FOR AN EFFECTIVE STRUGGLE AGAINST ANTI-POOR EDUCATION POLICIES
· Revive the Students' Movement!
Solidarity Message to a Students Retreat organized by CEPED and ACIS to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of Comrade Chima Ubani holding on Monday 21st September 2015 at the Bayero University Kano (BUK).
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) urges all students' leaders and activists on the imperative of reviving the students' movement on an agenda of struggle and solidarity. We make this clarion call for two major reasons:
(1) SOARING COST OF EDUCATION
Public education is being priced out of the reach of children of the working class and poor. In most public tertiary institutions, fees are as high as N30, 000, N60, 000, N100, 000 and above while the minimum wage is N18, 000! With such high tuition, quality education has effectively become the preserve of the few rich.
10.5 million children of school-going age are out of school in Nigeria. This the highest figure of out-of-school children in the world. As UNESCO revealed early in the year through its EFA GMR Report, the gap between the poor and the average in Nigeria has increased with the number of children from the poorest households going to primary school falling from 35 per cent to 25 per cent in 2013. Also completion rate is very low. Unlike in the past when starkly illiterate parents stood the chance of having literate children as a result of government subsidization of education and mass enrollment of pupils, today literate parents stand the chance of having starkly illiterate or poorly educated children. This is because of the twin policies of underfunding and commercialization both of which places the heavy burden of funding education on parents. Very few parents can afford the cost of sponsoring their children to complete their education from primary to tertiary levels. Infact, statistics shows that very few students makes the transition from primary to secondary school and then to a tertiary institution. There is a high drop-out rate. The result is a growing illiterate (or poorly educated) adult population. According to UNESCO, half of Nigerian adults (51 per cent) are illiterate! Every Nigerian student must be livid with anger at this tragedy an unfortunate paradox of a country rated as the biggest economy on the continent and top crude oil exporter.
(2) POOR QUALITY OF EDUCATION AND DECAYING INFRASTRUCTURE:
Soaring cost is one thing, the value or quality of education is another. The tragedy of the Nigeria situation is that even for those who manage to afford the soaring costs, there is no guarantee they would receive any reasonably quality education. As one-time NUC Executive Secretary and one of the leading proponents of the neo-liberal education policies that have destroyed our education sector, Prof. Peter Okebukola, once revealed, Nigerian graduates are unemployable! “Nigeria has one of the worst education systems in the world” so concluded Kate Redman, the UNESCO's Communications and Advocacy Specialist on EFA GMR after assessing Nigeria's education sector over the last 15 years.
We may not like these conclusions, but they are true! Nigeria's education sector is a disaster. For instance, in virtually all the public tertiary institutions in the country, teaching and hostel facilities are inadequate, over-crowded and decaying. Many laboratories and libraries are denuded of vital provisions. The school environment is in-conducive for learning, classrooms are often overcrowded and students are made to live like animals in the habitually congested hostels while the working condition of staff is abysmal. Nearly a million students apply for admission annually, all of the countries public tertiary institutions can barely admit half of this number. Despite Nigeria's GNP per capita growing substantially from 1999 till now, investment in education has remained low. While the population of school-age children has increased over the last three decades, government investment in education has failed to match this increase.
HOW DID THINGS GET SO BAD?
As Nigerian students, we must be angry at this tragic situation and resolve to combat it. However this means we have to first and foremost rebuild our movement - the students' movement. Actually, it is the weakness of the students' movement as well as the labour movement that has allowed government to destroy public education up to this extent. Were the students' movement to be as strong as in the past, successive government would not have easily gotten away with their anti-poor education policies.
Historically, Nigerian students under the umbrella of the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) had in the past waged gigantic struggles against all forms of anti-poor policies of various governments. It is on record that students led the struggles against the Anglo-Nigeria Defence pact under the Tafawa Balewa capitalist government in 1962. Nationwide mass protests like the 1978 “Ali must go”, 1984 anti-privatization and commercialization of education and 1989 anti-SAP struggles, among others by Nigerian students cannot be easily forgotten.
What is the difference between now and then? The basic difference is that in the 70s and 80s, the students' movement was ideologically-driven. One of the factors responsible of course was the ideological attraction of the then Stalinist Soviet Union and other deformed workers state which despite their totalitarianism offered to African youth alternative ideas to capitalism. Even though only a few could be called socialists or Marxists in the true sense of the word, nevertheless several student activists and leaders were stoutly opposed to capitalism and imperialism which they correctly saw as the cause of the crisis of education underfunding and commercialization as well as the condition of mass poverty in the midst of abundance. Compared to today's NANS and students unions whose leaders profess no clear ideology, the active layers in the students' movement in the 70s and 80s embraced clear ideological positions that sought to fight for the improvement in the education sector and the Nigerian society as a whole. As such, NANS adopted a CHARTER OF DEMAND at its 3rd Annual Convention 1982 at the Bayero University Kano (BUK) which not only sought for improved funding of education but also expressed solidarity to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.
Today, nobody knows what NANS is fighting for as the association has no Charter of Demand. A new government has been inaugurated since May 29 2015 and despite the immense hardship students suffer yet there is no list of demands of Nigerian students before the government. To make matters worse, several Students' Unions across the country have leaderships that are not fundamentally different from the NANS leaders, sometimes even worse, and that regularly fails to use their authority as NANS Senators to compel the NANS leadership to defend students' interests. This has got to change. The power to change this situation and revive the students' movement lies with the mass of students and activists. Helping the rank and file students to realize this power which they do not yet realize they have should be the focus of any strategy to revive the students' movement.
WHAT TO DO
The ERC believes that reviving the students' movement is a process, not a one-off attempt. Also any effort to revive the students' movement has to start from below (i.e. among the rank and file students and activists) as very little could be achieved with a top-down approach. We therefore outline three key steps below:
(1) To begin to revive the students' movement, the ideology of struggle and resistance has to be returned to the campuses. This means socialist and left-leaning organizations that used to be prevalent on campuses in the past must be restored. To achieve this, we must campaign to free the campuses from tyranny and in accordance with the 1982 NANS CHARTER OF DEMAND, fight for “the right of students to form associations, clubs and organizations without interference whether by way of registration, recognition or in whatever form”. Given the history of cultism and to take care of the genuine concern this has created, this demand should now read “the right of students to form associations, clubs and organizations without interference by way of registration, recognition or in whatever form, so long as they do not use violence to achieve their objectives”. Today and on a very few campuses, only a few left-leaning or ideological organizations exist. As a result, neo-liberal ideas have a free run on campuses which in turn shapes the consciousness of turns. To challenge this, progressive unions like the Academic Staff Unions of Universities (ASUU) and other organizations must map out a programme to flood the campuses with books and materials that teaches alternative ideas to capitalism. This should however be linked to regular programmes like symposium, rallies, ideological workshops etc.
(2) Secondly, there is a need for a programme of struggle. This should involve drawing up a CHARTER OF DEMAND that aggregates demands that addresses the crisis Nigerian students and the education sector faces. Together with this, there should be a call for a one-day nationwide lecture boycott and mass protests as a starting point of a campaign to compel government to implement the charter. This charter of demand and call for lecture boycott should be both a programme for implementation through an independent campaign of activists and progressive unions as well as a slogan to challenge the NANS leadership to action. It is our view in the ERC that there can be no serious revival in the students' movement without a programme of struggle anchored on a clear plan for implementation and that aims to challenge to action all those who lay claim to the leadership of the students' movement.
(3) Thirdly there is need for a concerted and sustained campaign to democratize the students unions and reclaim NANS from careerists. We call for a campaign that will involve posters, leaflets, regular symposium etc and not just episodic ambitions to reclaim NANS through contesting in elections. Of course where opportunities exist to retake NANS through elections, that opportunity must be taken. However with the undemocratic way NANS is being run and the role the State is playing, there is little hope for now that a genuine and fighting leadership can emerge electorally. Meanwhile, a major reason why NANS does not truly represent the genuine interests of students is because most leaders of many Students Unions are rightwing, pro-state and not reflective of the mood and genuine interests of their members. Without rebuilding the students movement from below and reclaiming the unions, very little can be achieved. Therefore alongside restoring ideological organizations on campuses and having a programme of struggle, a campaign is needed on every campuses to fight for the following objectives:
a) Democratization of unions with a politically and financially accountable leadership
b) For mass-based Students Unionism. This means a union that regularly organizes congresses to ensure students are involved in all decisions and activities of the leadership.
c) Break the state's hold on the students' movement. For a fully independent Students' Unionism. This means the practice of union leaders getting instructions from the DSA must be stopped. So also is the idea of school administration meddling in and organizing students' union elections. Also the idea of NANS leaders seeking approval from the DSS or the Police before they can organize a protest or take an action must be stopped.
d) For Unions and NANS to be funded through students dues. For unions to begin to fulfill their constitutional obligations of paying capitation dues to NANS and in turn demand regular financial report and audit as prescribed in the constitution.
e) Return NANS to the campuses! All NANS activities including Senate meetings and conventions to be held on campuses.