By Olutayo IRANTIOLA
“An injustice to one is an injustice to all”
The struggle for the soul of the Nigerian University system between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) continues into the eighth month. It has come with a series of fireworks ranging from taking ASUU to the Industrial Court; to the threat of proscribing ASUU. Unfortunately, some members of the union have lost their lives while some students have also been lost to the imbroglio.
In the last seven and a half years that President Muhammadu Buhari had been leading this country, he has concentrated more on “building the nation” rather than doling out national honours. However, the President conferred a posthumous award of GCFR on Chief M.K.O. Abiola, presumed winner of the annulled historic June 12, 1993, presidential election. Other honours are the Federal Government’s National Productivity Order of Merit Awards and the Nigerian National Merit Award. I do not know of other honours that Nigerians have received lately from the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Going through the list, I noticed the name of the late Dr. Stella Adadevoh, who received a posthumous award for her performance in the fight against the spread of the Ebola virus in the country. Earlier in the year, she was given a posthumous National Productivity Order of Merit (NPOM) award and she would still be conferred with another posthumous award of the Officer of the Order of the Niger. We should borrow a leaf from the words of the Priest at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, “Now let us remove all symbols of power from the coffin, so that our sister, Elizabeth can be committed to the grave as a simple Christian.”
I was awestruck when I saw the list of those that will be given the national honours; it seems quite patronizing. Largely for the political class, a few public sector players, sportspersons, and academia. I presumed this is a slap on the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Amid the non-payment of salaries, some of them are being honoured by the nation that is starving them.
The rate at which people have exited the country since the beginning of this melodrama has spiked, lecturers leaving the country in droves; students abandoning their academic pursuits in Nigeria and moving to other countries that have stable academic calendars; while others are switching from Federal and State Universities to private universities. In an opinion piece published by News Wings NG, the article posits it is very possible that what led to the “demise” of public primary and secondary schools is going to happen to Federal and State Universities with the reoccurrence of the strike.
In 2011, Professor Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian literary giant, rejected the national honour of Commander of the Federal Republic, CFR which he firstly declined in 2004. Another person nominated for honours at that time, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, the Minority leader of the House of Representatives, wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan to indicate his rejection of the award of Order of the Federation (OFR) to be conferred on him. The lawmaker had queried the criteria used in nominating recipients for the 2011 National Honours. Gbajabiamila argued in the letter to the President that national awards should only be conferred on those who have made concrete contributions to the development of the country, unlike now, when it is being indiscriminately doled out as presidential favours.
However, in the current list, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, the current speaker of the House of Representatives, will be the first recipient of the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR). Does it mean that this list is merited rather than being a presidential favour?
Many of those from the diaspora, on the list, are being rewarded by the system that pushed them out. It might seem gratifying that their good works are being recognized by their fatherland, but they need to reflect on the circumstances that led to their forced exile from a land that cannot support their dreams to become great ones.
With the paltry amount earned by the academia, they would need to fly into Abuja and, as expected, with a spouse. From whose pockets would these funds come? Even if it is paid by the Federal Government of Nigeria, will it compensate for the eight months of unpaid salaries? Remember, it is a “no work, no pay” strike.
I have grown up hearing the aphorism, “an injustice to one, is an injustice to all.” I am sure that an award for one is not an award for all. If we keep losing this war in bits through “presidential favours” in the form of national honours. Then, the lives of innocent Nigerians, the students, have been wasted for no just cause.
The world is watching if academia will take the lead in revamping the educational sector; the electoral process, as they are the major umpire in overseeing the process and if will, they stand out to defend the students. This war will be won or lost to the political class if the academia keeps dancing to the tune of honours that would have little or no impact on lives.
Olutayo Irantiola is a Lagos-based Public Affairs Specialist.