By Adekunle Adekoya
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” — Malcolm X.
IT is trite news that the nation’s public universities, especially those owned by the Federal Government, are currently not in the expected work mode, as lectures are not being given because lecturers are on strike since February. The strike is going into its eighth month as September ends.
It is also trite news that the Federal Government, at its tethers’ ends, sued ASUU before the National Industrial Court, which thereafter issued an order compelling the striking dons to go back to work, as usual, “pending determination of the substantive suit”.
Government, upbeat about the ruling, reacted through the National Universities Commission, NUC, which issued a circular to vice-chancellors of the universities, directing them to re-open for academic and other activities.
In a memo seen by journalists, signed by the Director, Finance and Accounts of the NUC, Sam Onazi, on behalf of the Executive Secretary of the commission, Professor Abubakar Rasheed, government instructed all vice-chancellors, pro-Chancellors and chairmen of governing councils of federal universities to re-open schools.
Let me quote further from the NUC memo:
“On September 21, the NICN granted the order restraining ASUU as prayed from taking further steps and doing any act or otherwise continuing with the indefinite strike or any strike action pending the hearing and determination of the suite/referral on the matter by the NICN. The court judgement and order are attached.
“Considering the above order by the NICN and as a matter of national interest, I am directed to request that National Universities Commission. Vice -Chancellors of Nigerian Universities and any other relevant officer or body be directed to:
“Immediately re-open ALL the universities, immediately recall the students of the various universities, ensure that ASUU members immediately resume/commence lectures;
“Restore the daily activities and routines of the various university campuses,” the memo read.
When the news hit the airwaves, I laughed, but my dear readers are advised to take that as Act 1, Scene 1.
Hours later, same day, the NUC recanted, and asked the same Sam Onazi who authored the earlier memo to write another one, cancelling the action directed in the earlier memo, which ordered reopening of the universities.
The memo read in part: “I have been directed to withdraw the NUC Circular Ref: NUC/ES/138/Vol.64/135, and dated September 23, 2022 on the above subject.
“Consequently, the said circular stands withdrawn. All pro-chancellors and chairmen of governing councils, as well as vice-chancellors of federal universities are to please note. Further development and information would be communicated to all relevant stakeholders.
“Please accept the assurances of the Executive Secretary’s warmest regards.”
Take that as Act 1, Scene II.
For me, what triggered laughter when the first memo was issued is the question that immediately came to mind: Who ordered the universities shut in the first place? Was it the Federal Government? No! So, how can the Federal Government reopen schools that were not shut by its own proclamation?
ASUU also didn’t shut the schools by any proclamation; it simply directed withdrawal of services by its members. Wasn’t it obvious to those managing the ASUU crisis on behalf of the Federal Government that the only way to get the schools resume to continue activities was by ASUU willingly, and by announcement from its exco, that the strike had been called off? How were the universities expected to make striking lecturers resume?
By magic? By fiat? It might have worked if we were under a military government but we quit that road 24 years ago. The NUC memos directing re-opening, and canceling the directive hours later were very embarrassing, and smacked of overzealous unseriousness in high places.
We need more information here — at whose prompt did the NUC issue the first circular to universities? What transpired in the hours thereafter which culminated in another memo canceling the earlier one? Are we serious here, about anything at all?
If Malcolm X, quoted above is right: can we assess the damage done by seven months of university closure to our collective future, especially those of the affected students?
The entire development convey the impression that comedians are in charge of one very important sector of our national life. Let me use this opportunity to remind those in government at this time, and those that will come after them, that the university system exists to nurture and culture the brightest and best of a nation’s intellect.
It is not a business for bullies and comedians. It is a business for the most sober and serious among us, and given our prevailing situation, sobriety and seriousness took flight a long time ago. Right now, we are on our own.