T HOSE who contend that Nigeria is a country of impunity certainly know what they are saying. From the crowded and unsightly streets to the spick and span corridors of power, impunity and lawlessness reign unfettered. This ruinous culture from the long years of the misplaced foray of the military into the business of governance has continued to inform the behaviour of both the ruled and the led towards bald-faced disregard for order and decency. What is more worrisome is that this virus of impunity attacks the core of many of the country’s critical public institutions and hamstrings them from functioning in ways that enable them to stimulate meaningful progress and sustainable development. In making this point, I take refuge in Prof. Wole Soyinka’s apposite deadpan: ‘If a people must survive, the reign of impunity must end.’
Nigeria’s tertiary institutions markedly stand out among the country’s institutions that are being increasingly disabled and effectively beached in the peatbog of retrogression due to the unchecked reign of the culture of impunity, that malignant bug that ensures people get away with organised lawlessness and disconcerting infractions without appropriate retributions. Nigerian lighthouses of knowledge and learning are struggling to fulfil their lofty objectives of building round and sound minds for the development of the country because the cankerworms of impunity – in cahoots with other formidable but solvable challenges – are ruthlessly besetting them.
From experience and careful observations, I have identified university unions like the Non-Academic Staff of University (NASU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU) as constituting terrible threats to the smooth operations of our tertiary institutions in the same manner that they are becoming real threats to the security of the institutions’ host communities. The horrendous impunity and brazen lawlessness often displayed by these unions in the name of protesting certain injustices done to them by egoistic school managements do much to slow down the march of our higher institutions to the orbit of innovation and knowledge production to enhance viable development for the country.
It is saddening to note that the violent, disruptive approach of many branches of these unions to resolving issues of allowances and welfare has turned them into clogs in the wheels of progress of our tertiary institutions as sites for the production of transformative knowledge. It so often happens that when these unions stage their substantively barren protests, they cripple normal academic and legitimate business activities. In many instances, to forestall total breakdown of order, the schools are shut down. The students are sent home to waste away only to be recalled to have their frustrated minds laden with weak education which moulds them into docile, ignorant, and parasitic citizens.
For many weeks of June and July, Obafemi Awolowo University was all over the news because of the violent, disorderly, and lawless conducts of the members of the university’s NASU and SSANU. Those unions claimed the process that threw up Prof. Tale Omole’s success, Prof. Ayobami Salami, was improper. As a matter of fact, midway into the process, which neither of the unions have a say in, the unions’ leaderships went to court in a bid to secure a restraining order against the Governing Council of the school. But instead they got a notice to be served on the respondent.
Rather than allow the court to decide the matter, the unions went berserk and took laws into their hands. First they disrupted a meeting of the Governing Council and locked up the members in a room. The Ooni of Ife secured their release the following day. Second, they abandoned their works and pugnaciously insisted they would not change tack until the Governing Council was dissolved and the new VC removed from office for an Acting VC of their fondness. Their violent disposition caused the management to close the school. And since the Federal Government is deficient in crisis management and alien to the logic of justness, it acceded totally to the strange demands of the unions without conducting any investigation. The workers are back to work; none was punished for lawlessness; they have got the salaries they did not work for, and, sadly, the students have been called back to be rushed through the session. Hurray to impunity!
Similarly, at the time I was composing this piece, NASU and SSANU members in the premier University of Ibadan were staging their own drama of impunity christened protest. Actually, they started this on the last Friday of July. They locked the main gates and other entry points to the university. They bivouacked behind the main gates threatening to make the entire university ungovernable.
Now is the time for security agents to take serious interest in the disruptive activities of NASU and SSANU across our tertiary institutions. Boko Haram and other hinderers of people’s freedom began through what appeared to be lawful gatherings. Rarely was attention paid to the dangerous philosophy the groups inculcated. It is doubtful whether the next three generations can recover from the hell Boko Haram created in the Northeast of this country. NASU and SSANU during protests act with nearly total disregard for the law and the wellbeing of others. They not only always vocalise their intentions to make their schools ungovernable, they also press into disastrous actions, daring anyone, including security agents, to check them. They revel in indiscipline and justify it with the claim that they have the right to protest.
It is high time security agencies took good interest in the protest actions of NASU and SSANU on our campuses before these unions morph into nihilistic terrorists that will be difficult to contain. Already they constitute grave threat to the peace of our tertiary institutions and their ability to contribute to the development of the country.
- Ibitola, a national affairs analyst, lives in Ibadan.