The world’s second richest pastor commented on Thursday, July 7 that “the era of private universities – championed by the church – came to set standards and right moral codes in our educational system to make it thrive better, devoid of cultism and activism” as reported by Vanguard. However, this statement can also be interpreted to mean that this is another way the Nigerian rich class wants to criminalise activism and deprive the next generation of their right to independent thinking.
Asides the fact that a violent protest that led to the death of a student was the reason for the closing down of the Ajayi Crowther University (a Faith-based private university) in 2012, it is utterly backward for any right thinking person to assert that expensive fee and lack of freedom to think independently, and therefore scientifically, is the only way to raise standards in the education sector. One would want to ask which moral standards can be set by a university that was built with the tithes and offerings of poor members of a church, yet those who sacrificed their widow’s mite for building the school are unable to afford the millions being charged as the fees of the school. One would also want to ask why these cheated populace still continue to attend his church! The answer is not far-fetched for a country where equality, either in terms of rights or privileges, have become a foreign word.
Without dwelling too much on the extent of the rot in religious institutions, it is necessary to ask ourselves how we intend to ensure sanity in a society where activism, especially students’ activism, have been made a crime. Whenever students come out to make just demands from the government or their managements, the reply has always been victimisation in form school closures to delay and punish students, and suspensions, expulsions, detentions, and at times, assassinations of student activists. These victimisations have scared some potential leaders and nation builders into silence and cowardice, and that silence is fast becoming a culture. This culture has made the education sector very ripe for exploitations of the ‘costumers’ by the state. It is this psychological need for expression of their hunger and anger that drives many students who have been deprived of their democratic independent voice to cultism.
The pastor’s statement is not disconnected from President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement in October 2015 that he would not condone any institution or lecturer exploiting students academically or inciting them to destabilise the system – sounding like it was culled from George Orwell’s book, 1984 (coincidentally clashing with the year of the start of Buhari’s military regime when journalists, academics, lawyers, and activists were deprived of the ability to engage in independent intellectual work with the autocratic Decree 4 that shielded public officers from any form of criticism – an orthodox version of the Social Media Bill).
It is therefore not surprising that the Presidency has responded to the several unprecedented number of uprisings and closures in Nigerian tertiary institutions within the year, with nothing but silence. All the policies that could even help in saving the education sector to some extent, like the mass teacher employment, face non-implementation and under-implementation, while non-payment of education workers’ salaries and allowances, privatisation of some parts of the sector, retrenchments, poor living and learning welfare conditions and fee increments have become the order of the day in the sector.
Another face of the criminalisation of activism is being displayed in Oyo State, where the governor of the state is demanding for apology from education workers and students who opposed the privatisation of public schools and demanded for the payment of their wages. This is not unprecedented for an Ajimobi who, alongside Aregbesola of Osun State, made a past Vice-Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University who was indicted for playing a role in the massacre of student activists by cultists as far back as 1999, the Pro-Chancellor of a university in the state.
Is it then a coincidence that this state university is on shutdown over students’ unrest? If education is privatised, like the electricity, telecommunications and oil sectors, amongst others, one would want to ask what the responsibility of the government is.
Nigeria needs a socialist change, not a totalitarian change, and only the organised mass movement of Nigerians can ensure that. Activism is not a crime, it is the only way to avoid the urge to find solace in criminal means of venting understandable anger at the irresponsibility of the Nigerian government.
*Mr Omole Ibukun wrote from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife