By Adesina Wahab
The #EndSARS protest, which was shelved after the Lekki Toll Gate shooting of unarmed protesters and subsequent hijacking of the protest by miscreants, has created further wedge between the Federal Government, FG and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, over claims that the strike by the union helped to provide more participants for the protest across the country.
Though the protest initially focused on curbing police brutality and excesses, it snowballed into making other demands. With the protest being spontaneous and well coordinated even without any known leader, it showed that those involved are not uneducated. And with most tertiary institutions yet to open for reason of COVID-19 pandemic or workers’ strike, the government has put the blame of the continuous protest on ASUU whose members have been on strike for over six months.
The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, during one of the meetings called to broker peace between the FG and ASUU, alleged that students who have been idle as a result of strike by their lecturers, have become willing tools in the hands of the promoters of the protest.
“Because the students are at home doing nothing because of strike by their lecturers, they now have the time to begin to do #EndSARS, #End SWAT, #EndSTRIKE among others,” he had said.
Is that absolutely correct? If the students were on campus, would they have joined the protest? Apart from ASUU, the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS and even some parents have contrary views to Ngige’s.
The National President of ASUU, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, faulted the comment by the Minister, saying the government was only trying to blackmail the union. “I don’t know what they mean by that. That is a cheap blackmail. Youths in Nigeria have always expressed their grievances. It is the government that should realise that by trying to dodge responsibilities, there is no way youths won’t ask questions.
“The children of the elite are in foreign universities or private ones and they have left the public universities to rot. Over 60 per cent of Nigeria’s population is youth. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo said the youth leaders refused to train today will come later to deny them peace.
“Any resource committed to education is not a waste. Anything spent on education is an investment, an investment in the future of the country. It is only when the government sees anything spent on education as an investment that we will have peace,” he said.
The South-West Zonal Coordinator of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, Kappo Samuel Olawale, also disagreed with the Labour minister. He noted that whether ASUU was on strike or not, those taking part in the protest would have done so.
“Everybody just got tired and were looking for something to spur them to action and fortunately, the SARS arm of the police provided that. The protest is about good governance. Both young and old are affected. I believe year 2020 was when God purposed to start this movement in Nigeria, I won’t call it a protest, it is a movement.
“Yes, students are part of it. It is not about an association or a leadership from somewhere. We are all Nigerians. We are committed to a better Nigeria. Government needs to better fund education.
“The truth is, our leaders are earning far more than they are offering the nation in terms of service. They should be ready to make sacrifices not to drain the national purse the more. Let them give us good roads, potable water, stable electricity, qualitative education and health services. These are basic necessities of life.
“Let our leaders give us the road map of where they are leading us. The prototype of what they want our country to be. They must show more commitment to the development and growth of the country. They are not doing enough yet,” he said.
A parent, Mr Kunle Akinleye, whose son is an undergraduate in a university in Osun State, said if universities were in session, the protest would have escalated beyond the current level. He opined that apart from police excesses and brutality, many Nigerians are fed up with the situation of things.
“Do you know that most of the victims of police brutality are students? Everybody knows that today’s students, irrespective of the course of study, need laptops. Imagine a situation whereby your child is going to school or leaving the campus for home clutching his laptop and being harassed and assaulted by policemen. If they own a smart phone, which is not something spectacular because everybody needs that too, police will harass them and begin to scan through the phone.
‘Now, if you have a car and you send your son on an errand with the car, your prayer will be that he does not come across policemen on the way. They will stop him, harass him and ask a deluge of questions. Most of the time, no matter how hard the child tries to explain the situation, it may amount to nothing.
“If students were on campus, they would have participated even the more and it may have escalated because their leaders in various schools would mobilise them unlike what we have now,” he said.