A few tabloids had predicted a showdown between government representatives and those of the English-speaking teachers’ trade unions before the two sides began their meeting in Bamenda last Tuesday.
Everything seemed to have countered that feeling until what can be considered a detail came to spoil the soup as it were. The strenuous effort to bring together four members of government and representatives of the teachers under one roof for a fruitful discussion suddenly became complicated when some of the trade unionists put up a new conditionality: participation of their colleagues from the South-West, release of “kidnapped and detained children” following the recent violence in Bamenda.
When deliberations started in the Governor’s conference hall at about 11 am, the sheer act was seen as a major breakthrough in the running rumpus which has kept primary and secondary school pupils and students out of class for the past two months and raised much hope about the possibility of ending the impasse and getting these children back to school for the second term.
For many long years, it was the first time the problems wrecking the Anglophone sub-system of education were going to be addressed at such a high level with the principal stakeholders – including the Ministers of Higher Education, Secondary Education and Primary Education – physically present and under one roof. This come together was seen by many as a vindication of the government’s desire, for once and, probably for all, to squarely address the nagging problems encountered by the English Language sub-system of education in the country.
The high hopes raised by the meeting suddenly took a wrong twist when some representatives of the teachers’ unions staged a walk out at about 2 PM insisting that the conditions mentioned above had to be fulfilled before their participation could continue. To fully grasp the gravity of the act posed by the teachers, one must take a fast review of what has happened before the Bamenda meeting.
The government literally accepted all the eleven points proposed for discussion by the unions; so did it accept the timelines set by them and the Prime Minister’s Office has treated every issue relating the situation with expediency. When the three members of government were coming to Bamenda, it was understood that discussions were to be focused on the agenda proposed, in the first place, by the teachers.
How come it then that a detail, unconnected with the future of the Anglophone sub-system of education suddenly came into the fray, to the extent of blocking deliberations and causing an avoidable stalemate in a movement that had begun to produce good results? At the very best, it’s like inviting one for an “achu” meal and once at table, he is told that all that is available is “ndole” or at the very worst changing the rules of a football match while players are already on the pitch!
The trade unionists move can be faulted on two issues: their inability to respect a mutually accepted agenda and their attempt to undermine the problem of Anglophone education by insisting on a human interest detail whereas the main issue was manifestly sidelined. The issue here is about the future of Anglophone education which is threatened by incursions from its sister Francophone sub-system. That is why the strike action has received such massive support from the grassroots, including parents who are eagerly waiting to see improvements made on the system after the ongoing talks.
Posterity will be very ruthless to the key players for missing this God-given opportunity to sit down and address the problem. And refusing to take the full measure of the urgency of the opportunity will amount to playing into the hands of those we accuse of threatening the system. For the sake of children of the Anglophone sub-system, it is urgent and imperative to get back to the discussion table because our acts of today may be considered by generations to come as swashbuckling adventure.