Wednesday, 21 May 2014

ASUP Strike:Of Government’s Ineptitude and Injustice

In the entirety of this piece, my case is simple: that there is no justification for the stagnation, misery, afflictions - all of which government cause us; that there is no rationale for government’s negligence, inattention and exclusion of a people whose rights ought to be protected by the same government; that danger is imminent when people are angry, neglected and totally forgotten by their own government. 

The Polytechnic/Colleges of Education students have been forgotten. The ASUP/COEASU industrial action has been one strike too long, yet it has never been considered a national mishap worthy of attention. It is disheartening to see that our government has been unconcerned and unsympathetic. Or should I say they lack the political and moral conscience to end the impasse. This is an unjust disposition and untenable sin with real consequences. If it did not rain no one would know that an ostrich has eight fingers.
In this we see the level of government commitment to the future of Nigeria. We see, more particularly, how Polytechnic education has been trivialized in Nigeria. This is not a sweet song to sing. The supervising minister of education, Nyesom Wike has in no small measure demonstrated an alarming degree of incapacitation to resolve the industrial dispute. And this is a demeaning picture of how grossly incompetent our leaders are. Elsewhere, to have students lose one whole academic year to strike action is enough to force a sitting minister to resignation. But our world is uninterestingly different. Obviously, Wike is not the kind of minister with a pricking conscience. This is not the kind of minister we want, certainly not an ideal government. We must understand that our experience today as a nation is not unconnected with our past actions and inactions; that most woes and quandary we face today are the inevitable fallout of avoidable cleavages and disconnection of people from their own government. It is the results of a deeply engraved greed and political savagery of an irredeemably incompetent government.

For some time now, both government and media agenda have been basically centered on the alarming insecurity in the country; the bombing, kidnapping, and the many killings. But the abduction of over 200 girl students from the Government Day Secondary School in Chibok is the one which has made our provocatively reactive government to ‘cry for help’. And so we have the attention of the world – for the wrong reasons. Consequently, advocacy has been progressively on to rescue our girls. A barrage of online media campaign has been effectively useful to this end with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. This advocacy and activism is apt and logical. It is not hard to see, how our systematically incompetent security structure has in many instances and occasions been flawed and exposed, a clear pointer, and glaring testimony too, to the sad reality that the entire nation is under threat.  And with the coming of ‘the world’, just as Gimba Kakanda puts it in one of his awakening pieces, “…Our Deaths Will Be Televised”.  But one of Gimba’s illusions is perhaps the fact that our future will also be forecast, and then the likelihood of future uprising. Angry people are perpetually bereaved of conscience. It all ends in three hurtful Rs: Riot. Revolt. Revenge. It is a language. There is no better form of expression for people who have been greatly shortchanged. But we can avoid all these if we let the students go back to school. The Nigerian polytechnic students need to be shown that they are part of the Nigerian nation.

I want President Jonathan to tell America, Britain, France and other Big Brother nations that have offered to help us find our girls that his Polytechnic and Colleges of Education students have been at home for more than 10 months, that current security issues are not our only pressing challenge. Like Chimamanda in her political canticle, “The President I Want,” I too, want the President to be equally preoccupied with the issues of steady and quality education, I want him to make sustained pragmatic effort and commitment to the future of this country by finding lasting solution to the protracted strike, and of course create a framework to forestall or at least curtail further industrial action especially in the education sector. I want both government and ASUP/COEASU bodies to learn to be responsible, to know that the future is largely dependent on the present. I want them to learn from John F. Kennedy, who said, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future”, and truly accept responsibility for the future by taking urgent measures to end the strike.

A peoples’ story and the danger ahead
Now, I do not tell this story of the people from a distance. I am a Polytechnic undergraduate. I am one of them, and I write with both pain and fear: the pain of a lost academic session; of the things that has happened to us. But does anyone care?  When I went to the market the other day, I found some of us, these forgotten people, some of them now sell okirika clothes, some garri, some palm oil, some hawk break and the rest. They represent a picture, one that tells a story, a melancholic story of people condemned by an incapable and unfeeling government. They do this just to keep body and soul together; and so people who ought to be in the classroom, by some twist if events, found themselves in the market place, a strangely bizarre environment. But this is just the good part of the sad story. There are many, I believe, who the devil may have colonized their mind and turned them against the society. You call them the idle minds. But these are circumstantial victims, people sarcastically dubbed “leaders of tomorrow”. Uneducated leaders you say.
I write with fear too, for the danger that awaits the Nigerian people if these people sustain this pain and hatred for their government and country. They will be angry and irreparably cruel to the nation for denying them a chance for education.

When I remember how Jonathan was accused of training snipers and thugs against 2015 election, I think about these abandoned students. There is something painfully possible about the allegation. But let’s leave Jonathan alone. It is not just him. It is something these savage politicians have been doing, and will do even as the election time draws closer. They will use young people to perpetuate their unpopular agenda and play their ‘win-at-all-cost’ politics. And this is the danger in this lingering Polytechnic strike. Even as we lament our ordeal, they laugh over it in their relaxation camps, with bubbling glasses of champagne. They see in our tears and pain an opportunity to quench their insatiable desire to govern a people against their own will. And sadly, they are almost always certain to prevail. These young boys and girls may like to make some money for themselves. And these corrupt politicians are not ignorant of this, and so they employ their tricks – and soon the people become political thugs and ballot box snatchers. They will become gun carrier, guns with which they will eventually shoot themselves in the leg. It is a script by people we trusted to lead us - who we no longer trust but are conditioned to follow. But this will be an end someday. And how it will end? Only time will tell.

Media conspiracy and partisanship?
The Polytechnic/Colleges of Education strike has not received adequate attention and the media cannot pretend to be ignorant. This is why I too, have accused them of bias. I have asked, why haven’t the ASUP strike and the student’s plight filled the air? Why are we not talking about it with concerned and heightened voice? Maybe because it’s not ASUU and the University people - a people long considered ‘more Nigerian’ than their Polytechnic counterpart; or perhaps because it’s not the kind of stories that suffice banner headlines and with the tendency of popularizing the writer. But this is the story about a people whose case has been overtaken by events ironically considered more ‘national’ and important, and so one is tempted to believe that this is a conspiracy to keep the students at home, a confirmation of the unfortunate discrimination against Polytechnic institutions and its people. 

And for all the activists, those who have been championing the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, I believe that this is another opportunity, a reason to make history in the minds of a people now considered ‘second-class’ and give them some level of relevance. Let another crusade begin, another hashtag trend, maybe - #ReturnPolyStudentsToSchool. It is not a trivial or trifling to do. It is an imperative course.

By Ikenna Ugwu

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