The Need for a Radical, Mass-Based Students’ Movement
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Osun State Chapter commends Nigerian students under the banner of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) Osun State Joint Campus Committee (JCC) for organizing this forum for students to decide their future and that of the organization. Without mincing words, the state of Nigerian students’ movement vis-à-vis the degeneration of various structures of NANS and student unions, calls for a sober reflection. This is more so at a period when Nigerian students, their parents and families are faced with monumental suffering in the midst of superabundance. Today, governments at all levels have turned education, especially tertiary education into commodity to be purchased by students and their poor parents. Currently, lecturers in polytechnics and colleges of education are on national strikes. These strikes are products of anti-poor policies of government. Where governments have been compelled to undertake some minimal and token programmes for education, such projects are used to line private pockets of politicians and big businesses.
The Terrible State of Education in Osun State
In Osun State today, in spite of the so-called progressivism of the current Aregbesola government, the state of education has not witnessed fundamental change from the rotten levels past administrations of Oyinlola/PDP and Bisi Akande/AD left it. The Bisi Akande regime, under a sadistic reform programme sacked thousands of teachers but left most schools in dilapidated state. The Oyinlola administration, in a cynical attitude for which the government was notorious, only did a patch-patch work on education even when the foundation was seriously faulty. While huge amount were budgeted for education, the only result students saw was increase in school fees for students in tertiary institutions, and a handful of environmentally dangerous classrooms. Few teachers were employed for schools; facilities were at horrible state, where they existed at all; morale of working staff was low, etc. In short, education was in complete mess.
Unfortunately, in spite of all propaganda by the current government, not much has been seen since its emergence over three years ago. Fees are still high in tertiary institutions despite the meager reduction government claimed to have effected. In UNIOSUN for example, a political science students still pay as much as over N90, 000 as fees while medical students (whose medical school has not been approved by relevant professional councils) pay more than N150, 000. In state owned polytechnics and colleges of education, fees are also very high. Worse still, state of facilities has not improved. While Aregbesola government claimed to have procured computer tablets for secondary school students, all the tertiary institutions in the state have no functional ICT facilities, functional internet connection or useful computer centres. In fact, most of these institutions lack proper provision for electricity supply.
Added to this is the poor working conditions for staff, which has led to at least three strikes in the state tertiary institutions in the past three years, while the lecturers in Colleges of Education in the state are bracing up for another strike. Moreover, there is major shortfall of staff, which is putting heavy workload on few lecturers working. This has the tendency to encourage cronyism and exploitation in the absence of viable and progressive student union leadership. Furthermore, aside the huge fees students are coughing out; accommodation is a major problem for most students. It is unfortunate that Aregbesola government has not changed the ridiculous provision in the state education policy that ensured that no school hostels are constructed for students on campus. This has pushed many students into the hands of Shylock landlords, while many students are forced to live in terrible conditions (with no water and electricity supply, etc).
Rebuilding the Students’ Movement
These situations are not going to change if students, through their unions and organizations are not prepared to get organized and fight for better conditions; not only for themselves but for generations unborn. The history of Nigerian students’ movement has shown that when students decide to take their destinies in their hands, by fighting for and defending their rights to better living and studying conditions, they have tendency to succeed. However, this requires proper organization and democratic involvement of students in decision-making process in unions. This implies that student union principles be premised on mass mobilization of students through regular congresses, popular parliamentary meetings, political symposia and lectures, rallies, and protests. This method can make union leaders accountable and get respect of government and school authorities.
More than this, student unions need to be based on fighting for and defending the rights of all students without succumbing to divisive politics of managements. For instance, union elections in many institutions today are subjects to undemocratic rules and guidelines set by managements, and not by students who are the real owners of the unions. This is meant to ensure the emergence of pro-management, pro-state, toothless union leadership. Unless students and activists are prepared to change this relation, unions may not be able to achieve much. This also requires NANS including JCC Osun to begin the process of redirecting the organization to its radical and left wing history. Inasmuch as NANS structures continue to serve as tools in the hands of various anti-poor capitalist politicians, it cannot defend the interests of students. Therefore, the task is on students, activists and union leaders to begin the process of rebuilding their organizations on radical, progressive and democratic path.
Practically, we of the ERC call on students and activists gathered at this august meeting to start drawing up programme of action to defend the collective interests of students and reshape student unionism. Among other things, we propose the following:
1. Immediate drawing up of Charter of Demands of students in Osun State on salient issues that affect them. This should include demands on welfare and conditions of studying of students e.g. accommodation provision; infrastructural facilities in schools; exploitation of students on campus; attack on students’ rights including right to organize, role of cadets on campus, managements’ interference in union affairs, etc; and immediate reduction of fees to, at least, 1999 level. This Charter of Demands, which must cover all the tertiary institutions in the state, must serve as basis of negotiating with various managements and state government. This Charter should be used as a basis to organize mass actions of students across the state.
2. Students must also begin the process of reaching out to staff unions with a view to building joint actions on issues affecting students and staff. For instance, the question of poor working conditions and inadequate staffing affect both staff and students. Therefore, defeat of one section will definitely lead to defeat of the other. Consequently, student unions and NANS JCC must make effort to reach out to staff unions on issues affecting each section and both. This means that students should support industrial actions of staff unions that seek to better their working conditions and/or improve state of education in the state.
3. The NANS JCC, as a way of rebuilding students’ confidence in the organization, must begin the process of self-restructuring. This should involve immediate organization of mobilization and educative activities such as symposia, rallies, etc in various campuses, to take the organization back to the students. More than this, regular congresses of NANS JCC need to be organized as a way of building a mass base and popularizing revolutionary ideas among students. Through revolutionary and mass-based activities of NANS JCC, it can be possible to mobilize students in various institutions to begin the process of rebuilding their various unions along revolutionary path.
4. NANS JCC must support other students under attack. For instance, OAU student union has been under ban for the past three years. NANS JCC and other unions must support restoration of the union in OAU. An injury to one is an injury to all.
These, among other issues, are what we consider as vital for this august meeting.
Join the ERC
If you are opposed to attacks on education and the rights of students and workers by various governments, and you want to fight back, then the organization to join is the Education Rights Campaign (ERC). ERC is a campaign platform of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) for free and quality education, proper funding of education, democratic management of schools, better working conditions for education workers, and for rebuilding of Nigerian students’ movement i.e. NANS and student unions, on revolutionary and mass-based path. We initiate and participate in struggles and campaigns of students for improvements in their studying and living conditions, and are opposed to all attacks on democratic rights of students and workers. We organize through public symposia, rallies, public meetings and seminars, and publication of educative materials. If you are seeking better deals for Nigerian students and youth, we enjoin you to join and support us.
Issued January, 2014