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Of Uncouth Students Versus An Arrogant Minister: Matters Arising, By Usman Austin Okai

March 3, 2022

The NANS members rightly chose the Ministry of Education to register their grievances with the hope that the HME would intervene by bringing ASUU back to negotiation table to resolve all lingering issues.

A video went viral recently showing snippets of interaction between representatives of Nigerian Students under the aegis of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and the 'Hon' Minister of Eduction (HME). The students Representatives had gone to the Ministry of Education to formally protest incessant industrial actions by the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) over failure of Government to attend to personal demands of members of ASUU to a large extent and the pitiable plight of Nigerian universities, to a lesser extent. 


The students are aggrieved because they bear the brunt of ASUU and Government muscle flexing all the time through disruption of academic activities, prolonged lock-outs and elongation of their graduation periods. The NANS members rightly chose the Ministry of Education to register their grievances with the hope that the HME would intervene by bringing ASUU back to negotiation table to resolve all lingering issues and get Nigerian university students back to the classrooms. 


Rightly too, the HME decided to grant audience to the students Representatives hoping that they would, in the final analysis, proffer a workable solution to the unending ASUU and Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) imbroglio with its unpalatable consequences on the country's educational sector. So, despite their infantile noises, harassment of innocent passers- by and display of indecent behaviours, the HME still invited them to his office for talks. 


He may have expected the NANS EXCO to realize that he had dignified them enough by allowing them into his hallowed chambers and choosing to hear their grievances in person. How wrong the HME was as the students went on to deliver barrages of words verging on expletives on some occasions seemingly to drive home their grievances. The Minister sat all through these nonplussed but perhaps thinking that his judgement about the lads was totally wrong. When they NANS members had finished their youthful vituperations, it was the turn of the HME to respond. He did not disappoint in his short response that was barely couched in suppressed anger and unpretentious cynicism. He told the Students Representatives that he had heard all that they had said but as far as he was concerned, the only take away from their effort is the suggestion that they be included in all future negotiations between ASUU and the Government. 


He however admonished them to face their lecturers directly next time and pour out the other nonsensical renditions with a good dose of the shenanigans that they displayed before him during their brief interaction and spare him the agony. With that, the Minister rose slowly but coldly to his feet and without any courtesies, left for his cozy office that is funded by Nigerian taxpayers. Since this unfortunate interaction between the HME and NANS EXCO took place, many Nigerians are wondering whether this nation has lost its soul completely. Otherwise, how can a public official that was appointed by an elected President to oversee a public office display such level of impatience and airs before some nerdy lads whose only sin was that they delivered their genuine grievances in a less condescending manner. Be that as it may, the HME as a father ought to know that the lads are youths whose impressionable hearts are filled with infantile folly. 


Therefore, he should have taken the message that they brought and left out the childish nuances of the messengers. Secondly, did the HME know that the cozy office that he is occupying currently; including the conference room where he met with the NANS EXCO belongs to Nigerians which also include the students? Did he know that the office he is occupying now is held by him on trust on behalf of all Nigerians; including the very students representatives that he coldly walked out on? In saner climes, the HME in the person of Mallam Adamu Adamu would have been back in his private endeavours and perhaps would have resumed writing his oft corrosive articles that were critical of all activities of Government; including poor handling of ASUU strikes. 


This was his preoccupation Dr Goodluck Jonathan's presidency. The avid columnist is now part of President Muhammad Buhari's Government and a member of his kitchen cabinet. He is given opportunity to handle the vexatious ASUU whose handling by previous governments he criticized sorely, better than was done previously on behalf of his principal. Not only did he do a very poor job of it, he also demonstrated the crass arrogance and insensitivity that has become a common denominator of President Muhammad Buhari's government. And one cannot blame the HME for this poor outing. After all his Principal had variously described a section of this country as 'a tiny dot' that he could blow away with a whiff of a nostril. 


The President also told whoever cared to listen recently that Nigerians would have been trekking long distances by now due to the fuel scarcity that his government had successfully resurrected were it not for his effective transportation policy that revived the railway system. 

C'mon, spare me some sleep! Has our President forgotten that current nationwide fuel scarcity is a product of corruption in his government no matter how hard his officials have tried to sweep it under carpet through executive blame game? Well, I have said it many times previously that President Buhari has but little stake in Nigerian project hence and therefore most of us are not surprised about his actions and utterances. Same cannot be said of his officials most of whom are currently jostling for a foothold in next government however comes to be. On the ongoing ASUU strike and how it is affecting Nigerian University students negatively, the HME is not alone in the poor handling of public dissent against government officials. 


It runs through the major arteries of President Buhari's APC government. Therefore it is no use talking about his counterpart in Labour Ministry with whom he ought to have cooperated to solve the unending ASUU strike with its undesirable consequences on Nigeria's educational sector. Airs and boasting are secondary to the nature of this diminutive man. Do you now see why the end to incessant industrial action by Nigerian university lecturers is not in sight? The pitiable thing about us as a country is that we are going to be witnessing this type of behaviours in our national life into the future. A bunch of uncouth youths that lack self discipline and do not know how to dialogue constructively because they don't have good and worthy examples from the older folks to emulate. 


We shall also be witnessing generations of egocentric public officials that feel too important to be challenged or talked to truthfully by the very public that they offered by whatsoever way to serve. My only prayer for now is, may God help Nigeria and Nigerians. Amen


Usman Okai Austin 

Writes from Abuja