ASUU strike: Our hearts are unbroken, we are not deterred

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By Olatunji Oyeshile

As I sat in my study around 12:30am on 16th December, 2020, many thoughts concerning the unappreciated, undervalued, misrepresented, maligned and often underestimated role of the Nigerian teacher at all levels of our education came to my mind. The oft popular saying that “teachers’ rewards are in heaven” is only meant to ridicule the situation of the teachers further as no one is certain of the nature of existence in heaven if the latter exists at all.

Furthermore, why should others be rewarded here on earth, the best possible place we know, while others would have to wait for heaven when blood flows in their vein and they are amenable to material existence and laws of demand and supply?

Perhaps this degradation and mental terrorization of teachers has discouraged many teachers and led sometimes to unwholesome practices on the part of some teachers. Of course, this should not be an excuse as ‘two wrongs cannot and do not make a right’.

It is no longer news that teachers who are the foundational pivot of the Nigerian society receive the worse treatment among all classes of workers considering their inputs in society. At a time in Nigeria, many parents will be reluctant to give their daughters in marriage to teachers.

Many landlords would rather rent out their apartments to other professionals rather than teachers because they believe that teachers’ mental wealth is not reconcilable with material prosperity. The moment a young lady realizes that she is dating a teacher, there comes whirlwinds, tempest and earthquakes in the relationship.

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Again, due to the meager income teachers receive and the tendency to update their knowledge, bulk of their income is spent on acquiring books, attending educational conferences and investing in the education of their children. Little wonder that austere life is often noticed in them – old cars, if there are any; worn out shoes; oversized clothes among other manifestations. Yet through them come medical doctors, accountants, civil servants, engineers, statesmen, administrators and clergymen among others.

I see the current experience of university lecturers as part of the relegation and outright rejection of their persons. Imagine a situation in which lecturers are not paid for more than half a year. Imagine the physical and psychological damage this has done to them.

Remember the brain drain in the late eighties and nineties in the Nigerian universities. Imagine the collateral damage. Imagine that they are being deprived of their livelihood simply because their principal, that is, the government, reneged on voluntarily signed agreements with Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

Imagine the quantum of starvation and deprivation this act of withheld salary would have caused the lecturers, their children, their dependants, the immediate community, the social and religious organizations they belong.

Imagine the trauma and near death experience and sometimes outright but avoidable deaths of these lecturers and their dependants due to their inability to purchase medications.

Let us note that due to the 24/7 nature of the work of the lecturers (teaching, research and community services) they are prone to so many life-threatening communicable and non-communicable ailments. Imagine having to contribute money to save a lecturer’s life due to inability to raise enough money for medical care. Imagine the unprecedented compound interest from the bank consequent upon the inability to service loan regularly and the resulting psychological trauma leading to such medical conditions as high blood pressure.

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I restrain myself from shedding tears when I think about the situation of children of lecturers who remain helpless at this festive period. Children who would not be able to buy new dresses after a year of promise, children who would not be able to mix with their friends at social gatherings because they do not have shoes since their dads and moms, who have spent greater parts of their life as lecturers, could not buy new shoes for them.

Imagine a situation in which the lecturers have to give excuses for not attending the end of the year meetings of tribal associations, religious associations and other social networks that accentuate our being-in-the-world due to infliction of pain from government.

Imagine a situation in which a major benefactor has now become somebody to be pitied. All these result because they have chosen to build the society. They have decided to bring people to knowledge like the philosopher kings and queens who are able to escape from the cave and move beyond shadow to the world of reality to contemplate truth as Plato taught.

In spite of all these, we as lecturers should not be discouraged because we have a fundamental role to play in society – to build a functional, progressive and development oriented society. We are just like soldiers at the battle front fighting a war of liberation but always facing the threat of death from which they cannot and should not retreat. If they retreat, almost all of them will be killed. If they do not retreat, although many of them may still be killed, there is possibility of victory. If they die, they are remembered as heroes having paid the supreme sacrifice for the nation to survive. And surely, others will continue the war and sing the victory song come one day. Therefore, our hearts are unbroken and we are not deterred by the inhumanity to our persons.

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We owe the Nigerian children this fundamental duty to educate them for a brighter future. As others Nigerian celebrate at this festive period and we, as lecturers, recoil to the corners of our houses with heavy hearts due to undeserved deprivation, we are consoled by the hope of a better Nigeria and the admonition by Fidel Castro who advised thus, “The fact is, when men carry the same ideals in their hearts, nothing can isolate them – neither prison walls nor the sod of cemeteries. For single memory, a single spirit, a single idea, a single conscience, a single dignity will sustain them all”.

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