Friday 31 October 2014

The role of Nigerian students in the continuity of democracy

By Lanre Arogundade (NANS President, 1984)

I thank the students' union of Michael Otedola College of Primary Education (MOCPED) Epe Lagos State for inviting me to share my thought on the role of Nigerian students in the continuity of democracy.
Historically, Nigerian students have staged major interventions and played critical roles in some of the important struggles that have one way or the other shaped the destiny of this Nation. In the colonial era for example, Nigerian students as members and co-leaders of the West African Students Union (WASU), lined up behind the nationalists to demand independence for Nigeria and other countries in the sub-region.

In the immediate post-independence period in 1962, Nigerian students now organized under the umbrella of the National Union of Nigeria Students (NUNS), protested against the then proposed Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact which would have made Nigeria a military satellite of its erstwhile colonial master - Britian.

By 1978 NUNS had to pick the gauntlet against the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo which had decided to commercialize education by introducing and increasing tuition fees in Nigerian Universities. That struggle is what is famously referred to as Ali-must-Go, since the then Federal Commissioner for Education was Colonel Ahmadu Alli, one of the recent chairmen of the PDP.

Under the civilian regime of Shehu Shagari, Nigerian students, now under the umbrella of National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS) and armed with a NANS Charter of Demands, consistently protested mis-governance characterized by outright looting of the treasury as well as the imposition of anti-peoples austerity measures like the preceding Obasanjo regime.

The Buhari-Idiagbon coup of December 1983 marked the return of the era of prolonged military rule that spanned up to sixteen years. It was in the early period of the era that I was privileged to serve as NANS President and I could testify to the fact that the cumulative struggles of the period against corruption, anti- people capitalist policies including commercialization of education and health care, introduction of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), denial of the political right of the people, attacks on fundamental rights and press freedom, attacks on the right to independent students unionism, attacks on workers and trade union rights, the annulment of the June 12 elections, etc contributed to the eventual collapse of the military and the return of civil rule in 1999, hence the common refrain that Nigeria is now under a democracy.

Democracy however presupposes many things: that life would be much better for ordinary citizens especially as the country is abundantly endowed with vast natural and human resources; that the rights of students, workers etc would be respected; that ordinary working peoples would be able to come together, form political parties and contest for power without the encumbrance of costly registration fees and other obstacles designed to favour only the parties of the millionaires; that education and health care will be easily affordable; that there will be good roads and other public infrastructure etc.

You will agree with me that if we make an honest assessment of the state of the Nation since 1999, these vital ingredients of democracy are largely missing and in some instances Nigerians are actually worse off. Doctors and other health workers have repeatedly gone on strike making the same demand for adequate funding to enable accessible and affordable health care delivery system. Teachers have repeatedly gone on strike making the same demand for adequate funding to make education affordable and accessible to the poor; students, as was recently the case at LASU, OOU, OAU etc have staged protests and demonstrations against increase in fees; publicly owned institutions have been repeatedly privatized or commercialized and sold to private individuals or entities with the attendant increase in prices as it is happening to electricity and job losses; pensioners are repeatedly protesting and dying as a result of non-payment of their pensions, etc

The question then is whether we should be talking of continuity of democracy or the discontinuity of undemocratic rule. But whichever way one addresses the question, there can be no doubt, that students have a role to play in the struggle to end oppression and replace the rule of the minority rich with that of the majority poor.

It is in this context, for example, that questions have been raised about what has become of NANS in the recent period. Indeed as a former NANS President, I have been repeatedly bombarded by the media on this issue giving the absence of centralized coordination of the various struggles being waged on individual campuses in defence of the right to affordable education and independent students' unionism. I believe the answers which I have given will help address that question and speak further to the theme of this lecture.

Basically, it is to reiterate that though the much talked about degeneration of NANS is a reality, it should be properly situated in the prevailing social-political context and not presented as it is peculiarly unique.

I have therefore pointed out that what is happening in NANS is equally a reflection of the decline - ideological and political - in the mass movements particularly as it concerns the central labour organizations, the trade unions etc. Indeed, what you see in the society is a degeneration of values across the social strata particularly with the right wing shift in the orientation of the leaders just like that of the political class. Poverty reigns amidst abundant wealth as corruption becomes the defining feature of this epoch. On the other hand, the campus hardships occasioned by near total submission to IMF and World Bank policies of education commercialization pose objective threat to vibrant unionism.

If we therefore look back again, we would see that the NANS of our time in the mid-1980s was a NANS that was as radical as the mass and Labour movements not just in Nigeria but internationally that were witnessing left wing radical upswing in the defence of publicly funded social services. Put in another way it was an era of popular mass struggles, in South Africa, in Latin America etc. It was within this radical context that NANS under our leadership formed alliance with the NLC under Hassan Sumonu and jointly fought for right to independent unionism with ASUU, to cite few examples; the underlining principle being similarity of ideological socialist orientation - and political vision for change in the larger society. 

Struggles boomed as the economy boomed during the economic upswing of the period that was occasioned by high petroleum prices in Nigeria. Even at that time however, the threats were emerging. Thus while our 11-day nationwide boycott of classes in May 1984 stopped the re-introduction or increase in tuition fees by the Buhari-Idiagbon regime, it and other actions could not prevent the eradication of the subsidized cafeteria feeding system under which a meal was a mere 50kobo (mark you not 50 Naira) across the campuses. Students were able to easily pay the dues with which their unions were run and for which the union leaders had to account through committees composed by the democratically elected students' representative councils.

So, it was also a period of transition to right wing economic and political ideology internationally and nationally with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which by the way had deviated from genuine socialism and was being bureaucratically run and the ascendancy of the international apostles of privatization and commercialization symbolised by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. In that dying era of public ownership and publicly subsidized education, mass organizations like the students unions that stood in opposition to neo-liberal policies came under vicious attacks from the state including the use of cultists against radical students' leaders. Only unionists that subscribe to the new right wing orientation would be tolerated. That was the sole purpose of post-students' crises panels like those of Abisoye and Akanbi that were set up by the Babangida regime and therefore essentially recommended the dismantling of the right to independent unionism. One of the long term effects is the NANS of nowadays that is not actually funded by the mass of the students or the unions but could be so rich as to be able to regularly hold conventions and meetings at Eagles square in Abuja and sometimes expensive hotels.    

Against this background, you will agree with me that there is urgent need for the student movement to be rebuilt. One way to do this is for students to begin to organize from below to reclaim their unions and NANS from rightwing leaders. You as students, must from now on, begin to demand that your union leaders and NANS leaders defend your interests otherwise you kick them out. However if the mass movement, the trade unions, the NLC etc return to pro-people ideology and philosophy it would greatly help the process of re-building NANS and enhance the ability of Nigerian students to ensure the continuity of democracy or the discontinuity of undemocratic practises.

In the larger society, that would mean counter-posing to privatization and commercialization pro-people policies of public ownership of commanding heights of the economy to make available the resources needed for all round societal development. On campuses, that would mean supporting the fight for independent unionism and associated rights. It is laughable that students unions now call themselves governments but lack the basic ingredients of governance. In our time, we were simply unions but we run self governing but democratically accounting structures like the executive, the students representative council and the judicial council. So, for example, when the result of the presidential election was hotly disputed in the 1981/82 session in our university - the University of Ife (now OAU), it was the students union judicial council that heard the case through the candidates' ‘lawyers' drawn from the Law Faculty and eventually pronounced the winner. There was no interference whatsoever by the University authorities despite the palpable tension. Rarely can you find that these days.

In concluding therefore, the point should also be stressed that nothing about NANS should be held as sacrosanct. After all, it took the effort of radical students' organizations to form NANS as replacement for National Union of Students (NUNS) which the Obasanjo regime banned following the Ali-Must-Go protests led by the late Segun Okeowo. A united central union is always desirable but it must be one that genuinely represents the interest of its members. In other words, Nigerian students do not have to operate under a NANS that neither stands for nor defends their aspirations. While seeking change, two, three, four, five etc unions can always come together and offer alternative perspectives such as platforms like the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) is correctly doing.

I hope your union will be one of such that arms itself politically and ideologically and links the struggles on the campuses with that of the working masses and poor.

Thank you

  • This paper was presented today October 31 on behalf of Lanre Arogundade by Keye Ewebiyi, former Secretary General, Students Union Lagos State University and a leading member of ERC.

Monday 27 October 2014

ERC Paper to ASUU-NAAT-NASU-SSANU Education Summit


1.0.            INTRODUCTION

This position paper by the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) is aimed at highlighting the real roots of the crisis of the education sector in Nigeria and proffering the way forward. Also included is a perspective of the roles that trade unions, students and working masses can play in the process of rescuing the education sector from the abyss.



It will be restating the obvious to state that the Nigerian education sector is in crisis. However, a statistical x-ray of all the levels of education in Nigeria would provide a deeper insight of the enormity of the crisis that education is entrapped in. Nigeria ranks 142nd in health and basic education globally as well as 113th in higher education and training and was among the last 20 in the world.

Some research findings reveal as follows:  

A.  Basic education: Low enrolment and low quality teachers 

10.5 million Nigerian children of school-going age are not attending school – highest in the world (Source: Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report 2012). According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report Index, 2011-2012, Nigeria was ranked 140th out of 144 countries in primary education enrolment. Enrolment of children into schools is as low as 12.0% in some states. 6 million of 36 million girls out of school world-wide are Nigerians.

Nigeria is one of the few countries in the world that has had to launch a boy-child education campaign. This was launched by the Federal Government in the South-east in June 2012. In 2008, Kwara State tested 19,125 teachers in Primary Four Mathematics; only seven teachers attained the minimum benchmark for the test in Mathematics. Only one of 2,628 teachers with degree passed the test; 10 graduates scored zero. The literacy assessment recorded only 1.2 per cent pass.

B. Secondary education: Students’ poor performance records

The President Jonathan Federal Government claims to be carrying out a “transformation agenda” in Nigeria’s economy and public education sector since 2011, yet Nigeria’s out-of-school children grew to 10.5 million over the same period.

The 2014 May/June West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), over 60% failure was recorded with just 31.28% obtaining credits in five subjects. This came on the heels of similar performances in the past two years. 36.57% and 38.81% had credits in five subjects respectfully in 2013 and 2012 editions of the same examination. Attempts are being made to dump the blame for this terrible failure on parents and teachers but the reality is that the fundamental cause of the failure is government underfunding of education. Other indicators in the education sector have continued to decline at the same rate.

C.  Universities and other tertiary institutions

The rot in this sub-sector is reflected in the low quality of graduates. Nigeria’s university system is in a crisis of manpower. Instead of having not less than 80 per cent of the academics with Ph.Ds, only 43 per cent are Ph.D holders while the remaining 57 per cent are not. And instead of 75 per cent of the academics to be between Senior Lecturers and Professors, only about 44 per cent are within the bracket while the remaining 56 per cent are not. The staff mix in some universities is alarming. Kano State University, Wudil (established in 2001) is said for instance to have only one professor and 25 Ph.Ds.

There is an average of 4 abandoned projects per university in Nigeria with negative consequences for classrooms, laboratories, students’ hostels, and staff accommodation. Poor infrastructure adversely affects teaching, research, learning and students’ health and safety. The polytechnics and colleges of education are no better as they confront infrastructural problems and decay. Their products are subjected to inferiority in the labour market. Also there is 56.9% shortfall in the academic staff of public Colleges of Education translating into a shortage of 14, 858 lecturers. In a similar vein, there is 56.9% shortfall in the academic staff of public polytechnics and monotechnics translating into a shortage of 17, 548 lecturers. (Shu’ara, J. (2010) Higher Education Statistics – Nigeria Experience in Data collection).


The Federal Government has never met the 26 per cent annual budgetary allocation recommended by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The highest the FG has allocated to the sector is 13 per cent. It would be recalled that the Academic Staff Union of Universities waged a six month-long struggle in 2013 for proper funding of education which forced government to release N200 billion into the University system.

However, under the impact of an increasingly unstable world economic situation, the Nigerian ruling class’s continuing refusal to invest in social infrastructure while the country’s population is rapidly growing has led to a wave of attacks on public education. The government through University managements has denied students from poor background access to education. For instance in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State,  the university made sharp increases in the fee regime in what was  believed to be a means of retrieving the gains of the struggle waged by ASUU. This is in line with the grand plan to introduce tuition into federal universities as tacitly reflected in the resolution of the Committee of Pro-Chancellors recently.

The States controlled by the so-called “opposition” political parties are equally underfunding education thereby creating myriad of infrastructural decay and poor learning conditions. For instance, it took the united and tenacious struggles of students, education workers (ASUU, SSANU), ERC and mass of working people in Lagos state to force the Fashola regime to reverse the fee hike in Lagos State University. Ditto for the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) and other institutions in some of these “opposition-controlled” states. Hence, education commercialization has become a major policy as governments at all levels are cutting social spending as well as intensifying attacks on living condition.    


Having examined the problems bedeviling the education sector in Nigeria, this paper would move on to examine the solutions that is needed. However, it is the view of the ERC that while struggles must be waged to defend and improve education it must be clearly said that the fundamental solution lies in working people’s government that will mobilise the enormous resources of society to meet the urgent needs of all. Therefore the four staff unions (ASUU, NAAT, SSANU and NASU) that constitute the convening authority of this Education Summit must equally provide steadfast example for other trade unions in the education sector and the wider workers’ movement to follow in terms of rising up to the task of building a genuine working people’s political alternative.   


The abysmal low level of allocation to education must be reversed. According to the United Nations Education and Socio-Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 26 percent of the annual budgets should be allocated to the education sector. However, as stated earlier the highest that has been allocated to education is 13%.

ASUU fought a courageous struggle to force the hands of the Federal Government to commit more resources to the university system. A broader struggle involving all the staff unions, student movement and the entire labour movement working together is needed today to force the hands of governments at all levels to commit adequate resources to fund education.


Autonomy and internal democracy are essential to the University system. Unfortunately over the years government has interpreted the demand for University autonomy to mean that universities will also be responsible for their own funding. To make the University system operate without bureaucratic bottleneck and administrative curtailment, full autonomy must be granted to ensure that whilst Universities are funded by the State, they have enough independence in the election of their principal management officials and determination of other matters without undue interference by the State that acts as an arm of one or more factions of the ruling class. At the same time however, management of Universities, polytechnics, monotechnics, colleges of education, teacher training institutes must be democratized in such a way that elected representatives of students, workers, parents and communities are allowed in the decision making organs instead of the current bureaucratic manner, which breeds corruption and mismanagement, that  tertiary institutions are run.


An urgent repair of critical infrastructure is needed at all levels of the education sector. This would mean providing latest facilities for learning based on latest technological advancement. For instance, information technology devices are now being used for primary and post-primary education and a serious programme of revamping education must take into cognizance these advancements.


What has been the most recurring crisis in the education sector has been the poor remuneration of both teaching and non-teaching staff in the education sector. A comprehensive policy of improved remuneration of the workers in the education sector in line with rate of inflation as well as a genuine pension scheme is urgently needed to retain the academic and non-academic staff currently in the system and attract new ones.

The current contributory pension scheme is exploitative and education workers’ unions must demand a reversal of these policies to a pro-worker and efficient pensions’ scheme in which workers would be paid living pensions that will take into account the rising rate of inflation. The new Pension Scheme has forced workers to contribute more mostly out of their meager salaries compared to the former scheme and this amounts to attack on workers living condition. In addition to pension, government must build social infrastructures aimed at providing security for all basic needs such as housing, food, health, education etc., for all including the aged.   

2.5. NYSC

In view of the over 40 years of the existence of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC), its continuous relevance in the 21st century has to be discussed taking into consideration all the adversities Nigerian students have suffered through this scheme. The current effort to commercialize it through the introduction of a N4, 000 charge must be strongly rejected while the welfare, including allowance, of Corp members must be greatly improved. However, we of the ERC hold that NYSC should be voluntary without any consequence for graduates who may not wish to partake in the scheme.


Another examination for candidates who have passed Universal Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and known as Post-UTME was introduced a few years ago by force by universities against the background of the corruption and failure of examination bodies like JAMB and WAEC. However the ERC feels that the additional cost of the Post-UTME cannot continue to be borne by students and parents. It is unfair! By virtue of the introduction of Post-UTME, parents now have to pay enormous amounts for at least three different examinations in a year. In many Universities, Post-UTME has now become a means of raising additional funds to the detriment of students and their poor parents. We suggest that the cost of Post-UTME should be borne by the Universities. 


The dichotomy between HND and Bsc. certificates is a false and artificial dichotomy which is being maintained by the government and private employers of labour in order to downgrade the skill of a section of the population so they can pay cheaply for it. This explains why HND certificates holders doing the same job as BSc holders are paid less and have less chance of ascending to the top of their career. It is also a reflection of a sick imperialist-dominated economy that depends on the export of raw materials, importation of finished or semi-finished goods and without any serious plan for industrialization. The ERC proposes that the summit should uphold the demand of Polytechnic workers and students for the elimination of this dichotomy.  


The crisis in the education sector is not only alarming, it is a disaster that will set back Nigeria’s human and economic development for decades thus mortgaging the future of generations unborn if it is unchecked now. However the ERC is convinced on the basis of the material wealth of this country and the resourcefulness of its people that within a ten- year period much of these problems can be resolved and the education sector restored on a path of progress if clear people-centered policies are propounded and a vigorous drive for their implementation is set off.

This will require the implementation of a free education policy for all and the mobilization of all the required resources of society to accomplish it at all levels. The question if often asked: how will Nigeria get money to fund free education? The situation in the education sector is dire. Extreme problems they say require extreme solutions. To this end, the ERC supports the call for the declaration of a state of emergency on education and the adoption of the following steps to set the education sector on the path of revitalization within a period of ten years:

(1)   Immediate increase in the allocation to education to 26% (with capital allocation taking nothing less than 60% of this) of annual budget.

(2)   Declaration of free education at all levels. How will this be funded? We propose the following:

(a)     For government to adopt as state policy that all political office holders must enroll their children in public schools. For this principle to be included in the criteria for election at all levels of governance and for appointment into key public offices in the ministries and parastatals. It is unjust for political office holders who cost the country trillions of naira for their monthly salaries and upkeep to then use our money to cater for their own children in private schools while our public schools are in decay.

(b)    For a drastic cut in the excessive pay and emolument of all political office holders. No political office holder must earn more than the wage of a skilled worker with the understanding that any legitimate incidental expenses will be covered by the state. Any political office holder that cannot serve the country on the wage of a skilled worker should be asked to vacate the post for those who can. Establishing the principle that a politician is not more important than a University professor is vital in the process of rejuvenating our education system and attracting the best to take up teaching appointments.  The amount recovered from this cost-saving exercise should be invested in public education and other social infrastructure to meet basic needs

(c)     Tax the rich and wealthy corporations to fund public education. The huge profit locked in the vaults of multinational oil companies, telecommunication giants and industries if heavily taxed by government will go a long way to provide much of the needed resources to fund quality education. Much of this wealth is being wasted by individual CEOs and their friends and relatives to finance obscene life styles anyway. The exponential growth of market for luxury goods like jets, fast cars, yachts in Nigeria while over 10.5 million children are out of school is the height of societal injustice. An initial bold step in this direction should be to drastically review the Tertiary Education Tax Fund (TETFUND) from 5% of assessable profit of companies to a progressive education tax that starts from 5% as a baseline and then rises progressively to as much as 25% depending on the size of the assessable profits of local and multinational companies.

(d)    Public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy like crude oil production, finance, industries and agriculture under workers democratic control and management. For as long as Nigeria’s economy is dominated big and multinational companies whose preoccupation for engaging in production is to make profit, we will continue to lack the resources to invest in public education and other social needs because a good portion of resources that should be invested are already being taken out of the economy by the private sector in the form of profit. This is made worse by the fact that, given the domination of the world economy by imperialism, the Nigerian capitalists generally have a “take the money and run” approach, investing only in things that can give them an immediate profit. But by nationalizing the local and multinational oil companies, banks, energy, telecommunications and other industries, agriculture under workers democratic control and management, it will be possible to begin to implement a rationale plan of development that will ensure that Nigeria’s economy grows to the benefit of the people instead of the bank accounts of a few individuals and corporations as we have presently.

However by nationalization and public ownership, we do not mean a return to the era of the highly bureaucratized and mismanaged state-owned corporations like NITEL and NEPA.  These corporations were owned by the capitalist State but were run in an undemocratic and bureaucratic manner such that they became ineffective after a few years. However as the power sector now demonstrates, privatization is not a credible alternative as well. To avoid this kind of debacle is why ERC is calling for public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy while stressing the need for their democratic control and management by the working people to ensure that these nationalized corporations work for the need of society.

(e)     End capitalism. For the establishment of a democratic socialist Nigeria under which rule it would be easily possible to mobilize all resources to ensure the provision of free and quality education at all levels as well as other essential social services. The reality is that every of the steps outlined above as ways to ensure public education is free run into conflict with capitalism. The ruling class will not accept a pay cut willingly neither will they accept that the commanding heights of the economy be placed under public ownership and democratic control. To implement any of these steps will require the uprising of the working class, students and poor masses and a relentless struggle to end the capitalist system and to establish in its place a democratic socialist system. The struggle for free education is therefore bound inexorably with the struggle to end capitalism in Nigeria.

4.0.            CONCLUSION

This summit will not have succeeded if all that will happen at the end is simply to submit its recommendations to the Federal government to implement. The same government that routinely fails to implement agreements reached with trade unions should not be trusted to willingly implement the recommendations of this summit.

Therefore the ERC hereby suggests that the recommendations of this summit should be transformed into a CHARTER OF DEMAND and a united movement involving ASUU, other workers and students unions in the education sector, the wider labour movement and civil society be built to begin an immediate and earnest campaign for these demands through rallies, protests, strikes and boycotts. We propose that a one-day strike and mass protest of all the unions and civil society groups should be strongly considered in the new year to launch this charter of demand and begin to struggle to win improvement in the condition of public education at local and national level. 

In any case, the above highlighted solutions are not fully achievable within the current neo-liberal capitalist system. The unwillingness of different regimes in power to meet the demands of workers as shown in periods of industrial action is a convincing confirmation of this.

What is urgently needed by way of reiteration is for the trade unions in the education sector and other genuine progressive forces to rise up to the challenge of building a mass genuine working people’s political alternative. Such a genuine working people’s political alternative must be armed with a comprehensive programme of placing the commanding heights of the economy under democratic working class control. It is only by such a genuine working people’s political alternative coming to power and galvanizing the enormous resources of society to meet the urgent needs in the education sector as well as other key sectors that there can be a leeway for the working masses.

We of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), in this respect, support the initiative of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) which was initiated by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) as a step towards the building of a broader mass genuine working people’s political alternative. The Socialist Party of Nigeria made a submission of its application to the Independent National Electoral Commission and has met all conditions for party registration under the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010(2011 as amended) with the aim of standing genuine working class candidates in the coming 2015 general elections and beyond. However, the Independent National Electoral Commission has refused to register the SPN claiming to have “terminated its registration” apparently because it poses a working people economic and political alternative which is a threat to the system.  We urge trade unions in the education sector and the broader workers’ movement to support the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) in the battle for its registration as a step towards posing a sharp working class alternative to all the moribund neo-liberal policies of all the pro-rich political parties.

We call further on the Academic Staff Union of Universities in particular to take active steps in respect of its call for a new and genuine workers’ party, with all the lessons learnt from past efforts in spearheading an appropriate Political Conference involving the wider labour movement in the struggle for the formation of a genuine mass working people’s political alternative.   

Hassan Taiwo Soweto                                                 Michael Ogundele
National Coordinator                                                   National Secretary