"Students Need A NANS That Can Fight Like ASUU for The Interest of its Members"
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) heartily welcomes the news of the suspension of the indefinite and nationwide strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on the basis of government concessions. We congratulate the members and leadership of ASUU for this victory. Most especially we congratulate ASUU for showing exemplary perseverance, courage and determination while the strike lasted. This victory is an inspiration to students, youth and the working masses that struggle pays. But vigilance must be maintained to ensure that this agreement is implemented and the promised funds are not looted.
Starting from July 1st 2013, University lecturers downed tools in a crucial struggle to reposition the public university system. The key demand was the implementation of the 2009 FGN-ASUU agreement. At the height of the strike, the Federal Government claimed the agreement was not implementable! However few months after making this declaration and two weeks after issuing sack threats to University lecturers, the same Federal Government bowed to the power of struggle by agreeing even if partially to begin to take seriously its responsibility to the funding of the public university system.
The most important lesson to be learnt here is that the corrupt capitalist ruling elite gives nothing on a platter of gold, the oppressed can only win any demand if they are willing to fight tenaciously for it not minding the sacrifice nor consequence. This contrast sharply with the shameful manner the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) abandoned their 2008 demand for N52,500 minimum wage in exchange for a promise of a paltry N18,000 in 2011 allegedly because of their "concern for the economy". Today workers are not even being paid the N18,000.
We also commend Nigerian students and parents who whilst bearing the difficult burden of the strike never wavered or despaired in the conviction that ASUU is right while the government is to be blamed for the decay of our public education system. The Yinka-Gbadebo leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) must now hide its face in shame. For the first time in history, NANS openly and publicly worked to scuttle a struggle meant to alleviate the suffering of Nigerian students by compelling government to fund the public university system by rehabilitating the facilities in our universities. Prior to now, pro-government NANS leaders often ply their dirty trade of wheeling and dealing with the government in secret. The Yinka Gbadebo leadership will go down in history as a leadership that has raised the bar of NANS degeneration and complete irrelevance in the dire struggle to reposition the education sector.
But as students prepare to return to campuses by January 2014, they must also be prepared to mobilize to reclaim their students unions and NANS from the pro-government cabal that has taken them over. We need a NANS that can fight courageously like ASUU for the interest of its members. The victorious ASUU strike must inspire Nigerian students to also desire a union that can boldly stand for the interest of its members without fear or compromise. NANS can be built as a fighting union like ASUU if it is reclaimed from the state agents masquerading as its elected officials. Indeed without replacing the current rightwing leadership of NANS at all levels and making NANS democratic and accountable to its members, the student movement will be unable to rise to the task of fighting against fee hike, for better living and studying conditions and to save the entire public education system.
No doubt with this victory, ASUU has helped to graphically demonstrate how trade unions, students and indeed all oppressed people of this country must fight for their right. ASUU has helped to show that "if we fight , we can win". ASUU has also shown by this victory and by the unity of its members, the boldness of its leadership and its daring conviction to bear whatever consequences that may come those essential qualities required to fight and win struggles but which regrettably are missing in the labour movement and most tragically in the student movement today. By all standards ASUU has demonstrated how the rest of the oppressed masses of this country should organise to fight for their right. It is now our responsibility in the students movement, youth movement and the labour movement to practicalize this important lesson by beginning to overhaul the dead bones of each of these movements so that they can play a role in the struggle to liberate Nigeria.
However this victory of ASUU is merely a dress rehearsal for bigger battles to save public education. To start with, the 2009 agreement still remains largely unimplemented. Secondly, the N200 billion released is still too little if one dispassionately considers the terrible crisis of decayed facilities and infrastructures afflicting our public universities. This notwithstanding, if the N200 billion is judiciously utilised, there is reason to hope that a little of the problem can at least be solved. But even this can only be possible with democratic control and management of the education sector. As the ERC has severally argued, without the democratic control and management of schools and the entire education sector by elected committees of workers and students, any effort to improve education funding will not have much impact on the conditions of the public university system. This is because of the established culture of corruption and looting which has eaten deep into the fabric of the management of the public university system.
More than ever before, ASUU, students unions and all other categories of education workers must now be on guard on campuses nationwide to ensure that the disbursement and spending of the N200 billion to Universities is strictly monitored in order to prevent mismanagement by Vice Chancellors and their corrupt kitchen cabinets. This also requires that the budget monitoring committees which is a part of the 2009 agreement be immediately set up where they do not yet exist and every efforts made to ensure that only real representatives of students, staff unions and the University community are elected to sit on these committees and make regular report back to the university community
No doubt, the ASUU strike is the greatest struggle of the year 2013. In a way the strike marks a dramatic close to the year 2013 just as the struggle against fuel subsidy removal marked a dramatic opening of the year 2012. It is our conviction in the ERC that the echoes of the victory of University lecturers over a recalcitrant government may yet serve as inspiration for working masses and youths in the year 2014 to take their destiny into their hands and fight to save the public education system and reclaim Nigeria.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Michael Ogundele
National Coordinator National Secretary