STILL ON SAVING PUBLIC EDUCATION
At the ERC organized public meeting on 17th August 2013, student and staff activists exhausted hours to pour out their minds on the deplorable state of public education in Nigeria and the tactics and strategy required in saving it. The theme of the meeting itself-"Building a united movement against attacks on public education: the roles of students and workers"-helped to stimulate the contributions of the speakers and participants. The speakers who led the discussion at this meeting were H.T Soweto (National Coordinator, ERC), Dr. Oyewumi (Vice-Chairman, ASUU-LASU) and Ayantuga Adetola Deputy coordinator, NANS Zone D.
While delivering his speech, H.T Soweto placed emphasis on the deplorable state of public education in Nigeria, which exists side by side with the abundant wealth of the country and the super salary earned by public office holders. Nigeria's public education is enmeshed in this current crisis because of the profit-first priority of the capitalist ruling class. Therefore to salvage this situation, students, parents and staff should be united with programmatic actions against calculated attacks of government.
|Dr. Oyewumi, Deputy Chair, ASUU LASU|
Dr Oyewumi, who represented the Chairman of ASUU LASU, gave an analytical presentation while discussing the theme of the meeting. For him, the attacker of public education is the government who has the vast resources of the society in its custody, yet this government gives far less resources than what is needed to the education sector.
Last week, the Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the economy, Okonjo Iweala, made the claim that the Federal Government does not have money to meet ASUU's demands. Responding, Dr Oyewunmi pointed out that "the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) made N5.4 trillion in 2012 alone." This is aside other major sources of revenue as crude oil sale, excess crude account being shared and looted by all tiers of government. Recognizing the class division of Nigera's Society as a factor in understanding the crisis of public education, Dr. Oyewunmi declared "we are the ordinary Nigerians, they (the ruling elite) are not ordinary. Fela compared them to armed robbers ... Many members of the ruling elite (Obasanjo, Atiku, Babangida etc) own private Universities so they don't want public universities to thrive".
Fee Hike and the Crisis of Education Funding
The highlight of Dr. Oyewunmi's speech was his exposure, by using the Lagos State University as a case study, of how fee hike cannot be relied upon to fund education but will instead wreck it. The Chairman of ASUU LASU is already being witchhunted and persecuted by the Lagos State government for granting a newspaper interview where he expressed similar views. Comrade Raheem called for an open mass campaign by ASUU LASU to defeat the with-hunt. However this did not deter Dr. Oyewunmi from exposing the wrecking of LASU to the meeting's delight. According to him, for instance "the most fee paying faculty is the College of Medicine. We have 480 students paying 350,000 running into over N4.9 million. But the staff of the University requires about 85million as monthly salary. So if students' fees should be the source of education funding, we can see how this will not work but will only lead to decay and destruction of education as we now see happening in LASU".
The impact on students has been devastating. Example was given of a parent who sold their car to pay for their son's first year fees. They did not know he would have to pay the huge amount over the next three years. So when by the second year, their son came back home asking for another N350,000, the parents had to take a painful decision: he had to drop out since they have nothing else worth selling again! This is just a bit of the many instances of the APC Lagos State government destroying lives and dreams.
Together with crashed dreams, LASU as an institution is collapsing fast. Patronage for LASU has dropped over the last three years. Now many courses and programs in the institution face rationalization with attendant job losses. Solution to LASU's crisis will have to begin with reversal of the hiked fees. Regrettably the Lagos State government is not even considering it. This can only be resolved by struggle. Activists at the meeting called on ASUU and the LASU Students Union to join hands to build a struggle to challenge the fee hike and fight for its reversal.
Dr. Oyewunmi's exposure of LASU also helped to provoke debate about how mutual solidarity can be built between students and ASUU. There is the feeling among some students that while ASUU always seeks students' support for their struggles, they fail to give the same when students are fighting against fee hike, victimisation, ban of unions and other anti-student policies. Ola from the University of Ibadan and Keye Ewebiyi (a former Secretary General of the LASU students Union) specifically questioned ASUU's attitude and approach when students protests against the LASU fee hike began. Patrick Benjamin from the University of Benin (UNIBEN) asked whether or not ASUU helps to defend students activists in cases of politically-motivated victimisations from school authorities.
But while reacting to these questions, Dr Oyewumi said that there is no solidarity gap between the academic staff and students. He cited the popular LASU 2011 struggle against an astronomical increment as an instance of this very cordial solidarity. According to him, while students were on the street protesting, ASUU was also at the background appealing to the government to heed to the demands of the protesting students. But as Keye Ewebiyi made clear at the meeting, "background" or "underground" support is not enough, what is required at every point in time students are fighting for their rights is public and open solidarity from ASUU such as students periodically gives and are presently giving ASUU in their on-going strike. As a step in this direction, ASUU LASU should issue a public statement to condemn the fee increment and call for its reversal.
ASUU Must Name a Day for National Protest and Demonstration
According to Soweto, the claim that government has no money to meet ASUU's demands, in a third-world country whose Senators earn more than the United States President, is provocative and vexatious. It shows the contempt which the government of super-rich ruling elites has for public education. We must respond with outrage against this claim and the government which has made it. ASUU must declare a day of national protest to mobilise its members, students and the mass of people to confront this government. Such a day of mass protest will also provide a good opportunity to expose the government's insincerity towards public education. Public forums like town hall meetings should also be convened as part of the mass activities to mobilise for the national day of action.
|Hassan Taiwo Soweto, ERC National Coordinator|
Dr. Oyewunmi advocated that students and workers who are being attacked by the hostile policy of the government must come together to end these numerous attacks. He warned that if such a synergy is not reached, government will continually neglect its social function and the poor and innocent masses will bear the brunt. This is very true. While ASUU has spearheaded the struggle to save public education, it is dangerous to believe ASUU can win through its own powers alone. Rather it will require building a united movement linking together ASUU, SSANU, NASU, NAAT, ASUP, COEASU and NANS in joint protests and demonstrations.
This has been the central plank of ERC’s agitations among education workers involved in strikes and struggles. While we recognise the mutual suspicion and disagreements which exists in the relationship among the unions in the education sector today, we believe experience in joint struggle can help build a far better comradely relationship and mutual trust among them. This is especially in relation to the needs assessment report that has caused cleavage between ASUU and non-academic unions in universities who suspect that the implementation of the report will lead to mass retrenchment of their members. All the unions especially ASUU must ensure that the implementation of the report, which emphasizes provision of the adequate facilities for quality education, does not lead to loss of Jobs in universities.
Ultimately, forging unity among the unions in the education sector is very crucial to building a strong mass resistance to government neo-liberal onslaught on public education. Also is the need for the entire labour movement to take up the struggle to save public education. As a step in this direction, Comrade Raheem reiterated the call for the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to mobilise for a 48-hour general strike and mass protest to back the on-going ASUU strike as well as the struggle for provision of public fundded and democratically-managed education system.
Is it Shameful for Lecturers To Protest?
As the meeting made clear, the wrong idea that academics being elite members of society (i.e. Intellectuals) cannot be seen to be protesting has to be challenged among the ranks of ASUU. Unfortunately by not fully agreeing with the suggestion for ASUU to call a national protest, Dr. Oyewunmi betrayed some sentiments similar to this at the public meeting. Reacting to calls made at the meeting by ERC members and students activists that ASUU should name a day of national protest, he noted that the "deliberative democracy" in ASUU hinders radical activities. Similarly, he noted that the ASUU employs intellectual method in struggle instead of mass actions because of the age and social status of the university teachers!
The reality is that capitalism makes no distinction between intellectual workers and ordinary workers in its exploitation. For instance lecturers work in terrible conditions and in offices and with facilities so decrepit that it already scandalizes and belittles the status of academics. For capitalism as well, age is just numbers! Just few months ago, pensioners (with ages in the range of 80 years and above) had to embark on protest to demand payments of their entitlements!
Together with this is the propaganda regularly mounted by government to embarrass lecturers anytime they are demanding for their legitimate rights. One of this is the recent blackmail that all ASUU is asking for is a huge N92 billion as earned allowances for its members alone. Meanwhile, when broken down per lecturers, all the earned allowance amounts to is N12, 500 each. It is the non-payment of this allowance since 2009 when it was agreed that made it pile up to N87 billion and not the N92b government is claiming. Besides, the earned allowance only constitute of a minor part of the general demand of ASUU for adequate funding and provision of functional facilities in universities.
|Chinedu Agbebire, DSM Abia State|
Faced with all these embarrassing blackmails and yet remaining on a sit-at-home strike is dangerous. ASUU need to urgently bring out its members to the street in protests and demonstrations to engage with the public and begin to challenge, with facts and arguments, governments propaganda and blackmail. Suffice to stress that the current strike embarked upon by ASUU would inevitably be defeated if it continues to be seen and prosecuted as a sit-at-home strike alone without demonstrations and street protests called and mobilised for by ASUU. During a similar national strike in 2009, it was the street protests and demonstrations organized by ASUU that prevented the breaking of the strike in a number of Universities across the country. If protests worked in 2009, then it is all the more reason why ASUU should make the best use of it now by naming a day of a national protest.
Tasks for the Student Movement
The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) Zone D Deputy coordinator, Ayantuga Adetola told the meeting that NANS Zone D is ready to use the medium of the ongoing struggle to save public education to push the demands of Nigerian students before the Nigerian government. Therefore to establish this, he declared that NANS would continue with the struggle to save public education even if the ongoing strike of ASUU is called off.
|Ayantuga Adetola, Deputy Coordinator, NANS Zone D|
But as Soweto pointed out, for the NANS Zone D to be in a position to do this, it must be armed with concrete programs of action that can mobilise and galvanise masses of students into struggle. Expressing similar opinion, Comrade Chinedu Agbebire said that "For NANS Zone D to win the respect of rank and file students, there is need for it to come up with programs that are pro-student, pro-public education and anti-capitalist ... Indeed i believe NANS Zone D must call a one-day nationwide mass action". As Comrade Ola explained, NANS Zone D's collaboration with JAF for August 13 protest rally should not be an excuse for it not to try to come up with its own independent activities. While solidarising with the ASUU strike, there is the need for students to create their own campaign with demands on issues that affects students and use this as a rallying cry to mobilise mass actions. This would however demand that the NANS constitutional arrangement where-in affiliating unions are required to pay a certain sum as capitation fee is resurrected to ensure NANS is able to raise its own funding for its activities and to also ensure accountability and democratic monitoring of how such monies are spent.
|Ola Jimoh, ERC University of Ibadan|
There are many issues around which an independent student-led campaign can be built. Comrade Jamaal reported about the N20,000 fee regime at the Osun State College of Education (OSCOED) Ilesa. Similarly comrade Titus from the Polytechnic Ibadan (Ibadan Poly) reported about a new policy of the school management which consists of insisting that all students who wish to vote in the Students Union elections must buy an audio CD which has contents supporting and praise-singing the Ajimobi-led government of Oyo state. Patrick Benjamin from UNIBEN reported about the recent killing of a student by a Police DPO, the cover-up and students cry for justice. There are also the fee hikes in LASU and EKSU as well as proscription of student unionism in UNILAG and OAU. All these are enough to call well-mobilised protests and demonstrations.
The NANS Zone D leadership broke from the general run of pro-government and anti-ASUU opinion in the NANS bureaucracy to support the strike. The NANS Zone D organised the August 13 protest alongside with JAF and ASUU. This is a commendable development as it demonstrates the enduring power and impact of grassroots campus-based campaigns. While "talking with the leadership" could have played some role, that this same tactics did not work with the national leadership of NANS which was also "talked with" but has continued to stick with its pro-government stance shows other factors were involved. The fundamental factor is that the Southwest (zone D) NANS leadership sits atop a base of rank and file students different from what obtains in other zones of NANS. It was ultimately pressure from below that radicalised the NANS Zone D leadership.
However as most activists at the meeting noted, the current period no doubt provides an opportunity to step up the campaign for the rebuilding, reclaiming and revival of NANS and the student movement. This also means we have to take up all over again and popularize those old slogans (which were popular when NANS was still mass-based and permitted debate and agitations) as well as creating new and necessary ones to argue for a democratic, independent, self-funded, ideological-driven and fighting NANS.
Call for a Student Gathering/Mass Assembly
Summing up discussion, Soweto warned that only the maintenance of mass pressure from below can guarantee the continuous support of the NANS leadership for the struggle. This can only be made possible by constantly mobilising or suggesting to the leadership programs and activities like rallies, congresses, public meetings, symposia etc that can keep them constantly in touch with students’ mood and opinion.
For instance, the ERC is calling for a special student gathering/congress to be held regularly during this on-going strike to act as a mass assembly of students to coordinate the struggle. There is a huge potential for the convocation of such a special students congress/assembly to be successful if the NANS Zone D leadership energetically mobilise for it. Such a congress/assembly which we strongly suggest to be convoked in the major urban centers like Osogbo, Ibadan or Lagos could be held on a campus or public venues like Gani Fawehinmi park or the NLC secretariat in Lagos will bring together union activists and rank and file students to debate and discuss the on-going strike, review previous actions and collectively plan new mass actions. Through this kind of gathering, it will possible to radically transform the outlook of the NANS Zone D leadership and transform the nature of the NANS Zone D itself such that it comes out of this struggle as a democratic, mass-based and fighting student platform.
|Seliat, OOU Ago-Iwoye|
Above all, while commending the leadership for the little it has done, activists must continue to challenge them to fight harder. A contrary approach would simply be opportunistic. Seliat from the Olabisi Onabajo University (OOU) challenged NANS Zone D leadership to stand out in its actions from the national leadersship of NANS in order to reactivate students' confidence in NANS. According to her "NANS Zone D has the power to do more than the light student mobilisation it did for last Tuesday's August 13 protest rally. NANS should do more and serve as examples to other zones!".
This is a bold challenge that the NANS Zone D leadership must take up in mobilisation for future actions. However given the pro-government and anti-struggle outlook of many local union leaders, a mobilisation strategy that focuses on appealing to the local union leaders to mobilise their members into buses and convey them to protest venues will continue to yield such few turnout as we saw on August 13. Because of the strike, there are very few students on campuses. Many people expressed disappointment later at not having been sufficiently aware of the protest. Also such is the level of corruption in the student movement that these local union leaders often demand to be paid before they mobilize students!
A fighting NANS Zone D leadership would have to come up with a more realistic and effective means of mobilisation which should consist of pasting posters and circulating leaflets on campuses but more importantly in the streets, bus stops, markets and communities where countless students who have returned home as a result of the strike could be independently reached with the mobilisational materials for action.
Of vital necessity however is the need to link the struggle to save public education with the urgent necessity to end capitalism by building an alternative political party of workers and poor people. Only a socialist transformation of Nigeria anchored on the public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under working peoples democratic control and management can guarantee adequate funding for public education and other vital social services.