As the year draws to a close, I must address the Nigerian students. Four things happened this year which ought to have provoked you to dramatize to the world your discontent, fear for your future as Nigerians, and desire for change.
1. The closure of Nigeria’s public universities for about four months only exposed your complete docility as an important component of the Nigerian society. Nigerian university students, who attend public universities, were made to stay at home for about four months, owing to the strike by their lecturers. There was no organized protest by the Nigerian students, either in solidarity with their lecturers or as a wake-up call to the federal and state governments to begin to strategically invest in education. The incontestable evidence that the Nigerian student of today has caught the strange sickness of inaction and passivity under any degree of provocation was when the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), after the four months of closure of the Nigerian public universities, gave the president of the federation an award. Was this award not an indication that the Nigerian students are fully satisfied with the state of education in Nigeria? Was this award not a humiliation or discouragement of some of us who bemoan regularly the complete neglect by government of the Nigerian youth?
2. Only this year, the federal government voted a pitiable 2 percent of the budget for education, the smallest percentage ever! I am so appalled at the attitude of the Nigerian student that I am convinced they are yet to fully understand that their future is at stake. What is the prospect for a great future for you when the education you receive is unsuitable for today’s challenges? What future do you have in a nation that has consciously segregated education and priced quality education beyond the reach of poor students? I teach at a private university in Nigeria, where the quality of education is very high, whose students have access to exchange programs in universities in America and at Oxford; whose students, just before graduation are able to secure admission into graduate schools in top American universities. Fresh students who came to the university in fall 2005 and spring 2006 have already graduated. Some of them are already doing graduate studies in universities in USA, Canada etc; some are currently doing national service through the NYSC program. You the Nigerian student in public universities cannot dream of this. You enter the universities, but cannot tell exactly when you will graduate, because of disruptions in your academic calendar every so often. I must inform you that many of my students are children of serving or past Nigerian senators, governors, members of state and national houses of Assembly, presidents, Ministers, CEOs of prominent banks etc. O yes, you have been fooled for so long, and yet you are without a whimper of necessary reaction. I am surprised that you are so quiet and without action. I am surprised at the brand of youths we have today. I am surprised that you are not challenged by the university students in Iran; how they have stood up to their oppressive rulers even when their fathers have retreated. If you are looking for courageous allies, you can find them in us. We fear neither imprisonment nor death. I wrote and called the leadership of NANS this year to rally for your cause, but they were not interested. What a generation! I write, not because you must do this for me. You must do it for you.
3. The planned de-regulation of the downstream oil sector without provision of adequate multi-modal public transport system, adequate electric power, adequate refining capacity, and social security and college tuition assistance schemes did not attract any response by you. You have kept silence! What will ever happen in Nigeria to provoke you to necessary action? Can a nation ever know true progress when her students and youths remain politically unconcerned and disinterested?
4. As I write, your nation is without a leader, not because the constitution does not give us a guiding light, but because those rulers of your nation, who have taught you so early the corrupting art by bribing and corrupting your student leaders who have sold out, have been convinced that they are above the constitution, even while they pretentiously profess to “RULE OF LAW”. I told the nation very early in the life of this government that what we were confronted with was RUSE OF LAW. I warned very early that we were at the door steps of the worst era of corruption in Nigeria. One of you, a professed former student of mine, wrote to intimidate and blackmail me. I am sure he is now convinced of his folly, because if he truly was my student, then he did not really know me. If you are now convinced by the avalanche of evidence before us that I was right, what then is your response? The continual absence of President Yar’Adua, who has abandoned his duty post without compliance with section 145 of our constitution, and yet without a protest, at least symbolically, by you the Nigerian students has further exposed our hopelessness as a nation. You, demographically, constitute the most potent segment of our society.
Will you be disarmed by few dollars and naira splashed before a few of your student leaders by those criminals and fetish rulers who have turned our nation into a slave yard? What purpose do your student leaders serve if they cannot organize you for an unyielding protest against the lawlessness and impunity of Nigerian rulers, neglect of public education, and anti-people policies? Let me remind you of the calamity we are in.
The Minister of labor and productivity announced few days ago, as I write, that the federal government of Nigeria would provide 5 million jobs in the year 2010. Do you know what the problem is with this statement? It reveals three things:
i) Our rulers don’t think before they speak. They are whimsical and childish. How will the federal government create 5 million jobs in one year? In which sectors of the economy does the federal government hope to do this? How have they come up with that figure? Is it in the transport sector where they are busy canceling contracts? (The cancelled railway project of Obasanjo government was to have been completed in 2010; and this could have created many jobs). Banks are laying off thousands of employees. Many companies, about 400,000, have been de-listed by the Corporate Affairs Commission this year alone. Small and Medium Scale companies are known to be the engine of growth and employers of labor. But with the difficult business environment where the government cannot provide public electricity in spite of the many-point agenda and empty promises, cost of doing business is very high. How can jobs be created for you when you graduate? When industries are operating at below 40 percent capacity, how can the Minister of labor hope to create 5 million jobs? When there is embargo on employment by some governments in Nigeria, how can 5 million jobs be created? Besides, when a responsible government talks of job creation, it does not envisage civil-service jobs, but rather the creation of the environment and development of the support infrastructure that encourage production. We have neither. Yet, our universities produce tens of thousands of graduates every year and send them into the labor market where jobs are either too few or the required skills far excel the type of education you have been given in the public universities.
ii) Slogans define governance in Nigeria. Announcing that the federal government would create 5 million jobs in the year 2010 sounds cool, doesn’t it. The other day, I read that the federal government would generate 7.5 megawatts of electricity from solar source in the year 2010. They are yet to deliver on the promised 6,000 megawatts in December 2009 and yet they are not ashamed to make new slogans. But when the Nigerian students have long forgotten the days of students sloganeering and placard-carrying mass protests against unserious governments, how can we not have such pitiable substitutes?
iii) As long as Nigerian students refuse to engage in nonviolent mass protest, so long will government officials make mockery of them by announcing bogus figures. You the Nigerian students will soon start looking for the 5 million jobs. You will seek for them in Lagos, Kano, Port-Harcourt, Abuja, etc, and find none. Then you will try crime or decide to go abroad for “greener pasture” because your rulers have made parched the pasture at home. If you don’t like this scenario, now is the time for action.
My dear brothers and sisters, now is the time for organized action. I am ready; we are ready, but are you ready? To what use is your education when it only confirms the ignorance within? To what use is your education when it only makes you inferior to graduates of better-funded private universities? To what use is your education if it only makes you the Engineer who only qualifies to teach Mathematics in a primary school for N20,000 a month but not good enough to be engaged by oil companies because you graduated from a public university that was grossly under-funded? If you think you have certain privileges, and so you could abdicate the principles of courage and sacrifice for a better society, let me remind you that a people which value its privileges above its principles lose both (in the words of Eisenhower).
I must remind you that if the people of Montgomery had not endured and persevered in their bus boycott (which lasted for a year, 1955-1956), the struggle would have collapsed, irrespective of the oratory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Let me plainly inform you that if the students of the South in USA had not been engaged in unrelenting mass protests against segregation, and refused to back down even in the face of imprisonment and beatings, the struggle would have yielded little in the days of Dr. King. The people determine the success or otherwise of a struggle.
You the students cannot claim you lack motivation. We attempted a rally last year but were stopped. Where were the students that should have come up to stand behind us? Just go to our website (www.nigeriarally.org ) and download the RESCUING NIGERIA tract on the link “Rally news”. That is what we published in national dailies to educate you before the planned rally last December; but you did nothing. I am glad that a Nigeria Rally Youth group re-produced it recently. But I would rather that the Nigerian students be aroused by it into practical nonviolent mass action. I shall be with you anywhere you choose to. I tried to reach out to the NANS leadership, what was their response; unconcerned and disinterested. I call the world to witness today that the Nigerian students of this generation can take any insult and yet bury their heads in shame and fear. I make bold to say that nothing can move them to mass nonviolent protest. They have all been corrupted. They have become pitiable children who have appeared hopeless, who can hardly be aroused. And while they watch their colleagues in countries such as Iran taking the brutality of the police, they wonder how foolish those students are; they then praise their smartness; playing safe is wisdom, so they think. If the students I have described are not who the Nigerian students should be then they must arise. I am ready to be an ally; I avow my unyielding support. If you will allow me…. Now is the time.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is President of the Nigeria Rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org ) and Assistant Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria.
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