billion naira less than the 220 billion naira the striking lecturers are demanding from the government and which has grounded academic activities in public universities. That the suspended Accountant-General of the Federation could, over the months, systemically weasel such a huge amount of public funds with his cronies without such a huge financial drain on the government purse being detected is not so much a paradox of the Federal Government’s proclivity to blame the paucity of funds for the public students’ misfortune. There must be numerous systematic embezzlement of public funds still going on undetected under the nose of a government that would rather want the affected students to believe there is no money anywhere to meet ASUU’s demands.

The students, on the other hand, have and are still responding to this future hijacking. But, unfortunately, their responses were and are still not sufficient enough to get the needed audience from the government. In an appeal letter entitled “The Federal University System in Shambles; An Appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR”, dated May 10, 2022 and signed by the President and Secretary-General of the Students’ Union of the University of Ibadan, Adewole Adeyinka and Bamidele Paul, respectively, the Union bemoaned the lingering face-off between the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Federal Government, which has put the future and aspirations of students in serious jeopardy and the deteriorating state of education in Nigeria. While this strongly and persuasively worded letter equally made salient recommendations to change the country’s educational fortunes for the better, it’s sad to note that the letter probably never left the dusty shelf of neglect where it was dumped.

On May 9, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) threatened to shut down all the federal and state government institutions nationwide in a matter of days over the lingering strike. It’s almost a month now since the threat was made. The strike continues to bite into the flesh of students with even renewed energy, but government business continues in those institutions as usual, unbothered.

Realising that addresses, declarations, and letters were as useless as the words weaving them and the paper on which they were printed, the students decided to change their modus operandi. This led to the eruption of a pocket of protests by students in Benin, Ibadan, Lagos and a few other places. But that, too, yielded no results. They realised with rude shock that in this part of the world, governments at all levels have thick skins against peaceful protests and that peaceful protests are not seen as an expression of dissatisfaction over the government’s policies and actions as is the case in other climes. Governments only respond to protests when they sense a threat to their property or an uprising. And from experience, the tone of their responses should be left to imagination.

Having run all measures thin, these students are now at point zero. They must accept the harsh reality staring down on them —wasting uncontrollably at home with no anchor of hope to bring the tide of waste to a halt. Nonetheless, that’s not the better of this rude reality; it’s the bitterness, disappointment, and torment every day at home presents them with each time the happy jingles on radios and television pictures show the same devils mortgaging their future—their leaders—plying their trade as usual, nonchalant. Left with nothing but memories of betrayal, disappointment, and hopelessness, they accept, with bitterness, the insignificant place their future occupies on the priority list of their government—just an erasable dot.

Then comes disillusionment. Some have become disillusioned with the government and with themselves, questioning and re-questioning themselves on one life decision—whether or not their decision to study in Nigeria was worthwhile. At one point or the other, disillusionment has led an average student of a Nigerian public university to reconsider his or her decision to be in school; the perennial strikes raising their ugly heads every now and then contribute the lion’s share to this occasional disillusionment. But the ongoing strike is an amplifier, stretching this string of occasional disillusionment to a breaking point. For these students to have another months-long strike closely on the heels of almost one year lost at home to the COVID-19 pandemic, is a hard reality that upsets sanity and calls for a renegotiation of certain decisions, which being in school is the fulcrum.

These students have been stretched to the breaking point; they are at point zero and being courted by an old friend—disillusionment. They are tired of everything and everybody, especially the voice in the wilderness preaching to them to go learn skills. Skill acquisition is a good thing, no doubt, but that should be in the domain of personal development, which anybody can juggle with academic activities; one does not necessarily need to trump the other. The old habit of preaching to students every time
their future and aspirations are put on hold to learn skills as a way of cushioning the strike-induced idleness is increasingly making more students doubt what they exactly signed up for—school or learning skills. They have been learning skills since their first day in school and are still learning, but they are becoming disillusioned and tired of a monotonous phase of existence characterised by a quarter-session in school and an indefinite session at home rotting or learning “those legendary skills.”

They are at point zero, disillusioned and tired. Tired of their leaders giving their future and aspirations worthless value; tired of their education not being prioritised as the political auction heats up in Abuja; tired of the educational space being impoverished ironically in a country where its political space is heavily dollarized; and disillusioned about the future and aspirations they hold sacred but are nothing more than an erasable dot on their leaders’ priority list!

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