ERC KICKS AGAINST ATTEMPT TO VICTIMISE STUDENTS' PROTESTERS IN UNILAG
In as much as dialogue is very essential, the rights of individuals to agitate for their rights must not be taken for granted. We make this assertion due to recent developments on campus.
A few weeks ago, electricity supply to the campus deteriorated terribly. Both students and members of staff were adversely affected. As it was close to examinations, students were understandably anxious. Expectedly, they looked towards their newly-inaugurated University of Lagos Students Union (ULSU) executives to lead them in struggle to the University administration to demand an explanation as to the reason for the power cut two weeks to the first semester examination of 2014/15 academic session. Surprisingly, the ULSU executives decided to keep mute on the issues that affects the generality of students they represented. This attitude of the ULSU executive however propelled some group of concerned students to mobilize for a peaceful action considering the weakness of the executives to act. To show that struggle pays, the electricity situation improved after the protest and the examinations were further postponed to allow students prepare adequately.
However, surprisingly after some days, there was a report that some of the students that participated in the protest were summoned to face a disciplinary panel for mobilizing protest without the consent of ULSU executives.
Based on our findings, these students have been charged to face a disciplinary panel for trying to form a “parallel union”, by mobilizing a protest when ULSU had not given them the consent to do so. We in the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) consider this allegation unfair, vindictive and outright condemnable. In the first place, the internal affairs of students (whether or not they have the consent of ULSU to take action) should not concern the University administration. That issue should be sorted out by the students themselves through the internal democratic structures of their union. What should concern the administration are the grievances and demands of students regardless of the circumstances or means through which this is communicated. How does the circumstance through which the displeasure over power outage was communicated to the administration affect, diminish or delegitimize the demands for restoration of electricity supply before examination commences?
By making an attempt to victimise for the slightest expression of defiance, the University administration is embarking on a ruinous path trodden severally by authorities in the past. Unfortunately, the history of the University system in Nigeria shows clearly that such method of witch-hunt, reminiscent of the Inquisition, is an harbinger of crises and instability. However this allegation only goes to confirm what the ERC has always suspected, which is that even while the administration agreed after protracted struggle to restore the union, it is on the basis that it would be able to monitor and control the affairs of the union.
ULSU MUST DEFEND THE ALLEGED STUDENTS
With what is going on right now, many students are beginning to think that perhaps this union is not what they expected during the whole period of the agitation for the restoration of independent unionism. Equally, many believe that the union leaders have a hand in the attempts to victimise these students and are disappointed that a supposedly independent union would rely on the power of management to discipline their fellow students who have not committed any crime but only trying to defend their interests and that of their colleagues. These same executives have failed to call for a congress of students to inform them of their position about the numerous welfare problems on campus.
As far as we are concerned in the ERC, students would not have gone out of their way to organise protest if the ULSU leaders had been proactive. So the lesson ULSU leaders must learn is that the students they lead are not going to be docile and quiet while they are being oppressed and exploited. They will rise and fight to defend their interests at all times.
The ULSU leaders need to sit tight now in order to win the hearts and minds of students many of whom are beginning to voice their disappointments in the leadership. The starting point here is for the ULSU leaders to publicly defend the students who have been invited to a panel. This is because an "injury to one is an injury to all". If ULSU secretly supports or look away now while students are being victimised for protesting for their rights, the repercussion would be that ULSU leaders themselves in the coming period would risk suffering the same victimisation whenever they have to lead struggles against anti-student policies of the University administration. Equally if these set of students are successfully victimised with ULSU not raising a finger, the immediate repercussion is that many students would be frightened of ever fighting for their rights; something which would affect students participation in ULSU activities in the coming period. So in whatever way we look at it, it is the union which is just coming out of a decade of proscription rather than the individual students that have the most to lose if this victimisation is not resisted. This is why we call on ULSU to publicly condemn the allegation and also make representation to the University administration to argue for the discontinuation of the disciplinary process.
(1) Discontinuation of the disciplinary process against students that participated in the protest against power outage.
(2) For the recognition and defence of the right to protest
(3) For an independent, democratic and accountable students' union
(4) For a congress of students to discuss how ULSU should respond to the many welfare challenges students face on campus
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) is a campaign platform of the Democratic socialist Movement (DSM). We stand for struggle against fee hike and for a free, functional and democratically-managed education. We also stand for an independent, democratic and accountable union that can defend the interests of all students. We hold our branch meetings every Wednesday. Call the phone number below to join and participate in our activities.
Comrade Gbenga Opasola