It is not likely that the perpetrators of the recent mayhem and attendant damage in the university town of Amassoma, home to the Niger Delta University (NDU) appreciated the fuller import of their dubious enterprise, not only on the institution but the wider terrain of the development agenda of the Niger Delta region. While they would have cited as their primary motivation, their inclination to vent their spleen on the Bayelsa State Government, they ended up picking the wrong sacrificial lamb – the NDU, thereby stirring up a crisis which in turn generated significant implications.
Last week a group of hoodlums, citing their opposition to the spate of reforms in the Bayelsa State public service by, launched an unprovoked attack on the NDU premises with the aim of disrupting normal academic as well as other business activities in the vicinity. Their grudge was that some of them were affected by the rationalization exercise courtesy of the reforms by the Seriake Dickson led administration in the state. According to some reports the agitators claimed that being indigenes of Amassoma the base of the NDU, they could not be retired or retrenched from the services of that establishment simply because it is located in their homeland.
In the wave of anomie which followed, valuable assets of the university including computers, office furniture, laboratory equipment, office, vehicles and other property were either looted or destroyed. Expectedly there was to follow their assault an intervention by the security agencies which led to a confrontation between them and the latter, and which resulted in consequences that were subjected to conflicting reports in the media.
For instance, according to the Bayelsa State Commissioner of Police the charismatic Mr Dan Awunah who is also a former Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), beyond the massive damage to police equipment and other properties, no life was lost even as some of his personnel sustained injuries of various degrees, which he described as part of the hazards of their job. However reports from several media outlets cite loss of lives which perhaps due to the circumstances of the mayhem could be concealed from the Police, especially by the sponsors of the melee.
Be that as it may, beyond the conflicting pictures of the scenario lies the inescapable fact of desecration of a hallowed precincts of the NDU, humble as it may seem in the perception of its traducers and such, based on a misplaced grudge. For what they perceived as the sins of the Bayelsa State government, they pounced on the NDU.
All over the world dissatisfied members of any community including university communities, engage in various forms of protests over equally varied causes, justified or otherwise. And in this country’s present democratic dispensation dissent enjoys a wide latitude even if the outcome may not always favour the dissenting parties. Yet it remains the avenue for the expression of alternatives to positions maintained by the establishment.
However for any agitator to allow the stirrings of dissent to overwhelm his or her thinking and induces such to engage in destructive actions which lead to wanton destruction of lives and property, is clearly a case of going beyond the edge. The normal consequence of such excesses is a trip into more trouble than could have been envisaged ab initio.
In the case of the build up of circumstances that led to the Amassoma debacle, hardly can the causative factors be far from a failure of leadership starting from the immediate community and even at the level of the state and federal governments. A post mortem of the situation in Amassoma recalls the typical trajectory of the various protests by agitating youth of the zone, which would traditionally be unheeded until the breaking point when mayhem results and the killing spree starts.
As events prove, the crisis was easy to foresee and therefore forestall. The truth is that while the Bayelsa state government exercised its legitimate powers to launch a series of sweeping reforms in the public service, such a prerogative was not to be exercised without consideration of likely fallouts that could be unhelpful. It is even significant that the ongoing reforms enjoy endorsement by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on the expectation that such would provide the basis for building enduring institutions that would see the future. Yet just as the NLC leadership cautioned the state government over the implementation of the reforms, its endowment with a human face remained the success factor. Nothing therefore precludes the state government from engaging the aggrieved workers and their agitating proxies in prolonged dialogue that would lead to a meeting of the parties midway in negotiations. From the trend of events it is likely that such did not take place.
In another vein the crisis in Amassoma also teaches that the paradigm for public service reforms in the country is essentially inchoate and can do with some fine tuning. The Nigerian public service has long transmuted from a service delivery facility to a relief agency that provides not jobs but avenues for well positioned individuals to appropriate public largesse for self sustenance. In most instances job vacancies are not created to rejig the system for more efficient service delivery but to distribute favours to friends of the powers that be. Little wonder that the reforms by the Bayelsa State government faced the series of bumps and twists on the way including the Amassoma NDU challenge.
This syndrome of distorted mission of the public service – ugly as it is, is not confined to Bayelsa State but is the state of affairs in the public service across the country.