Are Nigerian academics still worthy of respect?


By Andrew A. Erakhrumen

It is good to always be reminded of the past so that we may be guided – now – if we so want. This advice appears to be currently condemned to the realm of ‘not-to-be-heeded’ by people in power, in Nigeria! As we said in an earlier piece, nothing will take us unaware, anymore, in this country! In fact, anything and everything is possible, and should be expected, in today’s Nigeria! So, we are not moved anymore! We have developed pretty thick skin! For instance, why should we be moved if, and when, supposed human and civil right ‘activists’ – now politicians – turn around (when in power) to insult the sensibility of members of the human right community they claimed to belong earlier? Maybe they were only ‘hustling’ during the period they professed to be ‘activists’. Scammers! Political ‘power’ can be powerfully risky! Hence, it should be approached warily because, using Farooq Kperogi’s neologism, it can cause “power-induced brain damage”. It does, unfortunately! This can be disappointing from ‘activists’ who, in the past, participated in street protests against oppression by people in power but are now oppressors themselves!

Really, in the words of William Shakespeare (1563/1564?–1616), “…..there’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face…..” Nevertheless, Nigerians, beware! There are still many more wolves out there, lurking around, in sheep’s clothing! Painfully, we may only know what they truly stand for when they get to power! Afterwards, history keeps records for the people to learn lessons from – if they truly wish to! Let us quickly touch on the ongoing industrial dispute between Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and federal government. This dispute led to a strike action since 14th of February, 2022. After all manner of failed propaganda, and humiliating steps were taken, against ASUU members, government officials now resort to asking the public to “beg” ASUU! Not unexpected, these officials have generally trivialised serious issues in the media space! Whatever these are meant to achieve, surely they cannot give solution(s) to the issues leading to this strike action! Their outbursts have only worsened a terrible matter!

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Similarly, Festus Keyamo, the current Minister of State for Labour and Employment, also asked parents to “beg” ASUU (whatever that means) among other unsalutary comments and concluded his ranting by dismissing ASUU’s strike action as less important! That was on a live Channels Television’s programme ‘Politics Today’ on the 5th of August, 2022! It was an interesting outburst from a federal cabinet member whose words, in a video uploaded by Sahara TV on the 28th of August, 2013, we will now quote from. Listen to him: “… [strike by ASUU] continues to reoccur because from our time this ASUU problem becomes unending. You don’t listen to the teachers until they go on strike; and at the end of the day we hear things like the federal government is ordering them back to school. That is complete rubbish! If you think of where, how we spend money in this country, where most of the resources go to, then you’ll understand the grouse of ASUU…..some kind of very drastic and radical policy we need to make…..”

Keyamo went further, in the video, to state that “…..perhaps, we should even insist just like the code of conduct for public officers say you cannot own a foreign account; you cannot do this, you cannot do this! Perhaps, now one of the codes of conduct we need to insert in our constitution is: as a public officer you cannot put your children in foreign schools or private schools! You must, your children must attend government schools! It should be part of code of conduct for public officers…..” Those were Keyamo’s words! They were before his appointment into this government! Indeed, we believe that personal integrity has a lot to do with sound morals and values! Yes, Wole Soyinka states that “…..all humanity remains vulnerable to the principle of mortal frailty…..” We quite agree but know those who explained lack of personal integrity away using frailty of body and mind as an excuse! Preposterousness can get entangled with depravity! This can be numbing! May we now ask, paraphrasing Matthew Hassan Kukah’s words: “… it because people’s bank accounts are [now] swollen that they are preaching another gospel to us?

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Poverty, in whatever guise, can be very wicked! It can limit the ability to reason clearly! This is worse for those being referred to, in Nigeria’s Pidgin English, as “Money Miss Road” especially when the “money” is illicitly obtained from the public till! Those that could not afford ‘bicycle spokes’ yesterday are now riding roughshod over the legitimate concerns, wishes and aspirations of others, today! Nigerian academics have been shoved close to ‘worthlessness’ that all manner of opportunistic charlatans now take turns to insult them! Have academics cheapened themselves this much? What kind of insult have they not seen or heard of? How did it get to this? When did these academics sink into this abyss where all sorts of shady and morally bankrupt characters now audaciously hurl insults at them? Is this because of a few “bad eggs” among them? Should that be a reason for casting aspersions on all academics and their union? Cannot these “bad eggs” be identified and made to account for their vices? The country’s moral fibre has been eroded! The country is about to completely lose its soul! Nigeria’s developmental quest and trajectory are hampered by collapsing education! The earlier we stop living in denial, the better for us all!

Sometimes, we ask; why the ‘noise’ about government’s – particularly the current one’s – insensitive and lackadaisical approach towards public education? Is this not ‘noise’ to them? After all, Nigeria’s first citizen, President Muhammadu Buhari, told everyone that cared to listen in 2016 that his children were schooling abroad “…..because I can afford it…..” That was his sincere response to the then-Al Jazeera English’s Martine Dennis’ question on why his (Buhari’s) children were schooling abroad, perhaps before he was ‘schooled’ on how to be ‘politically correct’. Certainly, this was the Buhari who told the public that, except through loan, he was not financially capable of funding his party’s nomination/expression of interest forms of N27.5million for the 2015 presidential election! If gold rusts, what can iron do? Why the ‘noise’, then? Why are we expecting ‘too much’ from government and public office-holders? We must be living on another planet to expect people in power to willingly attend to Nigeria’s public education today!

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Real political power lies with the Nigerian people that should be recovering from a deep slumber of the past! It is time to fully wake up and act! All the victims of public education abandonment by governments should know what to do by now – as we move towards 2023 general elections! This proportion of Nigeria’s population is far in the majority and thus, can make the necessary change(s) in the polity. With Nigeria’s political experimentations since 1999, it is very obvious that the country needs a paradigm shift in terms of how, and who, to recruit into political leadership cadre! Apart from this, we also need to help the intending political office-holders to not also suffer from “power-induced brain damage” when they assume office! Buba Marwa, chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, might also be correct for recommending that all public office-holders should be made to undergo an integrity drug test! Politicians hardly learn from history! Consequently, it is vital that public office-holders are constantly reminded – using a phrase from the title of Wael Ghonim’s book – that “…..the power of people is greater than the people in power.” The process starts from the choice each voter now makes at the polling booth!

Andrew A. Erakhrumen currently teaches at the Department of Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria.

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