Femi Gbajabiamila is the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Nigeria. He is currently taking a Leadership course at the prestigious Harvard University- Thousands of miles away from Nigeria.
In a Facebook book post he goes, “Back to class. In a Leadership Course at Harvard University. Forget the number of grey hair, one is never too old to learn, broaden or sharpen your skills”.
There may be nothing outrightly bad in going back to school to learn more, or going to a very prestigious one at that. But one will argue that that post smirks of insensitivity of leaders to the plight of its people. The context here is ASUU Strike. ASUU is the Academic Staff Union of Universities which has been on strike for about 5 months. In plain terms, students from public universities have been out of class for 5 months because of The federal government’s inability to implement the agreements it made to ASUU in 2009- 13 years ago! Also, the refusal of the current administration to exempt lecturers from the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPS).
While Femi Gbajabiamila enjoys the liberty to study in place like Harvard, thousands of Nigerian students have been at home for well over 5 months due to strike. The Nigerian government has not been able to resolve the issue leading to these constant strikes, and as such, students remain at home, deprived of their right to education. The speaker’s post obviously shows excitement and joy at the prospects of returning to class ironically the same day thousands of Nigerians led by the Labour Unions poured out on the streets in protest of the strike. What a contrast!
Well, I have been interviewing students who have been affected and this strike has cost them so much and causing pain and frustration to many. Others are battling one form of depression or the other as a result, and even suicidal thoughts in some extreme cases.
Ifunananya is a final year student in the University of Benin. She should have been done with her final year and done with her undergrad studies. But, the strike happened. She couldn’t write her final paper. She will be forced to return to school whenever that happens just to complete her final exams-months after, hopefully the strike ends soon. She says she feels her life is at a standstill at the moment. She also says it is more painful to see her friend whom they started together, who attends a private school already done and at the National Youth Service Corps already.
Kelvin plan to leave for the UK 6 months after his Masters. But he can’t pick up his certificate as the schools are closed. His fate hangs in the balance.
Ifeoma is a 200 level student of University of Lagos. Says being a student in Nigeria is torturous and the strike makes it harder. How are we supposed to be successful and thrive in a country like this with no functional education system?, she asks.
Recently I read of a young girl who is suicidal as and battling depression. She says the strike stalls her life and the government has not shown any form of responsibility to bring it to an end.
For a moment, I thought to myself how would Ifunanya, or Kelvin or Ifeoma and thousand others feel reading the post of Mr Speaker. I say that post is grossly insensitive. It is so unnerving that every opportunity our leaders get, they head out of the country to seek the best quality education for themselves and their wards but never get to replicate same in Nigeria. What a shame!
I understand Mr Speaker has apologised for his insensitive post and as a matter of fact is taking a course on leadership, let’s say, just maybe when he returns, this leadership course will translate to practical leadership examples- push for policies that allow you to build good schools, end strikes, let students go back to class, let Nigeria’s education be functional again among the so many other things bedevilling the country. Let our leaders have some sense of pride for once.