By Owei Lakemfa
INTELLECTUALS and academics from 14 universities who gathered at the University of Abuja on September 5 to discuss the seemingly insoluble problems of the country, concluded that Nigeria has to be rescued from its leaders. They poured in from the universities in Minna, Akwa Ibom, Benin, Ekpoma, Ado Ekiti, Port Harcourt, Sokoto, Osun, Makurdi and Ago Iwoye. Others came from IBB, Tai Solarin and Lagos State universities. Students of the host University of Abuja also filled the Management Hall, venue of the gathering which also featured an address by their Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Umale Adikwu represented by Professor Gboyega Kolawole.
Dr. Theophilus . D. Lagi, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Abuja Zonal Coordinator in addressing the theme:Neo-Liberalism, Democracy and Development in Nigeria, lamented that the country’s political leaders with their policy of ‘Government has no business in business’ have abandoned the people while simultaneously saturating the country with imported goods.
ASUU President, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, represented by the Vice-President, Professor Emmanuel Osadeke said the primary task in the country, is to mobilise Nigerians to change the system and ensure the people get what is rightly theirs. The ASUU President argued that a system in which less than two per cent of the populace controls over 90 per cent of the resources, must not be allowed to continue. The political elite, he argued, have become parasites helping themselves to the country’s wealth with which they send their children and relatives abroad for education, holidays and even medical care while ensuring that our public institutions, including education and health, are non-functional.
Philosopher and former ASUU President, Dr. Dipo Fashina who is also the Coordinator of the union’s Centre for Popular Education, CEPED, which organised the symposium, said the primary challenge in the country is how to change it into a society where human beings can live freely and decently. Fashina said workers, the unemployed, farmers, students and the “deprived in the streets” need to understand the problems of the country as a basic step towards finding a solution. He added: “Some say our problem is because some ethnic groups are in power, and we spend precious time fighting on this, only to find out that the elite later unite, while the rest of society, suffer.” Human beings, he said, need food, housing and clothing and concluded that: “Any society that cannot provide these needs, is a non-functional society.”
Comrade Abiodun Aremu, Secretary, Joint Action Front, JAF, who was the Guest Lecturer, said the younger generation need to know about the history of the country including the fact that we have had a governor who lived in his own house rather than the State House, and drove his personal car rather than official cars. Turning to the students, he said: “You are not here for your certificate alone; your education is worthless if it is of no service to the society.”
On the theme, he argued that: “In conception and within practical realities, neo-liberalism is a disaster for humanity.” In making a case for a new system, he warned Nigerians to be wary of the ruling elite: “ When they want to divide us, they will use ethnicity, they will use religion. But when they want to loot, they unite; when they want to sell the country into economic slavery, they engage the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.”
On the debate in the country on restructuring, he argued that: “The restructuring we need, is the restructuring of our material existence.” He said it is in the students’ self-enlightened interest to support workers and lecturers in their struggles because: “It is your working parents who pay your school fees and your lecturers who lecture you, run the schools and are defending you against re-introduction of school fees.” Aremu said nothing comes without struggle adding: “ Our only option is to struggle for a change. You have your hands, you have your brains, use them to secure a better future.”
The analysis of Professor Omotoye Olorode is that the West has been on a mission of recolonising the world in Latin America, Africa and Asia through neo-liberalism. He said the elements of the weapon of neo-liberalism include the concept of ‘less government’ “individualism, private enterprise and privatisation, deregulation, trade liberalisation, devaluation of national currencies, removal of subsidies and reduction of the public sector and public-sector spending on social services (in)housing, health provisioning, education etc.”
His conclusion is that some of the neo-liberal policies such as the privatisation of prison services in America, of banks, education and power in Nigeria, “have turned out to be monumental disasters.” His submission is that: “In a fundamental sense, the central purpose of neo-liberalism from the beginning was to recolonise the world and reverse the gains of the welfare state and socialist ideology.”
Specifically on Nigeria, Olorode said the country needs a new patriotic struggle for the political and economic independence of Nigeria, and wiping out poverty, inequality, illiteracy, violence and crimes by planning the economy with market mechanisms based on the interests of the masses.
He also advocated for the public ownership and control of the commanding heights of the economy in production, distribution and exchange, reversal of austerity measures and taking back public assets acquired through contrived schemes like privatisation, concessioning and Public-Private Partnership.
At this point, ASUU turned the symposium into a pedagogical class by presenting eight questions to the large audience which responded in the negative. They include whether students should pay fees in public universities, Nigerians should pay for medical care in public hospitals and for all services. Other ASUU questions were: “Nobody owes you a job; government does not owe you a job” “Government has no business in business” “Those who don’t work are not working because they are lazy” and, “People are poor because they do not use their brains.”
A satisfied ASUU said it is moving its symposium and mass enlightenment train to other parts of the country. Dr. Fashina said ASUU’s campaign is in line with its constitution which “ Makes it obligatory for all ASUU members to fight for the protection and advancement of the socio-cultural interest of the nation and ensure that Nigeria becomes a fair and just country.”