Everyone who has encountered Festus Iyayi can attest to it that, to be true to one another was a cardinal principle of his existence. He could brook no knives of hidden agendas in the pursuit of goals that other comrades were not privy to.
In his view, the ruin of normal human interconnections lies on such counterpane. It goes without saying that he was completely sold on the very credo of all labour organizations: that people be paid a living wage; that honest work deserves honest pay.
The only key to such a society had to be one primed to defend transparency and an accountable performance. His stand on this score was always a testy one for many comrades who normally had to take time to know that it was not a put-on but part of a sworn ethic by which he believed the underprivileged could always realize their aspirations.
It may be wondered whether all these were not merely a rehash of the baggage that he brought with him from the formalism that overlaid his studies in the Soviet Union. But there was no doubt that his interaction with the societies of actually existing socialism showed how the values could be inlaid in social institutions.
Surely, he was lucky to have seen enough of the formalities of existence behind the so called iron curtain, and also in the so called free world, to know that for an African and for all countries yet to industrialize and unable to educate citizens for global competition, in a world of scarce resources, it mattered little whether an African country was aligned with the West or the East. Without industrialization, it all ends up in penury.
Those who would not, or could not raise themselves by their own bootstraps, as they say, simply remain in the dormitory of the poor and forgotten; or in what Frantz Fanon called the geography of hunger, enslaved, pauperized and misled by leaders who are not allowed by a long pole to sit where the leaders of world opinion decide the fate of their countries.
Inevitably, the foreign masters heckle and bully the leaders of the poor who are obliged to tyrannize over their people in order to prove that they are in control. It is also to justify the help they get to sustain the continued repression of their people; that is, so long as it does not generate the kind of uproar that can prevent the proverbial flows from the aids-besotted periphery to the centre. Since many of these leaders would rather obey their foreign bosses and cronies than parley with and build solidarity with the people whose welfare they are swearing to, but never manage to advance in genuinely qualitative terms, the story is that intellectuals always have to decide how much to stand fast without losing the means of continued intellectual performance that lie in the hands of those who, these days, command our leaders against us.
Festus iyayi made up his mind quite early, and had the spine to stand up for his beliefs, and to decide on whose side he was going to play. He chose to stand with the people, their interests, their future. It did not take long, after he acquired his doctorate and began to teach Business Administration. He began to make forays into the world of the power hungry militariat that had taken over African countries.
This was the era of the anti-education binge in several African countries. In Nigeria, it manifested, first, in the cat and mouse game which existed between the Nigerian Union of teachers and the powers that be. As the devalued standards of primary and secondary schools began to load the universities with less and less educable entrants, even during the civilian interregnum in the Second Republic, it was clear that the war on education had reached the tertiary institutions.
It was in an even more hoary manner in the era of the great anti-sap riots by Nigerian university students, the last great show of youth power before the drivers of a distracted world order moved in with their domestic satraps.
As it happened at that time, public sympathy for the Nigerian union of teachers had been so irredeemably battered by military propaganda and mayhem that the riots of disgruntled university students merely posed the same old questions in a starker form in relation to the universities. How could the Universities be protected from the same fate that the NUT could not save the primary and secondary schools from?
By way of reaching some conclusions, let me acknowledge that it was the formation of the Academic staff union of universities that managed to save the day; at least, hold the evil day from dawning too peremptorily. Squaring up between the Ivory Tower and the education-loathing militariat had long arrived.
The last age grade of students that had the freedom and independence to stand up to the political bosses were actually enjoying the last lap of self-empowered freedom. But they didn’t know it . This was after it was said that university teachers were teaching what they were not paid to teach. There was the added complication provided by ASUU, which in order better to fortify itself, had reached the point where it was felt that a literal fusion into the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) was it. It was a jolt too much for the military to contemplate.
The possibility of an NLC in cahoots with ASUU, as it materialized under Festus Iyayi as President of ASUU, yielded a counter insurgency strategy that put the destabilization machinery of the state into top gear in order to frustrate the campus unionists.
The vice chancellors were literally mandated and paid to wreck radical student unions at the risk of promoting and sponsoring cults and other anti-union organizations on the campus. The old idea that student unions could be incubators for future leadership was reduced to their simply being handmaidens of the agents of the state. Life on the campus was systematically made harder.
Overcrowded hostels and overcrowded classrooms told the stories of abandoned accommodation responsibilities. Students were taught through the crummy conditions of their living environments not to have too grand a view of themselves or the future. Like worms in a decaying meat, they lived.
The sheer decay of conditions meant that the next generation was not being prepared for a life that is as good as the ones enjoyed even by their deprived parents. To the bargain, many parents did not appear to mind. In the grip of a mindless social competition, parents who had proper laboratories in their time did not appear to care that their children were using kerosene stoves as Bunsen burners. Or that there were never enough teachers to do the job of guiding intending graduates aright.
The utter dilapidation of the lives lived by the lecturers themselves, as a result of a deliberate policy of starving the universities, meant they had to teach the students within a culture of deliberate wastage. And, victimage.
By the Fourth Republic, it became, for the minders of the university administrations, merely a matter of paying higher salaries to keep ASUU quiet without providing requisite facilities to make the job of teaching worthwhile for both students and lecturers.
For the motivators of ASUU, it was more than a reaching for job satisfaction. Many were energized by the need to truly draw a map of development for the young that will help nurture and sustain a culture of creativity. The goal was to outclass the received wisdom of the international do-gooders intent on sheer profit for their economies. Yes, the do-gooders would grant aid to the poor in order to be able to take back more than six-fold whatever they gave.
Worse is that the nationalistic lecturer or just the conscientious professor wishing to derive pleasure from leading his students off the rack of the second rate and third rate factors inherent in the environment, simply found that (they) also had to deal with competing ideologies of management which wished for the theories to be always manufactured abroad while the third world universities merely produced the consumers.
How do you win as a researcher against well-funded knowledge systems abroad which were insinuated into the domestic space to create and recreate underdevelopment? More than mere grist for agitational politics on the campus, the reality is that the defenders of the Nigerian university system were being deliberately repressed by governments.
The powers that be farmed out consultancies to externalities that are not even as good as domestic ones. Their unpatriotic and corruption induced propensities looked down upon and snubbed fellow countrymen and women whose confidence was then ritually sapped.
The ultimate derangement of the system, let it be said, had come to be, over a generation of monetarism which overtook the political system. It led to the complete dislocation and asphyxiation of the planning processes in the country and eviscerated the creative economists in our midst who used to demand home-grown approaches to development.
One of the most harrowing pictures I have ever seen is watching the Baba of Adebowale Electronics pleading with his colleagues at Obasanjo’s National Political Reform Conference to allow indigenous manufactories to re-emerge and survive. He was bound to fail. The consequence is that the domestic space has been denied the learning experiences that could have allowed for genuine intellectual confidence.
Local entrepreneurs and their intellectual counterparts have therefore been obliged to grub for the placements of mechanics although they may have been trained to be engineers. The age-old pattern has been for Nigerians on the corridors of power to be weaned on ways of denying rather than providing access to fellow Nigerians who have even more viable contributions to make to national development.
With specific reference to the state of the universities, readers of the assessment reports of the University system have enough to make them puke when they see people on the corridors of power pretending to be marshalling ways and means of creating jobs and pursuing development.
How do you create jobs if your universities are fourth rate and they produce half-baked and jaundiced graduates for the education of the lower rungs of the educational system? How improve on the hard reality of public schools which give poor education to poor people’s children in order to keep them poor. And unmobilizable for their own good?
I mean, in the absence of proper universities, it is pathetic watching Governors make giddy efforts to change the quality of education in their schools. It makes one wince as most of them must, first, do the inexorable graphic showing off of smart school buildings which contribute to winning elections.
They produce the excitement of these school buildings within the general scandal of an absent educational system. The greater issue is that so many do not even realize that they need to create an educational system into which you insert school buildings. It is all in the same manner that the heady pursuit of grand infrastructure across the land manages to reduce the inclination to do the right thing about job creation.
The few that are attacking the problem, and who must deserve our sympathy, are naturally being crowded out by minders of the old system who would not allow new approaches that promise better yield.
To worsen matters, in the era of monetarist opposition to genuine planning, the supreme ambition is for those who had participated in the grand laceration and decimation of the public school system, while in power, to enjoin policies on the state which will of necessity lead to a collapse of public schools. As happened in the manufacturing sectors, and in estates, where normally profit-making corporate bodies were sabotaged, looted and remaindered to be sold at ludicrous prices to the cronies of the destroyers, the most advanced proposals these days are for the repair rather than utter redesign of the educational system.
Some are based on the presumption that when public schools shall have been killed off, the el dorado of private schools will have arrived. Quite myopic. Utterly myopic.
The myopia of the presumptions is inherent in expectations that Nigeria would remain and that Nigerians would agree to remain, standard followers of countries in Asia and Latin America that were once less than par with our own educational system and industrial promises.
Otherwise, who does not know that the only way to create jobs is to build farms and factories and give them rationales for interacting together with proper universities? Who does not know that the only way to compete in the global system today is to target industries that save you from importing what you can produce even at a more expensive rate than the imported variety?
The core issue is that you must create the market for what you produce. And who says we cant have a market that can absorb even the more expensive goods that our domestic production can deliver?
In a country where government is the reservoir of investible funds, the greatest single consumer of goods and services, able to account through direct purchase and inducements for more than half the percentile of the consumption across the land, what kind of undertaker economics is that which says it is not the business of government to be in business?
I would argue that it is based on crude logic, fit only for wastrels and which allows, for instance, the banking system to literally sabotage the whole economy in favour of loot-sharers at the expense of the manufacturing and agricultural sector. For those who would like to extend the same logic to the tertiary institutions, simply lets say that these days it is easy to add up the amount of theft, corruption and general malfeasance going on in the economy.
It shows that there is available in actuality up to thrice the amount of money being demanded by ASUU for the resuscitation and continued defense of the universities. It is, as Festus Iyayi, was saying before he was rudely interrupted, as simple as that.
Odia is a well published poet, culture entrepreneur, former president of the Association of Nigerian Authors, on-time private secretary to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and a renowned political historian.
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