No to Attack on Democratic Right to Protest against Bad Policies
We Urge ASUU to Take the Struggle to the Next Level by Naming a Day of Nationwide Mass Protest
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) welcomes the decision of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to engage in mass protests and demonstrations to further build support for the on-going strike. Recall that right from the first day of the strike the ERC had issued several public statements arguing for this very same strategy. We are confident that the strategy of mass action which has now been adopted by ASUU will go a long way to strengthen the strike and help popularise the striking lecturers' demands amongst the general populace.
Unfortunately however the protest actions by ASUU members have come under brutal attacks by the Nigerian police. On October 16, protesting members of ASUU at the Ebonyi State University (EBSU) were barricaded in their University premises by over 200 policemen obeying the orders of the Commissioner of Police to prevent the lecturers from marching on the streets of Abakaliki. Similarly on Monday 21 October, over 1000 policemen barricaded protesting lecturers of the University of Calabar (UNICAL) in their University premises. The police claimed to be acting on "orders from above". Also on Tuesday 22nd October 2013, Bayelsa Police prevented striking lecturers of the Niger Delta University (NDU) from holding a peaceful procession on the streets and threatened to arrest them. Equally on Thursday October 24 and Friday October 25, 2013 respectively at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA) and Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike, Abia State, peaceful protests by ASUU members were disrupted when policemen stormed and barricaded the campuses' entrance to prevent striking lecturers from taking their rallies into the towns.
We strongly condemn these attacks and the undemocratic restrictions imposed by the Police on protesting ASUU members across the country. The ERC believes Nigerians have the right to peaceful assembly. The idea that the police must first issue permit before an assembly can take place is an anachronistic and undemocratic carryover from Nigeria's colonial past and is not supported by the 1999 Constitution.
This condemnable and detestable treatment of University lecturers by the police is a national shame. It is nothing short of brutality and harassment. The Federal Government has completely lost any modicum of respect for the citizens. Is it not enough shame that our Universities have been shut for 4 months while academic activities in polytechnics are equally suspended in a country under the rule of an "elected" government? Now added to our Nation's roll call of ignominy is the ugly spectacle of a supposedly democratic government willfully ordering police armed with loaded guns, tear gas and horse whips to barricade its academics for simply exercising their democratic rights to freedom of assembly.
The Inspector General of Police obviously has questions to answer about these brutal attacks on democratic rights occurring right under the nose of a democratic government. In each of the three cases cited above, the Police have claimed they restricted the lecturers to their campuses to prevent hoodlums from hijacking their protests. The real reason however is that the government fear that the striking lecturers will get favourable response from the mass of students, youths and working people if they are able to take their protests into the streets and towns.
Few weeks ago, the same government and the same Police allowed a rented crowd of market women numbering hundreds to protest in Abuja and were even warmly received by a Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education. Equally days ago, another crowd led by the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) closed down the Asaba Onitsha Axis of the Niger Bridge and held up traffic for hours under the protective watch of the Police. Now the only difference between the lecturers and the second group of protesters is that while the lecturers correctly blames the Federal Government for the crisis in the education sector and the inevitability of strike action, the latter obviously paid by the Federal Government and cleverly using the frustration of genuine students as smokescreen put all blames on ASUU.
While we support the right of everyone irrespective of their positions for or against the strike to peaceful assembly and protest, we have very good reasons to believe the police are guilty of selective clampdown on striking lecturers and all those who in their quest to rescue public education from collapse supports the ASUU and ASUP strikes.
We warn the Inspector General of Police to call his men to order and desist from harassing University lecturers who are on strike and are protesting to fight for better funding of public education and provision of facilities in schools. Unless Nigerians support ASUU and ASUP to win the struggle to save public education from underfunding and profiteering, Nigeria will continue to drift perilously into perfidy and anomie. Already reports have it that about 46 million adults are illiterate. Likewise, over 10.5 million school-age children are out of school. It is these ignoble conditions in our education sector that ASUU and its members are striking and fighting to reverse and for which they deserve support and solidarity, not police harassment and insult.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Michael Ogundele
National Coordinator National Secretary