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Like ASUU, Like Niger Delta Militants By Biodun Shaiban

December 13, 2013

Comparing the Niger Delta region and the situation in our public universities establishes a nexus of some kind. They are both in a bad state and are mismanaged by their respective authorities.

Insurgency in the Niger Delta region started with some natives (militants) demanding to have better infrastructural development and their environment better maintained. Major parts of the Niger Delta were and are still actually in a poor state. Sincere Nigerians will actually agree that this is unacceptable especially as this is a region providing a huge share of the nation’s funds.

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So, some of the natives decided to put their fate in their own hands. They decided to catch the full attention of the government by holding it to ransom. They embarked on kidnapping and vandalism of workers and facilities respectively. Did the methods work? Yes, they sure caught the government’s attention. A lot of the militants now live on the dole and receive amounts of money that exceed salaries of modest graduates in various parts of the country. Some of the militants got contracts worth billions of naira and even now have private jets. Are their actions justified? This depends on the angle you view it from.

If you are a militant native, the end justifies the means; after all it is your oil money the whole nation lives on. If you are a worker in the petroleum industry and you and your family experienced the ordeals of kidnapping or murder, you will find their actions to be criminal. What an irony? One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. To be honest, I feel the Niger delta region and its natives should be adequately taken care of, but it is the method that the natives (militants) go about it that is condemnable because it lacks justice. You should not hold in captivity anybody (especially innocent people) just because you want to advance your own cause. It is outright selfishness, insensitivity and injustice.

But as the government has granted the militants amnesty, doled out money to them freely, created a ministry of Niger delta, splashed out more funds to the region, how come the region is still very much undeveloped and insecurity including kidnapping and vandalism is still on the increase? I think it is because the militants have always been selfish and insincere. The militants never saw anything wrong in the governors of their respective states who embezzle billions of naira; they even defend(ed) them. The militants themselves aid the degradation of their environment by vandalizing facilities and then seek compensation and also kidnap oil workers for ransoms. Clearly, splashing of funds is not the solution.

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Comparing the Niger Delta region and the situation in our public universities establishes a nexus of some kind. They are both in a bad state and are mismanaged by their respective authorities; they also both have very aggressive cum cunning stakeholders advancing their causes; the Niger delta militants and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) respectively.

Analyzing the Niger Delta debacle further reveals more conclusions, which we all as a nation should learn from. The release of funds (no matter the amount) just like in the Niger Delta situation would not solve the issue of our public universities and halt the decadence because ASUU members are selfish and insincere as they encage millions of innocent students just as the Niger Delta militants do to innocent people.

Just as militants see nothing wrong in their thieving state governors, so do ASUU members see nothing wrong with their vice chancellors who embezzle and waste funds in hundreds of millions on needless projects; as the militants damage the facilities then cause spillages so as to claim compensation, so do some ASUU members engage in cash and sex for grades; as militants use the tool of ransom holding to negotiate, so are ASUU members doing now by keeping students at home. When the Government splashed out money all in the name of amnesty, the only major change that occurred was in the pockets of some militants and government officials. No major change has occurred as the insecurity and degradation of the Niger Delta region continues. The lives of majority of the ordinary people in the Niger Delta region have still not changed for the better. It is obvious from this that the only major change that will occur after Government releases billions of funds to the universities will be in the bank accounts of ASUU members (in salaries and allowances) and few government officials and cronies who will help them launder the money. Nigeria is a country where corruption is very prevalent; if you think these funds allocated to the universities are immune from graft then you need to have your head examined.

There are also many other reasons to believe that ASUU is very insincere. Does ASUU think our public universities will develop better under a culture of gerontocracy where older lecturers deify themselves and stifle younger colleagues? Does ASUU not think our universities need strict regulation? All ASUU ever talks about is money and more money. You will never hear them call for better regulation. What is ASUU doing about its members’ poor dedication to their duties? There are rampant situations of lecturers not coming to classes frequently, supervisors abandoning their project students, lecturers involved in cash and sex favours for grades, lecturers’ victimization of students etc. All these unwholesome practices are perpetuated and perpetrated by ASUU members. I guess the leadership of the union does not think all of these ills would hinder development of our public universities.

Does ASUU also not know that until most parts of the country have good power and transport infrastructure, the universities will not function optimally? Does ASUU think it is sustainable to keep running the universities with generators? For those who do not know, a major part of funds allocated to universities go into the purchase of generators; their parts, diesel and their maintenance. How will lecturers and students solve our societal problems when they can’t even move around the country with ease? It is not news that a majority of our roads (where they exist) are death traps. If ASUU is sincere, it will know that all of these factors seriously hinder educational development. One would never hear ASUU point as these factors. One of the ways to solve it is by going political. That is why several trade unions worldwide are political.

After comparing Niger Delta kidnapping with ASUU strikes (they both use the tool of ransom holding), a conclusion deduced is that strike actions should never be embarked upon under any condition. If you think it can ever be justified to damage the lives of millions of innocent people for any reason, then I am short of words to qualify you. Strike actions do not help the cause of educational development at all. The financial loss incurred due to this strike by all the stakeholders runs into several billions of naira. There is nothing that the government will release that will make up for that loss. And how do you quantify the loss of a lecturer like Professor Iyayi and other future ‘Iyayis’ (students) who died due to the strike?

When kidnapping began about ten years ago in the Niger delta, it was subtle. It was restricted to expatriates. But what do we have today? It has evolved into a hydra-headed monster. Random kidnapping is now very rampant. Even native individuals are now kidnapped, and ransom sought for their release. That is why all should have fought kidnapping very seriously when it started. Most Nigerians then felt since they were not ‘oyinbos’, they wouldn’t be bothered. This current strike action is already evolving into ugly dimensions. The unfortunate death of Professor Iyayi and some students is just one of them (some students died on their way home too). Students had to stay home further because of his death. You may want to call that a ‘national educational grief hiatus’ or whatever. Other unions in the educational and other sectors in the nation will also want to make their own marks too of course through strike actions. They might even compete to see if they can outdo each other in terms of the length of time or if a personal presidential involvement can be achieved too.

Another reason why there should be no indefinite strike in the universities is because it seriously affects national security. ASUU is an appendage of the government. Yes, ASUU members are government employees. ASUU members are employed in order to engage students who are mostly youths and therefore keep them from being idle. Once that is not being done, national security is being jeopardized no matter how little it may seem.

One would expect opposition parties politicizing the situation, and several civil society advocates to know all of these. But because most of them are obsessed with hatred for the Government, they keep quiet or take sides with ASUU. My dissatisfaction and distrust with this government doesn’t mean I should not see the bigger picture. The bigger picture in which millions of innocent and helpless citizens are feeling the brunt of the strike. The Government never asked ASUU to go on strike. It went on the strike of its own volition. It can easily have chosen not to toe that path. It could have chosen a more honorable part. Only myopic people will say a strike is the only solution to the problem. Keshi and his team did not go on strike when they were owed salaries. They handled it honourably. They could have gone on strike a day before a crucial world cup qualifier and thrown the team and nation into a frenzy. But they saw the bigger picture. They knew anything that will risk our chances of qualification were unacceptable. They knew the joy a world cup qualification will bring to the whole nation.

You can engage the writer on twitter via his handle @beeshaiban or email: [email protected]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

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