"The Struggle to Liberate Education is a Struggle We Shall Continue to Prosecute No Matter The Threat" - Nasir Fagge (ASUU President)
From 4 to 7 December 2013, Edo State was home to hundreds of striking University lecturers, trade unionists, socialists and civil society activists. The event was the burial of Prof Festus Iyayi. Iyayi was a University teacher, socialist, former president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in 1986 and a key participant in the on-going struggle of University teachers to save the public university system. He died in an auto accident on November 12 caused by the convoy of the Kogi State Governor Idris Wada while travelling alongside other members of the union to Kano for a crucial meeting of ASUU's National Executive Committee (NEC) where a decision was going to be taken about the strike.
The one-week burial program opened on Wednesday 4th December with simultaneous mass processions at the University of Benin (UNIBEN), University of Ibadan (UI) and the Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED). Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and Education Rights Campaign (ERC) intervened at the December 4 mass procession at the University of Ibadan (UI) and the week-long burial events in Benin, Edo State.
In a way Festus Iyayi's death and particularly the emotion-laden burial has helped to steel the resolve of a majority of ASUU members to continue the strike. A lot of people believe that this was no ordinary auto crash and that somehow the State killed him. Iyayi was one of the few that insisted the strike must go on which reflected in the votes of the UNIBEN ASUU branch where the decision that strike should continue won. The suspicion of foul play in his death is further reinforced by two holes in his chest which reportedly pierced his heart. Many suspect this could be attributed to a gunshot.
Whatever is the cause, the combination of the suspicious death of Iyayi and the strike threat being issued by the Federal Government has helped to radicalise a wide layer of ASUU members. Two ultimatums have now been issued by Federal government for lecturers to resume work. The first expired on December 4 while the second ultimatum expired on December 9. So far, a few Universities have opened but with no hope that lecturers would teach. While there are few defectors here and there, the mass majority of University lecturers are strongly in support of the strike. Reportedly at the Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba Akoko (AAUA), lectures held sparingly in just two faculties with a few lecturers, the Vice Chancellor and Deputy Vice Chancellor teaching! A point to note is that AAUA is the State University in Ondo, the one state run by the Labour Party, and its Vice-Chancellor, Governor Olusegun Mimiko's brother, has been publically condemned by ASUU for insulting and hating its members.
Of course the pro-government sections of the media are trying to blow out of proportion what is really taking place in AAUA and a few other Universities where actual efforts are being made to break the strike. The reality is that the Federal government has put itself in a deeper crisis with the threat and ultimatum. Now the government has two bad options: either it carries out its threat to sack all lecturers bearing in mind the backlash this would most certainly provoke or it retreats altogether which would make it lose face and confirm that the government is indeed "weak".
Among striking lecturers, there is huge support for the need to dare the Federal Government. An attempt by a priest officiating at Iyayi's burial to urge ASUU to suspend its strike was shouted down by the striking lecturers at the event. Even the Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole was careful in his speech not to draw the ire of the crowd. Such is the mood among the rank and file. The challenge is how to translate this to mass actions that can defeat the government. As Nasir Fagge, the President of ASUU declared on Thursday during the public lecture organised at the auditorium of the University of Benin (UNIBEN) in Iyayi's honour "I think it is about time we go out and mobilise the Nigerian people". The ERC wholeheartedly welcomes this declaration. In the coming weeks we shall be campaigning that ASUU names a day for nationwide protests and demonstrations. Below we present reports from the two centres where we intervened.
REPORT OF EDUCATION RIGHTS CAMPAIGN (ERC) PARTICIPATION IN THE "AFTERNOON OF TRIBUTES" ORGANISED BY UNIVERSITY OF IBADAN (UI) CHAPTER OF ACADEMIC STAFF UNION OF UNIVERSITIES (ASUU) TO HONOUR THE LATE PROF. FESTUS IYAYI.
By Kayode Salako
On the 4th December, 2013, no fewer than 300 people including members of ASUU, civil society and student organizations gathered at the University of Ibadan (UI) at a programme tagged "an afternoon of tributes" organized by the ASUU UI to honour one the former national Presidents of the union, Prof. Festus Iyayi, who died on the 12th November 2013 in a suspicious motor accident on his way to one of the national meetings of the union in Kano.
The programme started at about 10:30am with solemn solidarity songs in a candle lit mass possession which took off at the front of the former National Secretariat of ASUU situated at the Mellanby Hall of the University and ended at the Faculty of Arts Quadrangle.
Interestingly, the Vice -chancellor of the university Prof. Isaac Adewole also joined the procession which had ASUU members clad in academic gown as a sign of last respect to the departed colleague who was generally acknowledged as an exceptional academic scholar.
At the Faculty of Arts Quadrangle, Dr `Segun Ajiboye (Chairman, ASUU, UI) in his opening remark acknowledged the good work of Iyayi in the struggle for the revitalization of public education in Nigeria. He urged ASUU members to remain steadfast in the on-going struggle of ASUU and disregard the sack threat issued by the federal government.
|Dr Segun Ajiboye, ASUU Chair UI|
According to Ajiboye, the ASUU will not call off its 5-month old strike action unless the federal government implements the resolution of the last meeting with the union. He also in his conclusion talked on the lecture delivered by Prof Festus Iyayi 15 years ago. In this lecture titled "Of the Monsters and Demons in the Nigerian University" Iyayi talked about the state agents, sycophants in the Nigerian University. While he expressed how sad the death of Iyayi is, members were encouraged not to mourn but to mobilize toward a total victory of the struggle for the revitalization of public education in Nigeria.
On his own part Dr. Sola Olorunyomi, while giving the citation of Prof. Festus Iyayi appraised the work of Iyayi especially his role in all ASUU struggles over the years. He did not forget to mention the Socialist disposition of the late Iyayi and his long-term effort toward the formation of a workers' political alternative.
Concerning the sack threat issued by FG, he said ASUU members should not worry as it is just an empty threat! He therefore urged members not to allow themselves to be used as negative political tool against the interest of the union. He argued for socialist transformation of Nigeria, which, according to him, raises the urgent need for workers, youths, students and masses to have their own political party.
|Lecturers and activists gather at UI to celebrate Iyayi|
Many other colleagues, collaborators, friends of the late Festus Iyayi, including Femi Aborisade and Laoye Sanda from the Polytechnic Ibadan, were also recognized to give tributes. Unfortunately, Comrade Abbey Trotsky, the Secretary of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) - CWI Nigeria - Oyo State Chapter who was also listed to give tribute was unable to attend the programme due to an unfortunate car accident he had on his way to the venue of the programme.
Among other highlights of the event were various poems and songs presentation by Prof. Raji, Prof Francis Egbokhaire and others. Following the vote of thanks by Dr Deji Omole (ASUU-UI Secretary) the programme was brought to an end with a procession back to the ASUU Secretariat where ERC banner was visibly displayed.
At the programme a thousand copies of ERC leaflets were distributed while 47 copies of "Socialist Democracy", the DSM's paper, were sold. Noticeably, a copy of the new DSM publication titled "DSM and the struggle for a working people's political alternative" was bought by a striking ASUU member who pledged to pay a N10, 000 solidarity price.
BENIN: IYAYI LIVES ON!
By Ogundele Michael (ERC National Secretary)
Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and Education Rights Campaign (ERC) on Wednesday 4th, December, 2013 joined the ranks of ASUU members at the University of Benin, Benin City, to mourn the passing of Prof. Festus Iyayi, former national president of the union. Festus Iyayi was killed in an auto accident caused by convoy of Kogi State governor on his way to ASUU NEC meeting at BUK, Kano on 13th November, 2013. He was playing vital roles in the struggle of ASUU most importantly as part of the negotiation team with the federal government. Given the pivotal role played by Iyayi in ASUU's struggles and the circumstances surrounding his death, the ranks of ASUU members generally suspect that Iyayi was murdered by the state.
|Dec 4 Procession in Benin|
The burial programme began on Wednesday 4th of December 2013 with a mass procession from Faculty of Social Sciences, UNIBEN. The ERC was present with a banner and 2,000 copies of leaflet titled: "NIGERIAN STUDENTS MORN IYAYI". Among other things, the leaflet called on ASUU members to embark on a mass action to defeat the sack threat issued by the federal government and also force the implementation of the agreement. ASUU members, from and outside UNIBEN, in their hundreds and dressed in black moved in a procession from the faculty to the residence of the deceased. Placards with various messages like: "GOVT. KILLED IYAYI", "IYAYI WAS MURDERED" among others were held by ASUU members while chanting solidarity songs.
At his residence, solidarity messages were given by members of ASUU, trade union leaders, civil society activists, friends, sympathizers and relatives. Among those that gave solidarity messages are: Abiodun Aremu (JAF National Secretary), Femi Falana, Prof. Dele Fatunde, Promise Adewusi (Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress) etc.
The crowd dispersed around 4pm and gathered again at the Faculty of Social Sciences by 7:10pm for the candle lit procession. The procession moved to his personal office at the Faculty of Law building and again to Department of Business Management where he was the Head of Department. At the solidarity march, 20 copies of Socialist Democracy (SD) alongwith 2 copies of the new DSM publication titled "DSM and the struggle for a working people's political alternative" were sold.
Festus Iyayi: The Ideas We Must Not Forget
The next day on Thursday 5th of December, a public lecture in honour of Iyayi was held at the auditorium of the University of Benin. The guest lecturer was Odia Ofeimun who spoke on the topic: Festus Iyayi - The Ideas We Must No Forget. The lecture which was chaired by Prof Asisi Asobie was designed to feature the roles and impacts played by Iyayi in his life time and more importantly to further raise the consciousness of the rank and file of academic staff on the need to be focused and determined in the struggle for mankind, following the legacies and principles as laid down by Iyayi. At the lecture were the national, zonal and branch leadership of ASUU including the ASUU president Nasir Fagge, Dipo Fashina (former ASUU president and Chairman of the Joint Action Front), Sule Kano (Former ASUU president). In his speech, Nasir Fagge (ASUU president) vowed "The struggle to liberate education is a struggle we shall continue to prosecute no matter the threat".
Comrade H.T Soweto (The ERC National Coordinator) was invited to deliver a solidarity message. In his speech, Soweto commended the principles Iyayi left behind and encouraged the entirety of striking university lecturers to emulate and unite in the struggle for revitalization of university system. To rousing applause, Soweto said "We stand with ASUU in its struggle to save public education. With this strike, ASUU is strengthening the confidence of the rest of the oppressed masses that the anti-poor Jonathan government can be challenged". He went further, "As I mentioned to the ASUU President a while ago in a private discussion, you are helping to rehabilitate the reputation of the labour movement which unfortunately lost some appeal to ordinary Nigerians because of the NLC and TUC's leaders betrayal of the January 2012 general strike and mass protest against fuel subsidy removal. When the working masses hit the street once again in protests and demonstrations to reclaim Nigeria, they shall refer to your strike as the inspirer of their renewed confidence that struggle can win". He further called on the striking lecturers to embark on a mass action to defeat the sack threat issued by the federal government. At the public lecture, 30 copies of Socialist Democracy were sold.
|HT Soweto at the Lecture organised in honour of Iyai|
On Thursday afternoon at his residence, the crowd gathered again for the service of songs and later in the evening, 7pm, for the tribute night where Soweto spoke again. Also Lanre Arogundade, former President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in 1984-85 and member of the Executive Committee of the DSM spoke. Significantly, 10 copies of the new DSM publication (DSM and the struggle for a working people's political alternative) were bought by ASUU. This was at the instance of the ASUU president after we showed him the publication.
On Friday, there was a lying-in-state of Iyayi's corpse at the Uniben auditorium. This event was addressed by the Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole and other dignitaries. A priest officiating at the lying-in-state who while speaking tried to urge ASUU to suspend its strike was booed by the crowd. After the lying-in-state, the corpse alongside with family and ASUU members started the journey in a long motorcade to his hometown in Ugbekun, Edo State. On the night of Friday, civil society activists and students organised a solidarity night with singing and speeches in memory of Iyayi. John Odah (former General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress) spoke at this event. Odah went down memory lane to describe how and when he met Iyayi. Waxing emotional, he also mentioned that he and others then joined the NLC straight from the University in order to build the labour movement to transform society along socialist lines as Iyayi believed. He bemoaned the situation in the labour movement today especially the abandoning of the building of the Labour Party (LP) to anti-poor politicians. According to Odah, Iyayi was part of renewed efforts by the NLC not long ago to reclaim the Labour Party but, according to him, this was stalled because of the troubles that started soon after in the NLC.
|Abiodun Aremu, JAF National Secretary|
Many other activists and trade unionists like Abiodun Aremu (JAF Secretary) and the president of hotel workers union presented tributes to Iyayi on this occasion. Also student leaders and activists like Kazan - the PRO of the University of Benin (UNIBEN) students Union, Inihebe Effiong - President of Students Revolutionary Movement (SRM) from the University of Uyo and H.T Soweto (ERC National Coordinator) also presented tributes.
After three days of grueling but inspiring activities, Iyayi was finally laid to rest in his hometown Ugbekun Edo State on Saturday 7 December 2013 to tears, singing and a renewed commitment to immortalise him by redoubling the struggle for a socialist transformation of Nigeria.