Dear Mr. President,
Permit me to start with a reminder of a common African parlance which says “it is demeaning for a king to recommend, he orders instead, but where the former is habitual of a stool, it can be damn painful to the marrow”. So exactly is the feeling among fellow Nigerian compatriots to the trending “enough is enough” threat-like plea credited to your Excellency. Although, the statement was made at a reception party for governors and party stalwarts who came calling at your hometown during ‘Eid-l-Adha’ festivity, but considered either as a digression comment or substantive as an intended message, honestly, Nigerians feel utterly slighted and saddened by the statement, not only because the statement came at a time when the hope of calling off the strike was at a record high, but also because it came from whom all bucks on the matter stop at his table; reason some even pitched the speech as absolutely unpresidential.
The feeling of people, no doubt, was understandable, recall that the statement came exactly on the 148th day of the industrial strike action by ASUU, when all negotiations and consultations aimed at resolving the conflict had been rounded off after the re-negotiation of the Munzali’s report of December, 2020 by Briggs Committee in June, 2022 and the new draft agreement awaiting necessary considerations by the distinguished Office of the President.
Sir, it may interest you to note that many Nigerian parents and students are enraged at your Excellency’s recent travels across countries for engagements they consider far less important when placed side-by-side with your needed attention to salvage tertiary education system at home. The youths in particular, consider it an audacious deceit for their President to stand among comity of nations discussing issues of regional and global development agenda when public universities at home are shut with millions of Nigerian students compelled to roam the streets.
Though, they contend vehemently, the views in certain quarters claiming your outright absence in your own government, yet refrain temptation to be persuaded to believing the hyena-jackal rhetoric which rents the Nigerian media waves from time to time. On the contrary, they behold a strong view that your Excellency can be explicit and assertive wherever and whenever you so choose but only wonder in bewilderment why the FG-ASUU issues have not attracted needed attention on your priority list.
They vow not to forget in a hurry how you hurriedly rescheduled your medical trip to London from Kenya in March, this year, to wade in in the then APC intra-party transition squabble. In fact, the uncommon dexterity with which you ensured that your caucus (the CPC extraction) in the ruling party suffered no casualty in the intra-party scheming did not go unnoticed. Your last-minute intervention, they affirmed, seamlessly saved the erstwhile Chairman of the APC Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee from imminent disgrace of an unceremonial exit already orchestrated. Same way, they marvel at your ingenious wielding of power and authority to quash contending forces to make your preferred candidate emerge as the Party Chairman, against all odds.
Given, the afore-noted, Nigerian youths feel that the shut public universities should also have attracted their President’s attention so fervently to cut short or direct total cancellation of all engagements to attend to the burning issues that have kept them idle for five months. However, they are surprised that you have remained unperturbed and particularly stunned that despite ASUU’s latest considerate re-renegotiation with the government team led by Professor Nimi Briggs, (report of which has been ready since June 16), a deserving attention of this government is still missing; yet, everything grinds on as if all is well.
And when Nigerian parents, students and lecturers most anticipated the much-awaited Presidential consideration of the new draft agreement which, of course, could have ended the protracted industrial strike action, all they got instead was the ‘enough is enough’ bomb shell without concrete pointer to any commitment of your government.
Sir, whether the statement was an order or not, intended or unintended, it does have a semblance of a threat which by all reckoning amounts to naught and needless at a time like this, when many gray areas and knotty issues related to the renegotiation of the 2009 FG-ASUU agreement seem to have been dealt with substantially. Interestingly, to ease Your Excellency’s decision-making on the matter, the Briggs Renegotiation Committee, had sought necessary input from relevant government agencies, such as the National Salaries Wages and Incomes Commission, Federal Character Commission, Ministry of Justice, Office of Accountant General of the Federation, Ministry of Finance, National Universities Commission, Tertiary Education Trust Fund and the supervisory ministry; the Ministry of Education.
So bemoaning the matter, at an unofficial function, as though the demands of the lecturers were a request for personal favours is, at best, described a covert attempt to exonerate your government from her due obligation of acceding to the new agreement which the public is privy to as a product of collective bargaining between ASUU and representatives of government.
People perceive your reaction as a defence mechanism to whip cheap public sentiments against ASUU, perhaps to buy time till God-knows when. No thanks to the Minister of Labour and his Ministry whose incredulously interloping involvement has surreptitiously dragged the renegotiation process rather regressively.
Meanwhile, if the ‘Enough is Enough’ statement is indeed directed at ASUU, Nigerian youths would have no option than to be compelled to enquire if indeed you are aware of the massive reconciliation grounds so far gained by the Briggs Committee. Or, could you have been wrongly informed of the content of the new draft agreement by the interloping conciliator. As you may be aware your Excellency, the little features of credence the Nigerian university system could pride itself of today are sturdily attributed to the unrelenting engagements of ASUU with successive government, yet the welfare entitlement of its members has always been of ancillary priority.
You may wish to do a brisk fact-check; you will be shocked that Nigerian lecturers are the least paid academic staff in any sane clime in the world today. Sir, are you aware that a review of their emoluments which is still subject of discussion in 2022 was long due in 2013? Recall that exchange rate of Naira to US Dollar which then stood at N156, is now, no less than N450 resulting in significant decline in purchasing power of all and sundry. While the purchasing power depreciation lasted, ASUU members continue to endure the unfulfilled FGN-ASUU Agreement of 2009, the unredeemed MoU of 2013, the neglected MoA of 2017 as well as the breached MoA of 2020; yet, they pay heavily from the meagre salaries to attend local and international conferences to bring home contemporary global knowledge in the interest of their students. Mr. President sir, are you aware that the said meagre salaries have, on the directives of one of your Ministers, been stopped since February, 2022 thereby subjecting the lecturers and their dependants to harrowing experiences of uncommon hardship.
Even for sake of the three major festivities (Easter, Eid-l-Fitr and Eid-l-Adha) during this period, your government refused to blink its eye of highhandedness, haba! No doubt, this is the height of punishment a government can mete out to her citizens and so shall remain an indelible blemish on this administration forever. Are you aware of the irreversible impact of the potential brain drain syndrome that may be occasioned by this brazen maltreatment? Mr. President sir, you will surely not agree less that it is a huge personal sacrifice to remain an academic in this country when such services are highly sought after in other welcoming climes?
To cap it all Your Excellency, it is now a common song in town that Nigerian universities have witnessed the longest shut down ever, under your government. This development is apparently disturbing to many compatriots, even to your ardent supporters. To everyone, your recent call out to ASUU to go back to classroom on empty stomach in the face of the lingering deprivations they suffer and without any marked commitment of government, falls no shot of an audacious plea by all reckoning.
Meanwhile, all is not yet beyond a redeemable reach Your Excellency, at least for the sake of the millions of helpless Nigerian university students whose hopes now hang in the balance in the whole imbroglio and whose interests you swore to continually protect as long as their collective aspirations are genuine and legitimate.
These promises as you willfully re-echoed in your post-ENDSARS national broadcast still resonate clearly in the minds of Nigerian youths. Your Excellency sir, you do know you owe this group of Nigerians a whole lot as their current educational pursuit, which is a fundamental right, remains an undebatable cardinal determinant of a future Nigeria, as today of every nation determines its tomorrow.
How I wish you could assume their status for a while and visualize the league of temptations that wander around in their heads, yet the society expects so much from them to shun vices. If only in their interest and the aspiration to have products of Nigerian university system compete confidently with contemporaries across the globe, you could accede to the draft agreement of Briggs Committee and end the strike without further delay, posterity will surely be kind to you. Long Live Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Yours in Solidarity