By Promise Adiele
According to Chinua Achebe, “proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten”. Thus, Achebe underscores the importance of proverbs as an emblematic paradigm in spoken and written communicative strategies. Proverbs are powerful. They constitute vestiges of the fast receding African identity. There is no ethnic group in Africa that does not have proverbs which guide its cultural and sublunary ethos. In a sentence or phrase, a proverb can tell the story of one thousand words. They are deep and incisive. When we encounter them, they simultaneously achieve a sublime rhythm in our subconscious minds through a penetration and withdrawal symphony. No wonder compilers of the Holy book dedicated a whole section to it.
The potency of proverbs in demystifying hidden reality is evident in the inherent multiple outlets of interpretation they offer. There is no narrative in any human endeavour that is not captured in a few words by a proverb. Unfortunately, many 21st-century youths are ignorant of proverbs. When I taught Oral African Literature, I asked students to write out twenty African proverbs and their interpretations. I had a good laugh reading the assignments. Some of them had to call their parents for assistance. The scenario changed completely in another course Popular Culture when I asked them to mention current trends in music, movies, and fashion. They came alive. I am wondering, will people still remember African proverbs in the next fifty years?
While pondering over the topic of this essay, one Igbo proverb in the Mbaise dialect came to my mind. “He who is concerned with personal existential challenges does not have any existence” (I am afraid the proverb has lost some flavour in English translation). That proverb finds relevance and validation in the title of this essay. Simply put, anyone who thinks of his life alone does not have a life. Certainly Nigerians cannot pretend that all is well when our brothers and sisters who teach in public universities are wallowing in want, penury, and poverty. It could be easy for someone to say ‘wetin concern me’ but it all concerns everyone one way or the other. The truth is that lecturers are dying, some consider suicide daily. It behoves all people of good conscience to be genuinely concerned about the plight of public university lecturers. How on earth are these Nigerians surviving? Recently, INEC advertised for ad-hoc members of staff. Expectedly, many idle university lecturers applied. Will it be possible for a hungry, bill-ravaged lecturer to turn down items of compromise in the line of duty? We must understand these underlying cross-currents to appreciate the virility of the APC government towards despicable ends.
Gradually, the strike by public university lecturers in Nigeria is becoming a way of life, a new normal. Students have moved on, occupying themselves with different pastimes. Their parents have moved on too. The government and its officials, from all indications, do not care. Why should they care when their children are schooling abroad? The FG-ASUU face-off has become intractable and unfortunately so. This morning, I spared a thought for thousands of university lecturers who have not earned any dime since early this year. How are they surviving? How are they feeding their families, paying bills, and taking care of sundry responsibilities? Schools just resumed. How will these lecturers pay school fees, house rents, and other demanding bills? Many lecturers are hopeless to themselves and their families. What must we do to save a vital component of the Nigerian population?
I have carefully examined the scenario and all the arising tension between ASUU and the Federal Government. While some people think that the FG agreement with ASUU cannot be implemented due to a lack of funds, many people think that a government inclined to wasting money on frivolities and other irrelevant ostentation should be able to pay lecturers handsomely. Currently, the Nigerian government borrows money to fund the budget and pay salaries. That is where we are. But a government that expends a large amount of funds in Afghanistan funding a terrorist government and donating cars valued at 1.4 billion naira to a neighbouring country should have no problem paying university teachers. Well, it is not my intention to deviate from the topic of this essay but writing and thinking about Nigeria is so annoying and frustrating that one naturally gravitates to identifying the decay in the country. The dislocation of university education in Nigeria and all the accompanying mutations have regrettably become active ingredients in reshaping the country’s remote realities.
The ASUU hierarchy has resolved to remain on strike and the government continues to withhold lecturers’ salaries. Most Professors are what you might call in the Nigerian parlance ‘big boys’. They have other means of survival. Such a category of lecturers can remain on strike forever. What about other categories of lecturers, the young and vibrant ones who eagerly expect their salaries at the end of every month? What about husband and wife who are lecturers? How are these people surviving? Everyone is talking about the plight of students and how they are affected by the strike. What about the welfare of their lecturers? Lecturers who are due to be promoted can’t be promoted. PhD students who are supposed to graduate in the past months are stuck in the mire. Research is grounded. Learning is impaired too.
The Federal Government has a responsibility to ensure, one way or another that the strike is called off immediately and lecturers are promptly paid. Muhammadu Buhari should immediately meet ASUU officials directly, use every method known to him, beg, cajole, genuflect, and plead with them to see reasons or pay them. That is what a responsible and responsive leader should do. That is what he promised to do in 2015 while begging Nigerians to vote for him. That is what I call integrity. Someone I respect a lot told me that ASUU is a very stubborn group that does not listen to pleas and peaceful initiatives. How true is that? I teach at a private university therefore, not an ASUU member. But I deeply empathize with my colleagues who are affected by the impasse. We are all involved.
Everyone is talking about the plight of students and how they are affected by the strike. What about the welfare of their lecturers? Lecturers who are due to be promoted can’t be promoted. PhD students who are supposed to graduate in the past months are stuck in the mire. Research is grounded. Learning is impaired too.
If you are a salary earner, consider for one moment that your salary is withheld for two months. If you are a business owner, consider that your office or business is closed for two months. I am sure you will shudder at such thoughts. Our university lecturers are dying. Their marriages are failing because they are unable to take care of their responsibilities. It is more frustrating because it is not yet fully evident when the strike will be called off. With our universities closed and the lecturers plunged into hardship, the APC government should, on that score, cover its face in utter shame for having the guts to present itself for election next year. It is reprehensible, unforgivable, and at once immoral.
As I write this, Buhari is out of the country. Osinbajo is also out of the country. Nigeria wriggles like a headless chicken desperate to live. How these men manage to sleep with the universities shut down baffles me. How do they eat and belch knowing that university lecturers are starving? Those who argue that university lecturers should not be paid because they didn’t work are mindlessly frolicking in extreme obliquity and pitiable myopia. Tell me something about ‘no work no pay’ and I will tell you something about many Nigerians in history and in contemporary times who didn’t work for one reason or another but were paid. Some former governors are paid pension allowance that amounts to the salary of more than fifty lecturers. When Buhari spent many months in the UK on medical tourism, was he not paid his salary upon return? Nigerian refinery workers are paid salaries every month, isn’t it? How many barrels of oil do they refine? A government that cannot ensure a smooth successive academic system lacks the ethical rationale to be so addressed as a government. Lecturers are dying, yes, many of them are dying slowly. Buhari should find a way to resolve the issues surrounding these problems so that the soul and spirits of lecturers will not perish in the scorching sands of hunger and deprivation.
Promise Adiele PhD
Mountain Top University