Nigerians had an idea of why the FG-ASUU impasse has lingered for so long from the conduct of the education minister, Adamu Adamu, on Monday. For some Nigerians, that was probably their first time seeing the minister publicly display interest in the crisis bedevilling Nigeria’s education sector.
Throughout the nine-month strike embarked upon by members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities in 2020, the minister remained in the background, most times, speaking through the junior minister in the ministry.
Perhaps, the minister should have continued to keep to himself and save some of us from the unnecessary drama we saw at his meeting with the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in his office in Abuja on Monday.
Nigeria’s Columbia-trained minister of education, who is also widely known as a polyglot, walked out of a meeting with the university students, who were protesting over the incessant strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
The students had barricaded the entrance of the federal ministry of education at the Central Area in Abuja. So, the minister decided to meet with the leadership of the student body.
NANS national president, Comrade Sunday Asefon, had told the minister that students were the victims of the FG-ASUU crisis. He also said the ASUU strike was killing Nigeria’s education and that the government should find a lasting solution to the problem. He also pointedly told the minister that their parents could not afford to send their children to the UK as the minister did to his own children.
He had said: “This is your second term in office, your salary will be paid. The salaries of the lecturers will be paid. We want to really know what is really happening.
“Honourable minister, you celebrated your son who graduated from a university outside this country. We appreciate that. Our parents do not have that money to send us outside the country, but we are in this country. We should enjoy what we are paying for.
“We want adequate funding of education in this country. Honourable minister, our message is that we want to go back to class. We want the federal government and ASUU to, as a matter of urgency, call off this strike while negotiation continues. We want to go back to classes. If not, this will be more than #EndSARS protest.”
I guess the minister must have been piqued by the half-truths and perhaps absolute falsehood in the NANS president’s speech and felt the best thing he could do was to rubbish him. In a terse style, he referred the students back to their lecturers.
“Perhaps the only point that you made that is even worthy of attention is that you said students should be involved in this (discussion) and I think it’s probably a good thing.
“And it’s the only thing I’m going to take from everything you have said here. Thank you.”
The minister then stood up and walked out of the meeting.
Truth be told, the student union president failed to do his homework well. Firstly, I am not aware that the education minister recently celebrated any of his children’s graduation on social media. Yes, his daughter, Barrister Fatima (Zara) Adamu got married at a ceremony in Azare, Bauchi State, early this year and that was in the news. His medical trip to Germany to fix his health issues also got some media attention, but there was nothing on him celebrating any child graduating from a foreign university.
The student union president must have been referring to the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Prof. Adamu Rasheed, whose son bagged a PhD in Engineering from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, in 2017. The graduation picture went viral with Nigerians criticising the former Bayero University, Kano vice chancellor for sending his son abroad when Nigeria’s education system is in decay.
Secondly, another blunder by the NANS leader is his verdict that since their parents cannot send them to universities abroad, they should be allowed to enjoy what they are paying for here in Nigeria. That is about the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard! It is almost unbelievable that a student union leader in Nigeria could utter such a statement – Nigerian students in federal universities paying tuition? Which tuition? How much are they paying? Was he referring to the N90,000 accommodation fee students pay or registration fee for courses as tuition? If the leadership of the Nigerian university body does not know what constitutes tuition, then, that is worrisome indeed.
I have always said it and it is worth repeating. Public funding of tertiary education by the Federal Government is one of the major problems confronting the federal university system in this country. Nigeria can simply no longer afford to provide free tertiary education. People often refer to the humongous salaries of our lawmakers and use that as a justification for free tertiary education.
But the truth is there is nothing very big about Nigerian lawmakers’ salaries. The average salary of a senator is about N1.5 million while that of a member of the House of Representatives is N1.3m. Their ostentatious lifestyle isn’t a product of their legitimate earnings. Most often, it is a product of graft, pure corruption and sometimes outright theft. Lawmakers, like other public officers in Nigeria, are just living fat on the country’s corrupt system which is very sad though.
As rich as they are, the US, UK and many other developed countries in the world are not providing free tertiary education for their citizens. They can give grants, scholarships and loans but not free university education. And in Scandinavian countries where tertiary education is free, the citizens pay for it in heavy tax. How can Nigeria, whose national budget is comparable to what just a company in the US, Apple spends on R&D, give quality, free university education? The earlier the students understand this and begin to drive conversation around how best Nigeria can close funding gaps in its public tertiary institutions, the better it would be for everyone.
However, the NANS president’s limited knowledge notwithstanding, the reaction of the minister was very rude and condescending. Adamu behaved like a mini-god. His demeanour towards the students was like that of a master to a slave.
The viral video of that encounter shows a very arrogant minister who thinks he is doing students a favour by even giving them attention in the first instance. He acted like a god, the omnipotent, the kabiyesi (all in all), the one that speaks and no one dares to talk, the almighty of Nigeria’s education sector who should be worshipped and adored.
Do we now know why Nigeria’s education sector is getting worse by the day? The people at the helm of affairs don’t care. They don’t feel the heat. They are too disconnected. In a normal clime, the minister should be having sleepless nights on how to find a solution to the problem of the ASUU-FG impasse. He should be seen to be leading a conversation with stakeholders on how to find permanent solutions to the continuous strikes by university lecturers. The minister should be lobbying the student body to make them understand the need to introduce tuition in our public universities.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time the minister would be treating Nigerians with disdain. He exhibited the same attitude when the whole world was working out solutions to the problem posed to learning by COVID-19. All through that period, the minister appeared quite unruffled. He was simply carrying on as if all was well, hiding under the ASUU strike.
In fairness to the minister, his attitude is typical of many people in power. Nigerian leaders consistently display contempt, impunity and disdain for the concerns, fears and will of the people. They behave like what my late mum would describe as the attitude of “who can catch me, who can query me.”
But I don’t blame them. I blame the citizenry that worships and adore the people in power just to get the crumbs from their “masters’ tables.” Watching the video, one could see some staff of the ministry trying to prevail on the students not to complain. They were too afraid of the minister; they did not want anything that would further provoke him.
The same reason is why a ministry would organise a bogus reception and chant ‘’Mummy Oyoyo,’’ the kind we saw when the minister of finance, Zainab Ahmed, got a second term appointment. We are just too used to hero-worshipping in this part of the world, so people in positions of authority in all spheres get away with murder, robbery in broad daylight, etc. Maybe, it’s a cultural thing. Whatever it is, such an attitude prevents us from holding our leaders accountable for their misdeeds.
The ASUU strike has been affecting students’ lives since 1999. Now students are saying their interest should be considered; they should be part of the discussion between the federal government and ASUU to find a lasting solution to the matter. What is wrong with that? The minister could have told the students the government’s efforts at solving the problem and corrected all the wrong misrepresentations. That is the least expectation from a servant-leader.
As for NANS, I think the leadership should work on its public speaking technique. Understandably, the students have every right to be emotional and angry with the Nigerian system, but those in power can easily capitalise on their poor public presentation skills and dismiss them, just like the minister did on Monday.
Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the editor-in-chief of franktalknow.com and a member, the Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: [email protected]