By Owei Lakemfa
Bauchi seems to retain its innocence. An urban city that remains infidelity with its better rural half. As you race out of the city, small beautiful hills run before you ending up at the feet of the enchanting Gubi Rock, paying what may be an eternal homage to their chief.
What pointedly reminds you that you are in a modern Nigerian city is its hordes of commercial motorcycle and tricycle operators who clog the streets in a ‘poor versus rich’ combat with motorists. They seem oblivious of traffic rules and appear deaf to the horns of motorists who want to assert their fundamental right to be on the road.
It was on this visit that I got to know that the alias of Governor Bala Mohammed whose billboards litter the roads, is ‘Jagaban’ and that ‘his people’ want him to contest the 2023 presidential elections. I was in the city to deliver the keynote address of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU Bauchi Zone “State of The Nation Summit.”
The quite perceptive six universities in the zone; University of Jos, Bauchi State University, Gombe State University, Federal University, Kachere-Gombe; Plateau State University and the host, Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa University, ATBU, believed that such a summit was urgent.
It is part of their efforts to draw attention and find solutions to the suffocating problems of the country which include a heavily indebted and collapsing economy, a degenerate state of education, failed security system and an increasing sense of hopelessness among Nigerians.
ASUU National President, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, who said the security situation is so bad that many Nigerians are afraid to travel by road, revealed that the union is mobilising the populace to support a bill it is sending to the National Assembly titled: “Bring Back Your Children.” The import is to midwife a law that would compel all those leading or who want to lead the country at any level, to have their children enrolled in schools in the country, not abroad.
The chairperson of the summit, Professor Omotoye Olorode was at home; he was in a university he had spent his 1983 sabbatical, and some of his old students were now professors in the institution. He recalled that in 1984, ASUU organised a State of the Nation summit which produced a widely circulated communiqué titled: “How to save Nigeria.”
He said that publication showed that: “We saw all that has happened, coming, because that is what we are taught to do.” ASUU, he recalled, organised similar summits in 1992 and 2001 making the same warnings and demanding a change of direction, but that theirs was a voice crying in the wilderness to which the ruling elite were deaf.
He said when a country is in crisis, its intellectuals have a duty to analyse the issues especially the root causes, speak up and join in the struggle for a solution. He regretted that while in 1984, the country had a synergy of the academic, labour and young people, the ruling elite including in the military had worked hard to break that unity. Olorode, 80, however, added that the struggle to emancipate the country must go on, adding that it is an inter-generational duty.
In my address, I told the summit that Nigerians live in times when education is the bedrock of development, when we accept that available schools are insufficient and that the phenomenon of out of school children is unacceptable, yet we close schools due to the advance of terrorists and bandits.
That even when some schools are open, we have lost the courage to tell parents to send their children rather than keep them at home. The simple reason is that we cannot keep the schools safe from marauders who rob, kidnap and kill.
Also, that we live in times of hyper-inflation when food is in short supply and many are hungry, but many farmers are at home or in Internally Displaced Persons Camps yielding ground to insurgents, bandits and terrorists. I pointed out that in large parts of the country, the state and the citizenry have abandoned the farms to bandits who sow fear, culture death and reap very rich harvests of ransom.
I also posited that we live in times when the Nigerian would need at least a three-day dry fasting before embarking on a road journey. That while in the past, we complained about the inadequate and poor state of the roads, today, we have abandoned many of these roads to bandits while in some cases, even workmen repairing roads or building new ones are kidnapped along with the armed security provided for them.
I also pointed out that we live in times when we complained that the telecommunication coverage in the country is limited, but due to activities of bandits and terrorists, some states in the country shut down telecommunication services. So the populace in such places are not only deprived means of communication but that if under attack, will be unable to call for help.
I recalled that three years ago, I interviewed a veteran trade unionist for a book I co-authored on the privatisation of the power sector, entitled The Light In The Tunnel May Be A Coming Train. He told me a shocking story of how in parts of Katsina State, parents were withdrawing their children from school and handing them as apprentice to bandits!
In this instance, the loss of the classroom is the gain of the forests as such children were being made to transit from the classroom to the forests; from being taught with the chalk to counting bullets; from being taught how to handle the pen, to how to handle the gun. For them, power will flow not from knowledge or the pen, but the barrel of the gun.
Based on these, I posited that while we can talk economics and education, politics and governance, freedom of speech and the fundamental right to movement or even about the future, what may condition all these, is security or lack of it.
My conclusion was that we need a minimum programme of free, accessible and qualitative education and healthcare, rural development and transformation, the right to work, food and shelter and a general mobilisation and military training for Nigerians to defend themselves, their families and communities based on a pro-people ideology.
I pointed out that while we can tackle general insecurity, our greater challenge is tackling the greed, prodigal and poverty-inducing misrule in the country by the political elites who hold the country hostage. So, Nigerians need to organise and mobilise to chase out those causing us pain and suffering. I concluded that we are in desperate search of solutions that are within our grasp.