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OPINION: On the Commonwealth Games 2022

OPINION: On the Commonwealth Games 2022

The organizers of the just concluded 22nd Commonwealth in Birmingham, UK deserve high praise for delivering an event at the Alexander Stadium in the West Midlands that proved to be a triumph of art, culture, multi-sports glory and remarkable diversity. This was the first carbon-neutral Commonwealth Games (CWG) to be organized, thus a pacesetter for other multi-sports events hereafter. It was also like no other Commonwealth Games before it, with the inclusion of more games and medals on offer for women’s sports – for the first time, women’s cricket was introduced, in addition to eight para events that were integrated to further highlight the themes of inclusivity and diversity. The last time the UK hosted the “Friendly Games” as the CWG is also known was 20 years ago in Manchester, this year’s event, 10 years after the 2012 London Olympics, was bigger and coming in the year of the Queen’s Platinum, it has been a befitting tribute to the shared Commonwealth heritage, the city of Birmingham itself, and to all the athletes for whom the Friendly Games provides opportunities for self-realization beyond the thrill of participation or attendance.

Our high praise for Birmingham and the UK is not misplaced given the challenges that the hosts had to grapple with. The city of Durban was originally chosen as the next host of the 2022 Games as far back as 2015, but when Durban had to withdraw due to financial constraints, Birmingham volunteered to be the host in 2017, thus saddled with a shorter time for preparation ahead of the 2002 Games. Then COVID-19 up-ended the entire world, creating global process and supply disruptions, lockdowns and shutdowns and an inevitable re-ordering of processes with cost implications. Yet, despite this, Birmingham delivered. The opening ceremony of the Games on July 28 has been adjudged one of the most colourful ever, a celebration of diversity with prominent thematic motifs including equality of all persons and races, and properly toned reminders of culture, art and history: William Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Edward Edgar, Charlie Chaplin.

The high point of the opening was the gigantic automaton Bull of Birmingham charging into the stadium, which was eventually tamed.  Duran Duran, Spice Girls. A festive musicality filled the air. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall drove into the arena. Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Laureate who adopted Birmingham as her new home, after she was shot by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2012, also gave a speech on the importance of girls’ education. The Commonwealth comprises 72 nations and territories, most of which were formerly under the British Empire, representing 2.5 billion people of the world. This year, the Games had in attendance 6, 500 athletes competing in 280 medal events. It started on a high note. It ended on an even higher note, with UB40, Goldie and other global artists performing and Australia topping the medals table with 174 medals.

History was made. I note, in particular, the record set by 72-year-old Rosemary Lenton of Scotland winning the gold medal in para women’s pairs bowling with Pauline Wilson, 58. Birmingham has the most youthful population in the whole of Europe, 40% of its population is under the age of 25, and yet at this year’s Games, Scottish ladies, Lenton and Wilson proved that age is no barrier.  But of course, the bigger excitement for me was the performance of the Nigerian contingent at the Games.  This was our country’s 15th appearance at the Games, we sent a total of 93 athletes (41 men and 52 women) competing in 7 sports – athletics, boxing, judo, para powerlifting, table tennis, weightlifting and wrestling, but this was our best outing ever at the CWG, a firm, redoubtable, confirmation that Nigeria is a country of champions, who only need to be given the opportunity and the enabling environment for their talents to flower. At the CWG 2022, Nigeria finished seventh on the medals table with a total of 35 medals – 12 gold, nine silver and 14 bronze medals. The last time Nigeria did something faintly close to this was at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada, when the country got 11 gold medals, 13 silver and 13 bronze, and also at the 2014 Games in Glasgow, Scotland.

This year’s performance would be unforgettable, particularly with the record-breaking performance put up by the Nigerian team. The harvest of medals began with Adijat Olarinoye setting the new Commonwealth record in weightlifting, 55 kg category, lifting a total of 203 kg, Rafiatu Lawal also set a new record in the 59 kg weightlifting with a total lift of 206 kg, Folashade Oluwafunmilayo also set a new record in women’s heavyweight powerlifting, winning the gold medal, her compatriot, Bose Omolayo, took the silver medal in the same event. Tobi Amusan whose phenomenal performance at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, US had been celebrated two weeks earlier when she set a new record in the 100 m hurdles, soon proved that her earlier performance was truly the stuff of genius when she repeated the same feat at the CWG and thus defended her title as indisputable Nigeria, African, Commonwealth and the World Champion in 100 m hurdles.! She is in addition the first Nigerian athlete to successfully defend a Commonwealth Games 100m hurdles title, having won the same in Gold Coast, Australia in 2018. Nwachukwu Goodness provided a taste of additional goodness to Nigeria’s performance when she won gold and set a new record in women’s discus throw with just her first two throws! Another hero in discus is Chioma Onyekwere. Nigeria also took another gold and set another record when the quartet of Tobi Amusan, Favour Ofili, Rosemary Chukwuma and Grace Nwokocha won the gold medal in the 4 x 100 women’s relay.  Ese Brume placed a nice cap on it all when, on Sunday, she also took the gold medal in the long jump, breaking the record in the event twice on the same day!

It has been said that the ladies did better than the men, winning nine out of all the 12 gold medals for Nigeria. This is not to make light of the effort of the men who won medals for Nigeria: Udodi Onwuzurike, Favour Ashe, Alaba Akintola and Raymond Ekewvo won a bronze medal in the men’s 4 x100 relay. Edidiong Umoafia also won a bronze in 67kg weightlifting. Overall, it was a good outing for Nigeria. We may not have done well in table tennis – the Ouadri Aruna-led men’s table tennis team was beaten in the semi-finals by India, dashing our hopes. Our women’s table tennis team could not advance to the quarter finals, having been defeated by the English team. There was also some initial disturbance about sports kits and Nigeria having to engage a British company MG Sportswear to work round the clock to produce last-minute kits for the athletes – this is a perennial problem with Nigeria. We never manage to get ready until the last minute. Or after.  Poor management is the bane of sports in Nigeria, and you can add to that – politics, greed and corruption. Nonetheless, what stands out after the country’s outing in Birmingham is the epochal performance of the Nigerian contingent, more specifically, the female athletes, and the Ministry of Sports which tried to ensure that there was no scandal. That in itself should be considered an achievement. The contingent deserves applause.

Those special moments on the podium at the World Athletics Championships two weeks ago and now at the Commonwealth Games have given us something to be joyful about as a country – at a time when everything appears dim in Nigeria: public-owned universities have been shut down since February 14, the national currency, the Naira, has depreciated so badly in value many families cannot afford to buy a loaf of bread on the family menu because it is now so expensive, inflation is about 18.6%, unemployment – 33.3%, terrorists are getting bolder by the day, they are even threatening to abduct the President and other political leaders…and just in the midst of all that Tobi, Ese, Favour, Goodness and others have made us proud, and put a smile on our lips.

Nigeria could have done better if we had participated perhaps in more events, but the starting point would be for the country to develop the existing potential in other sports. We need world-class facilities to train and build athletes. Many of the Nigerian athletes who often do well in major competitions, may have been discovered at home, but they tend to get to the peak of their potential through foreign exposure and training. It should be possible to generate and keep world talents at home by making our environment more sports-friendly. Once upon a time, Ogbe Stadium in Benin City, Rowe Park and the National Stadium in Lagos, and Liberty Stadium in Ibadan were rated as world-class sports facilities. These days, these and even newer sports facilities merely survive for about a year or two before they go into disrepair despite huge amounts spent on them. Frustrated, many of our athletes take up the citizenship and jerseys of other countries. This is why the dedicated ones who still give us podium moments at competitions are true heroes and sheroes.  What remains is to ensure that our 2022 CWG patriots get the befitting reception that they have earned, and of course, nobody has talked about the ethnic identity of these achievers as we all share in their glory as Nigerians – an indication of how sports can be a strong tool for promoting national unity. .

Successful as CWG 2022 may have been, however, questions have been raised about the continued relevance and merit of the Games in its present format. There are three sides to this: politics, cost and scope. There are many who remain uneasy about the fact that the Commonwealth Games draws its identity from a legacy of monarchy, empire and colonialism. They want a clean break from the colonial past as the Empire itself has since ceased to exist as it then was. Originally established as the “The British Empire Games”, the Games has since changed its brand to the Commonwealth Games or The Friendly Games, to reflect the equality of members and the dominance of democracy. The Games thus promote partnership, friendship and the history of the shared heritage among members. Those who want a new identity refer to the fact that in terms of membership, certainly new, non-Empire members have since been admitted into the Commonwealth, the most recent being – Rwanda, Mozambique, Samoa, Gabon and Togo. If it is possible for countries that were never colonies under the British empire to join the Commonwealth out of their own volition, then it should be possible to expand participation in the Games to make it truly multi-sports and multi-nation. Gabon and Togo having become members are expected to send participants to the next Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Australia in 2026.

What is the issue about cost? Funding the CWG can be rather expensive. This is the major reason why in more than two decades, only one other country, that is India (Delhi 2010) has hosted the games outside the UK and Australia. Durban, South Africa had to opt out of its right to host CWG 2022 due to financial constraints. Indeed, no African country has ever hosted the Games since its debut in 1930. Birmingham spent about 778 million pounds to host this year’s event. Can any African country put such an amount together to host a sporting event? Outside Africa, many of the smaller members of the Commonwealth (eg. Nauru, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Gambia, Tonga, Antigua and Barbuda etc) may also face financial constraints. But if countries are admitted based on capacity to host the Games, the question is: would the CWG not begin to look more like the Olympics? Would the opportunity cost consideration not translate into a complete erosion of brand and identity? Is there a possible new model for financing and hosting the Games to reduce cost and the burden on interested host countries? Unless a new model of financing is thought up, the dream of having every member country host the Games may never be realized. The rich countries that can afford to do so, would continue to lead.  Hence, countries like the UK (Manchester 2012, Birmingham 2022), New Zealand (Auckland 1950,1990), and Scotland (Edinburgh 1970, 1986), have hosted the Games more than once. Australia in fact, holds the record of multiple hosting of the Games – five times and would again be the host in 2026 followed by Canada hosting four times (– Hamilton, 1930, Vancouver, 1954, Edmonton, 1978, Victoria, 1994). The doctrine of the sovereign equality of states is a fundamental principle of international law, but in real terms countries are not equal, human beings are also just as unequal.

The assumption that Britain is using the CWG as a vehicle to divert attention away from the ills of its past, presenting itself as a more compassionate nation now making friends with former subjects, compared to other former imperial powers, does not devalue the Commonwealth Movement. The Commonwealth Games in whatever form would continue to showcase cities, and put such cities on the global map as it has done for Birmingham and other cities before now, in addition to providing a strong platform for athletes to prove their mettle in a manner that resonates throughout the Commonwealth and beyond, and a vehicle for the promotion of diplomacy, communalities, goodwill and understanding through sports. Nigeria and its athletes must begin to prepare for the next Games in 2026. For now, CWG is a good outing. At the opening ceremony, on July 28, the Nigerian contingent danced excitedly to Kizz Daniel’s song: “Buga”. By yesterday when the games ended, “E choke” to borrow Davido’s famous Nigerian slang!

AUTHOR: Reuben Abati

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Enforcing Traffic Rules in Lagos – Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Professor Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Last week, officials of Lagos State government auctioned 134 vehicles that had been impounded from traffic offenders. It was a tough measure, indeed, insensitive considering the harsh economic climate that we live in. Some of those vehicles were bought on hire purchase. There was the example of a 49year-old widow Dorothy Dike whose bus was auctioned. The tears in her eyes and the painful expression on her face broke the hearts of many. It was reported that her driver Osinachi Ndukwe, had spent three months in prison for the offence. Yet they were compelled to look on as their only source of livelihood ‘bought at the rate of N1.8million on hire purchase was auctioned for N450,000’. Law enforcement should carry a human face. What kind of law prescribes a jail term of 3 months and forfeiture of vehicle for driving against traffic? Inhuman and insensitive. Bad law. Wicked law. Callous.
I must admit that traffic in Lagos is a nightmare. For a first timer in the city driving in Lagos is hazardous. Often on the expressways within the city, the impression is that there are no rules. Mile Two to Oshodi. Mile to Badagry. Yaba to Ikorodu. Lekki Toll Gate to Epe. People just drive ‘anyhow’! A visiting American friend once said that driving on Ikorodu road was like ‘science fiction! Not a compliment. The average driver in Lagos is short-tempered, rude, aggressive, and hostile. The commercial bus drivers carry the trophy among drivers. They are filthy, uncouth, law breakers, and Lords of the Roads. Traffic officials often look the other way when most of them break the rules. They do not obey traffic lights. They stop sometimes in the middle of the road to pick up passengers. In fact, traffic control measures offend their sensibilities. They would rather there were no rules, that is, if they are conscious of existing rules! By the way, when does LASG plan to get rid of those yellow buses as it did the notorious ‘Molue?
Of late, that is, since Okada drivers were wisely kicked off the major roads, Keke drivers have entered the space of mad drivers. Like the okada riders, they are death traps for both passengers and other drivers. Obviously, they do not know the rules. They are not regulated. They do not pass a driving test. I wonder if anyone issues driving licenses to them. Perhaps they do. But are they required to pass the rigorous test that ought to guide drivers in Lagos? The impression is that anybody who knows how to press on the throttle and control the wheels can drive those dangerous toys in the country. I know they pay daily ‘tributes’ to officials of NURTW. In some areas, they are in cahoots with traffic managers and controllers- they get away with anything! I recall an experience in 1999 when a bike rider riding against traffic near Rutam House in Oshodi was accosted by traffic controllers and he declared that this was democracy and that he could ride his bike the way he liked!
Some drivers of private vehicles are like their commercial vehicle drivers’ counterparts. They respect no rules. They are ready to pour invectives on the next person an account of a minor brush while jostling for space across lanes! Indeed, it seems that to drive in Lagos, one must learn all the swear and insulting words in Yoruba! ‘Ori o da! ‘We re niyen’, ‘ode buruku, ‘omo ale’ ‘ori buruku’ are some routinely used. A senior colleague once declared that it was driving in Lagos that gave him hypertension. I got to know this in my early days in Lagos when I rode in his car from University of Lagos Campus in Akoka to Gbagada through Bariga! I can vividly remember how he got worked up as the yellow buses dominated the road with reckless abandon for the rules of engagement! Sadly, it still happens along that route and most other inner roads within the metropolis. I don’t envy the LASTMA officials in the city of Lagos. They deserve a good pay and ought to be on one-day-on-one-day off duty arrangements! Anyone who works every day on traffic control in Lagos will either lose their sanity should they decide to do the job effectively or die early!

READ ALSO: The University Campus without Students – Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Another downside to the traffic menace in Lagos is the number of deaths recorded in accidents. For example, the FRSC reported that ‘between January and August 2021, 101 persons died while 625 sustained different degrees of injuries in road crashes. The figures for 2022 are not available yet. I suspect it will be higher than the 2021 figures. I also believe that not all accidents are reported.
Against this background therefore, we understand why the Lagos State government has gone tough on driving infractions within the megacity by rolling out some harsh and inhuman rules. Anyone who drives without a licence would have their car impounded and possibly auctioned off later. If a person under 18 years is caught driving, they would pay a fine of N30,000 and go to jail for 3 years. If you drive without road worthiness, the vehicle will be impounded. The following offences attract impounding the vehicle – doing ‘kabu kabu without permit, disobeying LASTMA officer, smoking while driving, no car hire service permit, and driving on walkway or kerb!
I have established my familiarity with the insanity in driving Lagos. Yet, any law which goes for the object rather than the subject is inhuman. Make the law breaker pay huge fines or go to jail. But set the vehicle free once the fines are paid. If Lagos State government is serious about regulating traffic in the state, they should start with commercial buses. The general thinking is that party faithful own the buses and so most of these scoundrel drivers get away with murder. Some traffic officials are compromised. Some are arbitrary and overzealous. In some areas, traffic rules are not clear, that is, there are no signs to indicate the status of a road. I had been a victim of this absence of rule regime on Victoria Island. In some cases, yellow buses are allowed to drive against traffic. If a private vehicle driver follows that example, from nowhere state officials appear and arrest the driver. Indeed, some traffic officials mislead drivers into breaking the law and leave colleagues to arrest them while they look the other way.
Laws are meant for the regulation of behaviour in society. They are not meant to destroy lives. Security officials especially policemen and soldiers should desist from breaking traffic offenses. They are not above the law. The outcry against impounding of vehicles should elicit and immediate response from the Executive and Legislative arms of government immediately by suspending that provision. The fines for driving or riding against traffic should be raised. There will still be offenders, yet their livelihood will not be tampered with. I urge the Lagos State government to recall the auctioned vehicle of Dorothy Dike. Her vehicle should be given back to her. Her driver broke the law. She did not. She should not suffer economic injury because her driver was foolish. If the world is abolishing the death penalty for homicide in favour of long jail terms, it is indicative of the new thinking. Harsh, inhumane laws are antithetical to societal growth and harmony.

VISIT US: @theharmattan1

Finally, there is a spirit of ‘hurry-now-else-you-will-miss-it’ that drives everyone in Lagos. Is this why FRSC used to send traffic offenders for mental evaluation? What accounts for this? Fear? Desire to get to one’s destination quickly before ‘wahala’ comes? Whatever it is, if we make all the rules without moderating the frenetic pace of life in Lagos, more people will pay fines and or go to jail.

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Fred Ohwahwa: And the Queen goes home

Queen Elizabeth II

 

 

Amazing. Astonishing. Brilliant. Excellent. Exceptional. Exciting. Extraordinary. Great. Inspiring. Historic.
It is difficult to find the appropriate words to describe the transition of Queen Elizabeth 11 and its aftermath, culminating in her funeral on Monday September 19th, 2022
The intimations of her imminent passing were brought upon us a few hours earlier. The Palace had issued a statement that the Queen was gravely ill. And the moment came on the evening of Thursday September 8th 2022. Though she was pretty old at 96, her transition was still a sombre moment. Many people around the world will remember exactly where they were when the news was broken.
My wife and I were at a swanky hotel in Abuja savouring the frills of a party being held for a friend and some of his colleagues by his organisation.
It was clear from that moment that a great thing has happened to the world. Queen Elizabeth 11, a permanent fixture in the world, has passed on. It was a time for mourning, but it was a time of history. A time to remember; a time never to be forgotten.
A Queen for the ages has gone. A vacuum has been created. To be filled by her son, who automatically became King Charles 111.
Her funeral was an incredible sending-off. It is the stuff from which myths are made. It is not likely that many of us who witnessed the exceptional funeral will see such a thing again in our lifetimes. Kings have died and have been buried in the last 100 years; heads of state and government have also gone the way of all mortals during the same period. None, repeat none, approximates the farewell accorded the late British monarch.
The biggest irony is that through the death of their Queen, the British people got the best public relations blitz in many generations. Of course, the death of the monarch was not unexpected, since all mortals will bid this world goodbye at a certain point in time. And many of the things we saw on display had actually been rehearsed over the years. But there is no question that almost every aspect of the Queen’s transition exceeded expectations.
Surely, there are a few people around the world who have grumbled asking why so much noise is made of Her Majesty’s passing. Some have even dredged up Britain’s colonial history and concluded that there is nothing edifying about the British people and their monarch.

READ ALSO: “Our One And Only Queen”, Fani Kayode Mourns Queen Elizabeth II

Well, it is a free world, and people have the right to vent their views and frustrations.
I will rather dwell on the edifying and takeaway points. The planning and flawless execution of the plans for the funeral are worthy of emulation. By all men and women who desire progress. You do not give what you don’t have. The British people have once again demonstrated to the world that Discipline is one of their hallmarks. Discipline in terms of Order and Timeliness.
The British seized the opportunity to showcase the best of their traditions and cultural heritage. Nobody will do it for you; you have to proclaim who you are. According to the late Anwar Sadat, the land is the oxygen of a people.
In some parts of Nigeria, a king dies and what the local people are subjected to is fear: rumours of people being killed to appease the gods; people should not go out at certain hours of the day, etc, abound during such period. They are unedifying things.
Much has been said and written about the decline and fall of the British empire. That may be true, but they are still a proud people with an enviable pedigree. They venerate their institutions. And the monarchy stands tall above all else. I guess that during the past two weeks, some French men and women would have been silently regretting why their forebears did away with their monarchy in the 18th century. But the British monarchy almost gave way during the rampaging reforms of Oliver Cromwell in the previous century and only survived by its modernizing instincts.
The emphasis that was placed on the “Selfless Service” of the Queen by her people in the last few days is worth examining in this piece. Add that to the outpouring of grief by the whole nation and much of the rest of the world and we will see some lessons for all of us, whether at the individual or communal levels. When a bad ruler dies, the people rejoice. Finding someone who had any untoward thing to say about the Queen was impossible. Even critics of the institution couldn’t see anything to fault about her.

VISIT US: @theharmattan1

She lived her life in a gilded cage for over 70 years. It was a life with minimal privacy and continuously under the gaze of the media. But she acquitted herself reasonable well. I remember reading Tony Blair’s memoir and the portion on Princess Diana’s death and how he narrated the great efforts it took to convince the Queen to react appropriately to the tragic occasion. It was a time of transition for the monarchy and indeed the rest of society to the new Information Age. If there was a blip in her reign, that was it.
The shortcomings of some of her children could not be blamed on her. In any case, it simply demonstrated that they are humans, after all.
I saw the Queen only once. That was in February 2002 in faraway Australia during the Commonwealth heads of government meeting of that year. As she walked past us – we the plebians – just before declaring the conference open, the aura she radiated was unmistakable. It filled the grounds. You didn’t need anybody to tell you that a great personage is around you.
For me, the biggest takeaway from the Queen’s death is: Live a good life and posterity will take care of the rest.

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Education

The University Campus without Students – Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Professor Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

The university campus, anywhere in the world, is virtually dead without students. The lecture halls miss them. Lecturers miss them. The porters and security personnel miss them. Food and petty vendors miss them the most. Food vendors have had their businesses paralyzed and so cannot meet their obligations to their wards or landlords. There are no knocks on the door by students coming for consultation. No assignments to grade. No opportunity to impart knowledge in lecture halls. I recognize non-residential programmes which do not accommodate students all year round. That is a matter of choice. It is true that research is ongoing. Academics are generating ideas and churning out papers for academic advancement. Some attend international conferences and still get positions abroad.
But teaching, especially at the postgraduate level, is the interactive part of the life of an academic. It gives life to the profession. The inner joy that teachers derive from nurturing undergraduates from the first through the final years of university education cannot be quantified. Mind development and character formation. Developing the art of critical thinking and writing. Transformation of that neophyte into a student that can contest issues and ideas with a professor. But to earn peanuts while doing this life-changing job is contradictory to social justice!

READ ALSO: Conversation Nigeriana (5) | The Harmattan News

It must be noted that some international organisations are now sceptical about giving grants and aid to Nigerian universities because of the bad image which the shutdown has given Nigeria. Exchange programmes are rendered useless when researchers from foreign universities cannot work with their collaborators because a strike is ongoing. We once hosted an American professor at the University of Lagos who could not deliver a single lecture because the strike of 2020 started shortly after he landed on Fulbright Fellowship! Knowing all of this, which government should allow its universities to remain shut for seven months?
While researching this topic, I found that the staff of American University in Washington went on a five-day strike in August to protest ‘inequitable health care and wage systems that place too many employees at a disadvantage. In March this year, graduate student workers ‘around the US at private and public universities have gone one strike over the past few years, by organizing unions and ‘holding protest actions and strikes (over) low pay’, an issue plaguing graduate student workers around the US. In April this year, staff at thirty-six universities voted in favour of strike action in a dispute over pay and working conditions which could see higher education hit by further disruption this academic year. The difference is that these strikes did not go indefinitely!
We are discussing students whose academic fate and future are determined by a steady stay on campus, writing exams and moving on to the next level. We are discussing our future doctors, engineers, pharmacists, professors, architects, finance gurus, and social influencers. Their counterparts in private universities and some state-owned universities are moving on. In federal universities, lives, projections, and dreams are truncated. The cause: the now familiar if perennial conflict between the government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities ASUU.

VISIT US: @theharmattan1

The students miss school. In 2019, there were approximately 1,854,261 undergraduate students in Nigeria. Of this figure, 1,206,825 were in federal universities while the states held 544,936 students, and 102,500 were in private universities. The figures for 2022 will not be radically different from that of 2019 because in 2020, Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC) Professor Abubakar Rasheed stated that the total number of undergraduates in Nigeria was 2 million. In 2021, the figure went up to 2.1 million. In effect, roughly 1,300,000 students, the future high-level workforce of Nigeria, are currently hanging in limbo. Furthermore, students in the secondary school system who had dreamt about proceeding straight to university are uncertain about their future. A nation which brings up its youth population in a perpetual environment of uncertainty is sowing the seed for future fragmented souls. The repercussions will be felt when all the current old horses who caused the confusion would have gone into their graves. Therefore, the youth must fight the government to restore sanity and order to the land.
Some have taken to skills acquisition while others are staying at home, depending on their parents and guardians for a living. Some retired parents are forced to provide for their children from their meagre incomes. This produces stress in homes and trauma in lives. Some have taken to social vices or criminality. Internet fraud as a way of life beckons on them. The notorious Yahoo Yahoo business is alluring and attractive to the idle. Just play in front of your computer and trick some ‘mumu’ fellow abroad and smile to the bank. Some ladies have become pregnant out of wedlock and have tried to procure an abortion. Some have lost their lives. Too many of them are going through mental stress that could affect them for the rest of their lives.
The purpose of this essay is to highlight the social costs of keeping universities closed. When we write about the strike, it is often like an abstraction. The human feelings involved and the overall implications on lives and the stability of the nation are hardly reckoned with or factored into policy. A nation is made up of people. Happy people. Hopeful people. Unhappy people. Inspired people. Frightened people. Secure people. Bold and cowardly people. Both the ill and the healthy. An aggregate of how these people feel is what makes the nation. The current ASUU strike is another indication of state failure. It is the failure of Nigeria. Colleagues and compatriots outside the country pity us. There is a rush to leave this country that is so blessed with natural and human resources. Why? Because a group of persons who have no good plans for the country has hijacked power and the resources of the country.
We could say that if only 2 million persons are in the universities in a population of 200 million, the 1% per cent enrolment is insignificant compared to the general population. But the university is the resource base of the nation. It produces thinkers who have gone through the rigour of critical thinking and can be deployed to any sector of the country for the purpose of developing the natural and social resources of the land. Add to this population the total number of academics – 100000 – and their dependents we are dealing with a critical sector in the country. They are vocal, and pivotal to national growth. They are the powerhouse of the future. And we can only toy with that sector if we wish to destroy the country.
It is not too late to retrace the national steps. The current model of funding education is not working. If strikes in the university system have become a way of life, it means that the real problems have not been addressed. The funding model must change. No education is free to the extent that someone must pay for it. If the government cannot pay, alternative sources of funding must be explored. A well-funded Education Bank from which students can obtain loans is one of the options open to the government and the universities. The federal government should stop opening new universities and merge some of the existing ones to reduce overhead costs.
Finally, the time has come for legislation to compel all state officials to educate their children in Nigerian universities. In simple terms, it must become an offence for any elected or appointed official of the State to send their wards to universities abroad. That way, attention will be paid to the struggling universities in the land. Stakeholders – traditional rulers, former Heads of State, former state governors, the National Assembly, and religious leaders – must wade into this matter now and end the impasse by September end. The alternative would be that a full session would be lost by our hapless students.

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