Of ASUU, Fintiri, self-control, by Hassan Gimba

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The Arbite

Two issues have spurred me today. The first may have some significant risks, but the second is undoubtedly risky. Firstly, I want to lend my voice to the ongoing imbroglio between the federal government and university teachers’ union, otherwise known as ASUU.

It is unfortunate enough that the grass, in this context, university students, have been at the receiving end of this unending brabble between these two elephants: one a mighty imperious federal government and the other, a vital lecturers’ union. For sure, there has been no government since 1999 that has shown willingness to bow to ASUU or give education the sort of budget the United Nations’ prescribed.

Conversely, there has been no ASUU administration since then that has not called out its members to drop the chalk.

It is on record the current federal government, on its way to defeating an incumbent in 2015, promised to make our education sector the envy of all. Perhaps ideas or perceptions change when one is in government.

Perhaps when out of government, one views things from a dreamy, above-the-cloud idealistic prism that turns into smoke with the reality of being in power and looking at things from a better angle. Perhaps that was why between 2015 and 2019 the government and ASUU were never on the same page.

This is even though, as an-out-of-government current affairs analyst, the minister of education, Malam Adamu Adamu, was the best friend ASUU could have.

But in government, the friendship between the minister and ASUU has been strained because they have never been able to reach a common ground. When 2015 to 2019 ministers even though it is almost the same set now on board were thanking the president during their valedictory meeting with him in May last year, Malam Adamu told the president: “This is very important; I hope this occupies your mind, the next cabinet and perhaps the party. The ministry of education should not get less than N1 trillion.”

Two years earlier, at a retreat, the presidency held for ministers, the minister had called on the president to declare a state of emergency on education in Nigeria and to increase the government’s investment in the sector substantially.

Lamenting that education was seriously underfunded in Nigeria when compared to other sub-Saharan African countries, he asserted that the government must spend more to achieve its goals as a change government.

He was adamant that to meet the 13 campaign promises the president made to Nigerians on education, the government needed to spend at least one trillion naira yearly on the sector.

For sure, those currently in government and the ASUU leadership enjoyed the best of education Nigeria could give her citizens in their time. From close to free meals, accommodation, and tuition, the libraries, workshops, and laboratories were up to date. Therefore they all know what ought to be obtainable in the universities.

However, I want to think there is too much reliance on the government that is busy looking for the funds to service its handlers. If Nigerians, in most cases, provide for themselves what the government should, ASUU must devise ways to sustain and improve the university system through partnerships with corporate bodies, multinational organisations, and individuals.

Understandably because they are overwhelmed each year by applicants, they do not court applicants which first-class universities all over the world do, including giving scholarships to top brains.

Over-reliance on easy money from the government has made the universities tepid. Advanced countries rely on universities for their breakthroughs in various fields.

It is high time they took the matter by the scruff of the neck and treated education the way it should be. We have seen universities owned and run by Nigerians with almost a hundred per cent Nigerian student population thriving in neighbouring countries.

But many believe that were those universities to be uprooted from the ground they are sited and brought to Nigeria, they would flounder. And in retrospect, were one to be taken out of here and transplanted abroad, it would prosper.

ASUU must see to it that Nigerian universities become self-sustaining. It is the only way out. And that is only possible through consultancies, innovations, manufacturing, floating various businesses, etc. These are easily achievable through meaningful partnerships.

But as long as the university system remains wet-nursed from the government’s feeding bottle, then the FG-ASUU dogfight will linger unabated. And with such brawls almost all the time, it is only our education sector that will keep on nose-diving and our youths’ future put in peril.

This reminds one of a Nigerian university lecturer who went to America to teach in a primary school but had to be disengaged because they said he had learning disabilities.

Having a self-sustaining university system will guarantee real growth, make the universities come up with first-class researches and innovations, and propel them into the class of elite institutions of learning. We will have graduates that will answer their names, and the nation will have a solid foundation for development.

One of the best and most potent advertisements of the 80s, which became an icon of advertising creativity, was the one by Pirelli, a world-leading Tyre Company. In 1994, adopting the slogan “Power is Nothing Without Control”, the company’s successful advertising campaign showed legendary American athlete Carl Lewis, multiple Olympic gold medallists, as a sprinter on the starting blocks wearing soon-to-be-legendary red stilettos.

However, the significance of the ad is what matters because it was telling us that without a moderating influence, power can be more destructive than constructive without sparing even the person wielding it.

It is in this respect that the second issue I want to talk about comes in. This, of course, is at the risk of a threatening phone call which may be backed by action.

Yet, I want to call on Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri to exercise control over his executive powers as the governor of Adamawa State. He was the speaker of the state’s House of Assembly and acted as the governor of the state for a time.

Therefore, he is not a newcomer to political power, and it is not expected that he would descend so low as to make threatening phone calls to antagonists.

At the peak of the mayhem that led to the looting of palliatives in the state, a state stakeholder, one Gambo Bello Nakura had accused the governor of complacency. Riled by such accusations, Governor Fintiri, in an audio message that went viral, called Nakura and the exchange that followed was not dignifying of his exalted office. Steven Maduwa, his associate, followed suit by threatening to slaughter Tom Garba, a journalist in the state!

Now, as with everything about us, or with power universally, some associates read the body language of the leader and then act accordingly. Some do the characteristics of the principal and behave likewise. For us, it is to do more with some pre-colonial behaviour which is still with us. We do not question our traditional elite; in some instances, they are treated like demigods. They can confiscate any man’s wife or land and woe betide anybody who dared to question their actions for people will accuse him of insulting “a God-sent leader”.

Our political actors have taken over leadership now. Yet a political office is a great honour that comes with significant responsibilities. The well-being of everyone is tied to the mindset and mentality of officeholders.

No one who cannot control the power associated with it or hold their tongues when necessary deserves to lead. This possibly is why many people, including Professor Thomas Adeoye Lambo, OBE (March 29, 1923 – March 13, 2004), have suggested mental checks on those desiring to contest for political offices.

Lambo, a Nigerian scholar, administrator and psychiatrist, is credited as the first west-trained psychiatrist in Nigeria and Africa.

He worked at the World Health Organization between 1971 and 1988, rising to become the agency’s Deputy Director-General. He suggested that “all political leaders should be subjected to an annual psychiatric examination while they remain in office”.

Professor Wole Soyinka amplified the professor’s opinion in 2006. The Nobel Laureate advocated an annual psychiatric test for those at the helm of affairs to determine their state of mind. In a paper entitled: ‘Thinking The Unthinkable’, Soyinka recalled the former WHO Deputy Director’s recommendation and said: “Most nations recognise the sad fragility of the human mind, and understand that even the mind of political geniuses can break under strain, that the latent seeds of insanity in all of us may actually come to bloom under the strain of existence, how much more when burdened with the enormity of power.”

Someone once said that “madness, with all its variants, is a familiar, though often imprecise affliction. It is a favourite weapon of the gods as in the myths of Pentheus and Dionysus, Nebuchadnezzar, and others whose fates were couched in that ancient saying: whom the gods will destroy, they first make mad”.

But the question in the minds of all reasonable people is, should people bear the brunt of their leaders’ insanity, or should they be spared that before the havoc is done?

It will be a good idea to enact a law that prescribes the psychological evaluation of aspirants before they even become candidates. However, in the interim, it will also not be out of place if governors can set up a mechanism for peer review and peer counselling.

Former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum’s chair, worked tirelessly to institute a culture of peer review among states to enhance even development.

Still, his colleagues were not interested in leadership accountability. Under the scheme, all the governors were to visit every state to assess the developmental efforts of the governors and how they were tackling challenges, which they could learn from or emulate.

He started with his state, but after visiting Anambra State, all the other governors chickened out. They wanted to behave as they liked with their states’ resources.

They didn’t want any control in the form of discharging the responsibility of responsible governance on the enormous power they wielded.

Some people can apparently be overwhelmed by the power to the extent that they cannot control themselves. Such people will ultimately be a curse to the people they lead rather than a blessing.

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