Thursday 4 October 2012

ERC’s 2012 Free Summer Coaching Ends with Symposium

“Free education is Possible if Nigeria’s Resources is Under Public Democratic Control and Management”

By Moshood Oshunfurewa and Chinedu Daniel

On Friday 14 September 2012, the ERC’s annual free summer coaching for the year 2012 came to an end with a colorful closing ceremony and symposium. The event was held at the Anglican primary school, Arumoh street, Ajegunle – venue of the over 6-week coaching. About 300 students participated in the 6-week coaching with about 33 volunteer teachers.

The free summer coaching is an annual program of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) in Ajegunle to provide free teaching to senior secondary school students who cannot afford the cost of private coaching centres. Poverty in Ajegunle (a sprawling urban slum in the heart of Lagos - ACN’s phoney mega city) is phenomenal. So are the housing condition and education facilities. 

The purpose of the program was also to demonstrate the possibility of free education. As speakers after speakers pointed out, the free coaching is a challenge to government at all levels and a condemnation of the lip-service which opposition political parties pay to education funding.

The ERC is a campaigning platform of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and it takes up issues of education under funding, commercialization, fee hikes and other attacks on education linking this with the necessity of a movement to change society.

A cross section of students

About 300 students participated in the 6-week coaching with about 33 volunteer teachers. Speaking at the closing ceremony were Dagga Tolar (Chairman Lagos State Association of Nigerian Authors and member of the Democratic Socialist Movement), Hassan Taiwo Soweto (ERC National Coordinator) as well as other invited guests. 
Close to 500 people were in attendance including parents and people from the Ajegunle community many of whom excitedly joined the program. Notebooks, text books on varying subjects and novels were presented to sixteen students who performed well in their study and those with regular class attendance during the coaching. About 6 television and print media organizations covered the closing ceremony. Interestingly, Indomie noodles brought free lunch for the students and volunteer teachers.

The program, which was anchored by two secondary school students (both students at the coaching) opened with a rendition of ERC anthem. Afterwards Ifeoma Obi (a member of the DSM) gave a key note address in which she stated that the ERC lesson had proved that free public funded education is possible in Nigeria especially if society’s resources are appropriately and democratically managed. According to her, it is possible to wipe off illiteracy from society. This is why the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) is building the ERC as a campaigning platform to mobilize for actions against government neo-liberal education policies.
Next was time for poetry recitation. Hope Patrick, a Senior Secondary School 1 student read a beautiful poem dedicated to the ERC. Another – a budding stand-up comedian - treated the audience to laughter as he reeled off one joke after another.
There were also drama performances in which students argued the case for free education with safe learning environment and up-to-date teaching facilities. One of the drama performances was presented by AJ house of poetry. The demonstration in drama of these rights helped to further enlighten the audience on the rights to education and the necessity of taking actions to enforce them. There were also ballad dances, singing and riddles.
AJ Dagga Tolar, Chairman Association of Nigerian Authors Lagos state Chapter, speaking at the event

These performances were followed by speeches from Dagga Tolar and Soweto on the theme: “The condition of education and prospect for the future”. They used the opportunity to condemn the false free and compulsory education policy of the Lagos State government and the hike of fees at the Lagos State University (LASU). They also called for the provision of free and functional public funded education under democratic management.
Dagga Tolar highlighted government’s neo-liberal capitalist policies as what is fundamentally responsible for the collapse and degeneration of public schools. Nigeria is making huge revenue daily from the sales of crude oil, but looking at the condition of public education we need to ask where these monies are. He called for a poor and working people’s government as the only way to take control of Nigeria’s resources from the hands of the capitalist looters and begin to use these resources democratically to fund education and improve people’s living standards. 

Soweto took up the claim of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) –led Lagos State government’s claim of implementing free education in public secondary schools. This is not just a lie but the condition of public education has deteriorated seriously under the 12-year reign of the party in Lagos. He pointed to the astronomic fee hike at the Lagos State University (LASU) as an attack that aims to shut the door on the thousands of school students whose parents are so poor that they cannot even afford the cost of summer coaching.
This also points to the anti-poor character of the ACN despite their attempt to pass themselves off to voters as the progressive wing of the ruling class. He delved into history to show how the current anti-poor education policy of the ACN contradicts the free education policy of their acclaimed progenitor – late chief Obafemi Awolowo and his party in the first and second republics. Despite limitations, the free education program of the Action Group (AG) in the first republic opened up access to education to vast majority in the old western region. Now today the ACN which is the purported political offspring of the AG is doing the exact opposite – shutting the door of education in the faces of vast majority as LASU fee hike demonstrates.

HT Soweto, National Coordinator of ERC

While the members of the Nigerian ruling class from all political parties sing the chorus that free education is not possible, a majority, if not all, of the present political office holders benefited from the free education program especially in the old western region. Without this policy, many of them would be illiterates today. Now with Nigeria earning several times from the sale of crude oil than was ever possible when cash crop farming constituted the major economic activity, the capitalist looters continue to say free education is not possible.

He alighted to students that the ERC free coaching is to prove that free public education is possible in Nigeria. This is why the DSM not only fight education attacks, we also fight and organize to overthrow capitalism in Nigeria and install a workers and poor people’s government which armed with democratic socialist economic policies of public ownership and democratic workers management of key sectors of the economy can ensure society’s resources is used judiciously in the interest of the vast majority. Under these capitalist locusts, the new generations of youths have a lot to fight for. They have to fight to improve their present conditions as well as to secure their future. Linked with the pricing of education out of the reach of the poor is the crisis of unemployment with over 28 million youth unemployment. 

One of the students receiving prizes from Comrade Victor Osakwe, member of DSM's NEC 

Contributing to the discussion, Robert O. Gwawoh (a volunteer teacher) commended the ERC for introducing free summer coaching in the community. Ocho (a secondary school student and DSM member) urged his colleagues to be active in the campaigns of the ERC against government’s neo-liberal education policies.

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