By DSM Reporters,
As the opening event of this year's National Committee (NC), the student/youth wing of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) met on Friday 11 April, 2014 to discuss the strategies to adopt in fighting education attacks especially in this period of growing neo-liberal capitalist attacks on public education sector. Seven (7) student branches were present at the meeting
The meeting started with a lead-off given by H.T Soweto (National Coordinator of the Education Rights Campaign) on the topic "Fighting Education Attacks: the Roles of Socialist Students". The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) is the platform formed by the DSM to initiate campaigns against attacks on public education.
ATTACKS ON PUBLIC EDUCATION
In his lead-off, Soweto highlighted the state of decay across Nigeria's public education sector. According to the 11th Education-For-All Global Monitoring Report by UNESCO "Nigeria's education sector faces a bleak future as having failed to prioritize education over the years means that it may not meet the Education-For-All Goals 1,2 and 4 in 2015".
Even though a capitalist institution, UNESCO's verdict is damning. Nigeria currently has 10.5 million out-of-school children. According to the report, Nigeria's out-of-school children not only grew the most in absolute terms of any country in the world, by 3.4 million, but also have the 4th highest growth rate. With four years of schooling in Nigeria, less than one in ten children emerges a literate. Even after 5-6 years in school, less than 30% will emerge able to read even a single sentence. Due to low quality of education over the years, 40% of youth are illiterate. In Nigeria, only 5% of the poorest young women are literate compared to 90% of the richest.
|HT Soweto, ERC National Coordinator|
The neo-liberal attack on public edication is not accidental. It is rooted in the profit-first orientation of capitalism. For the capitalist ruling elite, we have to pay to get educated. Contrariwise, socialists believe that public education is an investment in the future workers who will help to take our society forward. It is therefore in the interest of society to ensure that quality education is provided and that no one is denied education. This is why socialists support the demand for free and quality education at all levels.
In the midst of this gargantuan crisis of public education, the National Assembly has passed the 2014 budget. The working class and youths cannot have any hope that this budget will lead to any improvement in the conditions of public education. Aside the fact that the recurrent allocation to education slightly increased primarily due to concessions on salaries and emoluments won by staff unions over the last one year, overall allocation to education remain far below the 26% benchmark which UNESCO proposed for developing Nations.
Aside from corruption, the fundamental reason for Nigeria's backwardness in all aspects you can think of is the profit-first system of capitalism. Capitalism is incapable of ensuring quality mass public education for the people. The problem is compounded by Nigeria's position in capitalist world relations which makes it a neo-colonial economy dominated by imperialism. As a result of this position of dependence, members of the Nigerian capitalist ruling are marionettes in the hands of international finance capital and are therefore incapable of driving genuine national development that can lead to improvement in public education and public infrastructures. Only a successful revolution which leads to the working class at the head of other oppressed strata taking political power and implementing democratic socialist policies can end the crisis of public education and ensure provision of free education at all levels.
Aside the work of socialist youths in initiating campaigns against education attacks, we have to also endeavour to arm the students and education workers with the perspectives of ending capitalism and enthroning socialism. This is important to assist the growth of the consciousness of the advanced layers as well as the broad masses who are ready to struggle for "change" but are also getting increasingly confused about what "change" really means.
This confusion is also partly being aided by the unanimity of all political parties on the agenda to price education out of the reach of ordinary working class people. As the fee hike from N25,000 to between N193,750 to N350,000 at the Lagos State University (LASU) shows, the All Progressive Congress (APC) which is the biggest opposition political party is as anti-poor as the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). Similarly in Ondo State, a Labour Party (LP) government is attacking workers unions and criminalizing strikes at the Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba Akoko (AAUA). Raising the banner of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) - a new political party which the DSM is building in collaboration with other activists - is the best way to begin to clear this confusion by showing that there is indeed a genuine alternative that can protect the interest of the workers, youth and poor masses.
|A cross section of comrades|
Soweto also spoke about the death of about 20 unemployed youth at the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) test on March 15. The scale of youth unemployment is massive. It has been described by many commentators as a time bomb. While this is true, it can also ignite a mass movement as in Tunisia. Unfortunately, beyond press statements condemning the deaths, the labour movement does not appear to have any program to campaign for decent jobs and unemployment benefit. The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) giving its predominant youth membership is in a position to take the lead in launching a campaign against youth unemployment and for decent jobs, unemployment benefit and a living wage.
ASUP AND COEASU STRIKES
Adams Lateef in his lead-off on "On-going ASUP and COEASU strikes: Matters Arising" clearly traced the history of these strikes. At present some Polytechnics and Colleges of Education are shut as a result of the agitation of the academic staff for implementation of agreements, ending of discrimination against HND certificate holders, funding and working conditions. The strike by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) started way before the strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in June last year. But due to a combination of the Federal government's contempt for workers as well as weakness of the strike itself, the ASUP strike has last this long while the ASUU strike ended in December last year after winning some concessions.
|Lateef Adams, Deputy National Coordinator, ERC|
While the ASUU strike was total with no University (whether state-owned or federal) opting out, the strike of ASUP is not total and there are cases of Polytechnics opting out. There are a lot of reasons for this situation of disarray in the strike. For instance, the academic staffs in state-owned polytechnics feel less motivated to join the strike since they fear that whatever concession is gained will not be implemented by state governments.
The ERC calls on the ASUP leadership and activists not to take these obstacles as something insurmountable. The first point that must be made to ASUP rank and file is that balance of force is the determinant of what struggle can achieve. However ASUP leadership must also recognise that the implementation of agreement with ASUU by the Federal government has never been automatic. So also is the implementation by state governments of concessions won by ASUU during a national strike. What has always determined what ASUU is able to accomplish is mass struggle. ASUU members irrespective of the ownership status have been able to struggle together to win concessions and enforce the implementation in solidarity with one another. This is currently missing in the on-going strikes by ASUP and the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU).
As the ERC has been arguing since last year, a sit-at-home strike is not enough, there is the need for ASUP and COEASU to separately and where possible jointly organise mass rallies, protests and demonstrations. Our agitation is beginning to have some effect. A few rallies have now been organised by ASUP in a few chapters but of course they are not enough. Just last week, the ASUP leadership threatened to call for protest at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Abuja. We urge the ASUP leadership not to make this a mere threat but name a day for the protest and begin immediately mobilisation of its ranks, students and parents.
Ultimately what will determine what ASUP can win is the balance of force. ASUP leadership and activists must devise a strategy that will require mobilising to all the chapters that are currently not joining the strike with leaflets and other materials calling on these workers to recognise that the on-going strike can win and that whatever is won nationally will be a benchmark or reference point upon which the welfare of polytechnic lecturers everywhere will be based upon. Winning that benchmark nationally can provide a springboard for energetic campaign at all state chapters for the improvement of working conditions. ASUP must energetically state to its members that while winning the on-going strike may not mean immediate improvement in the working conditions of all polytechnic lecturers, losing it will most certainly lead to worsening of the conditions of all polytechnic lecturers at Federal and State polytechnics.
As the meeting agreed, the ERC should take the frontline position in mobilising for solidarity actions in support of the ASUP and COEASU strikes while continuing the agitation with the leaderships over methods and how to take the struggle to the next level.
An interesting development was the presence at the meeting of an ERC contact Agoro Dolapo from the Lagos State University (LASU) who gave a report of the struggle to reverse LASU hiked fees. As a result of our role in the struggle that broke out in the University in January, about 16 students have agreed to join the ERC. This is aside many other potential members and supporters. But due to on-going examinations, only one could attend the meeting. In his report, Agoro Dolapo traced the beginning of the struggle in LASU which started in January this year as a result of the inability of 1,292 to pay the fees.
|Dolapo Agoro from LASU|
He also spoke about ERC's role in initiating the building of the #SaveLASU Campaign Movement as a broad platform bringing together the ERC, Students Union Exco-Elect, National Union of Lagos State Students (NULASS) and radical groups. This arrangement became necessary as a result of the refusal of the union leadership to lead the struggle on the basis of the excuse that that they have not yet being inaugurated after elections and as a result lack the authority to act. Through the broad platform in which the ERC played a leading role, the struggle took off and succeeded in changing the course of debate from the question of the riot and destruction of University properties by angry students to planting the public focus on the root cause of the crisis which is the anti-poor fee hike introduced in 2011 by the State government. At its height the movement forced the State governor to call for a meeting with students. At the meeting which held at the Governor's office, the Governor said the following "... go and make your proposal. So you do the Mathematics and come back to us with what is reasonable. If I can meet you halfway then I will go back to council because i did not take the decision alone. But whatever choices you make are going to come with consequences".
Immediately after this debate, the Students Union Exco-Elect asked not to be invited to the meeting of the broad platform anymore. They also went on to organize a separate meeting where all they discussed was how and what to reduce the fees to on behalf of government without considering the dangers. Also there are rumours the Union wants to go to submit a unilateral proposal to the government. This as far as the ERC is concerned means the Students Union leaders have pulled out of the coalition. This is not an accident. Right from day one, the Union Executives were the weakest and least reliable partner in the coalition. Before they asked not to be informed of meetings anymore, they had been absent at meetings and especially the symposium organised on April 3rd. In addition, it appears that as government is giving impression that it wants to grant concessions, it also stepped up pressure to break the coalition knowing that the struggle was strong only because of our involvement.
As the meeting agreed, the ERC must continue to defend the rights of all students to affordable and quality education which is only possible if the current astronomical level of fee of LASU is reversed. However we must also demand that whether students will agree to make a proposal or not to the government is a decision to be made by students themselves and not on their behalf as the union is doing. Therefore the ERC is also calling for a congress of students where students can determine their own fate by themselves.
The meeting ended with the drawing up programs and activities to further our campaigns and interest and commitment to building the organisation renewed.