NLC, TUC and ASUU Must Begin Immediate Mobilisations for Mass Protests and Demonstrations
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) considers the threat by the Federal government to sack striking academic staff of public universities unless they resume duties on or before December 4 as the height of President Jonathan's creeping civilian dictatorship. We strongly oppose the directive by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) that armed police should take over Universities for the purpose of effecting the forceful return of striking lecturers to their duty post.
Universities are sanctuaries of knowledge, not military barracks! Even under the worst military despotism, militarisation of university campuses was stoutly resisted by students, education workers and the entire labour movement. Students cannot be expected to learn under conditions of insecurity which the presence of armed police on campuses would most certainly create. We must remind the public that between January and June of the year 2013 alone, over 10 students were killed by the police on campuses across the country mostly in similar conditions of drafting police to campuses ostensibly to maintain "law and order". We therefore call on the IGP to reverse this directive immediately otherwise we shall hold the IGP and the Federal Government responsible for any harrassment, injury or death of students, lecturers and any member of the University community that may be caused by this rash directive.
It is unfortunate that inspite of the danger which militarisation of the Universities would mean for students, the Yinka Gbadebo-led National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has not deemed it fit to call the IGP to order. This is highly unfortunate and confirms the point that the NANS leadership has become unashamedly pro-government. This however means that in the immediate, students have to take their destiny into their own hands. We therefore call on students returning to their different campuses and progressive Student Unions to begin immediately to get organised by calling emergency congresses and public meetings at which the militarisation of universities should be discussed and resolutions reached on necesarry mass actions to kick out the police.
We call on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and civil society organisations to give concrete solidarity to ASUU by immediately commencing mobilisations for rallies, mass protests and demonstrations all over the country in order to clearly demonstrate to the government that it would have the entire working class to contend with if it decides to go on with its threat to victimise striking University lecturers for simply fighting for the revitalisation of the public university system.
This outrageous and provocative order by a supposedly elected government to University lecturers to resume work regardless of whether or not their demands have been met is reminiscent of the dark days of military despotism. Above all it demonstrates the regime's contempt and absolute disregard for the rights and interests of the working people of this country. No doubt, to implement this satanic threat the Federal Government will have to employ ruthless methods consisting of arrest and detention of ASUU leaders, mass sack of its members, proscription of the union itself and drafting of the police and the army to occupy University campuses ostensibly to maintain law and order!
Here we must quickly point out that it is not ASUU but actually the Federal Government and its obstinate refusal to invest in revitalising our decrepit public University system that is sabotaging the education sector and keeping students perpetually at home.
The Supervising Minister of Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, while announcing this devilish threat said the Federal Government has met all its commitments and obligations with respect to the FGN/ASUU 2009 agreement. It must be that the ruling elite somehow believes that Nigerian people suffer from collective amnesia, otherwise how could a whole Minister of the Federal Republic utter such a blatant lie?
Everybody knows the current strike was caused by Federal Government refusal to honour an agreement on University funding and academic staff welfare signed with ASUU since 2009. Since this strike started four months ago, the Federal Government has rather consistently and under different ruse been presenting proposals that border on unilaterally renegotiating the agreement. Everyone knows that despite the consistent insincerity of the Federal Government and insults from Finance Minister Okonjo Iweala, Senate President David Mark and Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam, ASUU has had to shift some ground on several occasions since the strike started in order to accommodate the Federal Government. Everyone knows that at the 13-hour marathon meeting by President Jonathan and ASUU executives and NLC and TUC representatives, the government stuck to its refusal to honour the 2009 agreement and instead presented proposals which watered-down the basic ingredients of the 2009 agreement but which ASUU graciously agreed to present to their members for consideration. Everyone knows that a decision on the President proposals would have been made by ASUU weeks before now had an unfortunate but highly-suspicious accident involving the convoy of Kogi State Governor Idris Wada not claimed the life of its former president Prof. Festus Iyayi while travelling for ASUU's NEC meeting.
Above all everyone knows that the so-called new demands which Nyesom Wike claimed ASUU is making are in reality not new demands but simple request that the Federal Government begins to implement its proposals so that University lecturers can be rest assured that this is not another ruse to make ASUU suspend its strike while government would again fail to honour its promise. President Jonathan proposed at the November 4 meeting to give N200 billion for 2012 and 2013 revitalisation of public universties. This is almost December and not a kobo has been released by the Federal Government. All ASUU is asking is for the President to demonstrate his alleged sincerity. However the Federal Government's violent reaction to this simple request of ASUU only goes to confirm our fear in the ERC that the government right from beginning had no intention to honour either the 2009 agreement not any agreement at all that would mean spending to revitalise our collapsing public Universities just a fraction of the billions being daily looted by Nigeria's capitalist ruling elite and imperialist multinational companies.
We support ASUU's demand that none of its members be victimised for engaging in the strike. We also demand that the salaries and allowances of all academic staff withheld under the undemocratic "No Work, No Pay" rule during the course of the strike be paid in full.
Before now the ERC had warned of the creeping militarisation of the country under President Jonathan through the use of undemocratic polices and laws and more than once open use of armed police and the army to undermine the democratic rights of workers and ordinary Nigerians. We had earlier called on the labour movement to intervene with protests and demonstrations to halt the continued descent to civilian dictatorship. Already the government has demonstrated its intolerance of the democratic rights of lecturers with brutal clampdown of the protest actions of ASUU members at a number of universities a few weeks ago. Now as it appears, the government wants to intensify the attacks on the striking university lecturers. Should this be allowed to happen, sooner than later the entire workers, students, youth and poor masses of this country would be similarly attacked by the government. This is why it is extremely important for the labour movement to act now.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Michael Ogundele
National Coordinator National Secretary