By Adagbo Onoja
From where could Nigeria have inherited the horrifying misfortune of a very callous, very selfish, very unpatriotic and certainly, very unimaginative or incompetent power elite? So callous and unpatriotic that one of them and a political appointee like Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala could muster sufficient indifference to national security as to declare that the government has no money to fund education without paying a price for such ill-considered outburst.
For, if the government has no money to fund education, what has it got money for again? Can we talk of a future without educated citizens in the world emerging before our own eyes now? And, is it that, as someone else put it before, Nigerians have been shocked to a state of unshockability as to tolerate this kind of misbehavior from public office holders? Even the PDP mandarins who are getting increasingly embarrassed by this self-satiated prime minister have kept quiet. Why?
How could anybody say that the government has no money to fund world class universities in Nigeria when the Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN) has sunk about N3 trillion into bailing out banks alone, excluding another N240 billion to the Small Scale Enterprises speculators? If we know what we are doing, we ought to accompany those interventions with a parallel one for the educational sector because there would be no one to run these banks if the country has no universities/educational system that can produce graduates with the competences to manage them.
Nigerian universities as they are now are no centres of knowledge but centres of toxic inhalation. It does not require a strike action by any union before any serious and forward looking elite intervenes to resuscitate the system as a critical sub set of national security in the age of knowledge. It is, therefore, callousness to start responding to ASUU demands with clever arguments.
It should be pointed out very early that it is in this callousness that we sow the seeds of instability by daring young people to do their worst when we deny them the healing power of sound education. It is not going to be possible for anybody, irrespective of whoever he or she is to come here and say that Nigeria should leave the universities the way they are, thereby denying millions of young and curious Nigerians such benefits of modernity.
This is why it is important to draw the attention of Mister President to the dangers of the kind of technicism that some members of his cabinet have brought to the analysis and resolution of the on-going ASUU-FG face-off. Their technicism is not modernist enough for people with World Bank backgrounds, the same IMF and the World Bank that African regimes that were even Marxist, in theory and in practice, have approached, on their own, inviting the IMF to supervise their reform programme.
So, IMF principles are capable of multiple applicability and no one can impose a single interpretation or application without being on a mischief mission. It is as simple as that.
The approach of the Coordinating Minister should be particularly objectionable to a party in power with an election to win in just about a year from now but being made more and more unpopular by technocrats who have no idea how to win an election at even a ward level.
One had assumed that the president would have little difficulty in acting like a dramatic warrior on this issue even if only in the context of 2015 when anything could happen to the electoral fortunes of a party in distress. Above all, it was believed the problem had been so simplified by the union that the president and the government could have landed heroic from the resolution rather than allow anyone to mislead everyone into a cul de sac that can consume.
If Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is determined to return as a disgraced envoy of her patrons in Washington, why should the president who is a politician allow her to drag him along? Since when has a technocrat led the way in a journey involving a politician?
The job of any good president of Nigeria today as far as rectifying the university system is concerned, is to express sincere gratitude to the ASUU for patriotically bringing up the issues that are in context. This is for three reasons. The first is that this government is supposed to be committed to a Transformation Agenda which is about changing every facet of the society in the most qualitative manner.
The second reason is because the government’s investigation of the state of the universities confirmed the portrait of them that ASUU has been crying alone in the wilderness.
The third is that ASUU is being patriotic. The union and the members could have equally decided to siddon look like everyone else. Many of them would do better if they were to choose to work in any department of the IMF or the World Bank or teach in any university anywhere in the world. The unwritten law is that patriots should be rewarded with badges of state honour, not with lumpen sophism.
There is yet a fourth reason for this from the president in the case of this particular round of the strike action series. In anticipation of the ill-informed obduracy of the IMF/World Bank squad at FEC and the engine rooms of power in Abuja, ASUU had worked it out that government does not need to fund the ASUU-FG Agreement from the budget since that would anger the IMF which controls the budget.
Instead of funding it from the budget and incurring the wrath of the IMF and their conditionalities as stipulated in the Policy Support Instrument, (PSI), the government should take the money from certain agencies of the state. The agencies listed included the CBN, NNPC, PTDF, NCC, among others. Although it has been found out that ‘they’ have stolen the PTDF blind since, even CBN alone can provide so much of what ASUU-FG Agreement required to be implemented.
This is not to talk of the NCC or the NNPC or some other agencies such as JAMB which is sitting atop of money that they do not know what to do with it. What they are doing with the money in JAMB now is the evidence that they do not know what to do with the money they have amassed. There is nothing wrong in taking money from such an agency to fund the ASUU-FG Agreement therefore.
If JAMB doesn’t exist, all that money would have gone to the universities anyway. Without any serious constraints, these companies and organizations could have brought out the amount without much ado and without breaking any laws.
But that is if the IMF agents in government did not put spanners into work by echoing the argument of the IFIs that Nigerian universities had no absorbing capacity for that amount even though the fund infusion was graduated. In other words, they were afraid of inflation, thereby suggesting that other countries of the world, including Eastern Europe where the Nigerians are migrating in large numbers in search of university education do not that there is something called inflation. Or they must be stupid to have gone ahead to build world class universities!
It is, therefore, surprising that the president, the Vice-president, the NASS and even the party would accept the current analogy. It means they cannot even contemplate anything more drastic as taking the amount from the Excess Crude Account or diverting the sale of crude oil for a day to underwriting the ASUU-FG Agreement. Where and how did Nigeria get such a terrible ill-luck in a power elite that either doesn’t know all these or simply doesn’t care?
Of course, the elite know. Senator Uche Chukwumerije’s interrogation of Pius Anyim at the NASS recently on the ASUU strike shows conclusively that the elite know that something is terribly wrong somewhere about their political psychology as a collectivity.
Having been a graduate of Winneba, Chukwumerije may not be taken as a typical Nigerian elite but even Anyim, initially appeared to understand the strategic issues in the ASUU-FG Agreement. However, he is today all over the place denying the document which he ought to have been celebrating as part of his achievement in office within the context of the transformation agenda. What a country!
‘They’ must have warned him against his initial footsteps. Even the president must have been intimidated with stories of how IMF or the International Financial Institutions, (IFIs) could overthrow any African leader who thinks he or she can behave anyhow.
I have no doubt that though not an economist but a zoologist, Mister president must still have transcended this type of analytical juvenility. It doesn’t happen mechanically like that. And it is not presidents like GEJ that the IMF would mobilize to oust from power because GEJ has no ideological conviction contrary to the logic of the IFIs.
Whichever way the president understands this matter, it is his funeral. The way the Nigerian system operates currently leaves the leverage of resolving the impasse with the president, particularly if he can, even momentarily, cut himself loose from all those making a fetish of IMF principles without the grace of God and common sense economics to see that if Nigerian universities are transformed, they are as profit yielding as any other investment.
How can they see or be godly when they are already salivating on how to pounce on anything that comes out so that they can do the sort of things they are used to, such as buying ambulances for newly established universities that have neither staff nor students yet. Or building hostels at at wonderland contract costs!
Whatever the case, it is important to note that ASUU is not a typical trade union organization. It is a union of intellectuals, hard headed or battle tested ones for that matter. The old tactics of ignoring the union, then trying to discredit its strike, then moving on to suspending their salaries and asking Vice-Chancellors to open a register for those who wish to opt out of the strike to do so and collect their salary, etc would not work.
It is even neither advisable nor necessary for any government to embark on such crude tactics in this age, especially with a strike that is not a usual one. Cleverness won’t work here. Neither would Ostrichism.
What would work is to go on with the implementation of the Agreement, if not for anything else then for the fact that the SGF, Anyim Pius Anyim, basically dictated the language of that document and as Uche Chukwumerije told him at the last NASS session on this crisis, he should proudly go and implement it.
That is the path of decency, patriotism and honour, whatever the consequences for our comrades of the Transformation Agenda such as Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Pius Anyim and, of course, the Generalissimo of the Transformation Army, Goodluck Jonathan.