South-East ASUU versus South-East Governor’s Forum

South-East ASUU versus South-East Governor’s Forum (Hausa abata Awka) – The hostilities that metamorphosed into the Nigeria-Biafran War of 1967 could have been controlled if not completely avoided. Apart from other causes, the ego clash between General Yakubu Gowon, the then Head-of-State of Nigeria and Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, then Governor of the Eastern Region, who later became a General in the defunct Biafran Army and head-of-state of Biafra did not just play a minor role. Being in the same age bracket and rank, and not being the most senior officers, Ojukwu felt that Gowon should not have become the head-of-state. Again, both men seemed to have reveled in youthful exuberance that made Gowon believe he could overrun the Biafran territories just within three hours of a police action. Ojukwu himself believed that no power in black Africa could subdue Biafra. When all dialogues failed, they resorted to war; an avoidable, unjust and unconventional one indeed. Both sides never in their wildest imagination anticipated what they saw.

As a country, Nigeria had a standby military, sophisticated and well prepared to protect the country against external aggressions. Biafra was not like that. Its military was hurriedly formed, without such sophisticated weapons. It relied on the locally made weapons produced by the Biafran scientists and the ones it retrieved from the rampaging Nigerian soldiers. At the onset of the war, many Biafran youths thronged the various military barracks for recruitment into the Biafran army. They had never witnessed war. When the war finally began, the Biafran folk, full of zeal and optimism, understood or misunderstood any sound of the weapons heard from afar to be from the Biafran side. At the sound of the heavy weapons, they would respond, “O bu ndi nke anyi” – It is our own people. But when the Nigerian soldiers pushed from the north through Nsukka and marched on Enugu and mercilessly moved towards Awka, the notion of ‘being our people’ abruptly changed. Though there was a heavy battle between the two sides before Awka finally fell to the Nigerian side, the Biafrans were greatly taken aback. The capture of Awka, against the popular expectations, generated the saying, “Hausa abata Awka” – the Hausas have overrun Awka. This signified that the war had become serious indeed. From then on, that saying was used to describe any serious or shocking or unexpected event. The phrase rightly describes the current South-East ASUU/South-East Governors’ Forum face-off which has gone beyond our anticipation.

For about four months now, academic activities in the state-owned universities of the South-East comprising of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states have been consciously paralyzed. The university teachers are demanding the implementation of the FG-ASUU agreement on the university staff welfare and improvement of the academic environment of the universities which have, on various occasions, been described as ‘glorified secondary schools’. The staff complained, begged, warned and threatened. But the south-east governors seemed to have different views.

The governors are of the view that the agreement was strictly between the ASUU and the FG without the involvement of the states. The agreement therefore became a yoke on the neck of the state governments which cannot pay because of their meager resources. The governors’ body language was that in a federation like Nigeria, no two state universities pay the same salaries and that even governors of such states do not earn the same salaries. In their own opinion, any lecturer who desires could check another place for a greener pasture. They believed they could not do what they could not do because they have other works to do and not just catering for the universities. When both sides could not shift grounds to accommodate each other’s entreaties, there was only one resort, the last one. It was war.

The bubble burst on the 22nd August, 2010 when the strike was declared. It looked like a joke. In the university where I study, apart from the Law Faculty, almost all others were still preparing for or taking their second semester examinations. And they were caught napping. The lecturers decided to abstain from work and to fight to the last drop of their blood. It was no longer a joke and the national body of ASUU strongly backs its South-East chapter to wage the war to the end. To show the level of their seriousness, some money was said to have been voted from which the striking lecturers would collect some loans if the crunch of the economy becomes much on them as the war lasts.

What seems to have angered the university teachers much was the brazenness with which the politicians (some of them stark illiterate) guzzle the tax payers’ money whereas the lecturers are left to suffer for nothing. The jumbo salaries of the different cadres of legislators and the disparity between the salaries of lecturers in federal universities, polytechnics and colleges and themselves have gone a long way in hardening their hearts. The varsity lecturers believe that such inequalities have to be resolved immediately as all of them, whether the state or federal lecturers; federal or state civil servants buy from the same market. They acknowledge the fact that some other state universities are also in crises with their proprietors and some are also on strike, but their greatest grouse is that of all the state universities, those in the south-east are the least paid.

At the inception of the strike, a coalition of students from the affected universities thought they could make some impact. In a mob fashion, they besieged the Anambra Government House several times and in one occasion, there was a scuffle between them and the law enforcement agents. They made the mistake of thinking that Obi as the chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum had the solution to the problem. They forgot that Obi is just the Anambra State governor who has no direct administrative power over other states and therefore cannot direct the governors on what to do in their various states. Their protests should not have ended at the gate of the Anambra Government House. They should have extended them to the other states. Well, we heard that the governor of Anambra State has offered to pay 83% of the lecturers’ demands. But the chisel is still stuck in the log of wood as the signing of the agreement by the university management board remains a problem. Some other governors refused moving an inch from where they are standing. Some have even threatened a permanent closure of the universities.

The strike action has badly hit, not the lecturers, a good number of whom has reached the apogee of their teaching profession and also not the governors and other members of their cabinets who may not have any business with the classroom in the nearest future and whose children are studying abroad. It has hit the students, many of whom are caught in the throes of their academic activities. One semester is already gone and we are unsure of resumption. From all indication, even if we shall resume, it will be in January and then there will be a crash program to meet up with what was lost and everybody will be struggling to meet up and not to learn. This will manifest in the production of inefficient graduates from the ivory towers. Again, some of our students who should have graduated and gone for their mandatory youth service could not do that as a result of the strike. They are in their homes licking their wounds. Though the rising wave in crime is not necessarily connected to the strike action and closure, it is not completely unconnected as an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. This might have also helped in populating the brothels with young women of easy virtue as they pass time in the hands of some strange faces, some old enough to be their grandfathers. It is true that one who has the tendency for anything goes on to do it at the least provocation, but the devil should not be given the opportunity.

Given the long time that teachers have suffered in this country and given the fact that Nigeria is richly blessed, there is no way it cannot take good care of the teachers if the priority is placed correctly. The increment or better condition the teachers are asking for is not unjust. The state governments are complaining of the scarce resources to implement the FG-ASUU agreement of 2009. From the bottom of their hearts, the governors know it is not impossible. It is well known that the greatest future one can bequeath his or her child is education. But behold our future generation being denied of this one single most important thing. Let the government and the striking lecturers, for the interest of the future generation find a lasting solution to this ugly situation. It is no longer funny. They know it. They can do it.

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