Our Unions and the Perambulatory Struggle for the common man

The lecturer walked into the classroom after delaying his students for about 20 minutes. He wore an unremorseful frown and responded to the students’ cheerful, obsequious greeting with a dismissive ‘Thank you’. “So where did we stop?” he queried the excited students who responded with blank gazes that begged the same question from Mr Lecturer. “Why are you looking at me as though you have seen a ghost? What have you been doing for the past eight months?” This was a rhetorical question, but a student murmured a response, inaudible but loud enough to get the teacher’s attention. Seemingly more curious than annoyed, he tottered to where the unserious element of a student was seated and asked him to repeat his response. While waiting for the young man to gather his thoughts, he caught a lady who all the while devoted her attention to a pack of plantain chips on her left lap, unbothered by the mild commotion that was beginning to rise in her class. “You are eating chips in my class while I have not been paid for the past eight months”, the lecturer busted, inciting raucous laughter from the students. The students were enjoying their lecturer’s charade, but this young Professor is too dismayed by the inhumane treatment he has suffered from his employer to be joking around. He was serious! “Why are you people laughing? I have not been paid for eight months and you people think it is funny?” Now they twigged his anger but the poor students could only respond with a sympathetic silence. Indeed, it is not funny! But the Yoruba people say “oro buruku toun ti erin”, serious matters often invoke laughter.

“Anyway, we will be discussing…” he announced the topic and dictated to the students. “So, those are the classifications, and we can further classify them…” He had spent 20 minutes dictating to the students, whose pens danced hastily on their books as though they had not taken a break from academic work for the past eight months. The lecturer paused to scan the faces of the students as if he was looking for a crime suspect. Amidst a sigh, he recalled how some students took to social media to insult the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the union’s perennial strikes and fisticuffs with the Federal Government in which the major victims are the students. “We are fighting for you people, but you went on Twitter and insulted ASUU. You people don’t know anything.”

He continues with his dictation to the students who now maintain a guilty silence. “Now let us talk about the historical development of…” He digresses again. “Look at the way we are all sweating. No fan, no light. Is this a healthy learning condition? These are the things we are fighting the government for, but you go on Twitter to say ASUU’s wahala is too much. Is that not what you all have been doing?” he asked with an accusing smirk.

He continues dictating, interjecting himself with a litany of lamentations on behalf of ASUU.

He is concerned for the students whose political leaders do not consider them worthy of quality education. He is worried about Nigeria’s premier university which should be contesting at the global stage but has to be content with being “Best in Nigeria”. Mr Lecturer is perturbed about the future of tertiary education in his dear country. He narrated his experience in other universities he had visited abroad and declared with sincerity to his unexposed students that they deserve better.

He finished his 2-hour class, shook his head and left the students to their own share of the misfortune. The students probably did not realise that they are the real victims.

ASUU has embarked on 16 different strikes since 1999. The union has made numerous demands from the government but the summary of all these demands is that the child of the common man gets quality tertiary education. With the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) losing its reputation in its tango with selfish politicians, ASUU is the only voice calling out the government on its sacrilege of our education system. But in spite of its struggles, ASUU only incurs disdain and rebuke from the Nigerian populace. Many wonder why strike is the union’s only means of agitation, after all, the strikes have not yielded any tangible results, other than prolonged academic calendars and missed opportunities for the students.

The lecturer’s lamentation above reminds one of Fela Kuti’s hit song released titled ‘Perambulator’ The weed-smoking Prophet and His Egypt 80, in the track, sang about the cluelessness of the Nigerian military regimes in solving the country’s myriad problems; their deception and oppression of the people.

He lampooned government officials who waste taxpayers’ money on unproductive policies without solving any problem. Fela jibed in the lyric:

Lagos full of dirty, town council just dey take salary for nothing

Commissioner wants to do something about it

Him call meeting for dustbin… No Solution

Him make announcement for radio… No Solution

Him make reshuffle for office… No Solution

Plenty money dem dey spend… No Solution

Commissioner go for London… No Solution

Him make big Press statement… No Solution

‘I am going over to London… to learn how English carry dustbin’… No Solution…

Him just dey perambulate and him still dey same same place. [X2]”

Same place e dey… Parambulator

Him no go anywhere… Parambulator

The truth is ASUU has fought doggedly against an oppressive government, but the union is just as helpless as the ordinary people on whose behalf it is agitating. The only solution to the ailing state of our education system is simply that the government decides to fund the country’s malnourished education sector adequately. There are no two ways about it. Going on strike and conceding to the government after getting a paltry of a long list of demands, or getting some assurances from some ‘Gbaja’ politicians whose tongues are in conflict with the truth, will not do us any good.

The last eight months evidently have been a waste of struggle for ASUU. As Fela’s girls chorused in the song, “No Solution!”

Last week it was reported that the Federal Government paid half salaries to members of the union. This is considered a violation of the ‘gentleman agreement’ that prompted the lecturers to abandon their struggle for the common man and return to classrooms. ASUU reportedly resumed out of respect for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, who had promised to ensure that all the union’s demands reflect in the 2023 budget. But obviously, ASUU has lost another poker to the Federal Government.

In reaction to the government’s insult of half salary, some ASUU branches are beginning to down tools again. It is not even up to a month into resumption. The University of Abuja has postponed its matriculation ceremony indefinitely; the University of Jos resolved that lecturers should stay at home; the Bayero University chapter paused academic activities while waiting for the decision of ASUU’s NEC; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi abolished the 2021/2022 academic session; Gombe State University chapter decided to seize results of students and also suspend supervision of undergraduate and postgraduate projects. Meanwhile, the National Executive Council of ASUU is currently deliberating on the next step of action.

If one would rewrite Fela’s Perambulator lyrics to reflect the ASUUvsFG conundrum, one would say:

ASUU hold NEC meeting… No Solution!

ASUU announce strike… No Solution!

ASUU drags FG to court… No Solution!

FG drag ASUU to court… No Solution!

ASUU develop UTAS… No Solution!

Nigeria’s tertiary education system remains a deep hole of outdated teaching methods, and archaic learning materials, tortuous to both students and lecturers. Together with ASUU, we have been in this struggle for years, yet we have only been perambulating. No Solution!

And there is our Students’ Union

Following the suspension of the Strike, the Students Union President, Adeyinka Adewole announced that he was going to have a meeting with the University Management on proposed alternative choices of cooking in the hostels.

He acknowledged the fact that Kerosene is now expensive, and the majority of students, who no doubt, are from poor families may not be able to cope with the restriction to the use of only kerosene stoves.

Anyone who has a trifle of acquaintance with the University of Ibadan brand of Student unionism would have guessed that the SU President was only perambulating. This is not to disparage his leadership and management of students’ affairs, it is mainly stating the obvious. Wherever and whenever there is a conflict of interest between the management and students, the students’ union is helpless. Unlike ASUU, we can’t declare a strike and refuse to go to class.

Predictably, our President returned from the meeting to announce to the students that the management did not budge on its demand for an alternative choice of cooking other than the use of kerosene stoves. To the poor man’s child who will struggle to buy kerosene at over N800 per litre, the union says” “No Solution!”

In conclusion, we have a common enemy. The government. The anti-people economic policies of this present government in particular are the reason we have such a high inflation rate. It is the government that has refused to fund education, while countries whose leaders desire progress and development are prioritizing education. So Mr Lecturer should not be upset that his song of lamentation became comedy to the students. Students should understand that ASUU would have explored other options to register its grievances, but strike is the only language the government seems to understand. We, the poor students of the Premier Univerisity also understand the helplessness of the ‘ever sagacious gba gba’ of the Students Union. For now, we are all perambulating — “No Solution!”, or so it seems…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *