Discuss How to Step up Campaign against Education Attacks
Struggle for Free Education and Socialism
Onwunalu Alexander (ERC Uniport)
On Friday October 10, 2014, about 40 student activists and socialists gathered in a room in Lagos to discuss various emerging issues in the education sector. Topping the discussion was the report of the massive struggles against fee hike that have broken out this year but also the betrayal of these struggles by right wing local union and NANS leaders.
The occasion was the meeting of the student wing of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and the supporters of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC). The student wing meeting held on the sideline of the DSM National Committee (NC) meeting which kicked off next day on Saturday October 11 and ended on Sunday October 12, 2014.
The DSM Student wing has had impressive success this year with the work of the ERC. Against the background of the degeneracy of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), the DSM student wing has been using the ERC effectively for a decade now to build struggles against attacks on education.
The attendance was one of the biggest in recent years. Despite holding on the eve of the DSM NC, 9 branches of the DSM/ERC turned up at the student wing meeting alongside contacts and supporters. The victory of the anti-fee struggle in LASU, in which we played a leading role, has not only increased enormously the confidence of students but also of our own members and supporters. This was reflected in the attendance and also in the enthusiastic discussion.
The activists in attendance came from different universities and polytechnics across the country reflecting the spread of our work. A few were also secondary school students from Ajegunle where an active branch of the ERC populated by secondary school students is beginning to develop. Many of the ERC supporters who attended the meeting were those we met this year in the course of the different struggles that broke out against fee hike in LASU, OAU and OOU.
Three Union representatives attended this year’s meeting to show solidarity to our work. One of these were two activists who attended the meeting from Michael Otedola College of Primary Education (MOCPED), Epe where ERC has recently started intervening in a campaign for the release of results of the College’s degree graduates all of whom have not seen their results and certificates 4 years since they left school. One of the two is the Public Relation officer of the Students Union.
The Vice President of the Students Union of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) was among supporters of the ERC who attended this year’s meeting in a personal capacity. She has been working with our comrades and other left forces in OAU to build a campaign for the reinstatement of 9 politically victimized students, 4 of whom are our members. Also in attendance was the President of the Students Representative Council (SRC) of the Lagos State University External System. This is a campus where students are undergoing super-exploitation and the ERC is engaging in discussion with the student leaders on how to build a campaign.
Unfortunately a new supporter we just got at the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) was not able to attend the student wing meeting itself but he turned up at the DSM NC meeting next day on Saturday and then Sunday. He returned back to OOU on Sunday feeling confident of building the ERC on his campus as a basis to begin to build a new campaign for the completion of the struggle against fee hike.
Struggle against Anti-poor Education Policies
The meeting started few minutes past noon with solidarity songs. Comrade Dimeji Macaulay who anchored the first session gave a brief introduction of what the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) stands for and the essence of the students wing meeting and the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) National Committee meeting starting next day.
The lead off was given by comrade H.T Soweto, who is the national coordinator of the ERC, on theme “struggle against anti-poor education policies, the state of the student movement and the socialist alternative”.
After briefly highlighting some of the attacks by government on education through the neoliberal anti-poor education commercialization and privatization policies over the years, and counterpoising it with the recent growing resistance from both education workers and Nigerian students across universities and polytechnics, Soweto went down memory lane and drew heavily from the experience of struggle of Nigerian students from the past.
He recalled the struggle of students in 1984 against attempt by the Buhari/Idiagbon regime to commercialize education which was led by the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) with lecture boycotts and mass protest across the country. NANS at the time was led by our comrade in the person of Lanre Arogundade. He also recalled the 1978 “Ali must go” struggle which was a very gigantic mass uprising against attempts, which just started at the time, to begin to cut some of the rights of students, including the right to subsidized feeding etc.
He decried the present situation where fees are being hiked across campuses and wondered where those who are introducing the arbitrary fees expect students, most of whom are from poor working class family to get the money to pay the obnoxious fee. He cited the example of the Lagos State University (LASU) where the Lagos State Government and the school management in 2011 increased students’ fee from N25, 000 to between N197, 000 and N350, 000 and the role the ERC played in initiating a campaign alongside the Students Union and other forces which was able to fight successfully for the fees reversal.
Another example is the situation at the Michael Otedola College of Primary Education (MOCPED) where students of the degree program have left school for four years now without getting their results and certificates. This is inspite of the enormous amount they paid as fees. Such is the level at which the neo-liberal capitalist agenda to dismantle the public education system has gone that this scenario at MOCPED is not actually an exception. As a similar example at LASU external System demonstrates, thousands of students face this kind of situation at different levels but their voices are rarely heard.
The State of the Student Movement
Today, the neo-liberal offensive on public education has become very ferocious far beyond the level of the 80s when there was massive students’ struggle. Unfortunately as the attacks mounts, the struggle instead of increasing has gone down. With all these huge attacks on public education over the past 20 years, you would expect that Nigerian students would be protesting against the government every day. But unfortunately, instead of fighting, the NANS and right wing Student Union leaders are presenting awards to the same anti-poor capitalist politicians who are responsible for the crises in the first place.
He also highlighted the situation in OAU and the struggle which broke out in the school against attempt by the management to increase and impose new fee regime on the students and the heroic role played by DSM and ERC comrades in OAU to give leadership to the struggle and the victimization of student activists, including our comrades by the school management. The meeting at the end of the day resolved to launch a campaign calling for the reinstatement of the OAU 9.
In highlighting areas where struggles have broken out over the year, Soweto pointed out that a major impediment to the possibilities of these struggles winning was the compromises of Students Union leaders and NANS. Particularly the LASU fee hike struggle, Soweto pointed out the compromising attitude of the union leadership who, despite the obvious potential to win total reversal, quickly accepted the little concession by the Lagos state government when it first announced a 34% to 60% reduction in the obnoxious fee hike. The reason was that they could not believe in their wildest imagination that struggle could force the government to reverse the fee completely. In reply, the ERC said “victory is not won on the basis of what the oppressor is ready to concede, but on the basis of what struggle is able to accomplish”. We therefore canvassed the continuity of the campaign for reversal of the fee hike despite the acceptance of the reduction.
Soweto particularly emphasized the role played by the local branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Senior Staff Union of Universities (SSANU) who embarked on solidarity strikes in support of students’ demands before victory was eventually won. So successful was the campaign against fee hike that it caused tremendous tension and fear in the camp of the APC. Many politicians who were aspiring to contest of the party’s platform feared that with the logic of event and outcome of the Ekiti state governorship election where the incumbent APC governor lost to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the party could face further losses in the 2015 general elections if nothing is done quickly to resolve the LASU crisis.
Of course the vacillating attitude of the LASU students’ union leadership is not an isolated phenomenon but reflect the general ideological collapse and disorientation in students’ leadership. From LASU to OAU and then to OOU, students have shown they are capable of rising in unison and fighting hard to resist fee hikes. But at every turn, the potential of these struggles to win have been cut short by the rightwing NANS and Student Union leaders. It was different factors chief of which was the strikes of workers unions like that ensured that victory was possible in LASU despite the Student Union’s vacillation.
Of course, the fear of an electoral meltdown in the 2015 general elections by the All Progressive Congress (APC) played a significant, but not fundamental, role. We have to be careful so that we do not stress the fear of electoral loss as the main factor. If the fear of electoral loss was the major factor, then the fee in OOU would have been reversed totally as well. But this was not the case because the struggle in OOU was weaker compared to the struggle in LASU and there were no strikes by staff unions in OOU or OAU like we saw at the peak of the struggle in LASU. In comparing the potential of the movements in OAU, LASU and OOU, the scale and depth of the struggle as well as the role of education workers have to be taken into account in determining how the different outcomes came about.
Faced with these increased attacks from capitalist politicians, Soweto posed the question of a socialist alternative, starting that we ought to have a permanent solution to these crisis, because it is not enough that every day students carry placards over one issue or the other. As Socialists we must canvass that an alternative to anti-poor capitalist education policies is possible. Education is not something that cannot be provided for free. It can, given the abundant resources that are available in the country.
All that is needed is to end capitalism which is the economic and political system of exploitation which has made it impossible for Nigeria’s enormous resources to translate into a better life for the mass majority. A Socialist Nigeria, which is only possible when the working class comes to power, will ensure that private corporate interests which has often held down the country’s potential is broken and that the country’s enormous resources are devoted primarily to meeting the needs of all which includes the provision of a free and democratically-managed public education system.
Organizing to Step up Struggle on Campuses
The second session which was focused on the “state of the organization, campaign and task” was anchored by Osigwe Benjamin. The discussion was led by Lateef Adams, the Deputy National coordinator of the ERC.
Adams gave an analysis of the organizational role the ERC has been playing in many of the struggles breaking out on campuses across Nigeria. He pointed out areas where there are still weaknesses and some of the challenges ERC branches are facing and outlining what needs to be done in those areas. He also stressed the need for branch organizers to continue to strengthen the organization by taking the ideological and political education of comrades very seriously and the need for branches to be able to take up campaigns on campuses on the many issues bordering on attacks on education and the democratic rights of students and education workers.
From an organizational point of view, this year has been very successful for the ERC. We have managed to increase our membership as a result of our involvement in struggle as well as initiating campaigns on campus. For instance at the University of Ibadan (UI), our comrades intervened in the Students Union election by running a candidate for the post of president. Despite the manipulations and irregularities that occurred during the election with the connivance of the University authorities which sponsored a candidate, our campaign got 2, 458 votes. We ended up losing by a mere 76 votes. But the real victory was in winning 22 new members into the branch through the campaign who joined us because of the ideas of struggle, of building a fighting union and of fighting for socialism the election allowed us to canvass publicly! Similarly our branch at the Osun State College of Technology (OSCOTECH) Esa Oke won 5 new members between last NC and now.
Over the course of this year also, we have managed to fully build our branch at the University of Lagos. The existence of the branch has immediately led to the stepping up of the campaign for the restoration of the students union proscribed for about 10 years ago. Also the branch has participated in protests, though very small at this initial stage, which have broken out on the campus on welfare issues.
Today, the total number of branches of the DSM and ERC are 13. This is a very inspiring improvement. Also there are potentials to open new branches in 15 schools (3 of which are in the North) where we have managed to have contacts on the basis of our intervention in struggles. The perspective for the coming period, especially after the 2015 general elections, is that of mass struggles developing not only in the education sector but society in general. As we are poised to play crucial roles in these struggles, it is therefore possible to say with some measure of confidence that we are bound to grow more over the next year.
As the 3-month deadline came to an end on October 15 without the resolution of demands by government, there is a possibility of resurgence of strikes of education workers in the Polytechnics and Colleges of education under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and the Colleges of Education Staff Union (COEASU). This will open up fresh opportunities to strengthen our base in these important sub-sectors of the education sector. For the first time, the ERC has been able to play direct role in the strikes of workers unions in the Polytechnics and Colleges of Education. Early this year, we played central role in organizing a joint protest march of striking lecturers of the polytechnics and Colleges of education in Abuja which was viciously attacked by the police but helped to raise the issues the unions were fighting for unto the front burner. If there is a new strike, our comrades will most certainly be at the forefront.
At the end, the meeting resolved to step up our campaign against fee hike and education commercialization. Over the next few weeks, we will be rolling out posters and leaflets to canvass on all campuses the slogan of a “one-day nationwide lecture boycott and mass protest as the best effective answer students should give to the mounting attacks on their rights to education. We have to make students see the powerful effect a joint boycott and protest by students nationwide, starting with a one day action, can have in compelling the government. In raising the slogan of a one-day boycott and protest, we also have to stress the need for students to organize themselves from below into mass and democratic action committees instead of completely relying on the official Student Union and NANS leaders who more often than not take control of movements in order to betray it. During the OAU struggle, an action committee proved for a while to be an affective counterweight to the rightwing union leaders. In the next period, such action committees will be needed to drive struggle forward and ensure that the bureaucratic union leaders and right wing NANS leaders are unable to be in a position to betray the struggle.
A fundraising was lunched to raise money for the production of two pamphlets of the ERC. One will center on the review of the struggles breaking out in the education sector while the second will be devoted to drawing out the lessons of the struggle at the Lagos state University (LASU). Out of N20, 000 targeted, a sum of N9, 150 was raised in cash and N4, 000 in pledge at the floor of the meeting. This is the biggest fundraising in a student meeting showing the enthusiasm and confidence.