By Rotimi Fasan
THE nation’s 62nd Independence Day anniversary has come and is still ongoing as I write this on Monday, October 3, 2022. This was the day set aside as public holiday to celebrate the anniversary. Amid the general downturn in the economy, the conundrum of insecurity to which there has been no reassuring solution in most parts of the North and the lingering strike by lecturers that has left many state and federal universities under lock and key, Abuja was still able to pull off a relatively muted celebration. It was characterised by the usual pageantry and sense of occasion by the sparse crowd of state officials and school children that were present at the Eagles Square venue of the celebrations in Abuja.
Going by the national mood there was, perhaps, not much to celebrate about the state of the nation. This is one point on which there cannot be much difference in opinion among Nigerians. The Abuja celebrations were no doubt a presidential farewell by the organisers to President Muhammadu Buhari who leaves office next May.
This year’s Independence Day events were the last he would be celebrating as a sitting president. He obviously tried to make the best of it all together with his wife and one of his daughters, alongside the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, and his wife. Goodluck Jonathan was the only one of the past presidents still alive that joined Buhari to celebrate in his increasingly isolated presidency.
There is not too much to be happy about with Abuja these days. Those who stay away must know what they are doing. They are better off that way than to be made guilty by associating with a government that seems to be on life support, confused and without a clue as to how to address the many issues confronting it. Its ineptness was evident even in organising the celebrations. Just two days before the actual celebrations in Abuja the media was awash with images of paratroopers in awkward maneouvres as they jumped out of an airborne aircraft.
Their movements were obviously meant to be part of the entertainment displays for the Independence Day. But here they were unable to coordinate their landing as their parachutes flew over and got entangled in trees. Even though I followed the televised broadcast of the events at Eagles Square, I didn’t get to see this part of the displays. Perhaps, they were cut out for good.
Who wanted any freak accident on a supposedly joyous occasion? There was another footage of a paratrooper who appeared to be falling off the sky to his death giving the dizzying speed at which he descended. These were all frightful footages that were suggestive of the abysmal level of training available to our military. Is it any wonder that these men and women of the forces have been having such a hard time combating the insurgents and marauding bandits terrorising our lives?
Some of the displays at Eagles Square were simply too juvenile to be considered the best that we can put up for a national event on the scale of an Independence Day. What’s the point of putting professional men through some of those amateurish stunts, jumping off helicopters with sniffer dogs and posing for the cameras in infantile combat or action-packed formation?
What about the much-talked about Super Tucano jets that were flown above the Square? Was that for the benefit of the bandits of Sambisa, so they could clearly view and know how best to take down the best of our fighter jets? The foolishness of the whole display is confounding. There were moments I was genuinely worried about something going wrong either on the ground or in the air and we would be saddled with some awful but totally avoidable tragedy. But thank God we went pass that. Yet, we are still where we were the day after the celebrations if not worse.
The economic situation is as impregnable as ever and lives are still being lost in scores and hundreds. The Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, is still holding forth and standing firm. They have refused to yield despite government’s propaganda. In just over a week and it would be exactly eight full months since the strike started on February 14, this year.
It is so far the second longest strike action since the country’s academics embarked on their first strike some 50 years ago. It is surpassed by a month by the academics’ strike of 2020 through 2021 which lasted all of nine months. This is part of the dubious distinction the Buhari administration would be leaving office with and it is by no means certain that the government is ready to see to it that the strike ends soon.
It is all too clear that neither President Buhari nor any of his ministers that had been engaging ASUU up to this point knows their way out of this academic rut. While the president appears to have ceded all concerns about the issue to his ministers, the ministers have run out of ideas, leaving the leadership of the House of Representative, led by Femi Gbajabiamila, to go on with the negotiations.
Deception, half-truth and outright lies have been the gameplan of the APC-led government in its so-called negotiation with ASUU. Which is not the same thing as giving ASUU unqualified endorsement. But it is clear that the Union has been far more forthright and clear-eyed about its goal than Abuja whose ministers, beginning with the Labour Minister, Chris Ngige, has been feeding Nigerians lies from the start.
Yet it is the same Ngige that has been accusing ASUU of deception. He, like his Education counterpart, Adamu Adamu, who has been slated for national honours by President Buhari, has been misleading Nigerians into believing his phantom claims that all the demands of the striking lecturers have been met except their demand to be paid for the period they were said not to have worked. But ask either of Ngige or Adamu the specifics of the concessions made by government and they have nothing to say or show. Chris Ngige, far more than Adamu, has been utterly shameless in this regard.
The Buhari administration has no intention to address the demands of ASUU at this point in time. Either it genuinely believes it does not have the resources to meet their demands or it is simply determined to do nothing about it; but its strategy is obviously to stall while hoping to get the lecturers back to work by force or persuasion through deception. Its call that ASUU heed the decision of the National Industrial Court and go back to work without any concrete offer is part of the game. It is fraudulent.