Tuesday 23 September 2014

OOU Fee Struggle

Anything Short of the Demand for N50, 000 Reduction will be a Disastrous Betrayal

An extract from the Draft Resolution on Student Movement for the National Committee Meeting of DSM to be held between October 10 and 12

Perhaps by the time of National Committee meeting of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) to be held between October 10 and 12, the fee struggle at the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) Ago Iwoye Ogun State may have ended one way or another. However it is important here to make some passing comments about it.

One, this struggle like all others also confirms the crisis of leadership in the student movement. The students of the institution have shown again and again their readiness to fight. Unfortunately the union leadership despite its composition by some "left" characters lacks the courage to boldly lead the struggle to victory.

The OOU struggle owes its ignition in every respect to inspiration received from the Lagos State University (LASU). The fees in OOU were hiked by the predecessor of the present All Progressive Congress (APC) government, Governor Gbenga Daniel of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The present APC Governor Ibikunle Amosun while campaigning in 2011 promised to effect a 50% reduction once in power. However when the party came to power eventually, it simply reduced the fee by 10% and moved on as if things were okay. The government ignored all the rumblings and moans from OOU until the LASU struggle and the electoral loss of the party in Ekiti sent shockwaves down the spine of the party.

In panic at the thought of losing the State in 2015, the Governor organized a meeting with the JCC and the Students Unions in the State and announced some marginal percentage reduction in the fees of all the state-owned institutions. It is uncertain whether the OOU Students' Union leadership attended this meeting and what their position was if they did. What is clear is that without the uprising by rank and file of students, not a single protest may have been heard from either the SUG or the JCC in the State. But when the OOU students rose in their hundreds, the Students Union had to provide leadership.

Despite its lightening speed, the uprising in OOU was to be expected. For instance, agitation for reduction of the fees had been on before the Governor's announcement. Indeed a lecture boycott had taken place weeks before and a new protest was being planned in the week of the announcement. It was partly in the hope to undercut this development that the Government announced the reduction. Unfortunately when broken down into naira and kobo, the reduction was so marginal that they brought no relief to students of OOU who were already paying the highest fees in the state. Also the state government promised to implement this unsatisfactory reduction in the 2014/2015 academic session. This in effect probably means after the 2015 general elections when the party would be under no electoral pressure to fulfill its promise.

Of course students were no fools. The interesting characteristic of this period is that even though the idea of a socialist alternative to capitalism may not have attained mass popularity for the obvious reason that there is as yet no registered political party campaigning for it, distrust of the politicians of all the major ruling political parties is overwhelming. Few days after the announcement of reduction, students from OOU stormed Abeokuta the state capital and occupied the Governor's office for two days! There demand was for further reduction in their fees to an amount not more than N50, 000 across board and for its immediate implementation!

The protest took the government by surprise. The Governor and his kitchen cabinet panicked. The publicity stunt had turned awry. Interestingly, the government had planned to also use the occasion of the announcement of fee reduction to distribute buses to Students' Unions. But all this was turned upside down by the OOU students' outburst of protests. Despite police attacks on the demonstrators, they would not disperse until the Governor addressed them and promised to look into their demands within 7 days. It was at this parley which took place at the MKO Abiola Stadium in Abeokuta that the original plan to distribute buses to the Union leaders was now hatched. But so successful was the protest of OOU students that the report of this publicity stunt in the newspapers was overshadowed by reports of the 2-day protest. Of course the purpose of the promise by the Governor was to buy time to decide on what to do, not to meet their demands. At the end of the 7 days, the institution was closed down and police moved into its campuses. A move to proscribe the Union was hurriedly reversed when it became clear that this would ignite widespread condemnation.

It may be too early to draw conclusive opinion on the struggle in OOU but already efforts to shipwreck the struggle is getting prominent. From the demand for reduction to an amount not higher than N50, 000, the Union leadership has backpedalled to demanding 50% reduction. If met, this would mean that average OOUites would still pay fees of above N50, 000 to over N100, 000. The easy excuse being deployed is that students want the school reopened as soon as possible. Yes, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) also recognizes this. But reopening of the University and reduction of the fees are two separate things. If the Union is sincere and bold enough, it should demand immediate reopening of the school while negotiation on the fee continues. Indeed the union should insist that it can only take a democratic decision on whether or not to review its demands when its members return to school and are able to attend a properly convoked congress to debate the issue. Anything short of this is betrayal.

If the union decides to go along with the agenda to give the Ogun State government a soft landing by conceding to an offer of fee reduction higher than what students originally demanded, the consequence may be grim. Ordinarily, the demand for original N50, 000 itself even if met would have been incapable, especially in a country where the national minimum wage is N18, 000, of ensuring that OOU is affordable and accessible to all. But to now concede to an amount which would make OOU students pay above N100, 000 would be interpreted by most students and rightly so as a betrayal. There is a danger also that such a development may make a section of students out of frustration to wrongfully conclude that struggle does not achieve result. What is clear however is that betrayal may only delay for a short or long time depending, but it cannot stop the resurgence of struggle among OOU students at a later time again on the same issue of fee hike.

However just as in LASU, no matter what happens, the OOU struggle has exposed the Ibikunle Amosun government and the APC as a deceitful party that rides on people's expectation to power only to disappoint them. Already damage has been inflicted that the party will not recover from soonest. Politically, the APC will face a steep task in 2015 elections. They may retain their rule only just because none of the political parties existing is different from the APC in terms of policies and programs.

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