FOR UNITED ACTIONS OF WORKERS AND STUDENTS
Few months to the 2015 general elections, subtle electoral campaigns are already being undertaken by political parties across Ogun state. To this end, an appraisal of the performances of the APC’s led government in education sector becomes very necessary. This is because education due to its central and indispensible roles in the lives of the citizenry has become a major campaign item for political parties seeking electoral advantages from the electorate. This being the case, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), as it then was, had exploited the genuine desires of the good working masses of Ogun state, during the 2011 general elections campaigns while soliciting for votes, promising to make education accessible when voted to power.
More than three years in the saddle, it has been tales of woes for education at all levels in the state. Education is under serious attacks. This perilous state of affairs in the sector notwithstanding, the Ibikunle Amosun led APC government has oiled its propaganda machines, and the general public are already being inundated with stories of the “wonderful changes” the government has wrought in education in the state.
It is the obsession with propaganda by the APC government in the face of complete lacks of performance in critical sectors in order to secure electoral advantage that has prompted this piece.
PAYMENT OF 27.5% TEACHERS PECULIAR ALLOWANCE AND N18,000 MINIMUN WAGE
It should be recalled, that Ogun state government still remains one of the state governments across the country that have refused to pay the 27.5% Teachers Peculiar Allowance since 2011, and N18, 000 minimum wages to both its primary and secondary teachers till date. This has once attracted strike and protests by the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) which was undermined by government with various tactics such as police harassment, polarization of the NUT, etc. The threat of strike by the NUT still looms large in the state, as the government has refused to meet the demands of teachers satisfactorily.
These vexing issues with serious consequences on the smooth running of both primary and secondary schools in the state, are yet to attract a proactive measures by the government, despite repeated threats of strike protest by the teachers. Other demands which the teachers have consistently echoed, but gained no hearing by the state government include: the continuous late payment of teachers salary; the refusal of the state government to positively address the payment of 30% Christmas bonus of year 2012 and 2013 to primary school teachers; nonpayment of promotion arrears of teachers in the same primary school till date; deliberate stagnation of teachers on the same salary grade level in primary and secondary schools; inability of the government to harmonize salaries of teachers in both primary and secondary schools to correct the difference in promotion prospects; and the continuous withholding of deductions from teachers salary, meant for cooperative, and other scheme planned towards retirement.
In addition are the collapses of infrastructures in many of the schools across the state. In fact, since the beginning of this administration, no single newly built structures have been added to majority of primary and secondary schools in the state, save for the ones under Millennium Development Goals (MDG) projects, executed by the federal government, in spite of increasing enrolment of pupils yearly. This situation has led to overcrowded classrooms, where school pupils learn under trees, sitting on used tires, when the weather is favorable. While flood takes over many schools during raining season and pupils go on forced holidays! Appalled by these dangerous developments, many parents organized under Parents’ Teachers Association (PTA) have had to donate blocks, cements, woods, roofing sheets etc, to some of these schools, after appeals by the school heads. A good example of “Promoting Partnership for Participatory Programs” of free education! The cumulative effects of this lackluster performance of the government in primary and secondary schools in the state are now manifested in the consistent poor performances of primary and secondary pupils in both internal and external examinations.
IRREGULAR PAYMENT OF SALARIES OF LECTURERS IN TERTIARY SCHOOLS
The education workers in Ogun state tertiary institutions have been battling with irregular and late payment of their salaries, harsh working conditions, highhandedness by the vice chancellors, rectors and provosts; lack of research grants; backlog of unpaid earned allowances amongst others, since the beginning of this administration. Frustrated by this seeming callous attitude of the government towards education, the lecturers at different times have had course to embark on protest rallies, and in some instances outright strikes to draw the attention of the state government to their plights, but the government has remained adamant and nonchalant to the legitimate grievances of the lecturers across tertiary institutions in the state.
This ugly turn of events has since seen the lecturers of the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye, embarked recently on a protest march. The lecturers took off from the institution’s mini campus, and trekked a distance of 7km ,a journey of about an hour to the university permanent site, where they delivered a protest letter to the Vice Chancellor for onward transmission to the government. Several months after, the government has refused to accede to their demands till date. As a result lecturers have continually threatened to embark on strike.
This is no isolated case. The lecturers of Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED), Ijagun, and Tai Solarin College of education, Omu,Ijebu, have also gone on strike on a number of occasions, since the beginning of this administration, on issues bordering on poor funding; lack of enabling teaching and learning environment; poor remunerations; late and irregular payment of salary; and poor and inadequate infrastructural facilities. At the Ogun state College of Health Technology (OGCOHTECH), Ilese, and Moshood Abiola Polytechnic (MAPOLY),Ojere, the lecturers have had cause at one point or the other to embark on strike, since the inception of this administration to demand government attention on issues equally centered on backlog of unpaid salaries; poor working conditions; decayed infrastructure; and above all, what they termed government deception in its avowed commitment to education development. The trend cuts across all other institutions of higher learning in the state, and the government, from all indications is least bordered by these sad developments in education sector.
FEES HIKE IN OGUN STATE TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS.
A series of agitations and protests by students at different institutions in Ogun State as well as the fear of its anti-poor fees regime on the prospect of APC in 2015 elections has made the state government to announce fees reduction across the institutions with effect from next academic session. But this reduction has been largely marginal and cannot fundamentally relief the burden of students from poor and working class families. For instance, in OOU the fee of medical students has been reduced from N301, 610 to N176, 596 while students of the Faculty of Arts would be paying N81, 112 instead of the current fee of N126, 540. This marginal fee reduction has therefore been rejected by students especially OOU students who greeted the announcement with a protest rally in Abeokuta demanding N50, 000 fees across board. Now the school has been shut down by the government as a result of the mass protest by the students.
It is also instructive to stress that serious harm had been done to the career of a number students before this recent “political” reduction of the fees which were originally introduced by Gbenga Daniel regime. The current outrageous regime of fees, which is it in force until next session, was maintained by Amosun for more than three years into his administration despite the promise of drastic reduction during his electoral campaign ahead of 2011 election. This anti-poor policy and official deceit has led to loss of studentship in many institutions in the state.
For instance at OOU, the students – who were used to payment by installment or deferred payments, were given just barely a week notice to pay up these new fees last session. As a result more than 3,500 students cutting across all departments at different levels including final year, who could not complete their payments, had their studentship terminated by the school management against all entreaties by well meaning Nigerians. They were later asked to reapply through Direct Entry (DE) and in order to be admitted to 200level regardless of their original levels, save for 100levels students!
At TASUED, over 2,000 students most of them in final year were excluded from the just concluded first semester examinations because they could not complete their payments. Incidentally, not all the students that were prevented from writing the examination defaulted. Some did pay their fees to the designated banks, but they were denied receipts by the commercial banks, who claimed lack of access to the school’s e-portal, which the colluding school management had surreptitiously closed. Yet, the authorities shamefacedly made the bank receipt a pass into the examination halls.
The authorities at the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic (MAPOLY) forcefully migrated over 3,000 fresh fulltime students- both ND and HND, to part-time programs, when the students could not complete their payment of school fees
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) in a statement supports the demand of students for further reduction while it believes that only full reversal of all hiked fees and a commitment by the State government to improve funding to all the tertiary institutions together with democratic management of the schools can guarantee affordable and accessible education for all students in Ogun State. ERC argues that against the background of the recent successful struggle of LASU students, the lies that fee hike cannot be fully reversed have been defeated.
It is instructive to note that the joining of the struggle against fees, which had been started by students, by the academic and non-academic staffs in LASU helped pile more pressure on the state government to totally reverse the fee. This is lacking in OOU nay Ogun State at the moment. It is therefore imperative for joint actions of all staff unions and students in the state higher institutions in support of the struggle against fees and with demand for adequate funding of education and democratic management of the institutions to include elected representatives of staffs and students.
PANACEA FOR DECADENCE IN EDUCATION IN OGUN STATE
In spite of high fees paid by students there were no physical developments in the over three years of Amosun administration in any of the schools. For instance, at OOU apart from the fact no single building projects have been executed, the abandoned uncompleted buildings inherited by this government remain in the same conditions till date. In fact, it was just about two months ago, some chairs were taken out from the dilapidated lecture theatres for repair works! Till date, the institution’s Faculty of Agriculture is still being accommodated by a secondary school at Ayetoro community after several years. At TASUED, nothing has changed. The institution remains largely a glorified college; with constant threats by the government to merge it with OOU to saves cost. The conditions at the Ogun state Cooperative College, Ijeja, will not pass for a modern poultry farms in civilized society!
This is not accidental; it is a logical consequence of neo-liberal capitalist policies against public education which is not however peculiar to the APC government in Ogun state; it is the policy thrusts of all the ruling political parties in Nigeria.
This then brings to the fore, the question of working class political alternative, which will completely defeat these attacks on education and other sectors of the economy on a permanent basis, and that will equally be committed to the needs of all, as against profits for a few. This is why the ERC supports the formation Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) as a striking example for workers, youth and masses in the absence of a mass working people party at the moment. SPN is unrepentantly committed to free and quality education at all levels, which is publicly funded. Using resources liberated through nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy, including banks and other financial institutions, democratically managed and controlled by workers themselves, in a centrally planned economy the party in power will ensure provision of basic needs such as education, health care, water, infrastructure, etc for the benefit of vast majority. Workers, farmers, market women and men, artisans, and students are invited to join and build SPN in their various domains.
Eko John Nicholas
A Farmer and Member of Education Rights Campaign
Ijebu Ode, Ogun state.