By Wole Olaoye
If Labaran Maku is the acting Minister of Defence (a portfolio he combines with his Information and National Orientation brief), Nyesom Wike is the unannounced Minister of Offence on account of his self-inflicted duty of amassing enemies for the Jonathan administration.
While Maku is smilingly creative with government lies and deliberate circumlocution (even as Boko Haram is routing our armed forces to our collective shame), Wike is a brash, ungracious bully who gives the impression that sniffing the cocaine of power is the ultimate high.
Many public commen-tators have been appealing to the Academic Staff Union, ASUU, to call off its strike but it seems Wike wants the deadlock to continue ad infinitum. “As a responsible government, we cannot allow the continuous closure of our public universities for this length of time, as this poses danger to the education system”, he said, adding that “Any academic staff who fails to resume on or before 4th December, 2013, automatically ceases to be a staff of the institution… Vice chancellors should ensure that staff who resume for work are provided with enabling environment for academic and allied activities.” That deadline has since been reviewed to 9th December.
Doesn’t that sound like a throwback to the days of “I General Sani Abacha….”?
At its press briefing last week, ASUU disclosed that it had written the government after the meeting with President Jonathan stating its understanding of what transpired and requesting government to confirm that position. Government did not reply the letter. Instead government opted to blackmail the union by publicly declaring that ASUU was making new demands – something that was sure to anger the public. I have reviewed the documents now in the public space and I honestly can’t understand why government chose not to reply to ASUU’s letter but opted to continue the war by other means. If ASUU had stated something that did not transpire at the meeting, why not write the union and say so?
Why did government not give ASUU a copy of the document showing that 200 billion had been paid into an account with the CBN as agreed? Why use Doyin Okupe who is probably not the most credible salesman in the presidency to make the document public? Wouldn’t a simple letter to ASUU have been better? To say the least, the government failed to demonstrate good faith when it mattered most.
Wike has carved a niche for himself in this administration as the presidency’s hawk. If he is not leading some gang against Chibuike Amaechi, his former boss in Rivers State, he is alienating – no, launching verbal missiles against- those he perceives as opponents. His conduct is totally un-ministerial, graceless and, if one may add, tendentiously centrifugal.
I do not deceive myself for one moment that the job of governing Nigeria is an easy one. President Jonathan deserves our sympathy even if he begged us for the job. But he doesn’t seem to demonstrate much circumspection in his choice of ministers and aides. This is not a blanket condemnation of his ministers as some of them have shown that they are masters of their fields. But people like Wike cheapen the high office of a minister of the federal republic. The fact that he seems to have the president’s ears makes the matter worse because the impression is given that his Jankara antics have the blessing of the president.
The fact that Wike could contemplate sacking all university teachers who refuse to resume as directed shows that he does not understand the sector he is heading. Being a university graduate himself, one expects him to know how difficult it is to replace academic staff. He should study the statistics provided by ASUU: “There is a total of 37,504 teaching staff across all Nigerian Universities. The majority of the universities are grossly understaffed. Generally speaking, teaching staff distribution in the country, both by qualification and by rank indicates that Nigeria’s university system is in crisis of manpower. Instead of having not less than 80% of the academics with PhDs only about 43% are PhD holders. And instead of having about 75% of academics to be between Senior Lecturers and Professors only about 44% are within the bracket while the remaining 56% are not.”
Is it against that reality that Wike was threatening mass sack?
Talking patriotism, one recommendation that caught my eye in the document released by ASUU was the one on the way forward to make our universities better staffed. It reads: “Given the inadequacy of teaching staff in the university system, it is recommended that government shall have a deliberate policy of improving the national teacher-student ratio to 1:20 within the next two years. Using the present figures of students’ enrolment; this translates to increasing the number of full-time academic staff in Nigerian universities to 50,000. This means the recruitment of additional 23,000 lecturers on the basis of 50:50 ratio between the federal and state universities.”
A funding scheme for revitalising the university system was also drawn out – and government should speak up if it has contrary facts. But what we have now gathered is that the following was the agreed scheme to be implemented in the next six years:
S/N0 Year Amount (billion) Naira
1 2013 200
2 2014 220
3 2015 220
4 2016 220
5 2017 220
6 2018 220
Total 6 years 1.3 trillion
My understanding of the state of affairs as regards the strike is that the strike could be over in 24 hours if the government commits itself to paper in good faith instead of resorting to Bolekaja tactics and disinformation. Negotiator Wike is not cut out for peaceful resolution. His psychological makeup seems to be that of a Minister of Offence who must take prisoners at all costs. Somebody should tell him that this is not an all-systems-go street fight. Some tactics which serve well in the creeks may, when deployed in the Savannah, force the tactician to know the spelling of futility.
Come down from your high horse, minister. Send ASUU a signed copy of the resolution and demonstrate good faith by disbursing the N200 billion earmarked for 2013- and let’s put these sad and sorry wasted months behind us.
Opinion written by Wole Olaoye