Thursday 29 October 2015

Recent Victory by South African Students Shows Struggle Can Win: Lessons for Nigerian Students and Workers

Public Statement

The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) applauds the victory of South African students over attempts to impose a steep rise in registration, tuition and accommodation fees ranging from 8% to 12%. Playing active role in this important struggle is the Socialist Youth Movement (SYM) – the ERC’s sister organization in South Africa that also campaigns for free and democratically-managed public education as the ERC does in Nigeria.

The #FeesMustFall protests started as a spontaneous movement from below of angry students who could not tolerate the pro-rich policy of university managements and the government any longer. After ten days of struggle in which students from over 20 universities protested on the streets and marched on the Union Buildings (the seat of government), the African National Congress (ANC) government of Jacob Zuma was forced to agree to 0 % fee increase in the year 2016. Although the demand for free education remains unachieved yet, this concession is no doubt a humiliating defeat of a government whose pro-rich policies have contributed to making South Africa one of the most unequal countries in the world. The spectacular victory notwithstanding, the protests still continue. Students are insisting that not only should fees fall for the year 2016 alone but also that free education be declared across the country and similar neo-liberal policies like outsourcing of staff, high rents and students’ debt fall also.

This victory in South Africa should serve as an inspiration to students all across Africa and especially in Nigeria where education is gradually being turned to the preserve of the few rich through anti-poor capitalist policies of underfunding and commercialization. Just like South African students, Nigerian students have a lot of reasons to declare a national boycott and mass protests on the scale of the sort of nationwide mobilizations of students were known for in the 80s under the then vibrant National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). Now despite over more than 10 years of economic boom when Nigeria made millions of dollars from daily crude oil sales (with the exception of the decline during the 2007/2008 global economic crisis), funding to public education declined while fees increased. The result is a big financial burden on working class parents who have to suffer untold hardship to scrape together money to pay high fees at the beginning of every academic session. Apart from those who face automatic exclusion and do not even bother to make the effort to apply, thousands more drop out of school after their first or second year when their poor parents’ savings suddenly run dry, there is a sudden increase in fees or family members lose jobs or fall sick.

For instance after the Babatunde Raji Fashola-led Lagos State government in 2011 jerked up fees at the Lagos State University (LASU) from N25, 000 to an alarming N350, 000, the full-time students’ population of the university dropped from about 20, 000 to around 12, 000 over the course of the next three years. By the third year, some departments could not boast of 10 students in their 100 Levels. An example was the French department which in 2014 had just one student in 100 level, Islamic studies had 6 students in 100 level while Law had 15 students at 100 level and 25 students at 200 level. At the Department of Fishery, 60 students had obtained admission into 100 level the previous session. A session after, only 14 out of these were left and out of which only four registered as at the time the data was compiled. The situation got to a point that the jobs of academic and non-academic staffs came under threat as a result of the drop in the students’ population. It took a massive struggle involving students, education workers and groups like the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and the Joint Action Front (JAF) for the fee hike to be reversed in August, 2014.

As a result of government pro-capitalist policy of turning public education into a profit-making venture, funding of essential facilities in tertiary institutions are being cut. While grants given to faculties and departments are never enough to cover their most basic overhead costs, essential facilities like hostels, water, electricity supply and medical clinics are rarely allocated enough funds. Government’s mantra is that Universities and tertiary institutions should find creative ways of improving their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) through increasing fees, application for grants from donor agencies and private bodies and setting up profit ventures like “pure water” and bottled water business, distance learning programmes etc. While the idea that tertiary institutions should engage in business and other ventures aside their core objectives often lead to wastage of time, energy and resources on activities that have no correlation to improving quality of education in the respective institutions, this practice also exposes students and members of staff to horrible welfare and working conditions.

In fact, so terrible are the conditions of study in Nigeria that students are dying in droves across the country due to the negligence and inadequacy of functional facilities and relevant personnel. But while attention has rightly been focused on the terrible conditions of hostels where students live like pigs without any good sanitary provisions and the lecture theaters, libraries and laboratories which are often denuded of the relevant materials for learning, it is only recently that the reality has begun to dawn that so underfunded, under-provisioned and understaffed are the health centers that they have now turned to death centres into which many students have gone, never to return. Many of the health centres are so understaffed that while a doctor or nurse is attending to a patient, over 30 others are waiting on the queue. The drug dispensary units are often without the most essential drugs such that many asthmatic students and students having similar ailments are known to have died at the health centres. Under the pressure of cut in allocations and the need to ensure that only properly registered students benefit from medical attention, the institutions have now adopted a ridiculous policy that authorizes medical personnel to withhold treatment unless an identification is produced by students in need of medical attention regardless of their state of consciousness. This has led to at least five deaths this year alone. Examples are Mayowa Alaran at the University of Ibadan, Kel at the University of PortHarcourt, Oluchi Anekwe at the University of Lagos, Akintaro Raphael at the Polytechnic Ibadan and Maria Atere at the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta. They were all neglected at their institution’s health centres and died in the process.

Without fighting for improved funding of education and democratic running of schools, not only would hundreds of thousands continue to be excluded from higher education, even the few who are fortunate to afford the high fees would find themselves falling victim of the terrible conditions in the system. In this wise, we have to build a mass movement to demand that education should not be both a debt and death sentence. Infact unless something is hurriedly done, the condition of public education look set to get worse in the next period. The situation in Osun, Oyo and Ekiti states where public education has come under new threats are indications of what to expect. Using the economic crisis and revenue decline as an excuse, the Buhari government could implement austerity policies dressed up as cost-saving measures. During his first coming as a military ruler in 1984, Buhari stopped the public-funded cafeteria system which ensured subsidized meal for university students. Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai’s brazen call for the sale of Unity schools betrays the mindset of the so-called “progressives” now in power. Given half a chance, they could completely convert public education into something the children of the poor cannot have a chance at having. Their excuse would be the on-going economic crisis and the need for reforms.

But one central lesson that all students in Nigeria must take from the struggle in South Africa is that even during an economic crisis, we can force government to retreat on its neo-liberal attacks on education and win big concessions on fees, funding, living and learning conditions. Both Nigeria and South Africa (respectively the largest and second largest economies on the continent) are in the throes of economic crisis caused by the decline in commodity prices and slowing global growth especially in China. Both have had their currencies’ value fall relative to the dollar and have had to review growth forecasts. Also both have gone through a period of high economic growth which did not benefit the workers and poor whereas the wealth of the 1 percent grew. And both are currently experiencing very low growth. South Africa’s GDP contracted by 1.3 per cent in the second quarter of 2015, the same period Nigeria’s economic growth slowed down to 2.35 percent – both  raising the grim prospect of a recession.

Another lesson from the South African students’ victory is that it was won against the background of the Zuma government facing repeated challenges from key sections of the South African labour movement. Alongside workers’ strikes and community protests the Numsa metalworkers’ union, the biggest union in South Africa, is in opposition to Zuma. Fearing increasing opposition, Zuma rapidly scrapped the fees hike for this year. In Nigeria students must strive to win support from Labour, communities and parents for their demands and, in turn, be prepared to support popular struggles on issues like regular pay, a higher minimum wage and against the threatened electricity price hike.

When mobilizing to fight for their demands, students in Nigeria must not give in to the blackmail that we cannot get improvement in funding to education now because of the economic crisis. To their blackmails, we have to demand that rather than cut education funding, it is the salaries, allowances and privileges of public office holders that should be cut. Austerity is not the answer to economic crisis. Rather than resolve the crisis, austerity merely places the burden on workers, youth and the poor who did not benefit from the boom. Whereas if the key sectors of the economy were placed under public ownership and workers’ democratic control and management, there would be no need for cuts, instead it would be possible to ensure that much of Nigeria’s wealth that often goes to enrich the 1 per cent is recovered and invested, through a socialist plan, to meet the needs of the mass majority. We should not accept to wait until the economy improves until we demand that fees in Nigeria must fall as well. We have waited too long already such that at the basic education level, over 10.5 million children of school-going age are out of school. We have waited long enough that 6 million out of the 36 million girls out of school globally are Nigerians. How much longer would we have to wait?

To be clear, the confidence and bravery to fight is not what is missing. Nigerian students have led big mass struggles in the past. A key obstacle is the rightwing and pro-government leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) which prefers to run after one capitalist politician or the other for money rather than provide leadership to the mass of their members. Obviously something has to be done about this. These self-appointed students’ leaders have to be flushed out and the students’ movement reclaimed and rebuilt from the bottom to the top. However while the ERC supports the campaign for NANS to be reclaimed, the struggle against fees and poor conditions in the education sector cannot wait until this happens. That struggle must begin now. Activists must now devote themselves to intervening among the rank and file students with the aim of building a movement from below that can begin to mobilize for struggle against fees and for overall improvement in the funding and conditions of education.

Hassan Taiwo Soweto                                            Michael Ogundele                          
National Coordinator (07033697259)                 National Secretary                                  

Friday 23 October 2015


Dear comrades,

The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) pledges its solidarity for the struggle of University students in South Africa against a steep rise in registration, tuition and accommodation fees ranging from 8% to 12%. We look forward to your speedy victory.

Over the past few days, news of the struggle of students in South Africa has inspired many students and youth in Nigeria. The confidence and bravery is something to be emulated by all students and workers everywhere.

The ERC is the Nigerian equivalent of the Socialist Youth Movement (SYM) in South Africa. Like the SYM is the campaign of the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP), the ERC is the students and youth campaign of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) here in Nigeria. The ERC campaigns against neo-liberal education policies which aim to corporatize universities and make education the preserve of the few rich.

The struggle in South Africa is occurring against a background of the capitalist global economic crisis and particularly the neo-liberal policies of the African National Congress (ANC) government which has ensured the intense exploitation of the working class and massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. Today, South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world with just two people having as much wealth as the bottom 50 per cent of the population. 54 percent of South Africans live in poverty.
While the government wants to increase the burden of financing public education on the working class and poor population, there is 35 trillion is sitting in corporate cash balances. This is in addition to the R80bn a year that is being lost through illegal money flows, R700bn estimated to have been lost to corruption and the 8 trillion is sitting with the Public Investment Corporation.
Here in Nigeria, public education faces essentially the same challenge as in South Africa. In a country whose national minimum wage is a paltry N18, 000 (1, 200 Rand), fees in public Universities in Nigeria can be as high as N93, 000 (6, 200 Rand) or more.

We hope that your example will help encourage students here and across Africa to struggle both against fees and for increased spending on public education at all levels. According to the World Bank, 62 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa, more than 600 million young people, is below the age of 25 and this is expected to increase by 2020. If governments across Africa continue to favour neo-liberal capitalist policies that takes public education as business, the chances are that  fewer and fewer number of young people will have any opportunity at all of quality education. According to UNESCO, 22 million of the 69 million eligible adolescents in the world that did not attend secondary school in 2011 lived in sub-Saharan Africa. As we struggle, it is essential we begin to draw the relevant conclusions as to what kind of struggle is needed to permanently defeat neo-liberal education policies and build a just and democratic society that provides opportunities for the youth to flourish.
The ERC supports the rejection of the 6 per cent increase suggested by the South African government. We condemn police brutality and shall campaign for students and working people in Nigeria to embark on solidarity actions which shall include picketing of South African embassies and business interests to express our solidarity with our South African brothers and sisters.
We support the demands advanced by the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) and the Socialist Youth Movement (SYM) for:
(1)  0% increases in registration, tuition, accommodation and foreign student fees
(2)  Scrap all student debt to tertiary education institutions and to NSFAS
(3)  The immediate release of all results withheld for non-payment of fees
(4)  End outsourcing – re-employ all workers on a minimum wage of 12 500 month
(5)  An end to the corporatization of tertiary education institutions
(6)  Establish committees of struggle to unite students , youth and working class communities
(7)  Free education now
(8)  Free all arrested protesters and drop all charges. For respect of the right to protest

Hassan Taiwo Soweto                                            Michael Ogundele                          
National Coordinator (07033697259)                 National Secretary

Wednesday 14 October 2015


By Lexan Ali

The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) condemns the murder of a two hundred level Theatre Art student of the University of Port- Harcourt, who died on the 30th of August due to the anti-student, anti-welfare policies of the school management and the anti-poor capitalist government which it serves, plus the total negligence of the doctors and nurses on duty at the UPTH teaching hospital on the night of her death.

According to a classmate of hers, the 200 level Theatre Art student was hale and hearty, and participated in a football march organised by her department on Thursday 28th August. She was said to have slumped down in her rest room on Sunday 31st and was immediately rushed to the University teaching hospital for medical attention. On arrival, the nurses on duty told them to go and get police report first before treatment. Immediately they took her, while still unconscious and alive, to Choba police station to obtain the police report. Between the intervals when they took her to the police station and back to the hospital, 3 hours of precious time that would have been used to save her life was wasted. Matters became worse when after bringing her back to the hospital with the police report, the nurses on duty said there was no bed space. In another 3hours, while still pleading with the nurses to do something to save the girl's life, she stretched her legs and suddenly gave up the ghost. 

For us, that an oppressive, unjust and undemocratic requirement as a police report before medical attention could be given to a bona fide student even at the point of her death, a policy put in place by the Nigerian government, which has caused the death of many Nigerians, is not only revealing of the anti-poor character of the Nigerian ruling elites, but also exposes the inadequacy and rot in the health sector. What is the rationale for sure requirement especially when precious human life is involved? We believe it is the fact that the teaching hospital is lacking of necessary basic health facilities, including the lack of bed space, which was the reason the nurses gave for not admitting the girl, a permanent phenomenon which has become a feature of the health sector in Nigeria due to years of government deliberate underfunding, that led to Kelechi's death. In this regard the doctors and nurses cannot be blamed for the death of Kelechi. Since October last year doctors and nurses in UPTH together with their counter parts across the country have had cause to embark on several strike actions to draw the attention of the Federal Government to the deteriorating conditions in the health sector and the need for improved funding and better conditions of service to no avail.


The gruesome death of the student had immediately provoked students anger the following day, sparking off spontaneous protest action by some students and riot by others. The student union leaders whom the students had approached for leadership failed to give leadership to the express anger of the students, asking them to execise patience, but to show their preparedness and determination, they went ahead with the protest. The protesters, led by students from the theatre art department, locked the main campus gate, the entrance gate leading to UPTH and blocked the east-west road at Choba for hours. Academic activities was disrupted for whole day. With anger on their faces and placards on their hands, while they donned black and black, the protesters blamed the doctors and nurses on duty for the cause of the student's death and demanded their immediate sack, while they called on the school authority to do something about the situation and for government to come to their aid. While this was going on, some other group of angry students were busy rioting and destroying facilities at the teaching hospital. 

This is not unexpected, as the continued state of degeneration and rot in the NANS leadership, both nationally and in the south-south, plus the opportunism and total aloofness of the pro management student union leadership in always shying away from defending students independent interest, which also has organic links to the interest of the academic and non academic staff workers, has overtime led to a perverted state of disorientation and confusion in the students movement and a resurgence in cultism in many campuses. If the students union leadership had shown interest in the death of the student and had led the protest of the students, this would've united the students under its leadership and checked any act of rioting by students. This was not the case.


Unfortunately, the flip side to this situation, especially after the student riot, is management attempt to put the blame on students and to make students to pay for the damages. This is the essence behind the purported election of new executives of the Parents Forum, as publicised by the authorities around campus, with a parley with parents which the school management has cobbled together, in hopes of using it as a smoke screen to justify hike in students fee.


The Education Rights Campaign condemns this latest imminent attack on nigerian students, plus attempt by the school authority to shift the blame of the riot on students in other to punish it for a crisis caused by management and government anti-poor policies. We call on all concern students and the student union leadership to be battle ready to oppose any insensitive attempt by the school management to hike students fee by any margin as a result of the riot.
We hold that the government and the school authority should be held responsible for the death of Kelechi and that, instead of arbitrarily increasing students fee, compensation must and should be paid to her family by the government/school management. 

We support the demands of doctors/nurses in UPTH who had severally gone on strike over issues of poor funding and poor conditions of work and many of whose demands are yet to be fulfilled by the government.


Though the protest only lasted for a day due to the spontaneous and unorganised nature of the protest without even a clear demand. While the students can not be blamed for this, it owes much to the irresponsibility of the current students union who failed to give leadership to students struggle. Despite this and interesting too, the rank and file of the students have demonstrated their willingness to struggle against perceived injustice meted out against them by the authorities. What this means is that, in the face of the compromised leadership of the student union government, students on their own must begin to independently take up issues that affects them and to first of all organise discussions arround these issues in other to come out with clear perspectives and clear demands on them before prosecuting any struggle. What it implies is that students must begin to put pressure on the union leadership to regularly convene congresses, which is the highest democratic decision making body of the students union, as occasion demands, where far reaching decisions concerning the interest and welfare of students can be reached. They must do this side by side with the struggle and demand for a vibrant and independent student unionism