The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) considers the decision of the Buhari-led federal government to hike fuel price to N145 per litre as a brazen and cruel assault on working people, students, youths and poor masses. This increase in fuel price together with the 45 percent increase in electricity tariff must be fought to a standstill.
The decision to hike fuel price is another example of how the Buhari government, despite its grandstanding, panders to the interests of the rich. Just like the hike in electricity tariff, the reason for this increase is to protect the investment and profit of oil marketers and other shylocks in the downstream sector.
We reject the notion that there is no other way to resolve the crisis in the oil sector other than periodic increases in price which further increases the yoke under which workers, students and poor people groan. Of course there is another way. That is the way of putting the oil sector under public ownership and democratic control, expelling the IOCs, oil majors, marketers and other profit interest from the upstream and downstream sectors of the oil industry, government to take up the tasks of oil production, export and refining so that our oil industry can serve the interests of ordinary Nigerians instead of the interest of the rich it has been serving since 1956.
No doubt, this decision if allowed to stay will make life harder for ordinary Nigerians who have been paying through their noses for months now to procure fuel for their vehicles and generators. At a period when the working masses are suffering from crippling socio-economic crises and rising inflation which have led to increases in cost of food, commodities and services, this hike will further push millions to the very margins of existence.
Already the scarcity of petroleum products coupled with the collapse of electricity supply has adversely affected public education. It is an indisputable fact that for almost one year now since Buhari took over, lecturers have been spending more hours on queues at filling stations than in classes while students spend more time at bus stops waiting for buses or in traffic which invariably mean that they often get late to lectures. The consequential unofficial rise in cost fuel as well as rise in transport costs have also led to a situation whereby many lecturers and students are forced to prioritize which lectures to attend in order to minimize cost. Besides, the recent protests on some campuses over poor welfare conditions and their subsequent closure by managements were not unconnected with fuel crisis and poor power supply.
It is our contention in the ERC that the new hike in fuel price will further disrupt public education, adversely affect students especially as students will now have to pay higher bus fares to go to school and back. Books, laboratory materials and others will become more expensive. This will put overwhelming pressure on working class parents whose income has been eroded by inflation. Also the hike in fuel prices can lead to a new wave of fee hikes in Universities, Polytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of education. Higher fuel prices often lead to higher energy costs for schools and higher costs of goods and services including those services that Universities and other education institutions require to function. Following the January 2012 hike in fuel prices, a wave of fee hike hit the Universities and other higher educational institutions. The justification of administrators of higher institutions for these fee increases was that their bill had increased as a result of higher costs of goods and services.
For all of these reasons and more, Nigerian students must not accept the hike in fuel price. They should convert the campuses into theatres of popular resistance until the government listens to the voice of the people. We will join the labour movement and civil society to shutdown the entire country through strikes, protests and demonstrations until the government reverses the hike.
The ERC calls on all students unions to immediately convene congresses of students with a view to democratically agree on ways and manners to pursue the resistance against this anti-poor hike in fuel price including other policies affecting students rights to education on campuses. The ERC suggests that students on campuses should begin to boycott classes and organize peaceful protests and demonstrations at the gates of their campuses starting from Monday 16 May 2016. Where possible, these protests and other actions should be organized in conjunction with staff unions and other willing progressive forces.
As we prepare to go back to the barricades, we are not oblivious of the fact that the leadership of organized labour stabbed the working masses in the back by betraying the January 2012 general strike and mass protest against fuel hike even while the working masses were willing to fight for total reversal. The major reasons this happened was because on one hand the labour leadership had no political alternative to the capitalist status quo and were therefore fearful of continuing the strike a day longer while on the other hand, the power to call on and off the general strike and mass protest was left in their hands.
To prevent this from happening again, activists must work harder and tirelessly this time around to entrench our resistance in the workplace, communities and campuses such that no labour leader can call the action off from Abuja. We must also be prepared not to budge from the barricade until our demands are fully met. More crucial is the need for a working people’s political alternative that can rescue Nigeria from the grip of the capitalist locusts to emerge from the protest.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Michael OgundeleNational Coordinator (07033697259) National Secretary