Does President Muhammadu Buhari, the leader of Africa’s most populous nation, have an idea why a Prime Ministerial hopeful in a clime saner than ours once said he was going to concentrate on three things if elected? The three things are: education, education and education. Does our president know that the assertion underscores the importance of education? Is the importance of this not lost on the current leadership of Nigeria, the giant of Africa whose public universities have been closed for about six months because lecturers are on strike over the failure of government to fulfill an agreement entered into with them? Did the President ever envisage that what started like a warning strike has been on since February 14, and when it appears an end is in sight, the goal post is shifted?
Does President Buhari know the implications of closing the universities for this long? Does he feel ashamed that his administration has been unable to end this strike, whose effects on our education sector will take years to get over? Does he know that the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which ordered the strike, has good enough reasons to be angry? Does he know that the welfare of its members are treated with levity? Does he know that an agreement reached with the Federal Government since 2009 remains unimplemented? Does it occur to him that with the strike, coming at a time the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the academic calender for about one year, this is a blow too many for students?
Does the President know that now a four-year course will take six years to complete? Does he care that many now regret choosing public universities because their counterparts in foreign universities and private universities are enjoying uninterrupted calendars?
Does the President know that the mental health of our students who are home when they are supposed to be in school cannot but be affected? Does the President know that for students who stay off campus, their parents have to cough out more than necessary for rent? Does the President know that when long strikes are called off, students are rushed and proper learning is jettisoned? Does the President know that the worst effect of long closure of universities is the loss of respect for products from our higher institutions? Does the President know that closures like this are behind unemployable graduates?
Does the President know that under his administration lecturers have gone on strike many a time? Does he know that ASUU strike lasted nine months in 2020? Does he remember that ASUU was on strike for three months in 2018 over the poor funding of education and planned increment of school fees? Will someone remind the president that, in 2017, ASUU was on strike for 36 days? Can someone tell the president the Memorandum of Understanding which ended that strike remains unimplemented? Does the President know that his order for an end to the strike within two weeks has yielded no result? Does he know that Nigerians now laugh when he gives directives?
Does he know that government officials, including those running the country’s education sector, have their children schooling abroad? Does he know that this is why they are less concerned? Does he know that Education Minister Adamu Adamu once walked out on the President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Mr. Sunday Asefon, in February 2022, because he was told the bitter truth?
Will someone tell the president that the matter has gone beyond issuing orders? Will he be told that he needs to lead the negotiations to end the strike? Does he remember that he is the one we voted for, and we hold him responsible for the mess in the education sector? Will someone tell the president that the Federal Government he leads has been uncoordinated in its handling of the negotiations?
Will Nigerians join the campaign to get the president to revitalise public universities because the future of our nation lies in well-funded public universities and that anything short of that is disaster? Will someone remind him that though the mess didn’t start with him, but that is not an excuse for the worsening situation? Someone needs to remind him that government is a continuum and blaming the past should not be allowed.
Shall we ask the president if he is aware of the way universities are run abroad? Shall we also tell the president that there is no sense in establishing more federal universities when we are unable to fund existing ones? Shall we tell the president that things have fallen apart in our education sector and that now is the time to get the centre to hold at all costs?
To add salt to injury, I hear we are going to accommodate students displaced from Ukrainian universities as a result of the Russian aggression. Can the half-blind lead the sighted successfully? Can the one with no hand raise a bucket full of water? In which universities are we going to accommodate the students from Ukraine? Certainly not the ones that are closed. Maybe we will put them in the private varsities? Is there a joker bigger than us?
My final take: Will someone remind President Buhari that he promised us change? Will someone tell him that, unfortunately, the education sector is still waiting for this less than a year to the end of his eight-year administration? Will someone tell Mr. President to act now. Yes, now!