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Ngige versus ASUU: A pyrrhic victory

Success is intoxicating. It makes people to engage in self-praise like the proverbial lizard. Arrogance of the successful intimidates the failure with damning consequences.  I…

Success is intoxicating. It makes people to engage in self-praise like the proverbial lizard. Arrogance of the successful intimidates the failure with damning consequences.  I recall a story told by my secondary school English language teacher, Mr Oyedepo. There was a village where everyone, except Okolo the loafer, was harvesting success from the farm. Okolo was too intimidated and was determined to make a name.  After all had left for the farms, Okolo set all houses in the village ablaze. The successful farmers scampered back home to acknowledge the success of Okolo shouting Okolo ma’a ni o. Indeed, it was Okolo.  

The contemporary relevance of this story is the situation of the Federal Ministry of Labour. Over time, all ministries have tangible outputs. Ministries have roads, hospitals, industries, prisons, schools, rehabilitation centres among several others to show. The Ministry of Labour has remained unheard of until opportunity offered itself in the form of universities staff’s withdrawal of services. It was an opportunity for the minister, Dr Chris Ngige, to showcase the capacity of the ministry. The minister after setting the health sector ablaze, set the universities on fire. The minister deserves a long lasting trumpet for this output. He has put the ministry in the news. However, whatever Ngige is celebrating over university unions, particularly ASUU, as monumental success is but pyrrhic victory. The victory has damning implications for the minister, the education sector and Nigeria. 

A Ministry of Labour should provide to us existing manpower size in all sectors, projected vacancies and employment changes in those sectors. No way. A Ministry of Labour should provide us long-term labour needs and strategic manpower plan to guide manpower training in universities for all sectors. No news. 

A ministry that should monitor labour situation and enforce basic standards in all sectors has not shown indication to do so. Thus, the Federal Ministry of Labour has not minded its basic responsibilities. Poor labour engagement conditions in informal and formal sectors have persisted. The ministry has not checked the slave-village practices in many factories and businesses in the country. If the labour ministry has not pursued any of these lines of activities, why does it take responsibility for destroying public universities and health services delivery? 

The public universities should be destroyed. There is no reason for children of the poor to earn a degree. It is time to get done with the strike-happy university workers. The universities must give way to private investments. The private universities are good replacements for the money guzzling public universities. Let’s ensure that the private universities break even and make profit. All these are no mean successes to the credit of Hon. Ngige and federal might. 

Let’s tarry and think. In the 1950s to 1960s if charges totalled 200 Nigerian pounds, how many would have sent their children to universities? At that time, children, of poor or rich people went to universities and became professionals and administrators. Others were sent abroad with public funds to be groomed for senior management positions. Is it for these that the older population must destroy the universities? Why destroy the entire education system for the younger and unborn generations? Okolo burnt houses of those he knew and the ministry ruined public universities and health institutions. The Ministry of Labour took blames in the recent mass exodus of medical doctors out of Nigeria. It has now induced another flight from the universities. What is the pride or success in this for the ministry or the federal government? 

Okolo’s people will individually reconstruct their houses. But the universities belong to all of us.  The enormity of current destruction will continue to be felt for decades to come. We are still living with the consequences of the 1984 stoppage of construction of hostels on campuses and the closure of students’ cafeteria. The policies are still impacting on students’ studies and conduct of research through feeding and living conditions. 

Everything universal in public universities has vanished.  Foreign students are in a few 10s. Foreign lecturers now number less than 10 on most campuses. All these are due to poor pay, over bureaucratised employment process, poor infrastructure and the centralised pay system. Vice-chancellors are crippled and cannot identify and commit the universities to employing critical staff for various undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.  

Now that the Ministry of Labour has induced lecturer migration and lack of interest in lecturing in Nigerian universities, what will happen to the brand new universities? There is the aviation University in Daura and health sciences university in Azare. Are these to be dismantled or they will continue to exist and function as high schools? These two are in addition to numerous public universities craving for academic staff and critical facilities. 

Nigeria is far behind many nations with respect to institutional sanctity and application of basic standards. Nigeria represented by President Buhari and his aides in ministries of education and labour need to make it clear to Nigerians the choice to have or not to have universities.  The clarification should be free of personal idiosyncrasies and dispositions. Nigerians deserve to have a country with institutions strong enough to deliver services to many generations to come. For now, federal might and ministerial overzealousness are killing education and universities.

Either born or bred in Ikoyi, Agege, Aguata, Dogondaji or Erinle, as Nigerians, they deserve equal access to good education.  The poor in hamlets and cities deserve a future and social mobility. Education gulps money and its institutions are of a kind. Universities are subject to minimum international practices and standards. 

If we choose to have universities, we must agree to pay the price. The universities must be all inclusive. Anything outside this is injurious to Nigeria and sows the seeds for monumental social crises from the reserve army of excluded children and families.  Okolo made individuals to pay for community harassment. The consequences of actions of Ministry of Labour and inactions of the Ministry of Education will be a burden to Nigeria and Nigerians for many years to come. As for education and health services, darkness rules the tunnel. Not yet uhuru, brother. 

Yunusa is the Executive Director Socioeconomic and Environment Advocacy Centre, Zaria