By Isidore Emeka Uzoatu
Events in Nigeria end up unfolding at so dizzying a pace that oftentimes it gets hazy to recount them. Like in these pre-electioneering times, when they appear in a perpetual fast-forward mode. So much so, in fact, that the present never makes any meaning till it acquires the cutting edge of age.
Any wonder then that our national anthem has space only for the labours of our heroes past. Meanwhile, their present-day counterparts are left to wallow in the odium attractable by their nascent efforts.
Embroiled in the struggle, they are even considered enemies. All the best intentions they harbour for the country are misconstrued for misdemeanours aimed at damaging the nation. And if care is not taken, they end up on the wrong side of history. But not until in the denouement, when the benefits of their effort and sacrifice comes clear.
And, like life promises aplenty, these contemporary bugaboos end up lining up with their ancient counterparts. Only then will monuments be named after them. With the possible return of history to school curricula, they’ll then be studied by posterity for lives well spent.
Locally, for instance, the architects of our independence from Britain had to pay dearly for it while they laboured. Not minding that Zikism didn’t tolerate any manner of jingoism, some of them ended up on the black book side of the colonialists. Only that, given the pervading circumstances, most ended up unsung.
Ditto those that suffered inconveniences that ranged from incarceration to exile while seeing to the birth of our present democracy. As it turned out, only a few of them lived to reap the harvest of their toil. Not when mere charlatans jumped aboard as the going got good, reaping where they never cultivated, let alone sowed.
A universal example worldwide remains the late Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Called all kinds of names by his traducers, he ended up in jail for nothing other than his beliefs. Yet he emerged, after a 27-year stint therein – mostly in solitary confinement and hard labour – to liberate his country from apartheid.
Today, Nigeria boasts many contemporary heroes. However, their enumeration is bound to be problematic – by half, I dare add. Like in any annotation of such magnitude, a damn lot of extenuating circumstances must arise. All the more so, given the intense groupings we have all been compartmentalised in presently by bad governance.
There is no doubt that in today’s Nigeria, a hero here may be a zero elsewhere. Yet, at the end of the day, names must remain that will at the dawn of time stand up to that unique line of our anthem. After all, it’s the tender palm frond that ends up forming the thick ramparts of the barn.
Without much prevarication, let me take the bull by the horn and hazard a nomination. Now, even in the Big Brother house, this must be followed through by a vote. However, since ours is an open house, it may be difficult to follow up on its outcome. But, nonetheless, the truth must be told.
My nominee for a present-day hero is none other than the current president of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU), Professor Victor Emmanuel Osodeke. A soil scientist at the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture (MOUA, Umudike Abia State, he assumed the hot seat in May, 2021.
Ever since, the Buhari government has not let him drop the cup in which the contents of the post were handed over to him by Biodun Ogunyemi, a professor of education at Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye. Indeed, the man has been sitting on that literary keg of gunpowder often read of in tales.
All on account of an agreement reached between the union and the government in 1990. A throwup dating back to the days on the post of the late Festus Iyayi (1987-1990), Atahiru Jega (1990-94) and Assisi Asobie (1994-2000).
Thus, the man is only at the butt of the government’s attack on account of his office being a continuum. A development the government only acknowledges in the territory of infrastructure. Like the 2nd Niger Bridge and the Kaduna-Zaria rail project which they inherited with the ASUU agreement.
Much unlike his predecessors, Osodeke has not had anything close to a respite ever since he assumed the office. Suddenly, strikes are no sooner called off as soon as the employer and employee agree at the negotiation table. As always, both sides end up making whatever concessions they can for students to return to classes.
Not any longer. The current strike that dates back to this year’s St Valentine’s day, has proved that different. To the extent that it has now transmuted to indefinite from its monthly rollovers. What with the government team playing Tom and Jerry with ASUU. The last effort chaired by the president’s Chief of Staff appears to be the last straw.
From buck passing between the education and labour ministries, it has come to a point where the FG may have to set up a taskforce for the engagement. Making many wonder what other duties the two ministers concerned are occupied with. Like many have been left to wonder, if they cannot sit down with ASUU, then they are technically unfit for the lofty posts they occupy.
In these days of our one-week-one-trouble subsistence as a nation, the debacle has merged with the rest to arrive at the most inauspicious of conclusions. Like the strike being left to linger because our government officials consider our local universities – state and federal – quacks. Only that they appear to be bent on driving them underground.
After all, not a week passes without the social media being swamped with pictures of family reunions abroad as their children graduate from well-funded schools abroad. This, coupled with the haste with which the government catches cold whenever the airlines sneeze, has made the assurance double.
But, even if not a supporter of the English football club Liverpool, Osodeke will never walk alone. There are many like him who attended our federal universities when they still stood up to the name. Yes, and some of us want that privilege attained by our offsprings.
His effort with his team may yet be unrecognisable now. Also, his passport photo may not be donning any of our devalued currencies yet. Yes, no news media can muster the gravitas to make him their Man Of The Year. But in all the agony, he is surely stepping into the shoes of heroes, unlike his multitude of his detractors.
*Uzoatu wrote in from Onitsha Anambra State