Labour On The March Again

Aniebo Nwamu

In solidarity with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), organized labour represented by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) hopes to stage nationwide protests next Tuesday and Wednesday. NLC president Ayuba Wabba is expected to lead the march from Abuja, and it will be replicated in all state capitals.

The labour movement seems to have woken from a five- or six-year-long slumber. While it slept, prices hit the roof, the naira fractured, and corruption developed fresh legs. No tangible dividends should therefore be expected from next week’s protests, if at all they will be allowed to take place. Already, there are hints of increase in the university teachers’ salaries by 100%, and President Buhari has given a two-week ultimatum for the ASUU matter to be resolved. If need be, fake “professors”, “bishops” and “imams” could be rented to negotiate with government.

Once government agrees to make the monthly salary of a professor N1m, the strike is likely to be called off. That shows the struggle has been over salary increase, not revitalization of a collapsed education system. And that’s why non-academic staff unions have put government on notice too: they demand a pay rise. Selfishness is ingrained in most of the agitators, academic and non-academic. Unknown to them, however, the pay increase will almost immediately be swallowed by galloping inflation and naira devaluation.

I hope the labour protests won’t turn violent or become another #EndSARS, since students and other young people whose future has been sacrificed on the altar of bad governance will be involved. Among the groups that have indicated interest are the National Association of Nigerian Students, bank workers, bakers and aviation workers. Even the police may join. Labour is on the march again!

But why has labour waited so long to show solidarity with the university teachers anyway? The frustration in the land is driving this new-found solidarity, I bet. Were it really serious, labour would have intervened much earlier. The best time would have been December or January when ASUU was issuing warning notices.

A nationwide strike could bring the country to a halt. It could cripple the business of government. NUPENG alone, for instance, could ensure that a drop of fuel is not found in any filling station. That would have forced the government to make available the N200bn ASUU is asking for. It would have paid attention to the education of the less privileged. Perhaps the same deaf and insensitive people who have ignored ASUU and temporarily seized its members’ salaries would have responded positively.

Labour’s protests will not perturb those whose children are not within the Nigerian shores. Thanks to Nigerians living in Europe and the Americas – and thanks too to social media – we’re seeing photos and videos of children of the rich and the powerful at their graduation ceremonies. In recent times, I’ve seen current ministers and governors smiling lavishly as they stood with their graduate sons and daughters for photos in the U.K. and the U.S. Education minister Adamu Adamu, ex-transportation minister Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, first lady Aisha Buhari, Rivers state governor Nyesom Wike, and former CBN governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi have been among the proud parents.

As far back as I can remember, politicians and top civil servants have been sending their children to western nations to study. They have also been sending their pregnant wives to the West so their children could enjoy the life and privileges of British or American citizens. Only a few of us in the media as well as other friends of the rich knew how widespread this practice was, before the coming of social media about 16years ago. Now, no day passes without someone posting pictures or videos of Nigerians in power and money attending convocation ceremonies in foreign nations. Those of us who couldn’t afford to send our children to Europe to study have been living in anguish because our kids are spending six to eight years for a four- or five-year programme in Nigeria’s public universities, owing to the perennial strikes of university teachers.

Our selfish leaders would, in fact, want public universities to remain shut so that their own children might return from Europe and the Americas to pick any opportunities for which they would have competed with their age mates in Nigeria. Not many of their children are allowed to remain in Europe after their studies. Their parents find jobs for them in “lucrative” agencies. You see them in the offices of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Nigerian Ports Authority and the Department of Petroleum Resources. You won’t find one of them in the police, army or the poverty-alleviation programmes such as N-Power.

It’s little wonder that patriotism has taken flight from the country. Almost everyone who could cheat or steal would. Some former and current ministers and governors were with us in the trenches in the 1980s and 1990s. They also published articles condemning this state of affairs. Now they’re silent.

I don’t begrudge their good fortunes. Perhaps I too would have sent my children abroad, if to save their skin from terrorists that have overrun Nigeria. Until recently, I had sworn I wouldn’t let my child stay in a foreign country until he/she obtained a first degree in Nigeria. My view has since changed: I no longer criticize those who let their kids attend even primary school abroad and then discourage them from returning home after obtaining their bachelor’s degree. There’s nothing to miss in Nigeria anymore.

My grouse with the privileged Nigerians is over their dishonesty. Doublespeak, double standard and lip service are crimes against the state. Were their children schooling in Nigeria, they wouldn’t allow ASUU to destroy the country’s tertiary education calendar as it has done. And destruction of the education system itself wouldn’t have been permitted over the decades. Many students have abandoned their university education because they don’t receive the right education or because of ASUU’s strikes. I know a few who left during the 10-month strike of 2020 and those who have left this year. One of my kids has been threatening to quit, but I’ve been on my knees in prayer.

I guess there are many members of the NLC who are on the same boat with me. Only a few of the labour leaders and some other civil servants who have opportunities to steal in their places of work have sent their children overseas. The majority, like me, have now compelled organized labour to do something.

Maltreatment of the poor invited terrorist groups like Boko Haram, kidnappers and bandits. Children brought into the world were left without education, adequate food or care. They grew up in the streets without their parents’ love and had to do anything to stay alive. They could kill without mercy because human life is not valuable to them. Now they’re adults courted by terrorists and politicians. They can’t be defeated – and they’re waiting for their U.K.-educated mates to come home. See how myopic the lords of today are? There’s always a tomorrow.

We’re likely to get a foretaste of a mass uprising next week, just as a mass movement has been building up around a party founded by the NLC. The youth want to take their country back from vandals. Peter Obi did not found the Labour Party (LP); he himself has been hijacked by Nigerian youth from different backgrounds, states, tribes and faiths. INEC must have noticed a surge in the number of youth seeking voter cards. Politicians hoping to bribe their way to power next year had better change tactics. The youngsters are not joking this time round.

Nwamu, a serial entrepreneur, writes from Abuja.

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