To show how much importance the elite attach to education in Nigeria, there was a vice presidential debate last week where the words “ASUU strike” were considered not worthy of mention by the debaters or the moderator, Imoni Amarere. 

Not even in passing. I felt it.

I was stuck in hellish traffic during the debate, but made sure to monitor proceedings on my smartphone thanks to mobile TV. I was yearning for that question that bordered on the strike of university lecturers and the shutting down of classrooms of tertiary institutions across the country for well over a month now. I could well have waited forever. 

Someone would later explain to me that because vice presidents are constitutionally tasked with matters that pertain to the economy by their presidents, it was okay not to bother them with the ‘small matter’ of shutdown of schools at a time when illiteracy is about the biggest challenge confronting this country at the moment.

Dr Chris Ngige
Dr Chris Ngige

I have a different take. A vice president can be as powerful as the president makes him to be. He serves at the president’s pleasure and carries out tasks handed him by the president. He advises the president where necessary, he is dispatched by the president to oversee negotiations with trade and labour unions. And when the president travels abroad to keep a date with his doctors, the vice president steps in. A vice president is much more than a figurehead.

Vice President Osinbajo knows all about why the school gates have been slammed in the faces of students for weeks. He should have been asked how negotiations between the government and the lecturers have panned out since November 4. He wasn’t. Other candidates should have been peppered with questions bordering on how they intend to fix education and ensure strikes are no longer a recurring decimal. They weren't.

There is a sense that the elite will remain unconcerned about university strikes because their kids aren’t enrolled in schools on our shores. There is a sense that all of us have abandoned the striking lecturers and students to their fates. We owe the schools and students tons of apologies for our silence.

Professor Yemi Osinbajo and President Muhammadu Buhari
Professor Yemi Osinbajo and President Muhammadu Buhari

In the final analysis, lecturers have shuttered school gates because they want better pay, prompt payment of earned allowances, increased funding for schools and implementation of previous agreements. Governments who do not honour pacts reached with unions and university teachers should be called out for paying lip service to education. 

We owe the next generation a semblance of decent education. We can't achieve that by keeping them at home.