By Martins Oloja
There have been several rhetorical questions on this page – from whether President Muhammadu Buhari would be able to make history to if there would indeed be some redemption songs for the president who has barely nine months and nine days to return to Daura or Kaduna. Verily, verily there is a sense in which one can read some writings on the walls and conclude that the lanky General can’t make history anymore. He never listened to the lyrics of all redemption songs renditions for the past seven years and three months.
All I have to say now is a recourse to my February 18, 2018 reflection on “Thank God, Buhari Won 2015 Election” (https://guardian.ng/opinion/thank-god-buhari-won-2015-election/) without which the nation would have been engrossed in a mourning and lamentation over the best president Nigeria never had. All we have to say as a people now is ‘Thank you Lord for averting a disaster foretold by directing the steps of the then President Goodluck Jonathan to accept defeat unconditionally in 2015.
As I was saying, now we have seen through the Buhari’s much vaunted capacity, integrity, tenacity via the oratory and sophistry he has used to deal with banditry alone. We have seen how far he has managed fundamental objectives including ‘security and welfare of the people’ as the primary purpose of government he has led these past seven years.
All we can do now is to remind our leader some of the inconvenient truths he ignored at his take-off point. One of the truths he kept in the grave has been the quality of his cabinet he was allowed to make for more than six months in 2015.
This isn’t a piece to deconstruct that cabinet making at this time. There is a time for everything. There is indeed a time for progress report. But a question we will ask him about his cabinet at this time is why he chose an accountant turned journalist Malam Adamu Adamu as his minister to manage a complex and complicated sector, Education at this time. What can the nation recall as the focal point of the administration’s achievement in the areas of education, which is ‘the only source of labour that builds a nation’ as Tunji Olaopa, a retired federal permanent secretary and professor puts it in a recent book, titled, ‘The labour of our heroes…’Yes, it isn’t a time to assess the Buhari’s executive council of the federation (2015-2023).
But in view of what has been happening to tertiary education in the world’s most populous black nation, in the last seven months when all public universities have shut down, and our children in those universities have been at home and their teachers have endured hunger and thirst, is our president proud of the ‘effectiveness and efficiency’ of his minister of education whose statements have so far been toxic in this current ASUU-FG crisis? Why hasn’t the President been personally involved in this negotiation even through the Vice President, a professor of law who was at the University of Lagos?
How did the president feel when he read or heard about the Minister of Education’s outrageous message to the university students to sue the striking lecturers for wasting their time?
What should we the parents of these hapless children do to the minister (Adamu) for the seven years the locusts have eaten out of education in his feeble and lazy hands? When should we the parents and voters sue the President who has continued to keep this minister in charge of Education of this great nation? The last time we heard from the minister on this crisis was when he walked out on student leaders who met him and reminded him of his responsibility to them.
What did the President tell the Minister when he watched the video coverage of Adamu’s walk-out on the students? What did the President do when another Minister denigrated the ASUU members recently at the inauguration of the APC presidential candidate’s campaign officers where the Minister, Festus Keyamo, (SAN) was quoted as saying, ‘let’s discuss more serious things, ASUU’s case isn’t a serious thing’? How does the president want the world to regard him as the leader of ‘the richest’ and most populous African nation that would allow its public universities to be closed for more than six months?
Even if the university teachers have crossed any redline, whose responsibility is it to call them together as the father of the nation? What kind of leader would allow higher education teachers to be treated shabbily like this? Should we understand the current complacency of the Buhari’s government towards education to mean that the President doesn’t have good people around to tell him the truth about the implications of his inaction and the attitude of his education minister at such a time as this?
Why would a leader tell university teachers to go to hell and they should go hungry for seven months without pay and they would like to seek rapprochement with them and the parents of the students Adamu is challenging to sue their teachers? Again, where is Nigeria’s National Assembly at this critical time? Why are our representatives just concerned about the next election without caring a hoot bout the next generation of leaders? Are the suffering and malnourished students of today not going to be the leaders of tomorrow?
How many of the more than two hundred million people would have the resources to send their children to good schools abroad as our leaders are apparently doing today? Are our leaders aware that most of our university lecturers in science and technology schools are relocating abroad in search of greener pastures?
Does the education minister tell the president and some Labour Ministry’s arrogant negotiators that most serious nations, especially some in Nordic countries pay teachers better than other public officers because they believe that only qualified and satisfied teachers can produce better graduates?
Aren’t they aware that in the United States, which is still proud of its exceptionalism on all fronts, public officers including policy makers are still concerned about the fact that their American children (students) are well outside the top-ten international student rankings in reading, science and mathematics apart from the nation’s position of leadership on everything from the economy to the military to issues of moral authority?
They (Americans) are beginning to argue that their rating “will continue to plummet unless we take dramatic action…”. Michelle Rhee, a former chancellor of Washington D.C., public schools from 2007-2010, now a driving force behind American education reform, has already written a classic on this development, titled, ‘Radical: Fighting To Put Students First’.
The founder and CEO of ‘StudentsFirst’ has drawn attention to the fact that although the United States is well known as a world leader in innovation, boasting of brilliant thinkers and trendsetting companies, yet there is a fact that, that status is at grave risk because American children are getting outside the top-ten international student ranking. The power behind Samsung, a global brand is South Korea, with a population of 51.3 million.
They have more than Samsung to export to the world because of the power that quality education that they take seriously has given them. They are among top-five countries with excellence in Research and Development (R&D) funding in global context. That is their power. You can make the same claim of Singapore. The economic power of Singapore isn’t tied to any extractive industry. It is only linked to their intellectual power. Yes their brainpower through education quality their legend, Lee Kuan Yew bequeathed to them.
There are more examples of these powerful countries. How many times shall we write that there is a nexus between the economic power of South Africa and the quality of its universities? It is not by accident that the best university in Africa in all global ratings is the University of Cape Town.
Is it not also true that of the top ten universities in Africa, most of the times, six to eight are in South Africa? What we are saying isn’t about setting up technical universities, agriculture universities, medical sciences universities, maritime universities, police and army universities that are underfunded and ill-equipped. This isn’t about the number of graduates in the country. It is about the quality of the graduates. It is about the capacity of the graduates to solve 21st century’s challenges in this age of the high-tech, digital disrupters.
This is why the Buhari government should note that although we are helpless now about what his administration has made of Nigeria’s Human Development Index (HDI) through education and health policy thrust, posterity will remember him as the leader who allowed insurgents called Boko Haram campaigners (anti-education campaigners) to destroy even foundation of education in his northern Nigeria and he did nothing for eight years to resolve the crisis of tertiary education he inherited. And so after May 29, 2023, we will remember to recall him and his education minister to account for what happened to higher education quality, the main weapon we need to resolve all other problems in the country.
Even if we are helpless, we will continue to recall that he also promised to solve the ASUU crisis he blasted his successor for when he was campaigning in 2015. He actually noted that his predecessor was quite irresponsible for failure to solve that same ASUU problem while wasting money in other areas including too many jets in the presidential fleet and leakage in oil revenue, unbridled fuel subsidy, among other wasters.
The Buhari administration should be told that we will continue to repeat the story I have told many times here about what any powers need to destroy any country. Yes, a south African teacher has said that you don’t need any atomic bomb to destroy any country. According to the teacher, all you need to do for the collapse of any country is destroying its education standards.
The following words posted by a teacher at the entrance gate of a South African university sums up where the Nigerian leader and his education minister are leading us: ‘Destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long-range missiles.
It only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in the examinations by the students.” The result is that: Patients die at the hands of doctors. Buildings collapse at the hands of engineers. Money is lost at the hands of economists and accountants. Humanity dies at the hands of religious scholars. Justice is lost at the hands of judges. Because, “The collapse of education is the collapse of the nation…”
And here is the conclusion of the whole matter: President Buhari should immediately direct his Education Minister, Adamu to swallow his pride and vanity and resolve the ASUU-FG avoidable conflict now or never. It has become a symbol of suffering and shame to the Buhari administration, which will in the end be blamed for the collapse of public universities in Nigeria.