IT IS A Sell-Out of Students to the State
Ever since the inception of the long protracted strike of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), caused by the failure of the Federal Government under the President Jonathan led- administration to implement the 2009 ASUU/FG agreement focused at revitalizing the education sector, the problem of leadership in the student movement and the ultimate need to fight for a radical leadership that can adequately represent the genuine interests of students across campuses has been posed all over again and again.
Abandoning the age-long principle of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) of always fighting all neo-liberal and anti-poor policies of government regardless of whether or not it directly affects students, Yinka Gbadebo (the NANS president) right from the beginning of the strike action of ASUU and without convening a congress or senate meeting where students’ opinion can be sought openly declared his support for the federal government using rather specious arguments that exposes the pro-capitalist and anti-poor orientation of the NANS leadership. Not only did the NANS oppose the ASUU strike in words, the national leadership has equally organized protests, media propaganda and deliberate spreading of pro-government falsehood all in a bid to break the strike and allow government to wriggle free of its responsibility to fund public education.
The present NANS under the leadership of Yinka Gbadebo has shown through its action to be an active pro-government agent by taking the side of the FG and using the resources of the state to attempt to sabotage the strike actions. This is totally contrary to a clear NANS position on the state of public education in the country as enshrined in its charter of demands. But it is clearly in line with bankruptcy of the student movement in recent times. It is bestowed upon NANS to stand at all cost for the interest of its members which are the entirety of Nigerian students. Ever since Yinka Gbadebo assumed office, the numerous challenges plaguing the Nigeria tertiary institutions and students in terms of the fight for the restoration of the students’ unions in various institutions, against victimization of the students, among others, have been deliberately neglected.
The NANS leadership has been carrying on with this pro-government assignment under the guise that they are representing the real opinion of students whereas no congresses or public meetings were called by the national leadership to allow students to collectively discuss and determine in a democratic manner whether or not they would support the ASUU strike. As the ERC has consistently explained, while students are understandably angry and frustrated due to their prolonged stay at home and consequential disruption of the academic calendar as a result of the strike, this is not the same and would not necessarily mean that the generality of students if given the chance to freely express their true opinion at a congress would therefore agree to give support to the federal government. This is because we are in a situation where a majority of the working masses, students and youths are already opposed to the anti-poor economic policies of this government as the January 2012 anti-fuel subsidy removal struggle demonstrates and would not waste any time in pushing for its overthrow were a bold radical labour leadership to exist. This is why throughout this strike we have passionately maintained that the pro-government stance of the NANS national leadership is for all intent and purposes the personal opinion of Mr. Yinka Gbadebo and his acolytes , not that of the generality of students.
However, in the midst of this political degeneration and pro-government outlook of the NANS, the ZONE D (Southwest) leadership has come out differently and on the side of the struggle to save public education. The zone has been the only one out of others that believe in this cause by not supporting the rightwing and pro-government position of the national leadership of NANS. In sharp contrast to the undemocratic methods of the national leadership of NANS, the zone D called a senate meeting where there was a debate over what attitude students should have toward the strike. It was at the end of this debate, which the ERC took active part in, that a decision to back the strike and compel government to meet ASUU’s demands was democratically taken. As the ERC has explained extensively before, supporting the strike action of the University lecturers and their demands is the most logical way to push forward the struggle to save public education and beat back government neo-liberal and anti-poor agenda to abandon public education especially considering the current weaknesses of the student movement. Unlike the national officers of NANS who glaringly argue that there is no need supporting the strike of the university lecturers and that of their counterparts in the polytechnics (ASUP), NANS ZONE D stressed the needful importance to join the campaign to save public education from total collapse and by this threw their overall support behind the striking education workers.
Needless to stress, we in the ERC have times without number applauded the Zone D leadership of Com. Monsuru Adeyemo for taking this stand and seeing beyond the perpetual darkness that has blindfolded the Yinka Gbadebo led-administration of NANS national officers. Nevertheless, we condemn in totality the award ceremony organised in Abeokuta recently by the Zone D leadership where excellence awards were given out to Yinka Gbadebo and many others who have been publicly involved in campaigning against clear pro-students’ interests and supporting the federal government against striking lecturers in obvious contradiction to the decision taken and approved at the Zone D senate meeting. As far as we are concerned Yinka Gbadebo and co are meant to be exposed and condemned for their pro-government compromises which are damaging to the struggle for proper funding of education instead of giving excellence awards. What NANS Zone D has done is not different from what is happening in the larger society where big time looters of our collective wealth are celebrated with fanfare. To be able to fight for our interests as students, we must start cleansing our ranks and movement.
The ERC believes that it is out of place for Zone D that has been in the struggle campaigning for proper funding of education sector and moreover has its own charter of independent demands to then organize a programme granting awards to the leadership of Yinka Gbadebo which has been antagonizing the Zone D and largely betraying the cause of the students’ movement for his own political gains. By these awards, the Zone D is sending out confusing signals as to its political fidelity and reliability in the struggle to save public education. It could be interpreted that the Zone D leadership while it is able to struggle against the anti-poor education policies of the government today can tomorrow unabashedly dine with the same government and its agents.
This to us is a betrayal of students especially at this period when students require a Zone D leadership that is able to fight uncompromisingly against all manners of neo-liberal and anti- students education policies. To be able to lead students to resist anti-poor policies, the Zone D leadership needs to be clearly differentiated from the right wing and pro-government characters masquerading as national officers of NANS but are busy compromising students’ interests. Already in apparent answer to President Jonathan’s recent call on Universities to increase their internally generated revenues, the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB) and the University of Ibadan (UI) have hiked acceptance fee to N45, 000 and N20, 000 respectively. These are mere signs of the bad times still coming. All students of Universities and other higher institutions (Federal and States) are to expect further increases in fees and municipal charges followed by general cuts in real and actual spending on capital projects. This is because both the federal and state governments have no plan or intention to implement any agreement that would lead to a situation where a large chunk of the funds they routinely loot would now be available to cater for the revitalization of our education system.
In this situation, the kind of student leadership that can boldly and adequately represent student interests without wavering and compromising is one built on a clear radical ideology that opposes all neo-liberal and anti-poor government policies and is ready to struggle at all times to build a fighting student movement that can beat back all these attacks. To have this kind of leadership, activists must now redouble the work of campaigning for a fighting, democratic and accountable student leadership starting from the local unions up to the Zone D and national levels of the NANS. It also requires putting to bear the power of rank and file students to reclaim the NANS and ensure that irrespective of the kind of leadership in place at anytime, the NANS as an organization of students is able to at all time defend their interests and not that of the government.
The generality of students must now be more prepared than ever before to make the NANS Zone D leadership accountable by demanding that they call regular congresses and public meetings where important decisions on policies and programs can be democratically discussed and agreed. It is not clear if the decision to give awards to Yinka Gbadebo and his cohorts was ever discussed at a Senate meeting or congress of the Zone. Presenting such a proposal to give an award to Yinka Gbadebo and his cohort at any proper public/mass meeting of the Zone D will undoubtedly raise serious opposition from rank and file students who correctly see the national leadership as unrepresentative of their interests. The ERC urges student activists, progressive student unions and radical groups to build a movement to reclaim NANS starting by publicly and firmly opposing the Zone D’s awards and if possible ensuring a retraction of these awards which does not represent the real views of students of the Zone. We demand that the Zone D leadership convene a CONGRESS immediately to allow union representatives and rank and file students to democratically discuss this matter and other matters with a view to stopping the drift of the Zone from the progressive fighting tradition it only recently rediscovered.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Michael Ogundele
National Coordinator National Secretary
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Michael Ogundele
National Coordinator National Secretary