Gathering Shows Potential to Rebuild the Students’ Movement
By Michael Ogundele and Dimeji Macaulay
On Monday 21st September, 2015 the Centre for Popular Education (CEPED), a platform of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Amilcar Cabral Ideological School (ACIS) jointly organized a students’ retreat to mark the 10th year anniversary of the death of Chima Ubani. Late Chima Ubani was a 1986 Students’ Union president of University of Nigeria, Nsukka who played prominent roles in the student movement under the auspices of National Association of Nigerian Students, (NANS), and was the Inaugural Secretary of the Joint Action Front (JAF). He, alongside photo journalist Tunji Oyeleru, died in an auto-crash on September 21 2005 on their way from Maiduguri where he had participated in a sensitization rally organized by the labour movement and civil society organizations to resist yet another plan to increase the cost of petroleum products.
In all, about 15 students’ union leaders, some NANS officials and students across the higher institutions participated in the retreat which had about 250 people in attendance. Notably, there were only two unions from the southern part of the country. Most of the unions in attendance came from the northern part.
The retreat commenced at about 12:15pm with the introduction of the invited guests. These include Dr. Sola Olorunyomi (Convener, ASUU Students and Trade Unions relations committee), Dr. Mahmud Lawan (ASUU Chairman, BUK) who also stood for the ASUU president, Owei Lakemfa, Lanre Arogundade (DSM NEC member), Hauwa Mustapha (a representative of the NLC), Prof. Funke Sulaimon (member, ASUU Students and Trade Unions relations committee) Gbenga Komolafe, and the NANS Senate president who represented the NANS president among others.
In her opening remarks, the ACIS Central coordinator, Abiola Dabiri, emphatically stressed that the primary aim of the students’ retreat is to cross- fertilize ideas and share experiences towards rebuilding the students’ movement, and to immortalize Chima Ubani.
Dr. Mahmud Lawan, chairman of the Bayero University Kano ASUU chapter, in his keynote address which he gave on behalf of the ASUU president said that the retreat was historic, unique and significant because it was in the same university, BUK, about 33 years ago (specifically 1982) that Nigerian students gathered to adopt a CHARTER OF DEMANDS in the struggle against neo- liberal education policies and in defense of the Nigeria people at large. He also added that the retreat, too, is unique in the sense that it is being used to commemorate the memory and remembrance of Chima Ubani. In the words of the BUK Chairman: “the retreat which was organized under CEPED platform of ASUU was to bring together Nigerian students in the struggle for the emancipation of Nigeria people and in the campaign against the poor state of Nigerian universities”. He as well challenged students to actually start monitoring the special intervention funds released to their various universities as a result of the ASUU strike of 2013. He further stressed that ASUU struggles over the years is specifically in the interest of Nigerian students so as to have a good, qualitative university education.
Lanre Arogundade, a 1984 NANS president and member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) was one of the two lead speakers. He started his presentation by stating that the students’ retreat offered another unique opportunity to deepen previous debates on the question of rebuilding the students' movement. He therefore had no choice but to speak on “The continuing quest to rebuild NANS and the students’movement” fully conscious though that the debate in itself cannot be exhausted on one occasion. He thereafter hoped that there would be some positive aftermaths of the retreat that would manifest in ideologically and politically strengthened students’ unions and a new NANS that will genuinely fight for students’ interests, that of workers’ unions on campuses and the working masses in the larger society.
In the 25-minute speech, Comrade Lanre also x-rayed the history and the political reason for the radicalization that characterized the broad students’ movement in the early 80s stating that there was an ideological basis; hence the core of the revolutionary inclined students’ activists were, like their predecessors in the post-colonial era, either leftists, Pan Africanists or nationalists. It was therefore not accidental that they operated a very radical and fighting NANS on a political platform, Patriotic Youth Movement of Nigeria (PYFMN) that encapsulated Marxist socialist, Black Nationalist and Pan Africanist students’ groups- one of which was Alliance of Progressive Students (ALPS) to which he belonged at the University of Ife. He mentioned few out of the numerous tumultuous struggles waged by NANS under his leadership including the declaration of eleven (11) days nation-wide mass lecture boycott against the intention of the Buhari-Idiagbon military regime to commercialize education through increase in tuition fees. Chima Ubani who the students’ retreat was organized to honour was one of the chief mobilization officers for that struggle.
He also added that beyond the nation-wide boycott of classes, NANS under his leadership intervened in many other struggles within and outside campuses including support for striking pilots and medical doctors operating under the umbrella of NARD and NMA. For him “it was a period of endless night journeys and day time rallies and meetings”. All said, he explained that the students’ movement in the current days is an entirely different stock that reflects the ideological and political decline in the mass movements, particularly the central labour organizations and trade unions. One of the long term effects is that NANS is now an association funded by the political class to hold meetings and conventions at Eagle Square in Abuja and sometimes in expensive hotels. This, he concluded, has weakened the ability of Nigerian students to fight against capitalist neo-liberal policies of education commercialization and privatization of the commanding heights of the economy as well as attacks on vibrant and independent students’ unionism across campuses as occasioned by the dismantling of the rights to independent students’ unionism.
|Lanre Arogundade, former NANS President and DSM NEC member|
He stressed that Nigerian students have a role to play in the quest to rebuild the broad students’ movement, in the struggle to end oppression and replace the rule of the few rich minority with that of the majority poor. He as well emphasized that one way to do this is to begin to organize from below to reclaim local students’ unions and strong political relationship between the labour and trade union leaders and the students’ union leaders.
Delivering his speech on the NANS Academic Reform Campaign (ACAREF) Gbenga Komolafe stated clearly that the fundamentals of the ACAREF are right to access, right to free education at all levels and democratization of the tertiary institutions. He further charged student participants to take up the responsibility of monitoring the released special intervention fund and a review of the NANS Charter of Demands to encapsulate the recent crises in the education sector.
In a solidarity message, the Vice president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) said that the NLC will as well be happy to host Nigerian students in a similar student retreat as a contribution to the campaign to rebuild the students’ movement.
On behalf of the Education Rights Campaign, (ERC), Comrade Michael appreciated the joint initiative of the CEPED and ACIS in organizing the program. He too reiterated the need to rebuild the students' movement from below because the ERC shares no illusion in a top- bottom approach. According to him, the students' movement should adopt a fighting program in alliance with other oppressed strata of the society as articulated in special ERC leaflet being circulated at the retreat.
|Dipo Fashina, former ASUU President|
Former ASUU President, Dr. Dipo Fashina, while submitting that the task to rebuild the students’ movement is complex agreed that there was an urgent need to re-forge an integrated relationship between ASUU and NANS as “we cannot have a non-ideological NANS”. He also explained that CEPED is an educational mobilizing organization of ASUU that is supposed to be on all campuses.
The last session of the students’ retreat was an interactive session that lasted for about 2 hours. During the interactive session the NANS senate president was given the opportunity to address students on the current state of NANS. In his address, he explicitly stated in clear terms that NANS over the years has been having issues and reservations against ASUU and because of that it is only when those issues are resolved that NANS could start to have any form of alliance with ASUU. The issues he mentioned ranged from proscription of students’ unions, attacks on students democratic rights; rights to belong to ideological groups, victimization and expulsion of students’ leaders among many others. The duo of Dr. D.D Chup and Dr. Dele Ashiru effectively responded to the allegations which the NANS senate president said not until when they are resolved that NANS could start associating with ASUU.
The NANS president, Tijani Usman, who joined the retreat during the interactive session as well stated that NANS has not been supporting or organizing students’ based activities because there is no money in the purse of the association and that can only be resolved when local unions begin to pay capitation fees into NANS. During the interactive session, comrade Dimeji Macaulay (member of the Education Rights Campaign) commended ASUU for the support and role the union played in the struggle for the reinstatement of the members of ERC who were victimized at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile Ife. He further charged ASUU to continue to join left organizations in programmes and interventions of this nature in order to sharpen the understanding of the appropriate methods and approaches to reclaim the Students Movement from jobbers and careerists.
In reaction to the statements made by both NANS senate president and the national president, many of the students’ union presidents in attendance immediately posited that NANS had never been in support of the collective interest of the generality of students. This position was particularly strongly canvassed by union presidents who came from the North East universities. Clearly enough, they radically rejected the positions of both the NANS senate president and the National president and questioned both of them about how they got money to organize protests in support of politicians if truly they do not have money to fight for students’ interests. Interestingly, the union president from the University of Calabar (UNICAL) suggested the formation of an alternative association of students to begin to play the roles that NANS has abandoned.
During the retreat 1000 copies of ERC leaflet were distributed. About 37 copies of DSM paper and publications were sold while about 6 students signed up to join the ERC.
Overall, the retreat showed that potentials exist to rebuild the students' movement especially through political interventions by the ERC and other left organisations with the understanding however that only through the existence of unions led by genuine socialists such as organized around DSM and others can a fighting and working class oriented NANS reemerge.