Monday 28 January 2013

NANS: How Should Socialists And Genuine Student Activists React To The New Leadership?

In Search of a correct method for left activists in the Student Movement

Since the last time we wrote about the Convention of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) held in December 2012, more facts have emerged confirming our general political characterisation of NANS. More than this, these new revelations have again fueled the on-going debate within the left on the right method and approach to rebuild the student movement.

The Coalition of Left and Progressive Students (CLAPS) - a platform that played a direct role in the convention and presented a "left" candidate for the NANS presidency - has released a statement which as an eyewitness account of the convention provides copious revelations which confirms almost to the last detail our previous description of the rottenness of the NANS and how the left cannot hope to reclaim it simply by contesting alone. Every student activist has to read the statement of CLAPS over and over for in it you realise just how much work is needed to be done to reclaim the student movement.

Stating quite frankly the home truth, CLAPS correctly summed-up the convention as an unmitigated disaster. "The subsequent ‘elections’ were highly monetised. Many money-bag politicians sent their emissaries to support one candidate or the other with millions of naira deployed...In short, there was no difference between the Convention and that of PDP, ACN or other anti-poor party in the elite’s politics of Nigeria. The outcome of the Convention was quite predictable, an un-mitigated charade".

An Outcome Foreseen

This was not an over statement. A brief look at the convention says it all. "The Convention lasted six days (from 13th to 18th, December) and except for the last two days which were for the ‘elections’ (imposition per-se), the other days were wasted on the carrot and stick of lobbying genuine delegates on ground, and using violence to cow those amongst them that remained principled. Many radical and pro-student aspirants at the Convention were intimidated, attacked, and prevented from freely canvassing and contesting. Despite the insistence and protests of delegates that they preferred holding the convention on the campus, the Convention Planning Committee (CPC) in conjunction with the UNIUYO management, the Local Organising Committee (LOC) and the men of the SSS/Police Force frustrated the moves. At the Uyo Stadium, where the convention was held, the place was militarised and many genuine delegates and students were prevented from entering the venue of their own Convention!"

Against this background, CLAPS concluded that the convention "confirms the crass degeneracy in the students’ movement and the depth of control which reactionary pro-government forces wield over the students’ movement". This is something we in the DSM had pointed out severally to demonstrate the naivety of assuming that all that is needed to reclaim NANS is for the left to simply contest and go over to the convention ground to slug it out with the righgwings. Rather what is needed is for the left to organise to build a movement from below that can begin to fight around issues of education attacks and link this with the need to transform the leadership of students in the local unions as well as in NANS at all levels.

Unfortunately some left and radical students activists including those organised within CLAPS failed to understand this initially. They underestimated the level of the rot in NANS and the complete detachment of the leadership from the rank and file. They did not fully understand that NANS leadership has become a bureaucracy standing far above the mass of Nigerian students it claims to represent. It was not for nothing that there were no political discussion, evaluation of the state of the nation, education sector, reports etc which are parts of the constitutionally-provided agenda for every NANS meetings especially a convention. This is because there were no activities to report or discuss. The immediate-past leadership did not lift a single finger against any neo-liberal capitalist attacks on education and neither is the newly-elected leadership expected to do anything.

The complete destruction of the democratic structures of NANS which in the past permitted the mass of students some control and influence over the leadership is one of the biggest challenges to any efforts to reclaim NANS. It means that the leadership is now more than ever detached from the mass of students, uncontrollable by them and can do as it deem fit. This coupled with the fact that the leadership does not depend anymore on capitation dues of local unions but on State fund means that they are completely independent and do not have to worry about censure from the rank and file.

The situation in the labour movement is completely different and far ahead of the student movement. As bureaucratised as the leadership of most, if not all, trade unions in Nigerians are, the fact that they still largely depend on membership check-off dues for their salaries and privileges means they still have to look over their shoulders sometimes so that they do not completely alienate their members. It is therefore in their interest to occasionally feign radicalism and speak against one anti-poor policy or the other. As a result, it is quite possible to pile pressure on the trade union leaders to call strike actions and demonstrations even though they could betray it later. Last year in Oyo and Enugu States, workers stoned and even removed their leaders, albeit temporarily,   when they failed to fight for implementation of the N18 000 minimum wage.

But the same cannot be said of NANS. Students do not even know who their NANS leaders are, not to talk of stoning them. Many leaders of NANS relocate to Abuja for the whole period of their tenure. They can only be found in the corridors of the National Assembly lobbying lawmakers and politicians for a share of their loots. Of course removing them is a daydream. They rarely call meetings and when they do so, this takes place in choice hotels completely out of reach of students.

The point has to be stressed that the degeneracy which is present in all unions in Nigeria today is far worse in the student movement. NANS is the only union in Nigeria that is not run on members dues! Indeed instead of funding NANS which is actually a confederation of local unions, rightwing leaders of local students unions now depend on "returns" from the leaders of NANS. This is why the question of who becomes NANS present is a "do or die" affair for the leaders of local unions who stands as delegates at NANS conventions. Therefore an expectation that a "left" candidate can win this kind of condition is nothing but a daydream. Not surprising "At the end of the fraudulent, unconstitutional, illegal and highly militarised/monetized charade called NANS Convention, non-students emerged as its critical leaders, with both the Convention Chairman and President-imposed!"

While the same task of rebuilding and putting in place a fighting and class-conscious leadership is the same for both the labour movement as well as the student movement today, the reality is that the difference in the level of degeneracy means that the methods will not quite be the same. At the same time too, a method that simply relies on contesting against the rightwing for the leadership of the labour movement without building alongside this a strong movement of rank and file workers from below will most definitely fail just as it failed at the NANS convention.

Marxists have always recognised that the ultimate test of theory is practise. We in the ERC are therefore glad that having gone to the convention, it appears the activists in CLAPS are beginning to find their way back to the correct approach. We will be prepared to continue to debate with the left and activists in CLAPS over questions of methods and tactics to reclaim the student movement. These debates are necessary to clarify the right way forward and we believe both our tendencies will gain enormously from it.

Danger of Ultra-Leftism

In drawing conclusions about how to move forward, the left has to be careful of not swinging from one incorrect position to another completely dangerous one. For instance in summing up its statement, CLAPS declared: "We...reject the outcome of the NANS 2012 CONVENTION in its entirety! And we call on all change-seeking students to also reject the Convention. It is high time that we join hands in building a clear, vibrant alternative to the monstrous, anti-students bureaucracy, euphemistically referred to as the “Stakeholders” that have hijacked the organisation".

The call to "reject the outcome" of the convention sounds radical enough. But it is an unproductive approach. If students were actually in a position to reject the outcome of the convention then it is not likely the NANS rightwings would have been able to successfully organise a convention with all those absurdities in the first place. More so these elements do not need students' endorsement (or funding!) to function anyway so how would rejection affect or stop them? Besides, if it is sufficient to just call for the rejection of the newly-elected NANS leadership, then what happens to their acomplices - the leadership of the local unions who voted them at the convention in exchange for wads of Naira notes? Are they not as guilty?

Activists in CLAPS have to understand the rot in NANS goes beyond just the leadership at the top; it percolates directly down the entire edifice of the movement. Only a complete transformation of the leadership of the student movement at all levels (in the local unions as wells as in NANS) can open the way for the building of a genuine, democratic and fighting platform of students. Just as simply contesting is no way out so also simply rejecting them resolves nothing. The most fundamental and decisive reason the NANS rightwing bureaucracy and/or stakeholders have become so entrenched in the student movement and have been able to get away with all kinds of betrayals now as much as in the past is because of the throwback in the consciousness of students.

This throwback in consciousness is sharply reflected in the low strength of the left and radical groups on campuses today. Expecting no mass challenge from anywhere, the NANS bureaucracy is able to strike any bargain and deals with the ruling elite as it likes. If they were challenged anywhere at all, it is from disgruntled local union leaders or stakeholders complaining about not having gotten a fair share of the loot. For the mass of students, it is as if NANS does not exist.

Therefore instead of simply calling for rejection of the newly-elected NANS leadership, the best productive approach is for the left to begin to organise more agressively among students on campuses around issues of education attacks and of course linking this with the need to reclaim the student movement from the rightwing elements in control of NANS as well as the local student unions.

The Wayforward

This is why we fully agree with the task of "building a clear, vibrant alternative to the monstrous, anti-students bureaucracy euphemistically referred to as the "Stakeholders" that have hijacked the organisation". We will be prepared to "join hands" with any group that subscribes to this agenda. This to us mean building a movement from below around issues of education attacks like fee hike, underfunding, poor welfare conditions, attacks on independent unionism and victimisation and linking this with the need to reclaim NANS or form a new platform.

These issues are prevalent on campuses today. All around the country, fees have been hiked beyond what students from working class background can afford. The conditions of hostel and teaching facilities are appalling. According to the CNANU report, more than half of the Universities in Nigeria suffer from shortage of academic staff and quality teaching facilities. Meanwhile the meagre allocation to education in the 2013 appropriation bill means things will get worse while attacks on education will increase in the next period.

Therefore a serious campaign that begins to challenge these attacks will not only be warmly received by the mass of students, it will also begin to pile pressure on the leadership of the local unions and the NANS leadership to fight. Fighting would mean clashing with the capitalist ruling elite that feeds them, on the other hand not fighting would most certainly mean risking a revolt of the mass of students against their leadership and completely losing their authority. Despite their complete detachment from students, the NANS leadership likes to think it commands over "40 million Nigerian students" when in reality its commands none. A mass revolt will bring this illusion quickly to an end.

Of course there is no guarantee that faced with this options they would fight at all. But as we have pointed out elsewhere, even if they fight under pressure, it would be to betray the struggle at some point once they feel safe enough to do so. But at that point, it would be clear, not just to the left and activists as it is now, but most importantly to the mass of students that it is high time the pro-state, rightwing elements were flushed out and a new democratic and fighting platform erected on the genuine ideas of solidarity and struggle.

H.T Soweto
National Coordinator, ERC.

Wednesday 9 January 2013


FOR STUDENT UNION ELECTIONS NOW !! The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) calls on authorities of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) to stop the victimization of 12 activists, 4 of whom are our members, who have been campaigning for the restoration of the banned Students' Union. For organizing symposium under the platform of the ERC and demanding the restoration of the students' union, they have all been issued query letters accusing them of flouting paragraph IV (B) (xi) of the University's code of conduct and their Matriculation Oath.We demand the withdrawal of all allegations against these activists. Instead of trying to punish those who bravely laboured over the last two years to demand the restoration of the union, we urge the management of the University to focus more on meeting the demands of students for immediate elections into an independent and democratic union.We will like to note that the activities of these activists are completely legitimate in a democratic society. Everywhere in the world, activists use the method of campaign which includes distribution of leaflets, symposia, public meetings, boycotts and protests to fight against any form of injustice. It is therefore a misnomer that a University where the best democratic ideals are supposed to be cherished is carrying out a vindictive action which has the implication of completely criminalising the democratic rights of students to campaign against acts of injustice.The allegations contained in the query letters issued to the activists confirms the undemocratic mindset of the management of the University. For instance, the first allegation against the activists is that "(1) Against the express directive of the University not to organize or take part in a symposium organized by the Education Rights Campaign, not being a registered association in the university, did organize and took part in a symposium organized by the said association on 1 December, 2012 at about 1600 hours at Awolowo hall cafeteria on the university campus in Ile-Ife." For this the University Management says they have flouted the code of conduct of the University and their matriculation oath!Other allegations are: "(2) on 5 December, 2012 at about 0830 hours, with some other persons, attempted to chase other students away from lecture halls on the university campus, thereby disrupting the academic and social activities on the campus" and "(3) in the early hours of the morning of December 2, 2012, broke into floor "O" of the university hall on the Campus at Ile-Ife, destroyed window panes and physically assaulted Mr. A. V. Adeyemo, one of the security men on duty at the time."For us in the ERC, none of these allegations is justifiable. The rights to freedom of association and expression are guaranteed in the Constitution of Nigeria, they are inalienable human rights. The 12 activists have the fundamental human rights to belong to any association they like or participate in any public program or activities so far this association and activities are not secret cults or violent groups that threaten the peace and security of society.A symposium is a public meeting and it was held in an open space without disrupting public peace. Criminalising those who organised or participated at a public symposium to discuss is not only unfair and unjust, it can have the opposite implication of encouraging secret societies and cultism. The management has to think through the implications of its actions before it carries on this planned victimisation.It is curious that the University Management considers the ERC, an association that has existed in the University for nearly 10 years now, as an "unregistered association". Throughout this period, the ERC has carried out its activities in the open. For the avoidance of any doubt, we must explain that the ERC is not a secret society or cult group. Only these are illegal according to the 1999 constitution. Instead, the ERC is an organisation of students, youths and workers having the objective of campaigning against fee hike and for the provision of free, public-funded and democratically managed education. We also campaign for proper funding of education, respect of democratic rights in the education sector and job creation for youths and graduates.Our methods of campaigning are completely open and legitimate. They include leaflets distribution, organising public meetings and symposia, petitioning, lobbying, protest and demonstration. The ERC does not exist only in the Obafemi Awolowo University but also on many campuses and communities across the country. The organization on a regularly basis collaborates with the staff unions and students unions in the universities and other higher institutions of learning in the country in promotion of the rights and interests of their members. The ERC has indeed had causes on different occasions to appear before the education committees of the National Assembly in furtherance of its objective. As recently as November 13, 2012 the ERC, as part of the coalition of education based civil societies, attended and addressed, a public hearing organized by the House of Representative Committee on Education on Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) where, among other things, it argued for the Fund to remain focused on assisting the funding of tertiary education.If the ERC could be recognised at such levels of government most especially at the National Assembly, the law making arm of the government, how then can it be "unregistered" or "illegal" in OAU? With due respect to the laws of the University, it is our belief that if the University Management feels strongly that the ERC has not met certain requirements to legitimately operate and conduct its activities within the University, such can be communicated through normal channels instead of through the means of query and the ominous threat of victimisation of our members and supporters.The ERC remains a peaceful organisation with the set objective to campaign for adequate funding of education without which universities, including OAU, would continue on the downward trends in facility and quality of teaching as we have been witnessing for nearly two decades. The least the ERC, its members and supporters deserves is moral support, not condemnation, from the University community and anyone who wish to see Nigeria's public education back on its feet again.The second and third allegations are meant to criminalise the activists in order to victimise them. The question is what happened on 2 December and 5 December 2012 and how is the 1 December symposium related to these dates? The truth is that these three dates represent timelines within which the management suddenly found itself faced by a rising movement of students which eventually forced it to agree to the conduct of elections into a students' union. On December 1 2012, several hundreds of students who had become fed up of management's foot-dragging on the demands for restoration of the banned union sat for over 7 hours at a symposium organised by the ERC to discuss. One of the speakers at the symposium was Mr. Adeola Soetan - a former president of the University's Students' Union. Other speakers included former leaders of the union, leaders of the ERC and the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) as well as staff unions.Going by the radicalised mood at the symposium, it was clear that a lot of students were prepared to begin to take actions to demand the restoration of their union. However the management made things worse when it orchestrated an attack against the speakers as they were leaving the University in a car through Road One after the symposium had ended. This angered a lot of students who embarked on a protest that night. Instinctively understanding that the attack was not an accident but was linked to the issue of the banned union, the protesting students immediately started raising slogans for restoration of the Union and elections. The next day, a congress was called at which a decision was taken to boycott lectures on December 5 to further press home the demands. The lightening speed of events caught the management by surprise. All efforts to rein in the movement proved unsuccessful. The success of the boycott on December 5 further forced the management to concede to the fact that the only way out was to meet students demands. Therefore on the afternoon of 5 December while the boycott was on, the Division of Students Affairs announced the formation of a Student Representative Council (SRC) with the mandate to organise elections into students' union.These are the events of 1, 2 and 3 December 2012 upon which the allegations against the 12 activists are predicated. The allegation that they chased students out of lecture halls is laughable. How is it possible for 12 people to successfully chase over 25, 000 students out of lecture halls? What the management does not want to accept is that the boycott was successful only because it was supported by wide layers of students.We in the ERC do not support or employ violence and destruction of public properties as a means of struggle. Our track records of struggle are there for everyone to check. We hold strongly that the allegations of violent conduct against these activists are trumped-up by the management in order to punish them for rousing students to fight for the restoration of their union.Therefore while we appeal to the management to withdraw all allegations against the 12 activists and allow them go about their academic duties without molestation or victimisation, we also demand that the transition process into students union which has been kicked off by the setting up of the STC should continue. What this means is that the Students Transition Committee (STC) must immediately begin to fulfill its mandate by setting up an electoral commission, drawing up timetable and other conditions for a democratic election in accordance with the constitution of the OAU Students' Union. Hassan Taiwo Soweto ERC National Coordinator  

Sunday 6 January 2013


Does The New Leadership Represent a New Dawn For The Student Movement?

Statement of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC)
(This statement was written in December 2012 just a few weeks after the NANS convention which held from 13th-18th December 2012. Since then, about two other presidential candidates have reportedly declared factions, confirming once again that the chief interest of the candidates were not to defend the interests of students but to acquire a position to negotiate pecuniary gains with the government. Also, the Coalition of Left and Progressive Students (CLAPS) whose role at the convention we have reviewed below has issued a statement analysing the convention, its role and the next steps. This and other developments could not be captured in the statement below. They will be addressed in future articles about the condition of the student movement and what the tactics and methods of the left and genuine activists should be.)
The convention of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has just been held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. After an over one week-long convention, a new leadership has finally emerged. Interestingly the elected NANS President, Yinka Gbadegbo (Ayefele), hails from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) - a University where the culture of fighting student unionism and left organisations still exist.
The first time a OAU student held a national position in NANS was 1984 when Lanre Arogundade (a member of the Democratic Socialist Movement) and former secretary general of the OAU students union became president. That period saw a spirited campaign by NANS against government anti-poor education policy of education commercialisation which climaxed in a nationwide lecture boycott and mass protest.
Unfortunately, such fighting leadership however cannot be expected of the newly elected NANS leadership despite that the newly-elected president comes from the same University. Indeed the point has to be stressed that this new leadership does not in any way represent a new dawn for the student movement. From the point of view of how they emerged at the convention as well as the antecedents of the elements newly elected into the NANS leadership now, there is no basis for any hope that NANS would be any different from the past and begin to fight vigorously against education attacks.


Heavily-armed police, the State Security Service (SSS) and at some point soldiers had to be deployed to prevent violence that has become the permanent feature of the convention in the recent years. Nevertheless, the convention paraded all the same negative characteristics that have been the bane of NANS for years now. It was a complete charade. None of the candidates got the official ratification of the local student unions to contest. Even if in certain cases they did, it was more as a secret arrangement among the leadership of the union and not subjected to public debate at the union's parliament or congress which would have allowed more layers of students to participate in deciding whether or not a candidate should be presented as a ticket of their university's union.
An instructive example of the sham that was passed off as a convention is the candidature of Yinka Gbadebo (who eventually emerged winner) and Adelu Monehin James (Bobby) who both claimed to be the approved ticket of the OAU Students' Union. However, not only has the OAU Students' Union been proscribed for about 22 months now which means there was no parliament to discuss and ratify candidates for the convention, but neither of the candidates actively campaigned on the campus they claimed to represent. Thus it was with surprise that many OAU students received the news that someone from the University had won as NANS president.
According to the real constitution of NANS, the membership of NANS is based on the students' unions in the universities and not individual student activists. This means that it is the students' unions which contest elections and not individual activists. In other words, it is the students' union through its valid delegate that is required to present a candidate who has the mandate of the union to contest at the NANS convention. With this, there is no way two candidates would have gone to a convention claiming to be the tickets of a union. Indeed, it is the obligation of the students' union to fund the campaign and election. This is unlike what has obtained in over a decade now where candidates run around anti-poor politicians' houses and government offices to seek fund to finance their campaign and election. The essence of having the students' unions as the only statutory members of NANS and that candidates derive mandate to contest from the students' unions is to ensure that the NANS leadership is democratic, accountable to rank and file students and willing to lead a fight in defence of rights and interests of students.
But all this did not matter at this convention. Indeed at the convention, it was not only about multiple candidates from a single school, there were many cases of multiple delegates claiming to be the authentic representatives of a union. The convention planning committee simply resolved this little problem by picking their preferred delegate from the whole lot. Through this completely undemocratic method, many unions ended being represented by elements who were not even elected officials.


In addition, millions of naira were spent by the candidates to buy votes. Not only did large sums of money play a role in determining who the delegates voted for, State power was a major factor too. Many of the candidates had amassed a war chest of money from politicians and government and were able to spend hundreds of thousands bribing delegates to get their votes. According to reports, bribes-for-vote ranged from N22, 000 to N30, 000 per head. The availability of large sums of money to a majority of the leading candidates perhaps explains the closeness of the result. The winner Yinka Gbadegbo had 32 votes, the first runner up got 31 while the third got 28 votes.
The defining factor was State power. On the basis of the zoning formula of NANS presidency, it is now the turn of the South West to hold the office. However given the fact that the ruling party in the South West is the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ruling at the federal level gave the convention everything it required to get a PDP-compliant NANS leadership. This is because the NANS has for years proved to be a useful marionette in the hands of any political party that has control over it. The national leadership of NANS for instance supported and actively campaigned for President Jonathan in the 2011 elections while its zonal and state leaderships also supported any political party or candidate in their own domain willing to pay the price.
In a way the convention was a straight fight between two anti-poor and pro-capitalist political parties - the PDP and ACN. At the end it was not the desire of students for a fighting NANS leadership that defined who won or lost at the convention. It was the desire of different section of the capitalist ruling elite to continue to have a pliant NANS incapable of fighting the least of government neo-liberal capitalist attacks on education rights.


Yinka Gbadebo a.k.a Ayefele who emerged as President has been in the student movement perhaps as far back as the year 2000. Until recently when he registered as an OAU student, he has always been known as part of the NANS "stakeholders" from the University of Ado-Ekiti (UNAD) now Ekiti State University (EKSU).
By "stakeholders" is meant a motley crowd of rightwing old guards, some of whom are non-students or have long graduated, who constitute themselves as "elders" or "kingmakers" within NANS. Indeed for them NANS is a "meal ticket" and with NANS they are often able to negotiate out regular payments from government and politicians. Because of their closeness to politicians, they often become the handlers of new union or NANS leaders, helping them to learn the ropes and navigate the corridors of power.
In 2007, Ayefele was a Secretary General of a faction of NANS led by Yinka Dada (aka Saddam). During this period, the different factional NANS leaderships made fortunes from supporting anti-poor political parties and politicians during the 2007 general elections. There is no known evidence of any struggle or campaign led by this faction against the many attacks on education rights during this period. Even in EKSU, known then as UNAD, Ayefele and other "stakeholders" were known by many genuine activists as pro-government and completely hostile to struggle.
Given Ayefele''s antecedents and records in the student movement as well as the state support he enjoys which helped him win at the convention, there can be no reason to entertain hope, even for a moment, that his leadership of NANS could make any difference. His leadership would most probably mean the continuation of the same old rotten compromises of NANS with government and the absence of any program of action to resist attacks on public education and democratic rights of students. However, under pressure from a monumental mass movement of students, he could lead one or two struggles or make some radical speeches. But, as experiences have shown, in reality this would be to deceive students or use the struggle as a bargaining chip with the government or the authorities of higher institutions


A political review of the convention will not be complete without examining the role of the left in the election. Prior to now, the Socialist Workers League (SWL) whose student and youth wing is known as the Socialist Youth League (SYL), had promoted the wrong perspective that all that it requires to reclaim NANS is for the left to mobilise behind a left candidate for presidency of the platform and go to the convention to slug it out with the entrenched right wings. This simplistic perspective equally envisaged the prospect that the left could also declare a faction in the event that it is impossible to win at the convention. This is in spite of the weakness of the left in the student movement today! Elsewhere we have debated this perspective of the SYL and others on the "left" (see NANS: Can it be reclaimed and how?)
Based on this perspective, the SYL presented a candidate, Dayo Shoyoye (Dee One) for NANS president from the Lagos State University (LASU) and organised a broad platform, Coalition of Left and Progressive Students (CLAPS), to mobilise support for the candidate.
Despite claiming to be left, their campaign largely aped the same method of the right wing elements which involved not campaigning among the mass of students but just lobbying the union leaders and "stakeholders". While there is nothing ordinarily wrong with lobbying union leaders, the reality today is that majority of leaders of the local unions are right wing and anti-struggle, most of them are obstacles to the development of mass struggles against education attacks on their campuses. They are therefore as guilty as the NANS leaders of the same crime of selling-out students' struggles. Only a mass campaign rooted among students on campuses and linking the NANS election with a programme to fight education attacks can begin to build an effective pressure on the union leaders to vote a left candidate at the NANS convention. Such a campaign must also have a programme to rebuild the local unions as democratic mass unions of students with fighting leadership, without which the desire to reclaim NANS will be unrealisable.
But the SYL did not run this kind of mass campaign. There was no massive circulation of campaign materials on campuses. No public meetings or symposia to build support! Nothing to build an active base among students to back the campaign! While the production of the CLAPS Newsletter was positive step, it could not have had desirable impact having been merely circulated at the convention ground to delegates and "stakeholders" who have no appetite for political discussion and can only recognise the scent of naira notes. This is more so as the convention was not held on a campus and thereby disconnected from mass of students.
Without any doubt, a spirited mass campaign of the left for NANS leadership conducted on campuses and among students clearly outlining programmes to revive NANS and build a movement against education attacks would still not have won in the present circumstance in the student movement. But it could have made some real difference in terms of politically educating students, recruitment and rebuilding of radical consciousness on many campuses.
But the SYL could not do all this not just because of an error in theory; there was also a complete compromise in practice. These compromises involved underhand dealings with anti-poor opposition or "progressive" political parties and politicians in a bid to garner support strong enough to confront the entrenched right wing elements who in most cases count on the support of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). On the campaign team of the SYL were some known cohorts of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governments in the South West.
Relying more on state support instead of building mass support from below, the SYL gave in to opportunism. Given the dirty compromises, a victory for the "left" candidate may not even have meant a difference in the character of NANS especially considering the fact that some of the biggest attacks on education are at present from the ACN- controlled states in the South West.


Any illusion in the newly elected NANS leadership will only lead to disappointment. The only way forward is to build a movement from below around issues of education attacks to pile pressure on the NANS leadership to fight. Only this approach and method can strengthen the left. There are a lot of attacks around which this movement can be built. These include fee hike, worsening teaching and living conditions on campuses, proscription of unions and victimisation of students and staff activists as well as education under funding.
How the leadership responds to this pressure and the strength of the movement will determine whether or not NANS can be reclaimed or whether a new alternative platform needs to be built. Opportunism and short-cuts will only cause demoralisation and drag back the movement. The DSM and ERC are committed to building such a movement and we urge the left and genuine activists to unite to build a fighting student movement that can open the way for the revival of NANS or the building of an alternative platform.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto
National Coordinator

NANS: Can It Be Reclaimed And How?

For years now, successive leaderships of NANS have been completely rightwing, anti-struggle and pro-state. In January during the widely-supported general strike and mass protest against fuel subsidy removal, NANS stood out shamefully on the side of Jonathan's anti-poor government. With the unrelenting capitalist neo-liberal attack on the right to education and years of betrayals by the NANS leadership, some activists and the left are beginning to once again ask: Can NANS be revived? This article was written in December 2012 before the NANS Convention held in Uyo

H.T Soweto (National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign)

The condition of the student movement is evidently not alright. For close to 20 years the student movement has lacked a vibrant and fighting national leadership with the ideological and political decay of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).
At the moment, the most crucial task for activists and the left in the student movement is how to build a fighting and vibrant national student movement that can begin to challenge government's neo-liberal capitalist policies of education underfunding and commercialization and anti-poor program in general. This perhaps explains the renewed interest of some on the left in the December 13 convention of NANS.
There can be no doubt that the desire to build a fighting national student leadership is completely in order. With a fighting national student platform, it can be possible to unite Nigerian students in a common struggle against anti-poor education policies and mobilize them for joint action and solidarity with workers and other sections of the youths in the overall struggle against the capitalist neo-liberal agenda. However it is not just enough to desire something, it very crucial also knows the best methods to fight for it.
The rot in NANS is huge and phenomenal. NANS has completely lost its legitimacy and mass base as most students do not even know it exists anymore. Some left groups have argued that there is still some potential in NANS and part of the reason the rightwing elements remain entrenched in NANS leadership is because the left have abandoned intervention in it.
Compared with reality, this may not be completely correct. In terms of the struggles that have broken out over the past 10 years or more in the student movement over issues of fee hikes, victimisation, welfare conditions and other education attacks, NANS has had little or no role to play. In many cases, these struggles have occurred because students on campuses organised or mobilised on their own to compel their local unions to fight or through the efforts of campaigning groups like the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and some few students' ideological organisations that still exist on some campuses mainly in the South West.
The danger is that some on the left exaggerate the real weight and importance of NANS. Such would have been true when NANS still had its mass base and connection to the campuses. Added to this is the complete destruction of the culture of democratic debate in NANS which for years, an even in the period of the most rightwing leadership, allowed the left to intervene with fighting programmes and socialist ideas. Through this the left could reach out to genuine student activists with ideas of struggle. It was possible then to build through NANS.
Things are quite different today. NANS senate meetings are hardly held and hence there is no avenue for such debates. The conventions, which are now held in choice hotels instead of on campus, are theatres of war with different contestants heavily funded by parties and politicians arming cultists to gain victory. How can a left organisation hope to gain from intervention among gun-wielding cultists all in the name of not abandoning NANS? More so no genuine students or activists attend because of the violent nature of NANS meetings and conventions, therefore who do we reach out to with radical ideas or recruit if the left intervene? Definitely no one.
The only politically gainful way to work is for the left to intervene more deeply and systematically among rank and file of students as well as education workers on campuses. This kind of work will entail patient campaigning for the rebuilding of the local unions, building a movement against education attacks on individual campuses and linking this together into a national movement.
Ordinarily given its complete disconnection from the rank and file, NANS should have ceased to exist altogether. However it has some unique features which have sustained it till now. This is the mutual interests of the NANS leadership and the rightwing leadership of local unions in using the platform to negotiate for payment from governments and politicians. NANS is like a huge meal ticket. This is why despite its complete disconnection, NANS can still attract attendance of local unions at its convention most of whom are always mobilised with money and with each candidate providing hotel accommodation for their supporters.
But this does not mean NANS has any real potential or weight. On October 1st 2012, a protest called by the NANS Zone D in Lagos attracted less than 100 while on the same day a demo in Ibadan called by the Joint Action Front (JAF) and the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) had more than 2,000. A demo called by the ERC on the same day at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) had about 50. According to the NANS Zone D leaders, many of the union leaders requested for payment to attend the protest!
This again shows that the rot in NANS cannot just be simplified to the question of taking leadership alone. In any case, the rot in NANS is not just the product of the successive right wing elements who have continuously occupied its leadership for years now. The enduring rot in NANS also has something to do with the ideological retreat in the student movement over the past 17 years which is a product of many factors including, but not restricted to, consistent attacks by the school management and government against student activists and students' left organisations. All this has caused low level of consciousness among students, a condition which best suits and sustains the right wings in the local unions and NANS.
The level of consciousness has to always guide and define what the left can do and cannot, this means not tailing as well as not going beyond what present level of consciousness can achieve or sustain. Without building a movement around those issues that immediately affect students (like issues of inadequate hostel accommodation, fee hike, bad welfare conditions etc.) and linking this with the need to reclaim NANS, any efforts no matter how sincere to win leadership of NANS will end up in futility as most students will see it as the least important of their problems. Only an effort to reclaim NANS that is backed by mass arousal and mobilisation of students can win and this is impossible without building a movement first around issues of education attacks from which students consciousness can be raised to comprehend the task of reclaiming NANS or forming a new platform.
Simply fighting electorally to hijack leadership of NANS from the right wings or declaring an alternative faction is not enough to begin to revive the student movement. What is needed is patient work of building an independent mass movement from below that has roots in the rank and file and that can begin to challenge attacks on education while linking this with the task of changing the leadership of NANS or building an alternative platform. This was why the DSM formed the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) in 2004 as a campaigning body to rally students around a programme of mass struggle against education attacks and for defence of democratic rights of workers and students. Added to this too is the task of building left organisations on campuses as a basis to begin to revive radical ideology of change among students.
Without doing this, the only other alternative way to reclaim the student movement would be to seek to engage the rightwing jobbers in NANS using their methods of employing state support, getting support of anti-poor political parties and politicians and arming cultists. The reality is that for as long as leaders of local unions are preponderantly rightwing and pro-State, it will most certainly be difficult if not impossible for the left to win electorally on the basis of genuine programme of struggle.
Some on the left may be prepared to cut a bit of their programmes in order to seek some support from opposition political parties like the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Labour Party (LP), both of which may have interest to win NANS out of the control of the ruling Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) at the upcoming convention especially as the presidency of NANS is coming to the South West zone. This kind of approach, if it ever succeeds, would most certainly not lead to the emergence of an independent, democratic, radical and fighting NANS.
The point has to be made that seeking to challenge the NANS rightwing elements through election is not a bad idea. What is wrong is the illusion built around it as if this is the only way out. The question is what happens if the left fails in the convention? Would it mean that the task of reviving the student movement would have to wait till the next convention?
But if properly prosecuted with the right programme and method, a contest in an election can help to popularise the programme of the left on the kind of leadership students need. In 2008, the DSM contested for NANS Zone D coordinatorship. Even though we lost such was the strength and attraction of the campaign that it immediately popularised the ERC which students turned to a year later during the strike of University workers. The ERC was able to build for itself a position among students rank and file from which it was able to call series of mass protests in major cities across the South west in solidarity with striking workers in 2009.
This was possible because we did not see the election as the end but as a means to build a movement from below to challenge education attacks. Only the building of this kind of mass and independent movement from below challenging anti-poor education attacks and linking this with the need to rebuild the local campus students unions can open the way for the revival of NANS or the building of an alternative fighting platform of students.
Despite the rot in NANS, retreat in radical ideas and other factors that we have described above, a lot can be achieved if the left wins a position in the leadership of NANS provided this victory is not procured through dirty compromises with one so-called "progressive" anti-poor political party or the other and there is a clear independent programme to build. A serious left leadership can quickly begin the work of returning NANS to the campus, making NANS more democratic and dependent on funding from affiliate local unions and most importantly drawing out a fighting programme to begin to challenge governments' neo-liberal capitalist education policies on all campuses and nationally.
Sadly the scenario of the left wining NANS leadership through an independent electoral campaign and without dirty compromises is completely unlikely in the present condition in the student movement. This is only possible in a condition of conscious mass arousal of students to take back their organisation, something which is not happening now. This is part of the reason the DSM continue to emphasize the work of patiently building our ranks on campuses and raising campaigns to build a strong movement from below that recognises the link between neo-liberal capitalist attacks on education and the need to rebuild the unions and take back NANS. As a step in this direction, we call for the unity of the left in the student movement around campaigns and actions against education attacks on campuses round the country.