Hakeem Baba-Ahmad: ASUU strike – Mr. President, please look closely, you have no last card to play

by Hakeem Baba-Ahmad


There is evidence around that President Goodluck Jonathan is toughing up his mien. He is not heeding the caution that you stop digging when you are in a deep hole. This can be explained by a number of possible reasons. One is poor appreciation of the circumstances in which he takes decisions.

“When brothers fight to the death, a stranger inherits their father’s estate.”— Igbo proverb

There is evidence around that President Goodluck Jonathan is toughing up his mien. He is not heeding the caution that you stop digging when you are in a deep hole. This can be explained by a number of possible reasons. One is poor appreciation of the circumstances in which he takes decisions.

Another is a possible conviction that no matter how bad his situation is, his adversaries are or will be worse off. A third is the possibility that his key decisions are being made by others, and he is merely going though the motion of governing. For a President who is desperate to convince a nation that he is dealing with its many challenges, Jonathan’s scorecard in crisis management, at least, will not be the type you show others.

Take the case of the crisis tearing at his party. This should be a matter of utmost priority for a President who by all intents and purpose, needs a party with the muscle and the spread of the PDP, if not to run on its platform again in 2015, at least to finish his term in 2015 without leaving the nation in shambles. He had been involved in attempts to rein-in rebellious PDP governors, initially a small band bound by disparate grievances triggered by his ambitions or the bungling of powerful people personally related to him or leading his party. The more he became personally involved in attempts to resolve the crisis, the more the governors realised that he was not in effective control of all the mechanisms for resolution.

When you see people like Chief Tony Anenih look at a problem, handle it and then walk away shaking their heads, you know it is not a small problem. All former Heads of State, former party chairmen and sundry elders have been prodded by all sides to no avail. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo walked on this side of the street, then on that side, attempting to choreograph an outcome that will suit him in the end. The former PDP governors prevaricated. They knew the hazards involved in defecting from the awesome machine that is the PDP, yet there was little room for them to stay. What the President gave, Bamanga Tukur took away every time with abuses and insults. The governors had apparently made up their minds a long time ago to leave a party they had castigated and ridiculed in public, making demands they knew the President had little political will to deliver on. It now appears that Tukur and a few others also knew that the governors were bent on leaving anyway, so keeping the door open was of no value.

In the end, the governors made the decision to take the plunge, without two of their key members. These two stayed behind and decided to meet the same President who couldn’t convince their compatriots to stay action, and couldn’t deliver on any of the demands they made even when there were seven of them. Perhaps Babangida and Lamido know something their colleagues now in the opposition do not. Could one of them be primed to run on the platform of the PDP in place of Jonathan in 2015 as a desperate move to save the PDP from total collapse? Would these two have more to lose in defecting than the five? Could their trust threshold on President Jonathan be higher than the defectors, and therefore they expect him to do magic and make all the bitterness and fears go away? Can Jonathan convince them to stay on the ship? What will he offer that he did not offer to seven governors? How would he get these two to sit in the same room with him, Tukur and a few others even as the media is still reporting nasty insults being flung all over the place?

Now take the case of the presidential directive to federal universities to re-open and to sack teachers who refuse to resume. The President had sent in Ministers of Finance, Labour and Education to get the lecturers to budge, to no avail. He made offers and even directed release of some funds. Then he got personally involved through a long meeting he held with ASUU leadership. They left and said he would hear from them. He saw light at the end of the tunnel, because he thought when unions met with the President, they routinely submitted. What ASUU saw was a President who was desperate enough to get personally involved in negotiations to get them back, but had nothing to give but assurances and promises. They went back and attempted to tie him up more securely to his promises. A President who expected a mass resumption even with a pause to lament the demise of one of ASUU’s pillars then saw a re-arranged and re-invigorated set of demands, basically demanding tighter guarantees that he will keep his words.

That, for the President, was subversive contempt. His next move was to play his last card: as employer, he orders them to resume or get the sack. If President Jonathan had looked closely, he would have realised that he had no last card to play. He played it when he held that marathon meeting with a union long used to “consulting”, and therefore went to sleep without sealing an agreement. University Vice Chancellors will, of course, say universities are open. Police could guarantee that students will walk through gates, unmolested. University senates made up of ASUU members, in a few places, may even go through the motion of agreeing that teaching can resume. But there will be little or no teaching. Some students may turn up, spend a few idle days and go back home. They know that universities without teaching are unsafe. Some teachers could resume, but most will stay away. They have endured months of empty pockets, and many are being told that this strike is more political than about academic standards. Splits will occur in universities where Vice Chancellors insist registers are signed, and those who teach will be pitched against those who do not. All in all, universities will become more volatile and insecure, and it is doubtful if the police alone can guarantee both teaching and harmony in them.

It is conceivable that President Jonathan has chosen to show a tougher aspect of his character. This is fine in leaders who are being taken for granted on perceptions of being weak or indecisive. In the case of his defected PDP governors, he has allowed too much damage to occur, and the two who are still talking to him are unlikely to have huge quantities of faith in his ability to assure them that they are safe and secure. He may well heed the warning of some close to him that they too are going through the motion of reconciliation before telling the world that the PDP is a sinking ship. If he has any designs for them, he will be well advised to be wary of politicians who may not have a very high opinion of his capacity to control political stresses and tensions.

In the case of ASUU, President Jonathan appears to have ignored the advice that if you are in a deep role, the first thing you do is to stop digging. It was the wrong decision to take, when you do not have the capacity to enforce it. Leaders make mistakes. Good leaders take steps to correct them. President Jonathan should re-engage ASUU in further negotiations.

Read this article in the Vanguard Newspapers
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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