By Baba-Bala Katsina
When I read in the media that President Buhari is to visit ABU as part of his rounds of Zaria visit, I followed the story with keen interest, given the fact that ABU is an academic universe known for its tradition of engaging leaders and policy makers on broader national issues especially education. I couldn’t wait to see the reaction and the kind of national conversation it will trigger.
History shows that ABU students are known to be concerned with government policies and decisions that have direct impact on students. We don’t need to cite instances such as “Ali Must Go” protest to make a point. We only need to juxtapose ABU students’ current condition and their reaction to PMB’s visit to the school to see how much things have changed.
This is a critical mass of student population who, like other Nigerians, voted in the 2015 and 2019 elections in both of which Buhari emerged winner. Their expectations as other Nigerians cannot be said to be wholly met for 5 years, especially in the education sector which dilapidation no one can deny. ABU as a premier university cannot boast of having the best of facilities. Incessant strikes have in various ways affected students’ lives. Early this year, ASUU was on strike. Presently, as the president visits the school, NASU is on warning strike and even threatening to embark on an indefinite nationwide strike if their demands are not met. During the last ASUU strike, one of the govenrment delegates in the ASUU-FG negotiation team proposed introduction of outrageous tuition fees as panacea to funding deficit in Nigerian university system.
Another thing to ponder is how the future of the students is so uncertain as the economy presently cannot guarantee them employment after school. Nigerians’ post graduation life experience is the most traumatizing. It’s not the best of time for the youth generally, though. While in this situation, leaders who have their children in the best foreign schools, give them appointments in juicy MDAs, and ones who have also failed in giving this voting population any hope come visiting ABU. If it were the ABU of the past, what would have been the reaction? But this generation of students were so excited; cheering the president’s convoy up and even went in SM to brag on how the president’s visit reaffirmes their position as being ahead of other Nigerian students. The pictures and clips of the reaction are still trending in MS and the discussion is around the significance of PMB’s visit in further positioning ABU as naturally ahead. The president’s social media aide is by the side busy retweeting.
I am not in anyway implying that all the problems started during this administration; or that President Buhari is responsible for the decay; or that the students should have staged a protest or disgraced the president. What I mean is, his visit should have led to national conversation at least on the state of education in the country and ABU in particular. While in the school, he should have been made to know the level of infrastructural decay in ABU as reported recently by Dr. MD Aminu. But rather, the students share the pictures of some decayed infrastructure like Danfodiyo Hall to remind the leaders of their responsibility, and to tell them that at the time of their visit a university union is on strike, they resorted to saving face; sharing pictures of the beautiful structure he commissioned and of the female students cheering the president’s convey from Queen Amina Hostel.
It really calls for concern about how students develop this kind of docile mindset that not even this kind of occasion could make them remember their condition. The reaction of the students is no different from the reaction we usually see from people in the streets when leaders visit their areas. If we have the educated ones thinking like those in the streets, the future won’t look any good. If this is the students our universities produce, we have no future; because it indicates that they are psychologically defeated to be able to think for the country. This validates Prof. Paul Collier’s statement that until we have a critical mass of informed citizenry, politicians will get away with gestures; things that look good, but don’t work.
This is why in my opinion, the academic community should take up the challenge. What must have gone wrong? Is it that the curriculum is outliving its relevance or is it the pedagogy of the poor taking effect? Are we witnessing a triumph of cultural hegemony? Passion for material possession over scholarship reining supreme? The lecturers can’t mentor their students to make them develop critical mindset as Bala Usman did during his time? Is university system so consumed by politics as to make it operate like mainstream civil service? The system is subject to the whims of policians and market forces? Not that answers to these questions and more are diffuclt to come by or the scholars have not been discussing them, but this particular incident should call for reflection.
It’s unthinkable that national leaders would visit ABU in fashion, say what they want, and get a round of applause.
Tsangayar Malam dan Malam