Wednesday, 27 March 2019

LASU STUDENTS’ UNION ELECTION: MANAGEMENT’S ACTIONS THREATEN THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE STUDENTS UNION


                                                                       PRESS STATEMENT

The national leadership of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) is concerned about the unfortunate turn of events at the Lagos State University (LASU) over the conduct of the students’ union elections. The actions of the LASU management via the Division of Student Affairs during and particularly after the February 27, 2019 elections can only be interpreted as brazen encroachment on the independence of the Students Union.

We are particularly surprised by a letter of invitation to a “Swearing-in Ceremony of the newly Elected Lagos State University Students Union Executives and its Functionaries” emanating from the DSA. This letter not only usurps the role of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), it is equally insensitive and provocative considering that key presidential candidates who felt aggrieved at the conduct of the February 27 elections are still at the election petition tribunal to try to prove their case for conduct of supplementary elections. Also, this invitation is in violation of an order of the election petition committee which directed the LASUSU-IEC to maintain status quo on all activities pending the determination of the substantive suit.

Ordinarily, Students Union elections are meant to be the sole business/responsibility of only matriculated students who are union members. However, if the management must play any role at all, we would have expected that such a role would be to ensure unity and cohesion and not to sow division and enmity.  Unfortunately, the role the management has played so far is to sow division, cause enmity and fan the embers of disunity in the ranks of LASUSU. This situation is unacceptable and we therefore unreservedly pitch out tent with the LASUites who are currently challenging the outcome of the February 27 elections at the election petition committee. We urge the management to allow this legal challenge to take its course and to respect and obey the outcome.

One of the presidential candidates is Comrade Nurudeen Alowonle (a.k.a. Omomeewa) who is a leading member of the ERC and the Lagos State Coordinator of the organization. He polled about 553 votes just coming a little behind the declared candidate, Ola Delz who polled 612. However as at the time these votes were collated, a number of faculties were unable to vote because of a glitch in the electronic voting system. It is instructive to note that out of over 15, 000 eligible voters, only 2,131 students were able to vote. This glitch which was reported to the appropriate authorities compelled the IEC to agree to conclude the elections the next day in order to allow these other voters to exercise their franchise. But this was not to be. The IEC dilly-dallied for weeks until March 13 when it announced winners in an election it previously declared “inconclusive” and “in progress”. All of these show that pressure must have been mounted on the IEC by powerful forces in the management. For instance, at a meeting with aggrieved presidential candidates to discuss the supplementary elections, the IEC alleged lack of cooperation from the Division of Student Affairs in terms of finance and logistics to organize the supplementary elections.

As things stand now, the decision to go on to inaugurate the Students Union executive can only be interpreted as an insensitive and provocative step by the management to force its way through. This is condemnable and shows that the management has more than a passing interest in the affairs of the union. Their conduct so far shows they clearly have a preferred candidate that has to be desperately installed in violation of democratic standards . Obviously, the candidate is not Omomeewa, the first runner up. This is not surprising given the role of Omomeewa in struggle both within and outside LASU. The LASU management clearly does not want a radical at the head of LASUSU who could fight energetically for the interests of students against the anti-poor and anti—students policies including increment of charges and fees, the undemocratic dressing code, poor studying and living conditions and the nefarious activities of the campus marshals.

However, if the electoral petition committee is bold, courageous and true to its responsibility, its judgment has the power to reverse any illegality. However this will not be enough. Students must also be prepared to struggle with public meetings, mobilizations and peaceful mass protests to ensure the petition committee’s judgment is obeyed. This situation offers an opportunity to begin to reclaim the independence of LASUSU. We call on all students to be steadfast and committed to ensure that this encroachment of the union’s independence is resisted.

We also call on Staff Unions not to be indifferent. As the saying goes “ when the grim reaper cuts down members of one’s age group, the unambiguous message is for the survivors to prepare for their own time”. An injury to one is an injury to all. We challenge ASUU-LASU, SSANU-LASU, NASU-LASU AND NAAT-LASU to all rise up and condemn the actions of the management. By this public statement, we notify all staff unions as well as pro-labour organizations and trade unions of the undemocratic actions of the LASU management and call for their solidarity and intervention.


Hassan Taiwo Soweto                                                              Wole Olubanji
National coordinator                                                        National Mobilization Officer



Monday, 18 March 2019

LASU: ELECTORAL COMMISSION CONNIVES WITH MANAGEMENT TO RIG OUT ERC MEMBER AND OTHER CANDIDATES IN STUDENTS' UNION ELECTION

By ERC Reporter 


The Students' Union of Lagos State University held elections into elective positions in the students' union on 27th February, 2019. The electronic voting system adopted for the conduct of the election malfunctioned particularly in certain faculties during the process of voting. Then the electoral commission during the late evening of the Election Day announced that the election would continue the following day, in order not to subject students to uncertain security situation if the election had continued through the night. 

A member of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Alowonle Nurudeen (Omomewa), contested for the office of the President of the LASU Students' Union in the election. As a leading member of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) in LASU, he has played active roles in the struggles in defence of the democratic rights of students as well as decent learning conditions. In some of these roles, he has had to confront uncompromisingly the management on certain unwholesome policies– especially over a sexist policy of the school that subjects female students to molestation in the hands of university guards in the name of policing so-called indecent dressing. It should be noted that members of the ERC in LASU have warned in advance of the ploy of the management to disqualify Omomewa at the earliest stage of this electioneering process.  

However this ploy became manifest in another dimension, and through the Electoral Commission that made itself a willing tool of manipulation in the hands of the LASU's management. On 28th February, when the election was to continue based on the promise of the commission a day earlier, the electoral body failed to go ahead with the election. At a meeting with aspirants on that same day, the commission cited lack of cooperation from the management, in terms of logistical support, for the failure to go ahead with the election as earlier announced. The commission equally reiterated to all the aspirants that the election was inconclusive, and promised that a new date for supplementary elections woukd be communicated soon. What the commission eventually communicated to the studentry was a rambling opinion that painted its previous declaration of inconclusive election as an erroneous judgment based on a mistaken belief. 

On 13th March, after students had waited fourteen days since the 17th of February's election for a new date for a supplementary election, the commission informed students that it would instead announce the leading candidates from the botched election as winners for the various contested positions. It further justified this U-turn in judgment on the realisation of the commission that the union constitution did not make provision for a supplementary election(!). Shamefully, the commission had reversed itself on two different occasions, and with their justification growing weaker and desperate still. 

It should be noted that the botched election of 27th February was fraught with a suspicious glitch, because the technical problems with the electronic voting system was more pronounced at the Faculty of education – where Omomewa is a student as well as some members and supporters of the ERC. The comrades had from the beginning of the election noted this anomaly as containing indications of a concerted effort of the management and the electoral commission to frustrate Omomewa's share of the votes in his faculty. Every member of this commission has betrayed the trust that their colleagues reposed in them to have nominated them to serve on the commission. They have proved to be renegers and astute manipulators of popular will – history will not absolve them well. 

The results from the botched election of 27th February showed an election that was being keenly contested, and unpredictable at that. Especially because hundreds of willing voters were yet to exercise their franchise as eligible members of the students' union. Until the commission halted the process, the leading candidate was emerging over the first runner-up (omomewa) with only 59 votes, while the first runner-up was leading the second runner-up by only 59 votes, and the second runner-up was also leading the third runner-up by 57 votes only. If the members of the commission had been conscientious, the nature of this close race would have endeared them to remaining steadfast with the need for a supplementary election. Unfortunately, they yielded to the pressure of the university management. 

We have on our hand another odious instance of management's encroachment on independent unionism. The LASU management has a high stake in this election, because of its visible movement lately in the direction of fee increment, which has already taken as victim fresh intakes into the university. The comrades of the ERC in LASU have warned students of the systematic dimension of the policy, which is bound to affect both fresh and returning students soon enough. The university therefore has no doubt about it, as much as the ERC too, that a students' union under the leadership of Omomewa would resist such attempt at increment at a time the nation's elites are resisting the clamour by workers for a new minimum wage. 

The comrades have reiterated their intention to seek the impartial intervention of the Election Petition Committee in the matter, and prayed in their petition for the conduct of a supplementary election. It should be noted that the electoral commission had already made a statement before the petition committee that the election was still in progress (inconclusive), when some candidates had challenged the botched election in the first week of March. However, this would depend too on the capacity of the electoral commission to be courageous and independent in its deliberation. It would also depend on the pressure that could be mounted on the LASU management for it to desist from its unwholesome tinkering with the students' union election and activities in general. This development should start a discussion on the financial independence of the students' union in LASU, which would prevent such logistical nightmares in the future – the type of which the commission has complained of.

The LASU management is notorious for its suppressive actions against both staff and students' unions. Recently, the same LASU management suspended the payment of check-up dues to the union of academic staff (ASUU) of the institution. This action must have been taken to break the struggle of ASUU for payment of certain statutory allowances that the university management is owing the staff as well as for reinstatement of their sacked leaders. It is easy to see, behind the action of the electoral commission, the hand of the management at work against the interest of LASU students. Students must maintain a principled position in the defense of their demoractic rights to freedom of association and independent unionism. The ASUU and other staff unions in LASU must see the grain of a struggle for independent unionism in this present circumstance. Transparent management of schools can only be realised when unions are independent and vibrant. The ERC calls on all staff unions in LASU to reject this management's interference in the electoral affairs of the LASU Students' Union. 







Saturday, 5 January 2019

ERC REITERATES PRINCIPLED SUPPORT FOR ASUU, ASUP STRIKES


Condemns NANS for opposing a nationwide strike against Education Underfunding

 PRESS STATEMENT

The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) wishes to reiterate her principled support for the ongoing strike of ASUU and ASUP. We believe this strike which is about compelling government to fulfill its social responsibility in terms of funding public education and improving the conditions of education workers deserve the principled support of students, parents and the labour movement as a whole. 

To this extent, we condemn the position taken by the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) towards the strike which consists of issuing ultimatum to ASUU to call off the strike without any regard for the crucial issues of education funding which the strike was called to address. Now with the recent visit of NANS to President Buhari at which a big birthday card was presented by NANS to president Buhari, it is clear that all of NANS recriminations about this strike has nothing to do with protecting the interests of Nigerian students who are suffering at home due to the strike but actually dictated by the interests of the hungry locusts in the leadership of NANS to get close to the corridors of power in exchange for money. 

As we in the ERC have labored to explain, the best way to protect the interest of students and ensure this strike comes to an end as soon as possible is for the students' movement to rally behind the strike in order to mount pressure on the Federal government to meet the demands of ASUU and ASUP. Any other method is opportunistic and a tongue-in-cheek endorsement of the anti-education and anti-student policies of underfunding and fee hike being implemented by the President Buhari APC government. 

ERC members have campaigned over the last decade for adequate funding of the education sector, on the basis that quality education is crucial to economic growth and national security. Regrettably, this dogged issue of funding has remained the bane of strike actions in tertiary institutions since 2009.

The agreements the federal government willingly entered with the unions were foregrounded by a NEEDS assessment report, a report that was conducted, sanctioned and adopted by the federal government. The pictures from the NEEDS assessment report, of the overcrowded lecture rooms and unequipped laboratories, have worsened today. Instructions, in the sciences and medical sciences, ought to be demonstrated; but today, science and medical courses are largely taught abstractly. The ERC therefore believes that the material conditions that justified the several agreements with the unions are not only existing, but have worsened.

We are witnesses to the fee hikes that rocked tertiary institutions in the first half of 2018. Fee hikes are convenient for school authorities to augment inadequate funding, and grossly unfair to parents and guardians that a recession had pushed closer to poverty. Underfunding of education hold students and parents as victims as much as education workers. We therefore find the position of NANS on the present strike unfortunate and self-annihilating, because NANS's position failed to recognise the interest of students for comfortable hostels and quality education in the struggle of the education workers. 

When students were protesting fee increment in UNIBEN and UI last year, NANS lost her voice and only just discovered her voice of scurrilities over ASUU and ASUP struggles. That smacks of opportunism! The ERC holds the opinion that NANS is existing in the firmament, and cut off from the realities obtainable on campuses, and therefore incapable of leading advocacy in the interests of Nigerian students. Just to prove this point further: at the press conference where NANS cast aspersion on the demands of ASUU and ASUP, it also seized the moment to endorse President Muhammadu Buhari, despite the intangible contribution of the latter to the education sector.

Meanwhile, the Buhari-led federal government keeps drawing the same conclusions independently as the striking unions about the crisis in the education sector. But it keeps stopping short of funding the sector, even when it agrees that the conditions creating demand for funding are there. We note the revelations of ASUU concerning the Wale Babalakin committee, which was set up by the government to renegotiate the terms of the agreements that previous governments had entered with ASUU. ASUU is demanding for the removal of Wale Babalakin as the chairman of the committee, because he is fixated on fee hike and education loans, according to the ASUU leadership. The ERC believes that the federal government has demonstrated obvious insincerity on the central question of education funding that created the perennial strikes, and evades that question through nebulous means. 

We believe that the government has the wherewithal to fund education, even beyond the current demands of the education sector unions for a one-off funding intervention in the sector. Less than 11, 800 political appointees are fleecing this country, through their outrageous remuneration and inflated cost of contracts or outsourcing of government's projects. The same government rushes to bail out a bank that was plundered by her chief executive, to save the money of a few stinkingly rich people who own more than 50% of the deposits in Nigerian banks.

The ERC holds that the capitalist system that this country runs is responsible for most of government's misplaced priorities that deflect from funding sectors important to vast majority of the people, in order to save funds for looting. This is why the struggle against education underfunding and improvement in workers welfare can only win permanent victory when linked with the general struggle of the working class to put an end to capitalism and enthrone a workers and poor people’s government armed with socialist policies. 

Signed

Hassan Taiwo Soweto                                                           Wole Olubanji
National Coordinator.                                                            National Mobilization Officer